Leg 6 Race 8 Day 1, Tues April 20th

Leg 6 Race 8 – San Francisco to Panama

Tues April 20th – Day 1

The noisy clatter of rain on deck accompanied by the steady trickle of water, splashing down from the forward hatch onto the sail bags below, was the opening fanfare to race start day. The sunshine and welcome warmth of the previous few days had vanished and in their place, grey skies and the eerie whistling of the wind through the halyards and around the steadfast masts, which seemed to herald our return to the North Pacific. The Ocean that only a few weeks earlier had played with the whole Clipper fleet, flicking and kicking our yachts carelessly around for it's own amusement, spitefully snapping masts, and legs and everything but our determination to continue onwards, was now almost daring us to venture out and try our luck once more. It could dare all it liked; we'd been in port for far too long and were itching to be off; a dull sky and a few strong gusts of wind were not about to deter us now!
Unusually, Race start was not due until 6pm, so once all the crew were on board by 9am (or just after!) we had a few hours to get our bunk spaces sorted, do a final tidy up and finish a few last minute jobs to ensure Umba was indeed 'Ship shape'!

Justin gave us a final crew briefing before heading off to his skippers meeting and I tried to get my head around doing the new mother-watch rota. Justin had decided to change our watch-system to one he had worked with all his life and having then conceded to our requests to keep our mother-watch the same, I had volunteered to do the task of trying to make the two fit together!
I kind of had it figured out but trying to explain it to everyone else was a little trickier!!! I'd also rota’d myself onto mother-watch for the first 3 days – a) because the weather was likely to be rough and I was still only going to be of minimal use on deck in those conditions and b) because the weather was rough and being below deck in the gallery is not something many people can stomach on the first few days at the best of times! It would be a tough 3 days but hey – at this point I was just happy to be allowed to sail, as my shoulder injury from the previous leg had very much put my continuation in the race in jeopardy. It was strange getting ready for the off under a new skipper – we all liked Justin – he seems like an OK guy and I think we'll learn a lot from him but he's not Piers. Not the guy who put our team together and established the mood and atmosphere on board Hull & Humber; and Piers's absence is still keenly felt and discussed. No sooner was I thinking that than I got “skyped” by our bionic legged skipper himself, from home in the UK, so I and many of the crew were able to have a final chat before the off and Piers got to see that we were all still busy and looking after his beloved boat.

As soon as lunch was done we were slipping lines and off out into the bay – having first given the rest of the teams a hearty round of applause – Team Finland in particular, having only arrived the previous morning and having to miraculously turn their boat around in about 36 hours! Amazing job!!!

As soon as the sails were up there was a quick parade and then the yachts were jostling for position. From the galley I could hear Justin calling the 10 minute, then 4 minute warning to race start. Then with a minute to go we were already making our run to the start line. We crossed in third place and were then in the battle to make it out under the Golden Gate Bridge and out of the bay first.  The grinding of the winches and the shouted instructions all got the adrenaline going as we tacked, and tacked and tacked again... although it was equally exciting in the galley as poor Arthur and I “tacked” the huge pot of boiling potatoes, and beef stew that was our supper – and but for some nimble foot work, so nearly decorated the walls and floor on many occasions!

As I caught a pan lid mid-air and Arthur ducked under a pile of flying plastic bowls for the fifth time, we could hear the whoops and cheers from on deck and looking up we could see that we were passing under the Famous Bridge – and in first place  (just)! The gusts got stronger, we pushed the boat harder and the heel got steeper. The stove ran out of 'gimble angle' so we had to manually gimble the pans to avoid spillage while trying not to applaud rather than curse our speed!

With the speed also came the wild bouncing of the boat which in turn brought on the old mal de mare in first one crew member then the next until eventually every new member of the team – and some old ones were either throwing up over the side, in the heads or merely looking green while desperately trying to hold on to the contents of their stomach! It was hardly surprising – it was one of our more lively starts and a real baptism of fire for the new gang. By the end of supper, even I was starting to feel a tad ropey and began questioning my own wisdom of putting my name down to do the first 2 mother-watches!

As the first set of night watches unfolded the wind picked up to 30 then 40 knots and beyond, Stomachs continued to be emptied in the most undignified of manners and I struggled to find the lad of nod in my bunk despite hoiking it up to try and counter the lean of the boat, despite the fact I was climbing back into my newly washed and cosy, warm sleeping bag and despite the fact I was pretty exhausted. I tossed and turned and while visiting the heads at least 2 times, couldn't figure out if I was dehydrated or had been drinking too much!