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Clipper Round the World - Dramatic race 7 start includes sinking yacht

by Lisa Blair on 30 Dec 2011
Gold Coast Australia in front of the Gold Coast skyline at the start of the race from the Gold Coast to Singapore in the Clipper 11-12 Round the World Yacht Race. onEdition © http://www.onEdition.com
Clipper Round the World Yacht Race competitor Lisa Blair is sailing on Gold Coast Australia. Below is her account of preparations and the start of race 7.

Lisa:

When the rest of the world was busy making preparations on Christmas eve, roasting their turkeys, baking holiday puddings and gathering their final gifts, the crew on-board Gold Coast Australia were saying sad farewells to friends and family as they made preparations to set sail from the Gold Coast, Australia to commence the seventh race which finishes in Singapore.


For me, this was my home port with the Gold Coast set only three short hours drive from my home town of the Sunshine Coast and as a result I had lots of visitors including my parents, sister, aunty, grandparents and other friends of the family who have all been following our progress closely as we race around the world. At 0730 am as we prepared to slip lines my family were lined up on the fuel docks some waving, others shouting words of encouragement and still others crying.

I had not seen my family for a year and after ten days on land, I was setting sail again for another seven months at sea waving goodbye on Christmas eve as our boat song 'Land Down Under' by Men at Work boomed over the loud speaker. Finally the last line was slipped and we made our way out of the marina entrance with the bow of our boat proudly displaying the Commonwealth Games logo and effortlessly cutting the water. This race was going to be a long one lasting over 30 days at sea.

Race start was set for 1130am just offshore of Main Beach on the Gold Coast, we had needed to leave the marina early to be able to clear the seaway with the tides as up to four meters of swell was predicted however, once we had rounded the point we were presented with a nice two meter swell and a steady 20 knots of wind, perfect. We lined up in chevron formation for our parade of sail with Gold Coast Australia leading the fleet along the shore line. Finally the race start was nearing at time crept on.

At 1030 am we were radioed a new start time of 1100am a good 30 minutes earlier than originally planned. Not to worry we already had our main sail up so we set about hoisting the Stay sail next. We had less than 15 minutes until the start gun goes off and we still did not have our Yankee 2 head sail up and trimmed for speed. Just as I was about to ask skipper Richard Hewson if we could go for the hoist a high pitched siren went off down below. It was piercing and demanded our attention so Rich went down to see what the problem was.

It looked like the bilge alarm was going off so he lifted one of the floor boards and found a sailor’s worst nightmare; the bilge was filled with water and rising fast. Rich called for Terry Martin, our engineer and Wayne Reed who was in the Navigation Station at the time to help him go through the whole boat and check every sea cock. A sea cock is a through hull fitting with a valve attached to it so that we can either pump out into the ocean or pump in salt water for cleaning ect.

We were now down to 10 minutes until the race start when we got the go ahead to hoist the Yankee 2. I was bow so I went up forward and readied the sail for a hoist. 'Hoist!' was shouted and the sail was sweated up the forestay, the halyard (the rope that pulls the sail up) was tensioned and we started trimming on the sheets. Rich had popped his head up on deck to supervise the hoist and was calling for the sail to be trimmed on. The two people on the grinder were giving it everything they had but the sail was not coming in.

We were now down to four minutes until the race start and I noticed that there were no longer any sheets attached to the sail, they had flogged themselves off during the hoist. Because I was on the bow, I was the only person who could see this so I entered a shouting war with Rich, as he was shouting for Trim I was shouting for the sail to be dropped so that we could re-attach the sheets and all the crew in the middle didn't know who to listen to. Finally, everybody realised what had happened and we begin to drop the sail down. Two minutes to go and the sail is finally on the deck, the crew are all busy either trying to hold onto the sail or trying to re-tie the sheets back on so that we could hoist it back up.

Bang! The start gun goes and we are still in a shemozzle trying to re-hoist and set the sail, finally all is finished and we are off and racing crossing the line in last position. Through all of this on-deck drama the bilge alarm was still sounding shrilly and we were still taking on water so Rich gave the helm a course and went down below to deal with the other slightly more important drama of a sinking boat.

Down below the boys had almost finished going through the boat without finding any broken sea cocks when Wayne decided to check the engine and it was a good thing he did because the prop shaft was spewing a stream of salt water. The prop shaft connects from the engine through the hull of the boat and attaches to the propeller and on this prop shaft is something called a Stern Gland.

This Stern Gland is a seal of sorts stopping the water from coming in when the engine is running, unfortunately for us this had just cracked and was leaking water everywhere but luck for us Wayne spotted it just before it went underwater where it would have been near undetectable. Rich gets on the radio with the race officials trying to work out the best course of action. They decide to drop us off some amalgamating tape (like what the plumbers use) to wrap around the broken seal and hopefully reduce the flow of salt water.

This did slow it down but was not a complete fix so with the help of the race office we organised for three of the maintenance boxes off other boats to be dropped off. The rib returns laden with our supplies but there is only one person on board and we are still racing along at 10 knots so there was no way that he could pass the boxes and drive the boat so Rich, always thinking on his feet decided that he is going to jump off the boat into the rib and pass the boxes up to us. So worthy of a James Bond film Rich does his daring leap and lands safely aboard. Moving fast because time is short he hands us all three of the heavy maintenance boxes. Just as the last box is on-board the rib pulls away momentarily carrying away our skipper...

Wayne is by now on the helm and asks me if Rich is back on board, I reply 'No, not yet' resulting in some colourful language from Wayne. Finally the rib comes back and Rich executes a perfect 007 boat to boat boarding in two meters of swell racing along at 10 knots, anyone would think that he has done that before...

There should be everything we need fix the stern gland at sea in those boxes, fingers grossed but at the moment we are sailing into building seas as we track north experiencing the tail end of the now downgraded cyclone. After the afternoons dramas we had successfully clawed our way from last position right up to fourth just as the sun set.

With more than 4000 nautical miles left to race we have ample time to re-gain the lead.
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