Race 9 - Day 8
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Crew Diary - QINGDAO, CHINA TO SEATTLE, USA
Life Aboard Visit Seattle
Our Clipper Race sailboat has a crew of twenty which functions as a small little society in the middle of the ocean. In some ways we are like two large families named Starboard Watch and Port Watch living in the same house and using the same facilities. For 4 hours at a time at night, and for 6 hours during the day, one family sails, manages the boat, cleans, and empties bilges while the other family sleeps.
Then at the watch changes the roles reverse, and those coming off watch, take the warm bunks of those who just went up on deck to start their shift. Hot bunking as we call it, affords us little personal space of our own, as we are stacked in together liked sardines. I'm on the top bunk and if I raise my elbow, I hit the ceiling. Our off watch time, isn't just for sleeping, as there are often support duties like packing up sails, eating, and fixing things that can easily eat away at the time. Just getting into and out of our foul weather gear and putting on and taking off our life jackets takes up to 30 minutes. To protect our night vision and not offend those sleeping, everything is done under red lighting.
We have been sailing for 8 days and covered over 1500 miles and are some 800 miles off of Japan. Our initial few days were in the relatively calm waters crossing the Yellow Sea and the Sea of Japan, but as soon as we got into the Pacific Ocean, the rolling sea swells and head on wind waves made me gravely sea sick. We bounced around like we were inside a washing machine. For 2 nights I slept on the floor on top of a sail, unable to get out of my own life jacket and foul weather gear as I threw up repeatedly. On deck, I didn't feel any better and remember laying on deck after throwing up, and someone came by and washed the puke off the deck, not too worried if I got doused with water in the process.
In addition to the constant bouncing motion, the boat is usually healing over (leaning) at a 30-50 degree angle. This creates challenges getting around and doing things like cooking, eating, or going to the bathroom. As a result, there is no table to eat at, we simply sit near the galley or on deck and usually have one bowl meals. Actually served in dog bowls, as they function the best. In the micro sized head that makes an airplane bathroom look spacious, everyone sits down. Also interesting is that there are no toilet seats, which I'm told, is for male safety reasons in the rough conditions.
As we are a racing sailboat, the process of sailing goes on 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. We are always looking at the weather, our routing, and the position of the other boats, and think about how to gain an advantage. We are constantly working to make our boat go a little faster by helming more efficiently, trimming sails, or changing them to best suit the conditions. On board we have 14 sails, including 3 spinnakers and 3 Yankees that get changed often depending on conditions, and a staysail and a mainsail.
Our largest Yankee weighs about 250 lbs. and has to get from the sail locker up on deck, then hanked (clipped) on to the forestay, and manually hoisted up the mast. It is very tiring to lug around and takes a coordinated team effort. Fortunately we have "coffee grinders" which allow us to turn the winches faster than just using the manual winch handle. Every headsail that comes off the forestay must also be folded up and packed away, and folding big sails on the windy deck can be challenging. After several days of bashing through the waves our bowsprit has broken preventing us from using our spinnakers.
Our little society or crew is made up of people from all walks of life and nationalities with a great esprit de corp. Although I'm just sailing the Pacific leg of the race, many of the crew are doing a full circumnavigation. I've really enjoyed getting to know them as we talk through the night, share duties, or a bunk. We each bring something different and uniquely our own to our Visit Seattle team.
Our skipper Huw Fernie, manages the overall process of sailing this Clipper Race, keeps us safe, informed, and sometimes entertained as well. Because he was asked to throw out the first pitch at an upcoming Seattle Mariners Baseball game, today we held pitching practice and the crew cheered as he practiced pitching rotten oranges down the deck and over the side. I'll share more insights on the crew in the future.
So this is life aboard Visit Seattle. I've learned that it is partly an ocean sailing race, partly a very challenging expedition, and partly a fun adventure similar to summer camp. Thanks for reading; I hope you will join in with us for the voyage.