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Race 2 - Day 5

Invest Africa - Helen Jones

13 SEP 2013 - Race 2

We have now settled in nicely into routine life on the boat. The two watch teams are working like clockwork… 4 hours on/4 hours off/4 hours on/6 hours off/6 hours on. My preference is to be on the 6am - noon and 6pm-10pm watches, because you get to see the sun rise and set … always gorgeous at sea!

The banter continues and the various characters are venturing further and further out of their shells: Ed constantly fussing about his tangled hair and checking himself out in my mirror sunglasses, Alison with her smutty wittiness and Mike's reliably amusing one liners (although the one about the vicar and the actress probably isn't fit for satellite transmission!).

Sailing today has been peaceful yet active. Our day watch started at noon with light winds and placid sea conditions frustrating our progress. But with some good skippering and a concerted effort by the team we are now underway again cruising along at around 10 knots. And we are the most southerly boat in the fleet by some 40 miles, which hopefully should stand us in good stead in the days ahead. And to add to the dolphins and young sperm whale we've already been visited by, today a little bird came aboard for half a minute … alas I was too slow to catch it on camera.

Life at sea has its challenges. At any one time we're each contending with the constantly changing environment above deck ... ranging from Force 9 winds and ocean swells several times the height of our guard rail, to tranquil stillness that badly hampers our speed. As for conditions below deck… it's like a moving obstacle course! A plethora of people, clothing, metal, fibreglass and smells to be negotiating every time we venture into the breach. Plenty of bruised heads have been suffered already, but thankfully nothing more serious.

As for me … it's everything I thought it would be: tough, enjoyable, a crash course (hopefully not literally) into the art of sailing. It's nice to make new friends whilst sharing a once in a lifetime experience.

Speaking of new experiences … despite the three weeks of training and Race 1 to Brest, today was the first time I managed to do a No.2 in the heads.

Rarely can the words harrowing and relieving be used in the same sentence!

Neeraj Pathak.

I was wondering what I could write today, as the morning watch had been relatively calm & with the exception of a squid landing on deck, uneventful. Little did I realise how quickly that could all change. Or that I would inadvertently become the lead lady in my very own movie (coming soon to a computer screen near you). It was 1800 watch changeover, with all crew on deck and time for a spinnaker peel, to change from the large heavy weight to medium weight for sailing overnight. I was asked to go forward and spike the tack line. 

Off I went to the bow, climbing up and over the Yankee; which was flaked on deck and taller than me. I made it into the pulpit. Clipping onto the forestay with my safety harness I ventured over the metal guard rail and out onto the bowsprit. Sat with one leg either side of the bowsprit and ankles crossed underneath, I gripped onto my perch and for a moment enjoyed the beautiful evening sunset from my front row seat. The motion of the boat rolling over the waves made my seat rather precarious, so I tightened my leg hold around the bowsprit. My hands were clutching the boat hook with a spike attached to the end, ready to “hedgehog” the snap- shackle of the heavy weight's tack line thus allowing the sail to be dropped. 

When given the command I lent forward, stabbing the boat hook at the small eye of the shackle to spike the clip. It was like trying to thread a giant needle, whilst on a bucking bronco. Finally the spike found the eye of the shackle. I just needed to push the clasp down and the sail would be set free.

Jostling the boat hook with all my strength, the clasp appeared to be winning this tug of war. But I had a greater enemy. A rouge wave decided to pick that moment to tickle our bow. The next thing I knew I was upside-down, underneath the bowsprit, clinging on like a koala, with my legs and now arms wrapped around the bowsprit. It all happened so suddenly, that I hadn't even screamed, or even more amazingly, sworn! So with a very British stiff upper lip, I shouted “would someone mind giving me a hand”?

Before I'd finished my sentence, Rich had appeared over the Yankee. The first words I uttered were, “I'm really sorry, I dropped the boat hook overboard” to which he calmly responded, “do you think you can hold on for another 30 seconds”? “Yes” I replied. A spare halyard was called for from the mast and appeared in rapid time (although it felt like forever to me), was swiftly attached to my harness & I was winched back up on deck.

Peter kindly grabbed the back of my life jacket & walked me like a puppet, back to the safety of the cockpit. Where I returned laughing, with nothing more than a few bruises and miraculously I even managed to keep my sunnies on! Natalia has captured the whole acrobatic display on the on-board Handiman video camera; which will be shared shortly. If you enjoy “the show” please visit my charity fund raising page, where I am raising money for two very special charities, the Nelson Mandela Children's Hospital & the Ellen MacArthur Cancer Trust.

Helen Jones, AKA the koala!

And finally we would like to wish fellow crew member, John Rignall (leg 3), a very Happy Birthday!