Leg 4, Race 5 - 11th January

Today is my first day of 4 as watch leader. I was neither looking forward to it nor dreading it but I did know it would challenge me, take me out of my comfort zone but that ultimately I would learn a lot and enjoy the experience all the more for it. Before I could concentrate properly on being a grown-up Mike B and I were woken especially early in order to play a practical joke on JR – who had been particularly obnoxious (in the nicest possible way) yesterday! We'd arranged with Charlie who had just taken over as watch-leader for Port watch that she would keep him busy on deck during the last half hour of his watch.  Mike and I then attacked his bunk, removed all of his belongings and sleeping bag and even the bunk mattress, leaving a large bare empty space and stuck a notice it reading “Bunk For Rent”!  We then appeared on deck struggling to keep straight faces as Charlie sent Jeremy below deck at the end of watch.  We did a quick sprint along the deck so we could peer down through the hatch and witness the scene of Jeremy staring in disbelief at this empty bunk! Mike and I were in stitches. Poor JR took it all in good part, called us several rude names and went back to liberate his possessions so he could go back to bed!

So my first stint as W/ L was on one of the darkest nights we'd seen. The wind had gone very light and we were sailing along with the windseeker (does what it says on the tin!)) and staysail. The wind gradually picked up so we changed up to medium weight kite and Piers went to bed and left us trimming as we had been doing for the last two days.

We were going along nicely but keeping an eye on a huge bank of cloud that was on our port side that Piers thought we'd out-run but I was to keep checking the radar nonetheless! Sure enough the “squall” appeared to be travelling upwind (not normal at all!) and towards us, rather than away with the wind. It got close enough to wake Piers who came up took one look and said we needed to get the kite down pronto!
Before we knew it the winds had more increased ten-fold and the rain sheeted down! Checking the radar again I could confirm that we were hit by one band but were due to miss the second. Checking the radar 10 minutes later I was able to confirm that the second band had caught up the first band and they had now joined together in  Humber bashing party! After another half an hour and another check of the radar we appeared to be coming out of the far side of it – with nothing else on the radar for another 40 mile radius. And yet the wind picked up once again so on yet another run down to the Nav station the squall that should have come out of had now doubled in size and we were once again bang in the middle of it! By then we were soaked through anyway – so what was another hour or two of rain?!
I woke up this morning to find the other watch had got the lightweight kite up and California was very close by. We were both struggling with kites and the wind had all but gone. There was an awful lot of frustration and bickering around as we tried desperately to identify some semblance of a breeze from any direction – with everyone having a different idea of where the wind might be about to come from and how to try and get the boat moving..  We were handed a watch with a kite that basically was spending more time in the water than flying and with no breeze. I pondered gybing as it eventually looked like there might be a sniff of something from the west and just when I thought I might have to wake the skipper to check if that was the right decision the breeze started to blow the sail slightly across the boat – so no time for skipper waking – I took the decision to gybe straight away – the breeze was so light I felt there was no real risk of anything going wrong –  so we did it! In actual fact we pretty well had to walk the sail round to the other side of the boat but once half way the wind did the rest and we were in grave danger of actually moving!  While this was going on Cape Breton clipper had snuck up along side us in a breeze which then died on them . They must have wondered what on earth was going on as 4 crew grabbed arm fulls of our spinnaker and walked it round the front of the boat. It's a manoeuvre that certainly isn't in the training manual but it worked! We did get sailing managing to trim and move the boat but by watch-hand-over it had all but died again. When Piers came up from his sleep I mentioned we'd gybed but may have skipped over the detail of how! During the rest of the day we watched Cape Breton and Singapore move out to the east and California do something similar. We also watched as we closed in on Cork and sailed past them – although again they were on a slightly different angle. All boats were struggling to keep moving across the mill-pond like water, trying to sniff for the faintest of breezes.  The benefit of sailing slowly and smoothly was that we got to enjoy one of the most spectacular sunsets I've ever seen. It seemed to last for well over an hour with dramatically changing and deepening colours and cloud patterns every 10 minutes. The sun finally set in fiery fury of blood oranges and blazing reds against a backdrop of stony, grey clouds that forebode more excitement to come later that night.