Crew Blog – Lisa Blair
Day 8 of our first race down to Madeira ended with the birthday celebrations of crew member Patrick Cooper who was fortunate enough to be helming in idyllic sailing conditions surfing waves with regular speeds of 14 knots. Competition also seems to still be healthy between all the crew as everyone tries to clock the highest speed surfing a wave. While Skipper Rich was sleeping Patrick managed a fantastic 14.4 knots - evidently the vibration of the hull and the rudder was enough to wake him and spur him into challenging Pat's record.
After an unsuccessful shift on the helm Rich managed to break Pat's record with a 14.5 knot surf. Happy that he was still a great helmsman Rich decided to retire back to his bunk and handed the helm over to me. Ten minutes later I somehow managed to clock a very impressive 15.1 knots. This was quite surprising being that I am the amateur here and that this was my first real surf on a wave. I am calling it a fluke but it was a lot of fun feeling the power of this beautiful boat as the stern swells up on the wave and you feel the bow get thrown forward as you ride the wild seas travelling so fast that you can not hear much over the roar of the sea and the vibration of the hull.
During the last few hours of day 8, at around 2200 hrs, and just as I was waking up to come on standby watch, there was a shout from the deck.
'Rich!'. The voice belonged to Dan who was helming at the time and contained a high note of worry in it. If they gave out medals for how quickly a skipper could wake up and fly up the companion way steps then Rich would have taken gold as he arrived at the helm in seconds with a full assessment of the situation and bellowing. 'All hands on deck'. Rich had understood the situation and realised that we had wrapped our medium weight spinnaker around the forestay and that we were very close to shredding it to pieces. All the crew were throwing on life jackets and following Rich up the companionway in various states of dress in order to try to save our precious spinnaker.
Remember this is day 8 of an 11 month journey around the world where the loss of such equipment would be devastating to our campaign. Rich had by now taken the helm and was in the process of directing the recovery of our spinnaker. 'Sheet in, everyone grab the sheet and pull down, pull it off the forestay.' I happened to be the first to follow that last order reaching the sheet through the darkness and grabbing it with both hands.
The first thing I realised when I did this was that I am no way strong enough to do this alone and the next was that I was no longer touching the deck of the boat as the sheet pulled me up dangling me like a rag doll above the deck. Letting go I fell back to a stable surface and waited for the rest of the crew.
Wayne was the next crew member to arrive and copied my earlier attempts by grabbing the sheet with both hands only to be lifted straight off the deck as I was. After letting go Wayne and I both started to work together as many other crew members began to arrive. The scene resembled one of those pile on's where everyone jumps on top of everyone else as more than 10 crew had by now grabbed the sheet and were pulling down with all there might. Finally success as the spinnaker began to unwrap from the forestay. The shout was given to let go else you may otherwise be ripped off the deck as the spinnaker re-fills with wind.
Unfortunately, crew member Annelise was so worried about the rest of the crew that she held onto the sheet trying to make sure that everyone else had let it go first, evidently she needed superwoman's strength to hold on as the sheet tore itself free leaving behind a nasty rope burn on her hands as a memento of her heroic efforts.
The remainder of the night we continued to surf waves with regular speeds of 13 knots and found ourselves with a lead of 55 nautical miles on Visit Finland by dawn. We were by now flying the heavy weight spinnaker and had a distance left to run of 230 nautical miles. Sailing is always eventful with our final night holding our second wrap of the spinnaker giving Dan the nick name of Wrapper-Dan as he was again helming but also the shackle on the spinnaker sheet had released itself when rubbing against the forestay resulting in mayhem as all of the crew tried to retrieve the spinnaker with out damaging it.
After such a fun filled night of adventure I was left feeling quite exhausted however with no rest in sight I started about my Mother Duties once again and began the preparations for breakfast. At 1000 through the haze of a sunny day the Island of Porto Santo was spotted of the starboard bow. This volcanic archipelago was the first sight of land for days and offered a welcome relief for some and a sadness for others that the end of the journey was near with Madeira only a short 30 nautical miles away.
Three hours later the towering volcanic peaks of Madeira were funnelling wind to our sails as we reached the finish line. Crossing with a film crew and support vessel being our welcome party various crew responded in various ways with some shouting there triumph and other crying tears of salty joy because we, Gold Coast Australia had done it. We had just won the very first race in the Clipper 11-12 Round the World Yacht Race and not just by a little but by an impressive 60 nautical mile lead. What an achievement.
With life set in the fast lane and the stop in Madeira being a short one, three days later we were waving our farewells to the very kind and generous people of this beautiful island. We had sampled the local Madeira wine, danced the local dances, swam in the local watering holes and even received a visit from the President of Madeira. Than it was sails up as the count down began for the start line we accelerated forward jockeying for the best position in the fleet. Bang! We are off and racing, crossing the line in 8th place but we were back in the lead within 20 minutes. From there is was a Yo-Yo with the lead boats as wind holes appeared off the cliffs of Madeira trapping some whilst letting others though.
During Clipper training we were taught that chafe is our enemy and we have to try and reduce it at all costs, it will never be eliminated. Today chafe became not only our enemy but also our worst nightmare. Day 1 of the second race found us with chafing on the port side spinnaker halyard so Bow Girl (me) was sent to the top of the mast to attach the second halyard as a secondary. Unfortunately I was just a little slow or a little lucky because just as I was attaching a halyard to my harness so that I could begin the climb there was this all mighty bang and snap went the spinnaker halyard. It was very fortunate that I hadn't made it up yet as the halyard has stretch in it so therefore it holds quite the kickback when the pressure of the sail is released. Utilising the tools at hand we have now set up a system that may just save our other halyard but it does mean that every time we hoist a spinnaker Bow Girl has to go up the mast and manually set the pulley to the head of the spinnaker.
Not only was the loss of the halyard a bit of a setback but it was not the only chafe. We have suffered chafing on other lines too so we have reinforced the reinforcement. On the plus side it was a good lesson in looking after a yacht in a long ocean race and I am going to be the best spectra splicer in the world at the end of 11 months.
Day two saw us wake up to our very first broach... Luckily this was a minor one and no damage was suffered however it just goes to show that the oceans are still the boss and completely unpredictable. As far as positions go we have been holding first place most of today, unfortunately Welcome to Yorkshire has just taken the lead as we drifted in light winds for the afternoon. Don't let that fool you as the excitement does not end there.
Just at sunset the spinnaker halyard tripped and ran through the mast resulting in another all hands on deck shout to help retrieve it from the hungry ocean. At first it all seemed to be going okay with the re-hoist but it was only once the spinnaker was up that we noticed the series of small tares in the sail. So the mad scramble for retrieving the sail was on again. Success at last, a retrieval of the medium weight spinnaker and a hoist of the Heavy weight spinnaker followed quickly by a short trip up the mast for me and I was off to clear away the dinner plates and begin the repairs on the spinnaker. Two hours down and a few more to go before this spinnaker is ready to fly again. This is really such a shame as we will need to fly this spinnaker for another 10 months so let us just hope that our repairs hold.
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