Leg 4, Race 6, Day 17, 18th February

Last night was a nightmare. It started off ok on our 3 on and 3 off hourly rotations but 2 hours before the end of the watch the wind picked up and we did the “sail change from hell!” I spotted the trend in wind increase too late so by the time we were getting the yankee 3 up on deck the winds were already gusting up to the mid 30s, the night was pitch black and absolutely freezing. It took 4 of us 15 minutes to get the new sail down the length of the deck onto the bow and secured down. Half way through this process we had to stop and Tom and I peeled off to put in the second reef while the others secured the sail. By the time I staggered back up to the bow, Jack was sitting there, his life-jacket having activated due to the amount of water thrashing over the deck, looking pretty pale. It turns out while holding on to stop himself being thrown around he had dislocated his shoulder. He was sure it had gone back in again (he had previously dislocated it 2 or 3 times so knew the details… and the pain only too well) so my priority was to help him back down the boat and get him below decks.

Tania who was previously part of the Cork crew and who was sailing with us to Qingdao, was still having problems with her ribs – which she'd cracked in the accident, so she took over the duty of holding a portable floodlight so we could see what we were doing on deck. (Our main fixed floodlight was broken!) Jeremy was on the helm so it was then down to Mick, myself, Tom and Mickey to wrestle with getting the Y3 hanked on in conditions that, quite frankly, had me on the verge of throwing the towel in. I was soaked through, being thrown around the deck, scared and completely knackered. I had to bellow at the top of my voice to try and be heard above the wind and then struggled to hear responses, which made communication very slow. Every muscle was being used to its limit and every part of me ached. I was aware that Mick also had a problem with his elbow and was working through some considerable discomfort – if not pain, and I was conscious that everyone else was just as wet through, cold and exhausted as I was. It probably took us an hour and a half from first getting the sail on deck, to reef the main, hank on the Y3, drop the yankee 2 (which took considerable effort to haul down on deck and make safe so it wouldn't get blown over-board) and get the Y3 hoisted. By the time we had finished, the next watch were arriving on deck. You could tell by their faces that we must have looked a very sorry state of sodden, worn-out crew. To top it all Piers sat me down and told me that I needed to focus more, get the crew working harder and that all this had taken far too long and we all needed to raise our game! I very nearly told him where he could shove his watch-leader role! Instead I went below deck, made a cup of tea and wept exhausted tears! In retrospect I know he was being harsh because he was under pressure himself, hadn't had enough sleep and also because he believes I'm capable of more. I just need to believe that myself. I went to bed feeling completely useless and wondering if I was really cut out for this.

This morning I woke up still with a bruised ego but more determined to do better and also not to give our skipper any room to criticise me. It wasn't a great start as we'd dropped down a few places in the scheds and while our slow headsail change last night won't have been the cause, it will have been a contributing factor. I can't help feeling to blame although in reality, given the conditions and the fact we were down on manpower, I know we couldn't have got it much quicker.

Still today is another day, so we took up with our watch determined to focus and do whatever we could to make the boat go faster and try and improve our race position. The sea state (we're now in the East China Sea) is still pretty difficult. At times it's been flatter but regularly building again with a mixture of short, sharp waves and the occasional mountainous rollers that spring up from nowhere. The wind, as well as gusting from 19, 20 knots up to 32 knots, is also swinging wildly through a variation of about 40 degrees – sometimes within as many seconds!. It makes helming very difficult but it's now all down to keeping the steering tight, make any small and prompt adjustments to the sails as the shifts occur and altering course in conjunction with the wind changes. Add to that vessel avoidance – we are now in prime Chinese fishing vessel territory – so as well as lobster and fishing net marker buoys, small groups of trawlers are popping up all over the place!  Many of us hoped that this may at least result in fresh fish for one of our meals – but apparently it doesn't work like that!

We worked the boat hard this afternoon, put in a reef in record time – which boosted my confidence and kept the boat speed high. I was tired at off-watch time but the forepeak where our bunks are is a good 4 to 5 degrees colder than the saloon area and I was too tired to get out of my clothes and perform the rock-mountaineering manoeuvre necessary to access my freezing, wet bunk. Instead I grabbed my sleeping bag, and sat in it, in the saloon – a bit like you grab your duvet and sit on the sofa at home when you're not feeling too well – and typed my blog while I tried hard (and unsuccessfully) not to nod off!

Quite a few of the fleet are in 'stealth mode' which means their positions are hidden from us all for 24 hours – so we have no idea where they are or what progress they are making. We think we are back down in 7th place but we are further out east than the rest of the fleet. This again is a gamble. We are putting our faith in the weather forecast (is this a good idea?!) and banking on the fact that the wind will eventually shift around to the north west and then west. We also think that further west where the rest of the fleet are, the winds are due to ease over the next 24 hours, and that by having slightly better winds we'll make good ground back up. We'll need to, as in our normal style, we seem to be sailing a longer route than anyone else! The temperature had dropped again today. Another layer has gone on and fleecy neck warmers and woolly hats are even worn below deck. We can see our breath in the air and fingers exposed to the air for anything more than 10 minutes on deck are painfully cold. A few days ago we had hoped that we would be arriving in Qingdao early tomorrow morning but now it's looking more like late at night on the 20th. Everyone is fed up with being cold - which is more incentive to sail fast. We want a podium position but we're desperate for a warm dry bed and a hot bath almost as much!