31st August - 4th September

Finally Monday 31st August was upon us. The day the fleet would be leaving it's home in Clarence Dock Marina, Gosport for Grimsby and eventually Hull – host port of the race.

We were all excited especially as for the first time there was to be a big public ceremony to mark the departure of the yachts. It was a beautifully warm, sunny day, and the yachts, all primped and preened showing off their official sponsor banners, seemed to bristle with pride as they waited for their big send off.

A brunch (sausage or bacon sarnie) was gobbled down before all the crews were summoned around the stage area where the mayor of Gosport and Sir Robin Knox Johnston both said some suitably poignant words. The skippers were all presented with the official race flag to fly and then we all marched off down to our respective yachts, some stuffing hankies hastily into their pockets and trying to pretend that the occasion hadn't already opened the flood gates of emotion!

One by one the yachts slipped their mooring lines and left Gosport while their official boat song was played over the PA system. It felt very strange having spent so much time travelling down to Gosport for all my training over the last 12 months, to think that I might not actually be there again – ever. That would be like saying goodbye to my sailing life though and I wasn't ready to even think about that. As we left, waving goodbye to the hundreds of people who had turned out to see us off the emotions ran high again – until we realised - with indignance, that the track playing us out was not in fact our boat song at all! We'd have to get that sorted before our grand departure from Hull!


The sight of the twelve strong Clipper fleet was really an amazing sight as we motored up out of the Solent in formation with our Hull & Humber proudly leading the way. Our arms were aching with all the waving we were doing to the crowds who not only lined both sides of the estuary but who had also come out in their own boats to cheer us on and wish us luck. We really did feel like superstars – although perhaps slightly fraudulent superstars as we actually hadn't really done anything yet!

And fraudulent we were in fact ,as we weren't about to start racing at all! Instead we were heading off round to Brighton to moor up for the night. We'd been told that there was a big low pressure system coming in which was going to mean we had some pretty strong winds so we were going to Brighton for two reasons. Firstly because the race office wanted to be a bit cautious and get the measure of the weather before we set off into it – they didn't want broken yachts – or broken crew before the race start! And secondly because the winds meant we were likely to get to Grimsby pretty quickly and weren't due in until Friday...and there would be no point us hanging around in the North Sea for a couple of days!

We spent the time in Brighton carrying on with the maintenance jobs on the boat and using the odd free hour to catch up on some laundry and final bits of shopping. We also made up for the lack of sailing competition by having an inter-boat 10 pin bowling competition. I'm pleased to report that the Hull & Humber team won with the highest overall average score – due mainly to our Skipper (to whom losing is not an option), and Brett and Arthur who didn't seem to know how not to get a strike!

Wednesday came and so did the winds which whipped the waves over the high marina wall and whistled hauntingly around the tops of the yachts that were moored there. We were the first to head out at 8am feeling a tad apprehensive about the weather we were heading into but eager to be racing again.

The race was conducted as a time trial between two way-points, so it was going to be down to each boat to choose their time to cross the start having considered weather, wind and tidal information. By the time we crossed the start line the wind was good but not as strong as had been forecast. I was on the watch that was due to sleep from 8pm to 2am...so we did!

By the time we were up for our watch the wind had picked up to a steady force 8 and we were making fast progress. It was exhilarating stuff and my only regret as I stood at the stern of the yacht behind the helmsman, was that it was too dark a night to properly see the enormous waves we were surfing down.

The inside route we took between an oilfield and some shallow banks meant that we gybed(turned the back of the boat through the wind) 6 times in an hour that night! We later termed that little stint as doing the “Gyb-a-cokey” (you put your port pole in, your port pole out, in out, in out......you get the gist). During the course of the night and into the morning the wind continued to increase with gusts of over 50 knots. It was by far the most fierce conditions I had sailed in to date. The wind increased so much that we reefed in the mainsail, and had to drop our yankee foresail. I had made the mistake of saying to Jo our watch-leader that I hadn't spent much time on the bow during previous training so when it came to drop the yankee she nominated me to go up to the front of the boat to help bring the sail down!

I'm not sure if it was the prospect of having to crawl up the deck relying on the strength of my safety line to keep me on our yacht (turned Bucking Bronco), or the fact that as I looked up towards the bow it periodically disappeared completely under a wave – but I suddenly felt a very large respect for the sea and an appreciation of my own small life – so I tackled my task with my Health and Safety hat firmly on and struggled up to the bow with cautious enthusiasm.
We discovered that night that when you're in very strong winds and you let go of the halyard holding up the sail that the sail doesn't come down. I discovered that when you turn the yacht away from the wind and let go of the halyard, the sail comes down very quickly and with some force – and if you happen to have your hand between the sail and the bottom of the forestay, it hurts. A lot! I was just vocalising that discovery in some very choice language when a couple of huge waves came crashing over the bow and I also discovered that my life jacket works! I didn't know whether to be pleased it worked well or to feel sorry for myself that I was a not-quite drowned rat (thanks to the aforementioned life-jacket) and my boots were now like swimming pools!

The rest of the race passed with fairly little incident. We had made really good ground despite some little incidents and a fair few members of the crew being pretty sick, However we all cheered up at the prospect of getting into Grimsby on the Thursday evening rather than waiting for the high tide the following morning. It was touch and go but we made it in by just after 8pm – all pretty cold, wet and tired but grateful of the sailing experience (now we were safely moored up) and all feeling a little better prepared to face the conditions that the Round the World Race would no doubt throw at us.

As we entered the lock at Grimsby, the Team Finland Crew were there to clap us in along with our hosts – members of the South Humber Cruising Association and right down the end of the line waiting on the side were my (old) next door neighbours, Maria Jack and Bronwyn who had dashed across from Hull to welcome me in! After many hugs and shortened tales of the trip up (during the telling of which the winds and waves undoubtedly in increased significantly in size!) we tidied up the boat and headed to the club bar for a much welcome pint and pie and peas and then bed!

The next morning we woke up to find the final yachts had arrived – with tired, and exhausted crew, all with their own great tales of their “epic” journey up and the troubles they had encountered on the way. Although we knew we'd done a pretty fast time up the results were announced and Team Finland took the Pilgrim Race trophy – with Hull & Humber coming in second place. We felt pretty pleased with ourselves but it was a reminder that there are a lot of very strong teams in the race and Team Finland in particular would be a tough act to get the better of.

Pilgrim Race photos