Leg 5, Race 7 Day 1 - 2nd March Race Start Day

5 hours of sleep is barely enough, I decided as my alarm sounded at 6.15am – just time for a final luxurious hot shower and hair wash – quite possibly my last for the next 4 1/2 weeks! Albert and I, who had been sharing a cheap and cheerful apartment since we'd arrived in Qingdao, did a final scout around for left items and scurried off just before 7am, to grab a taxi back to the marina.

As we'd come to expect, it was a bitterly cold morning but the marina was already bustling with arriving crew, tv and newspaper media (the departure ceremony was being shown live on Chinese television!) and a large collection of traditional Chinese bands and lion dancers ready to entertain us and the quickly growing crowd.

By 8am we'd passed through the immigration process and at 9am all skippers and crew were assembled in front of the Olympic theatre and the giant sized skipper posters that lined the walkway. Skippers were all looking very fetching in their capes and tiger hats. I tried to muscle in on the act by sporting Piers's recently bought (from a toy shop) furry and very cute, Tiger-head hat – much to the amusement of the other crew and crowd! It may well have looked a tad ridiculous but it certainly kept my ears warm and I felt it a fitting lucky charm as we'd just entered the Chinese New year of the Tiger!
After lots of speeches by all the good and great from the Qingdao hosts and also from Sir Robin K-J, we proceeded back to the boats – once again feeling like media stars ready for our departure.

It may have been cold but the sun was shining down on us as we pulled out of the marina – back past the huge Olympic rings on the harbour-side – which once again exploded with fire-works and an enthusiastically waving crowd.  The people of Qingdao had certainly gone out of their way to make us feel welcome and they gave us a send-off that we'll all remember for a very long time.

Our thoughts were very much now on race start. As I went round the boat with the video camera asking people how they felt about setting off on this leg, the same response came back - “nervous excitement”. There was a lot of apprehension about the potential conditions, the cold and the wet and how each individual might cope with that. That aside there was no getting away from the fact that we had just left Chinese soil and the next time we would set foot on dry land we would be in California. Anyway you look at it – this is going to be one helluva voyage!

Race start was just about as exciting as you can be without any disasters happening. The fleet were almost split into two groups in their approach to the start line. We slightly mis-timed it but still managed to cross the line second and then worked very hard to keep the pressure on to the first mark which we rounded in first place.  There had been lots of very close calls between the yachts which, in light of our Cape Town start collision, led to a few winces from some of us, but it all added to the excitement and made action packed viewing for the spectators. Straight after the mark we were the first yacht to hoist our mid-weight spinnaker – then shooting into the lead by some distance. The others followed suit but we streaked ahead for the first hour or so. I was off watch so went to get my head down for an hour and was soon aware by the lack of movement and the skipper banter across VHF radio that the whole fleet had hit an almighty wind-hole. By the time I arrived back on deck at 6pm, the surrounding sea looked like a car park with 8 yachts all milling around, facing a myriad of directions, all trying to sniff out the wind!

A couple of boats picked up a breeze and pretty soon we were all off again. There followed several hours of sail-up, sail-down as the wind came and went and changed angles every time we hoisted a new sail...or that's what it felt like anyway!

By the start of night watch (8pm – 2am) the wind had settled and strengthened and we were off and away. The night was cold – but I was prepared and had many, many layers on. I couldn't move, I may not be able to move around the deck – but I'd bloomin' well be warm! We were zipping along at 9 to 10 knots in not too tortuous conditions. I thanked my lucky stars. Every good day we had was a day less of the hellish conditions I'd been imagining and dreading for some time. One down, approximately 31 to go!