To infinity and beyond

Thank you Toy Story and thank you friends and readers for patience with me. I have been a little lax in my writing recently. Apologies.

As some of you already know…..we’re done. WOWEEE and double wow. But for now and before the excitement of the story of the end, a little tale of the what happened before the end. First the good news. Team Switzerland is secure in their overall fifth place position, having gained a first and two third place positions. I have no hesitation in confirming that I am seriously chuffed. We’ve done well.

Race 16, the final race in the Clipper round the world yacht race 2013-14, Den Helder to Southend – The race committee in their infinite wisdom have chosen a number of options for us and it all depends on the weather. Light airs and option one, stronger winds and we’ll be made to work a little harder. Either way, the race will finish no later than the early hours of Saturday 12th July.

So here we are, race start in Den Helder. Weather forecast for light airs, spinnakers up pretty sharp-ish after race start. What the race office and the meteorologist failed to see was a small anticyclone developing over Holland that chose to pop up and give the fleet a really good kicking in their final race.

Our skipper had agreed with Sir Robin K-J that we, the crew would sail the boat by ourselves…..our skipper taking a back seat. She had developed a crew capable of navigating and crewing a 70 foot yacht – job done. Quite a coup. We are however all somewhat bemused, albeit also proud of our achievement and her decision.

Race start goes well. Spinnaker up, code 2 rather than code one as some of the boats have opted. And as the conditions worsen, Mission Performance and their ‘scar face’ Code 1 rips across the top. Jamaica is overpowered and has to hove to. Quite a sight across the fleet.

Mission Performance's scar face spinnaker ripping

Mission Performance’s scar face spinnaker ripping. Photo courtesy of Claire Carroll.

We peel to code three and eventually change to Yankee one. We then drop Yankee one and run with one reef in the main and just the staysail. Our watch takes the first full watch, 18h ’til 22h. I’ve already made spaghetti Bolognese for dinner which just needs heating up. We go for a sleep for a couple of hours late afternoon.

Most of us are surprisingly feeling really queasy. After a good sleep and a small bowl of spag Bol’ I get on deck in base layers, mid layers and full foul weather fear – not quite the light airs sailing we’d expected.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I take over on the spinnaker trimming before we drop and hoist the Y1. And before our watch is over we’ve dropped the Y1 and reefed in. There are fishing vessels in the way, oil rigs to avoid and our watch is just full on. All bar the watch leader and helm are feeling sick – including me. My last race and the first in which I’ve actually felt so rough.

Sod’s law and just before watch handover we’re asked to unhank the Y1. Up I go as N1 with Richard and Wim.  I feel really sick and spend every other un hanking moment vomiting over the bow. The waves are covering us (thankfully not with sick) and throwing us around. I check and double and triple check I’m safely tethered to the boat. Wim’s lifejacket activates and Richard is doing his best to hang on and get the darn sail unhanked. All this and 20 minutes past watch handover we get the call to secure the sail and return to the cockpit…..amazingly someone has realised the conditions are far from the easiest.

Sail secured, Mother Nature offers one final kick and a wave pushes me into the forestay – one forcibly squashed pubic bone and a few tears later and I’m off deck.

I raid the on board pharmacy for the Buccastem tablets – an awesome pill that helps reduce sickness once you are actually being sick. I sleep like the dead.

2am back on watch and most of us feel like death – we are all silently praying that there will be no sail changes. Please.

There are.

There are sail changes every single watch, at least two, often three including reefing in and reefing out. We are battered, exhausted and dare I say it, not exactly enjoying the last race.  And the (expletive deleted) race office seem to be adding more upwind hammering to the course.

I hate the race, I hate clipper and I want the race to be over. The race of your life my foot – the race to end you after a gruelling 11 months at sea.

And then it is over after 36 hours and 12 minutes. At 2332 UTC.

It’s really over. The last ever race with clipper has finished – a lovely downwind finish with our branded Code 2 flying. Team Switzerland finished 10th in this race, beating two professional skippers!

We hug, we cry.

We’ve done it. We’ve actually done it.

As Gordon quite rightly (and terribly sensibly) commented, this race represented every kind of weather we’ve experienced during the last 11 months. Hellish up wind crashing waves, to light airs spinnaker downwind and upwind sailing, to heeling over and the risk of broaching – you name it, in the final 36 hours of Clipper 2013-14 we had the lot.

to infinity and beyond

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