Race 6 - Day 10
Crew Diary - Race 6 Day 10: Hobart to Whitsundays
15 January

Robin Saunders
Robin Saunders
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After the euphoria of Hobart - a reality check!

You know that saying, “Things that can go wrong, will go wrong”? Well, that’s sailing!

Today is January 14th and the arrival window for the fleet to arrive in Airlie Beach as set by Clipper Race was the 13th to the 15th but we are still just off the Gold Coast with some 550 miles to go - and no wind!

Where the run down to Hobart was highly unusual in that we had northerlies which meant we were able to make excellent progress, these winds have not changed on the way back up and we are having to tack all the way. The weather is most unusual and is playing horrible tricks on us.

In addition, we have encountered wind hole after wind hole meaning we have been all but standing still for hour after hour only to see the rest of the fleet move forward away from us.

We receive updated weather forecasts every six hours and the skipper reviews them eagerly trying to work out which route to take to achieve best currents and winds. I do not envy this role, the judgement of Solomon is required.

One good thing though is that as we move north, the temperature is improving and clothing layers are gradually being stripped off. However, life on a fibreglass boat with temperatures in the 30s with no shade or air conditioning is interesting! And not only do we get soaked by the ocean but we sweat profusely and personal hygiene is a real challenge!

Flying a spinnaker is an exact science and few of us have much experience and when they work they are huge fun and progress can be exhilarating. But they have to be handled so carefully otherwise the consequences are severe. A dreaded “wrap” can take several hours to fix - luckily we have not had one of these on this trip nor have we damaged any which can mean hours and hours of work for the sail repairing team. But we have had several fail to launch properly; one failed at the tack and flew up in the air - beautiful to look at but an absolute disaster as it took us a long time to rescue it from the ocean. We have had backstays break, flyaway halyards, sheet wraps and many other less major incidents all of which take time to resolve and for us to get back on course.

We are not making the progress the rest of the fleet are but we are also hot; we will be late getting to the next stop; food supplies are beginning to be rationed; we have had too many routine sail evolution problems. We are getting tetchy.

These are all team issues but we all have our own, personal, challenges, for instance: It’s night, pitch black and I am given the helm with the spinnaker flying and am feeling confident that my helming skills learnt so far on the trip will enable me to really help the watch eat into the remaining miles speedily. Suddenly you realise that the weather conditions are not what you are used to - the wind is no more than a gently breeze and the boat does not respond in the way you want it to. The boat lurches out of control and the watch leader shouts “my helm”, grabs the wheel and gets everything back under control. A slight feeling of letting the team down creeps in. Yet another skill I have to learn but not tonight, I’ll wait for daylight.

I have just written a couple of emails and a new blog and am ready to send them off using the the boat’s WiFi system. Although it is quite a reliable system, it is only turned on at very specific times of the day - usually, wickedly, times to be when you are off watch and asleep. I have planned this transmission carefully and just as I press the relevant buttons I realise I have just missed the slot and it could well be another 24hours before I can practically have another go.

On the same theme when you send your emails, you also receive any incoming emails and you eagerly await news from the outside (I nearly said ‘real’) world. Oh! Nothing there?

One day you are on a high and you are kings of the seas and the next you are knocked back and put back in your place.

A reality check - that’s sailing!