Leg 4, Race 5 -14th January

Woke up at 1.20 by Charlie in full foulies saying they had been in one squall for 6 hours!!  Got on deck to find it was by then, only drizzling but blowing quite well. After the last few days I knew enough to make sure I kept an eye on the radar to spot any squalls coming at us. The squalls were easy to spot - a mass of solid yellow that took over a good portion of the radar screen! Pretty soon we had some weather coming in – Piers had a look and confirmed that taking into consideration our course and the wind direction it should pass ahead of us. I kept half an eye on the radar as well as the sky and confirmed that our squall was defying the logic of the wind and travelling upwind straight for us!!! We therefore spent the next fours hours doing the reef-a-cokey as I termed it - (you put one reef in you take one reef out, in out, in out etc) while getting absolutely sodden wet and trying to avoid other vessels in pretty well zero visibility. We topped it off with taking down the yankee 2 and hoisting the yankee 3 in 22 knots of breeze – any bits of anyone that were not already completely drenched – through either rain or waves – were by the end of that little task! The one consolation was that the water temp is much like a heated swimming pool – so not too unpleasant at all – apart from the sogginess!
By 6am the worst of it was over so Piers went off to bed leaving me in charge of boat watch, course and bearing to waypoint and continuing to reef in or out as required.
Boat avoidance consisted of trying to make out a vague glimmer of light through the blackness and rain. Our AIS was very hit and miss and checking the radar to make out a boat was a waste of time as we still had one huge blob of yellow rain filling the screen!!!!
Rain appeared to subside so was on the point of shaking out the second reef just as it got feisty again. I remember someone saying to me in training. If you are thinking of changing anything with the boat – sails, reefs etc, wait 10 minutes – if the conditions haven't changed then you're probably fine to go ahead. That was such a good piece of advice and never more so this week. Everything this week had changed so often and part of the learning process had been knowing when to act quickly (for a squall) and knowing when to sit on your hands and not do anything! Being on the ball at all times was essential – as we were just about to find out.

I woke Charlie up for her watch and heard Chris, the Skipper from Qingdao calling Piers up on the radio. I got back to him saying Piers was asleep, thinking he might have just wanted a chat (they sometimes do) but was told to wake Piers immediately and get him on the radio. We knew then something was up

Over the next half-hour of radio conversations between Qingdao, Singapore, us and California we pieced together the news that Cork had run aground on the tiny island (which was really only a rocky outcrop with a drying height) that was our next way point. The Cork crew we heard, were in the process of abandoning the vessel and taking liferafts and emergency kit etc onto the island – which was still above water (at high tied it wouldn't be) while waiting for help and recovery by the nearest of the Clipper fleet.  Team Finland were already close by and California an hour away. They would be principal rescue boats for crew and us, Qingdao and Singapore set about thinking about if and how the yacht could or might be recovered.  There was lots of conversation amongst those 3 skippers and much consternation and speculation amongst the crew. A small amount of shock but after what we've been through it was pretty well another incident in a whole list of possible things that could go wrong with this kind of Ocean racing.  Most people were wondering how you could possibly run aground on something so clearly marked on the map and also so small – (I probably couldn't hit it if I tried!) but we don't yet have all the information regarding the circumstances, including what the sea state and weather were at the time.

It took us 3 hours from hearing the news to reach the site where the Cork Clipper was sitting lodged onto the rocks. Although by the time we arrived all the crew were safely on either California or Team Finland it was an incredibly sobering sight to see the life-rafts that had been used bobbing around in the sea.  I don't think any of us really envisaged being in a situation where life-rafts would have to be deployed and we all felt for the crew of Cork who surely must be still in shock from the incident.  The lucky thing is that it had happened on this leg when the whole fleet was reasonably close and able to assist quickly.  Had something like this happened in the Southern Ocean it could easily have been a day or two before the nearest boat arrived on the scene... and spending at least 24 hours in a life-raft, would, I can imagine leave a long-lasting scar.

Pretty soon it was established that most of the boats would continue on to Batam while Qingdao, Team Finland and Singapore would remain in place circling the Island, guarding it from any possible fortune hunters and also to try and access the boat and make an assessment of whether or not she could be moved off the rocks and rescued.  On arrival it was obvious that the plans made between the skippers to try and tow her off between several of the other boats was not going to be possible. Cork was well and truly lodged and the sea state was still pretty rough which meant she was taking a hammering against the rocks. Any salvage attempt would have to be done by professional crew and kit and the possibility of that was now being assessed by the race office in conjunction with the Insurers.

Before heading off we had to perform the task of trying to capture one of the life rafts that had not been tethered during the rescue. It was still inflated and to any passing ships or low flying aircraft could look like it had people in it. Our job was to try and grab it and destroy it so ensure nobody would be fooled into making a rescue attempt.  Job done we headed off on our 3 to 4 day sail to Batam.