Leg 4 Race 6 Day 20, 21st February 2010

Our final night-watch passed without hitch last night. Trucking along at 10 & 11 knots in the freezing cold. We had passed through the busy waters earlier so had a pretty uninterrupted 6 hours flying across the Yellow sea to our destination. Every half-hour or so we were checking the distance to the official finish line and ticking off the miles. The following watch would be on at the point of crossing the line but Mick and I asked to be woken up 15 minutes before so we could witness the end of this testing leg.
An hour and a half into sleep in my toasty warm sleeping bag I did wonder about the wisdom of that decision but I reminded myself that I would only do this once and I wanted to share the moment with those that I had sailed with, worked, laughed and at times, cried with over the last few weeks. It wasn't much of an occasion. We stood staring at the chart waiting for the little icon of H&H to finally completely cross the imaginary line between two way-points. We called the moment to the crew on deck and I the rummaged around in the galley to find a bag of fun size chocolate bars (not quite champagne!) to celebrate with. A few well-dones, hand shakes and hugs later and I was back in my sleeping bag with not even the energy to dream of warmer climes.

At 8am we were still a good two hours away from Qingdao, and the Olympic Sailing Harbour that was to be our home for the next 10 days.  It's a beautiful clear blue-skied, crisp sunny day, bitterly cold but perfect conditions for our arrival. We'd been advised that this was just about the biggest fuss any of the ports would make of the race – and they weren't wrong. When we finally got to the harbour we all had to mill around for ages for the media to film and photograph us motoring past with all our banners and colours flying. Each boat was then called in one by one to the marina, to a fanfare, a short and rather alarming fireworks display as you passed by the huge Olympic Ring structure at the entrance and then after a very organised immigration and medical check as we disembarked – involving a check of our temperature via ear thermometer by a very fierce-looking  Chinese military medic – which luckily (and much to all our relief) didn't appear to require the thermometer going anywhere near ones ears – we were processed up to a huge public stage in front of a massive and hugely enthusiastic crowd of spectators! We were presented with long red scarves with the Clipper logo embroidered on one end and the Chinese year of the tiger emblem on the other, a rather gorgeous hand bouquet of white roses and made to feel like we'd just won an Olympic medal. I did look around expectantly for my gold – but it didn't come!  The skippers were all given long velvet capes – very Harry Potteresque – and slightly dubious Tiger head hats – complete with ears – which they all obviously felt completely ridiculous in but tried to carry-off with a modicum of dignity!
Several rounds of speeches later and we were being ushered up the pontoon towards the Yacht club, past the crowd who kept stopping us and asking either for our autograph or if they could have their photo taken with us! It was all completely bonkers in a slightly touching way. The welcome was so warm but I felt a bit like a fraudster, conning the locals into thinking I was something special. I guess it was the one “popstar” moment of my life, my one chance to enjoy a second in the spotlight.
It came, we savoured it, it went. The next minute we were in the crew lounge struggling to decide if the priority was to drink beer or to peel off the zillion layers we'd needed outside, down to a more appropriately bikini-type outfit fitting for the near tropical heat inside the hot bar – which was becoming hotter by the second as all the tales of the last few weeks were replayed to friends and crew from other boats and those who had ventured this far to greet their nearest and dearest.

After an hour or so we staggered back to our Umber to move her (while we were still sober enough) to her permanent mooring site just across the harbour. It was then a quick snatch and grab of all our kit – well as much as we could carry in one go – and Albert, Jo, Charlie and I headed off to find the two apartments we rented for the duration of our stay. My funds may be dwindling but there was no way I could face staying on the boat in these freezing temperatures. The promise of a warm room, warm bed, hot water and hopefully a washing machine was too tempting to resist. And after all, I reasoned, we'd jolly well earned it.
We'd survived what was reputed to be the toughest leg of the entire race. We'd just sailed a passage that many experienced sailors wouldn't touch with a barge pole, and we were in one piece with an intact boat. It was true we'd noticed some rather alarming cracks appear in various places below decks on our beloved 'Umba, during the course of the worst of the weather and the most violent wave slamming periods, but other than that (and losing our jockey pole over the side) we were all in pretty good shape. We now have 10 days to recover, regroup, reinvigorate and prepare ourselves and our boat for what I personally believe will be the most challenging leg – if not for the sailing conditions – but for the mind, body & spirit of all the crew.  I think Leg 5 will be our Nemesis.