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Clipper Round the World Race - Race 2, a crew member's perspective

by Lisa Blair on 12 Sep 2011
Gold Coast Australia wins second stage of Clipper 11-12 Round the World Yacht Race onEdition ©
Clipper Round the World Yacht Race 11-12 update from crew member Lisa Blair representing Queensland on Gold Coast Australia.

Gold Coast Australia has now been racing for five weeks. The anticipation is building as we near the end of the second race from Madeira to Rio de Janeiro after being at sea for 17 days. Our experience so far includes the doldrums or the ITCZ as it is officially called, a torn medium weight Spinnaker, getting many visits from the varied wildlife ranging from gannets and boobies (the bird) to the giants of the ocean, the Humpback whale. We were also continuing to experience the breathtaking night skies with millions of stars to helm by dotted with so many shooting stars that you run out of wishes to make as we sailed in the forgiving trade winds

As we began to close in on the finish line with less than 400 nautical miles to go we started to complete some of our maintenance so that there would not be so much to complete in port. We began by servicing the winches, adding yet more chafe prevention to the ropes and running repairs, polishing the stainless steel and rubbing out the old charts. The crew’s morel was high as the conversations continually returned to food as we all debated what our first meal ashore will be and what we have missed when at sea. For me it was apple pie and custard and a fresh salad. Others craved diet coke, sleep, computers and mobile phones. I am continually amazed at how easy it is for the crew’s to leave the technology behind for weeks but as soon as we near the shoreline they are all chomping at the bit to text their friends and update their status on Facebook. Or maybe that is just one crew member who talked non-stop about it. As for weather we still had three days left until Rio and the winds are light however there was a forecasted weather system that was likely to bring some wind with it.

With the light breeze Yorkshire gained 10 nautical miles on us however once the winds filled in that evening Gold Coast Australia hoisted our heavy weight Spinnaker and began increasing our lead once again. By the end of day 18 we held a 75 nautical mile lead on Yorkshire and a 110 nautical mile lead on Singapore, with less than 300 nautical miles to go until Rio things were looking good. The next day was rather uneventful until the evening closed in and the stars started to shine. We were expecting to come close to the Pampo Oil field in approximately six hours and to be able to see the glow from the lights in approximately two hours.

The second last night at sea this race was filled with excitement that began with me being awoken by the sound of a Jumbo Jet in the crew quarters as a huge wave picked us up and flung us down its face like we weighed no more than a feather. I could do nothing but brace myself in my bunk by wedging my arms and legs in the sides and hope for the best. I really felt that we were going to broach and the hull was vibrating uncontrollably with the wave that was showing us little mercy. The incredible roar of the wave seemed to go on forever but it was properly only seconds and eventually stoped. Later I found out that the winds had increased to average 30 knots and we were still flying our heavy weight Spinnaker and managed to go 23 knots on that big wave. Rich Hewson the Skipper said that he was regularly getting 20 knots. Dan Aspinall, who was also on deck that night, said that half the boom was buried in the water and there was just so much white wash that you could not see the bow at all.

This was all during my off watch time and because I am often one of the helmsman I was trying to get some sleep as the conditions would require a lot of concentration to helm. Once again I am lying in my bunk when I heard the Spinnaker go flap, flap, flap, bang!… ‘All hands on deck’, was shouted by Rich quickly followed by a string of orders. ‘Sheet in’, ‘turn the deck lights on’, ‘ready the halyard for a drop’, ‘all free hands to the leeward rail to receive’. Yes, you guessed it, we had blown another Spinnaker. I think that Rich is starting to earn his nick name ‘shredder’. While this string of commands was going on the other two watches were all struggling out of there bunks and trying to find there life jackets and get up on deck. Eventually everyone was up on deck in their PJ’s clipped on at the bow trying to retrieve our seconds shredded Spinnaker that had unfortunately wrapped it’s self around the inner forestay many times and was refusing to come down easily. Almost an hour later we had managed to retrieve the Spinnaker and get it safely down below however we are now bare headed which is no good on a race boat so the Yankee 2 was hoisted.

There was little sense in trying to get more sleep as I was to begin watch in one hour and I had so much adrenalin pumping through my body that sleep would have evaded me anyhow so I enjoyed our now bright horizon as we crept up on the Pampo Oil field. When we passed these Riggs the light that they gave out was amazing. There was this ship like structure that rose high out of the water decorated with a million lights that would make any Christmas tree jealous and at the very top there was a small pulsing flame. It made for a very stunning view that accompanied us until dawn.

From looking at the remaining nautical miles we were expecting to reach Rio the following day however with 50 nautical miles to go the wind disappeared leaving us to sit like ducks in a pond in sight of land. With the sunset that evening came the wind and we were finally able to make some ground towards Rio. Unfortunately for us the wind was coming straight from the bow so it was tack, tack, tack, through the night with all the crew getting very little sleep on the rail. At 0510 in the morning Gold Coast Australia crossed the finish line with our boat song ‘Welcome to the land down under’ by Men at Work blaring from the speakers under the welcome shelter of Sugar Loaf Mountain and the iconic Christ Statue, Corcovado. The last received sked before this said that we held a massive 140 nautical mile lead on Yorkshire with Singapore another 30 nautical miles behind. The last boat in the fleet was 700 nautical miles behind.

For us onboard Gold Coast Australia the excitement continues right until the very end as once we had packed away all of the sails and hoisted the sponsorship flags the engine decided that it was done and stopped… Turns out it was the impeller so a quick repair as we drifted by Rich and we could finally make port. The Champaign was popped and the beer was flowing as we celebrated our second win in as many races as 0600 in the morning. A well deserved beer I would say.

Video of race one from my perspective: