Leg 4 - Race 6, Day 11 12th February

Bang, bang, Bang! Was the noise that I woke up to at 1.30 this morning. Swiftly followed by a quick blast of 'Happy Birthday to You' sung by Charlie and Mike to an amused if slightly bleary-eyed Jeremy (or Victor as I call him – after Victor Meldrew). The bangs had been a series of party poppers fired off over his bunk as a special 'Birthday treat'!!! Our old faithful Birthday banners had been strung up and fresh balloons blown up for the occasion but once we'd all wished Jezzer Many Happy Returns (" you old codger") it was back to the matter in hand – checking out the scheds before heading onto deck. At least we were moving – not very fast, around 5 knots but it was better than nothing. The Yankee 1 and staysail were flying (just) but there was no sound of water rushing past the hull, just a gentle 'ssssh' as we slid through the sea, which was almost as smooth as the country we are heading to. There are still loads of boats around – mainly large tankers, as we appear to have a chosen a route right in between the main line of those going about their business heading north and those heading south. The chart is full of blocks of info from the AIS system on each boat telling us their name, heading, bearing from us, their speed, the type of vessel they are and more importantly, if they are travelling on a possible collision path with us and if so how long till that happens (always nice to know!). There are so many boats that it's quite hard to see the rest of the chart info, so keeping a close eye on them all is a key part of the watch.

So to the scheds... the whole fleet are now really tightly bunched. At the start of night watch we were in still in first place – just – but Team Finland were only 3 miles behind us and we knew inside that the chances of us being in the lead in 6 hours time was very slim.

We needed some wind and some speed from somewhere and we all wished on stars for the same thing. It looks like our wishes may be granted as we also received an email from the Race office warning us of a front we are likely to run into before the end of the day, which will give us 30 plus knots of wind on the nose and will liven things up considerably! It wasn't here yet however and our 5 knots went down to 3 and we were dropping the yankee and staysail and trying to get the boat moving again with the windseeker. We could almost feel the other yachts creeping past us somewhere out to the west but there was nothing we could do other than concentrate, shift the weight about and keep the faith!

At 4.30am the next scheds arrived and our worst fears were confirmed – we'd dropped into 4th place behind Finland & California and were showing as having the same miles to go as Qingdao. On one hand we were gutted. On the other hand – once it had happened, I was a tad relieved. We knew it was coming, now the pressure of holding onto the lead was off and we were part of the chasing pack again.

An hour before the end of watch the wind picked up enough to revert back to the yankee No1 and the staysail and suddenly we had a small amount of forward motion again. We threw in a couple of tacks (making some very pretty zigzag patterns on our chart tracker) while we waited for the wind to come round to the east as forecast. Our game plan was reliant on this, so as we munched through breakfast on deck in the dark (we'd put our clocks froward one hour last night to get more light in the evening), we kept everything crossed that the forecasts would come to fruition.

I went straight to bed to get some sleep during my 4 hour off watch, for the first time in 3 days. The excitement of the race was taking its toll and I knew I needed some kip. Plus, as it was still dark on deck it no longer felt wrong to be going to bed at 8am!

I woke up at 10.30 having got a good couple of hours sleep, to notice that the boat was on a very steep heel and I could see the sea on the low side of the boat through the open hatch. It was a very welcome sight and meant we were trucking for sure! The wind had done exactly as predicted, had come round to the east and had picked up too. As I got ready for the day ahead I could hear the No1 which had been dropped and packed coming in through the hatch and the first reef going in the mainsail. Boat speed was up to 8 & 9 knots, apparent wind was in the early 20s. The next scheds were in and although we are still in 4th place, we had clawed a few knots back from some of the other boats and it as very obvious that everyone else had got lighter winds as no-one had made much progress at all. The fact that we were now moving along nicely had us hoping that we were out of the hole first as predicted and hopefully would now be able to take miles back out of the other boats again.

Our afternoon watch continued well – the wind picking up all the time. It was perfect sailing conditions, still warm, the wind back in our sails, blue sea and skies. Although Jeremy had been hoping for 3 scoring gate points for his Birthday he had to admit that the even without those he couldn't have asked for a better day!

By 4.30pm the next scheds were in. We all waited with baited breath. We're back in 2nd place with California in the lead. The even better news was that looking at our spreadsheet there was a whole row of green shining back at us – we had pulled miles back from every other boat in the fleet. Now the wind has moved round we are confident that we have a better line to the scoring gate so we still have a really good shot at the 3 points. Over the last 3 hours the front has arrived and we have changed down through our sails. We are currently sailing with the Yankee 3, the storm jib (which has only made one other appearance so far on the race) and we have all 3 reefs in the main. Everything is strapped down that can be strapped down, we are slamming through the waves and have over 30 knots of apparent wind. The guys sleeping right in the fore-peak have been moved out and are hot-bunking with those on opposite watches (in seas like this it's virtually impossible to sleep up front as you literally get thrown up in the air out of your bunk!). It's pretty wild on deck, everyone is now wearing full foulies, although it's still not cold. Piers gave us a pep talk about being careful below deck, moving around carefully and always holding on with one hand. The last thing we need now is for someone to get injured. Many bumps and bruises are a certainty though. Today's mothers have just taken bread out of the oven for tomorrow's breakfast – the loaves look fabulous but are on a definite lean! Bunks have all been either hoiked right up or lowered (depending on whether they are on the high or low side) in order to try and level them off for the best chance of sleep. The ladies heads (loo) has stopped working completely now. It's on the high side and so just isn't getting an intake of water to flush through. We now have to share the gents with them (although not at the same time – obviously!)

Sitting here in the Nav station and typing this is also pretty challenging. I'm wedged in with my legs bracing me so I don't slide off the seat and across the boat. I'm also starting to feel a bit sick. These conditions are not conducive for doing any kind of close quarter work at all. When it's like this it's best to be either on deck or lying

flat on your bunk, anything else is an endurance test and the odds on holding onto the contents of your stomach slim!

I'm on mother watch tomorrow which will be 'interesting' in these conditions but it does mean I get a full nights sleep tonight. I should have gone to bed 2 hours ago but have been hanging around for the next sched. It's just come in. We're back in 1st place! Hooray! We're only 8 miles in front of California but position wise we still think the boats we need to watch out for are Cape Breton and Jamaica. We now have 83 miles to go to the scoring gate, so should be there before breakfast tomorrow. Will we get there first though? I'm off to bed now but the likelihood of sleep? Hmmmm........