It is with heavy hearts that we set off for Race 14 in the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race as our journey on the high seas is almost at an end. Racing from Derry-Londonderry to Den Helder we line up for the race start under the rich green of Ireland and the crowds of people with their cheers and shouts to see us off. The line is just ahead and the countdown begins, 30 seconds, we are lined up nicely with two boats on the inside of us, 20 seconds it looks like the two boats ahead might have too much speed and cross the line early, 10 seconds, and they are forcing us to stop as they try to slow down. Up we have to come to take the wind out of the sails; woops we came too high and tacked the boat. Bang the start gun goes off and we now need to tack twice more to get across the line. Not our finest of racing starts but we soon made up for lost ground as we sailed with Ireland out over our transom off to Den Helder.
With the setting sun we had worked our way up to fifth position and by dawn we were in second place with Singapore working very hard to stay in-front of us. The winds had begun building so a nice and wet sail change was in order as we downsized from the Yankee 1 to the Yankee 2. We added a reef when the winds began gusting in the thirties leaving us with a large messy sea state and lots of very seasick people. The number of fit and ‘fit’crew was so few that we ‘healthy crew’ were getting exhausted very quickly with all the extra work.
As I came on deck for the 20:00 watch change on day two, I was very happy to find Singapore behind us. Skipper Richard Hewson was at the helm when he used a sailing technique called Lee Bowing, this is when you take the wind, or disturb it enough from the leeward side that it slows the other vessel down and you can get ahead. At this time we were only half a mile in front, not much of a lead but still a lead. I was taking over for a very intense four hours as watch leader where a small oversight or mistake could cost us the lead again. We still had many people seasick with only three making it on-deck and out of them only two who could do anything. This would also mean that everyone who was able to was needed on-deck for any sail changes.
So it was that I found myself getting woken early for the 20:00 watch change on day three so that I could help with dropping the heavyweight spinnaker going through the Pentland Firth, a tricky section of the ocean. This is a two mile channel filled with small islands and reefs to negotiate. Because of the narrowing of the sea, the tides here can run up to 12 miles against you and if you are a sailing vessel with fluky winds this can be a very unfriendly place to be.
We came right up to within a mile of the Island of Storma before dropping our spinnaker and hoisting our Yankee 1. Once we were clear of the island we hoisted our medium weight spinnaker and tried to shoot off however we had seven knots of counter current slowing us down. Looking back we could still see the sails of Singapore and Visit Finland on the horizon. The two boats that we just can’t seem to shake. The next hazard to overcome will be oil rigs.
By day four we held a 6.5 mile lead on Singapore and were on the eastern side of Scotland making our way down the coast to Den Helder. We were still running down wind offering a great opportunity for all the seasick people to recover and enjoy the scenery of the cliffs of Scotland. On the evening of day four our lead dwindled until we were sitting in third place. We had sadly sailed into a wind hole, Visit Finland sailed in right behind us while Singapore to the right of us were still making ground and overtaking. It was so painful to sit there with two knots Speed Over Ground and have one boat (Visit Finland) not even 500 meters away making three knots. Although this was disheartening there was still 235 miles left to run and we were not giving up that easy!
From then on we were kept working very hard playing catch up and on the midday to 16:00 watch we went through six sail changes and wooled 2 spinnaker and still the gap between us and the leader remained the same a dismal ten miles. It did not seem to matter what we did we just could not close that gap. The bad winds did nothing to help the situation as we sailed in 7-9 knots with 30 degree wind shifts in seconds, just trying to keep us on our toes. By nightfall on day five the winds filled in giving us a fresh 28-30 knots so up went the heavy weight spinnaker and off we took surfing the small swell at 15 knots plus. The horizon was dotted with bright lights from the oil fields and finally we started to make some ground on the leaders.
By 04:00 on day six we had narrowed the gap down from ten miles to 4 miles between us and Visit Finland and six miles to the leading boat Singapore then the radio crackled to life. There was a cable laying ship that was requesting we divert our from our course by seven miles to go around the back of them, thus losing seven miles on the two leading boats. Sticking within the rules of safe seamanship we altered our course and sat watching the competition get away. There was still a small chance that we might catch them because there was still 35 miles left to run so instead of just taking the third place position we doubled our efforts and tried once again to catch the competition.
In the distance the land began to grow as we came closer to the finish. Singapore crossed ahead 5.8 miles ahead of us and Visit Finland crossed a small 3.8 miles ahead. Gold Coast Australia crossed the line to the cheers and smiles of the crew in third place at 0843 in the morning not at all disappointed with our position because we had come so much closer as a crew and worked so much harder in this race than any other, so for us third place was feeling great.
- Lisa Blair