The crew members on board Gold Coast Australia said their farewells for the last time as we departed from the cannel lined city of Den Helder, setting out for home port of Southampton, UK in Race 15 of the Clipper 11-12 Round the World Yacht Race.
The winds were building to around 30 knots and as we rushed down for the line we had some fantastic speed which saw us shoot across in second place, only seconds behind Singapore and with all of our momentum we were back where we belonged in first place again only minutes later. We held the lead through the night the as the winds eased down to five knots allowing those of our crew who had once again been struck down by the dreaded sea sickness to recover slightly. With the dramatic change in wind strength we were all kept busy doing performing a plethora of sail changes to keep up with it.
The following morning with our lightweight spinnaker flying in a calm five knots of wind, we were faced with a new navigational hazard as the sun peaked over the horizon at 0400am. Large wind farms lined the water ahead just off the coast and we approached a TSS (Traffic Separation Scheme) a high way for the super tankers and something that we were restricted to enter. Whilst trying to keep clear of the wind farms we fell into a wind hole; which gave the golden opportunity for four other boats to overtake us. Due to our race success so far of eleven wins the other boats would relish in the opportunity to be ahead of us. At one stage team Edinburgh Inspiring Capital overtook us and just as its stern cleared our bow the crewmembers on board cheered enjoying seeing us behind them for a change. Five minutes later we quietly took back the lead. I didn’t hear anymore cheering after that…
It was now the afternoon of day two at sea and we could now see the White Cliffs of Dover ahead and were about to sail down the Dover Strait. With three boats ahead of us we made a tactical call to sail as close to the White Cliffs as possible and with some tidal calculations done skipper Richard Hewson decided that it was safe to sail over a sandbank with a depth of one metre on the chart. This would mean that we would need to tack less than the other boats allowing us to hopefully make up some ground. Trusting in our tactical decision and the fact that we did not run aground Edinburgh Inspiring Capital decided to follow us. This tactic payed off for both of us and as we exited the straits we were once again in first place.
Throughout the rest of the afternoon we steadily increased our lead on the rest of the fleet except Geraldton Western Australia, which stuck to us like glue. At around 2000pm we sailed once again into another wind hole offering gusts of 0.3knots of wind. Geraldton Western Australia held the winds slightly longer and gained the lead whilst behind us the rest of the fleet came steadily charging up closing our four-mile lead down to a mere 500 metres. Trying to do everything in our power to get the boat moving, crewmember Veronica Aris performed a wind dances on deck. It must have worked because with her arms failing and weird noises emanating from her vocal cords I felt a slight hint of a breeze on my cheek.
Soon enough it was enough to get moving but we were once again back to the middle of the fleet. This was agony because we had been working so hard to get the lead and we were straight back to the middle again and in these light and fickle winds it was just so hard to catch the bad guys ahead.
We were now near Southampton and entering into the elastic band section of the course. This was a series of marks that could be lengthened or shortened to ensure that we arrived in Southampton in time for the race finish celebrations. Our course went from being a straight line to a triangle course that we raced twice having finished the first with time to spare because the winds were sitting nicely at ten knots. We were not so lucky the second time around as the winds once again dropped down to near zero causing our boat speed to do the same. So the rest of the fleet caught up and we drifted towards the last mark that we needed to round before we were able to go for the finish line.
We were reaching on our way to the mark with Singapore half a mile ahead of us, once we went around the mark we would be able to hoist our spinnaker and if we hoisted this before Singapore than we would have a chance of overtaking, the only chance before the finish. Lucky for us it went off like clockwork and was a beautiful piece of racing to watch. Rounding just inside we had our kite up and set before Singapore, costing valuable time and allowing us to take first place again.
Once we were around the last mark the slight breeze that we had once again dropped away causing us to drop our spinnaker and hoist our wind seeker sail. With a boat speed of 1.4 knots we were now drifting 0.2 knots faster than the rest of the fleet and very slowly closed in towards the finish line. Just after the sunrise on the dawn of the 22 July we sailed across the finish in first place 200 metres ahead of the rest of the fleet. What an intense and close race this final one was but the adventures did not stop here because three miles further along is the invisible line that we sailed when we left Southampton 12 months earlier. Sailing over this line would officially make five crewmembers on board circumnavigators. 20 minutes after the race ended we became circumnavigators with tear filled eyes we all embraced each other and remembered the journey that we shared across the world’s oceans. And what an adventure it has been.
Once all of the sails had been packed away we lined up for a parade of sail into the Southampton Waters, looking around the boat I could see hundreds and hundreds of boats all shapes and sizes out to welcome the fleet home. What a fantastic sight this was. As we entered into the Ocean Village Marina skipper Richard Hewson lit a flare and we celebrated with the thousands of people who crammed along the waterfront to see us. I was simply too excited to cry but almost everyone else had tears in their eyes and with the greatest adventure of my life now complete you might be asking me what is to be next? Well do it all again of course!
- Lisa Blair