Race 12 - Day 6
Crew Diary - Race 12, Day 6: New York to Derry-Londonderry
02 July

Dominic Littlewood
Dominic Littlewood
Team Liverpool 2018
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It’s been over a year now since I finished my Clipper Race Level 4 training in the Solent and the time has finally come for me to join team Liverpool2018 for their return to the UK. To say I have been excitedly waiting for this moment to come would be an understatement, there has been little else on my mind as the date approached.

I flew in to New York on the Monday red eye and for the first time in my life was offered a free upgrade to Business Class as soon as the plane took off, without even asking, was this a sign of how the next three weeks was going to play out? I surely hoped so.

The next few days I spent catching up with my team mates, Clipper Race organisers, sightseeing and double checking I had everything packed. Being a type 1 diabetic means I have to be 100% sure I not only have enough supplies for my Leg 8 crossing but I also have to take into account loss or breakages of vital supplies that could occur on the sail, all boxes were ticked in that department. I did however fall short on some of the clothing I needed so a quick visit to Century 21 just behind the Ground Zero Memorial, and a few hundred dollars later I was sorted.

The day before we set sail all Clipper Race crew and Skippers were to meet to discuss the route, starting times, current positions and weather. I was pleasantly surprised to hear we would all be sailing close to an ice line and crew members would need to be on lookout for semi submerged icebergs. The memories of Titanic sprang to mind and that feeling of excitement grew again.

On the morning of race start, we were all summoned to our boat for 07.30 which left me just enough time to grab a large take out latte at the coffee shop before getting to the boat. Funny thing is for me this was probably going to be the material item I was going to miss the most over the next few weeks, not my TV, computer, comfy bed, toilet that you don't have to grip the walls to stay seated, Indian restaurant, shower or even the pub.

At 09.00 we left Liberty Landing marina and motored for the next 24 hours out to sea, leaving behind in our view the Statue of Liberty and the Freedom Tower. Conditions were lovely and everyone was on high spirits, the race was fast approaching and the sense of camaraderie was everywhere.

The race start was going to be a Le Mans type where all boats would get into a line running left to right, continue at 6 knots until the final count down. As the 3...2....1... reached go, myself and Fretts ran to the mast and started to sweat the staysail up as quick as possible while at the same time Gareth and Graham (big lads, wouldn't want to get on a see-saw with them) were hoisting the Yankee, in the pit others winched in the halyards and we were off, next stop Derry-Londonderry.

All my memories of Clipper Race training soon started to come flooding back. Liverpool 2018 had made a cracking start and for the next hours we fought a close battle between 1st and 2nd place sometimes with only a stone’s throw between us, this continued throughout the night.

The next day as night shifts had changed, our position dropped back but most boats were still within sight of each other so the race was still close and very exciting. About midday we were distracted by the sight of dolphins showing off their skills, it was almost as if they were saying “oi oi look what us fish can do, top that landlubbers!” I don't know the correct term for a lot of dolphins but will look it up next time I have internet, is it herd, gaggle, swarm, gang, posse, pod? but I don’t really care, seeing this many dolphins playing in our wake, showing off was a sight I will always remember it was amazing.

As the shifts changed again my memories of bunk sharing were reignited. I was woken at 0300 with thirty minutes to get dressed and prepare my bed for my bunk buddy Nick, a lovely man who never seems to moan about anything, even my damp socks within nasal reach. I had to put my sleeping bag away into its case so Nick could unravel his, however with the boat was rocking so much I could barely complete this menial task, I decided if I could master this art I would consider a new career when I return to the UK teaching butchers how to stuff sausages without using a machine.

By day three on board I realised all the getting fit for the upcoming race, jogging, running up the tube station steps instead of using the escalator were waisted. It would have been much more beneficial for me to have swapped my mountain bike saddle for a small bucket, gone for a cross country ride and attempted to conduct my constitutionals without spillage. This would have been far more practical in a world where using the head while crossing an ocean in strong winds & swells was a necessary.

Later that same day we noticed a lot of small fishing size boats gathered in the distance, this seemed quite odd but within a few minutes we realised why. All of a sudden we were graced with the site of a large whale feeding. We watched as it smashed its tail down on the water numerous times right in front of us presumably to stun its prey before devouring it, the fishing boats were all there to enjoy the moment with us. Within a minute or two it occurred to us this whale was not alone, far from it. not 2, 3, 4, but somewhere between fifteen to twenty whales were all in the same area all feeding. This was also accompanied with dolphins cleaning up in their wake and seagulls doing the same, all grabbing whatever they could for supper. It was a sight that I will cherish forever.

The next morning at 0300 I was woken from my comfortable sleep with the warming voice of Lyndy (team member on opposite shift) doing her round of wake-up calls. It was nothing like I remember my dad doing on school days who would vigorously rustle my bed and holla: “wakey wakey eggs and bakie” at a level so loud I would complain and get up in the huff. No, this was a gentle soothing voice saying “morning darling it’s time to get up.” Somehow it was almost a pleasant experience.

I say almost because after about three seconds when you realise its chilly, damp, dark, you can’t find the right clothes to put on, you smell and all your shift mates are falling over each other as the boat rocks from side to side and up and down its not pleasant at all, but it is part of the whole experience so you get use to the fun side of it. Picture a bunch of OAPs at a coffee morning the day the price of Tena pants are put up, and that's how the crew faces look at that time of the morning.

Although the day started quite sunny and warm sadly this soon changed, a powerful storm had born down on us, full foulies were donned and both Port and Starboard shifts attempted to sail into very strong waves, winds and swells. We brought the mainsail down to reef 1 which was soon followed to a reef 2 but the battering was merciless.

I was the first to succumb to seasickness and soon found myself diverting my expulsion as far over the leeward side as possible to avoid my team mates. The last thing I wanted to do being the newcomer onboard was to give my team mates a multicoloured and pungent smelling foulie. For me it was the roughest experience I had ever known on a boat and it continued for what seemed an eternity. I knew when I signed up that ocean crossings were never going to be a G'n'T on the foredeck in a thong type of sailing race. but this was quite an eye opener and a stomach emptier.

The storm continued throughout the night as did the battering, this was real hard-core sailing and an experience some people enjoy. For me it was the start of a nightmare I am still living three days later.

The seasickness had emptied my stomach of all of its contents, this for a type 1 diabetic is a massive problem. Diabetes is a constant balance of eating the right amount of carbohydrates and balancing the amount of both Novo rapid (quick acting insulin) and Glargine (24hr slow acting insulin). Of course, as soon as you have nothing left for the insulin to work on it starts to draw carbohydrates from your organs and a dangerous condition called DKA, diabetic ketone acidosis forms. This is a poison released into your body and can cause all sorts of problems for a T1 including sickness, blindness and coma. After testing myself my DKA readings were off the scale and I felt as if I was going downhill fast. Luckily I was blessed with having a crew mate who was also a doctor.

Graham stepped in, took all the vital readings, confirmed my condition and put a call in to Clipper Race HQ back in the UK as well as Praxes, the 24 hour medical advice team all Clipper Race yachts have access to. Even though with the time difference it was midnight back home the call was immediately answered and an emergency meeting was called. Soon after advice came in and Graham was instructed to monitor me closely, rehydrate me and report regularly.

Sadly, my condition did not improve for some time and the Clipper Race office, Skipper Lance Shepherd, Dr Graham and myself decided in the best interest of safety to divert to the closest point of land and get me to a medical centre, for me and the crew the race of our lives was over.

My feeling of guilt is still with me as I type this blog, I have always tried to never let my diabetes beat me but this time it took podium and all my team mates and I had been affected.

The closest place for me to disembark was quickly calculated by Clipper Race HQ and Lance, however it was Newfoundland on the east coast of Canada some 400 miles away. The boat turned round, waived a proverbial goodbye to the other yachts and headed North West. It was going to take about two and a half days to arrive and as I type we are about 50 miles off, due to arrive about midnight tonight.

I can honestly say that everybody on board have been amazing (well almost everybody, one person looks a bit sour faced but I put that down to trapped wind), even telling me how it was a bonus to actually visit another country and to look on the bright side, they might even get a chance to disembark briefly and catch up on the things we take for granted, showering, a quick beer, even a steady toilet that doesn't have a stupid nautical name, I hope they all do.

It’s going to be a sad goodbye for me and just this one blog, one of my life's ambitions has been put on hold but I wish to thank the Clipper Race organisation who were amazing in the moment when it counted, Lance, Dr Graham, all my team mates (too many to mention) and even gobby Father Fretts for giving me memories to smile about for many years.

As for me I don't know fully what will happen from here, my blood sugars have levelled out now but the risk of staying on board is not fair or sensible for anyone. The Liverpool 2018 yacht and crew will attempt to re-join the race and see what happens when they arrive in Northern Ireland.

I assume I will be checked over in Newfoundland, get the all clear and Clipper will get me home fit and well. If however I disembark and everyone clears off laughing with me never been seen again, left to the grizzlies in Canada I would just like to say b*****s to all of you, it was me that pee'd on the seat.
Love Dom

Ps: Thank you Kathy & Helen for my leaving gift of apple crumble & custard, however didn't anyone tell you diabetics can’t eat it............I’m a celebrity, get me outta here!!!