Leg 7, Race 5 – Day 4, Friday 5th March

Mike B woke me at 7.15am. My initial reaction was “shit, I'm late for motherwatch” and then I realised that was yesterday and I was back to normal today. The lack of violent boat motion once again gave away the fact that we were in a light wind situation and just to underline that as I was about to go on deck for watch, the mid-weight spinnaker was shoved down the companion way at me and I could hear the Windseeker being hoisted. It was the start of yet another watch full of evolutions. The Windseeker had been up no more than 15 minutes before we tacked and were then hoisting the light kite, straight from the forestay then post-hoist rigging the pole and transferring the load. The wind picked up and we managed over 4 knots of speed, only to have it eventually die again. After much flogging (on the sails part) and much cursing (on our part) we eventually dropped it and put the Windseeker back up again. During the course of the watch we continued to shuffle sails up to the staysail and then the Yankee 2 and then back down to the Windseeker again! It was only as we finished packing the lightweight kite that I noticed a rip right in the belly which meant I had to go straight into sail repair mode in case it was needed again quickly. I blamed myself as I'm sure I was only saying to Tony yesterday that I hadn't done any spinnaker repairs since leg 1! I really DO need to learn to keep my mouth shut!

Several hours later the kite was repaired and re-packed and ready for a re-hoist – although in the end the mid-weight kite went up instead and I had to suffer lots of jokes about skipper being too nervous about my repair to throw up the lightweight!  As if!!!

By the time I'd finished, I was straight into Engineering duties but as it was also watch change over day, I then discovered Tony, my co-engineer was off to bed! Mike B stepped into the breech and helped out with the cleaning and water bilging and so in no time I was able to get on deck in the absolute torrential rain for the last 2 hours of my four hour watch – oh joy! By now the wind was really piping up so we went straight into putting in a reef and then hanking on the Yankee 3 in case the winds blew up a storm. The sky was dark and for the whole 2 hours there was a continuous strobe display of lightning – which at times lit up the whole vista – as far as the eye could see as if someone had turned on millions of light bulbs across the sky. The thunder was a low growling that sometimes lasted for 20 seconds -  a bit like a grumpy giant grumbling about someone turning the lights on! I was once again on the helm and counting the number of luminous yellow hoods of my fellow watch as they battled to hank on the Yankee 3 while disappearing beneath several large waves. Arthur was the lucky winner of the exploding life-jacket competition this time. His prize was to have to struggle twice as hard on the foredeck just to get the task complete!  Once again I was thankful and relieved when everyone was safely back from the bow and also in awe that this group of people – most of whom had never sailed before signing up to join the Clipper Race, had just dealt with those extreme conditions, got the job done and in such a matter of fact way – mainly laughing and joking about how “wild” it was and how “this was what they'd signed up for”!!! It confirmed what I'd known all along; you need a good dollop of insanity to take part in this race!

We finished our 2 hour stint exhausted, soaked through and on one of the biggest highs yet. One by one the sorry looking, near drowned members of the watch descended the steps of the companion way with weary feet and as each one turned round there were grins galore and eyes alive with the excitement of the last watch. Tea, hot chocolate and bread and jam were required while the whole experience was recounted and relived - just to make sure it was all firmly etched on the memory. I doubt days like this will ever be forgotten.

Night watch arrived 6 hours later and while it was still wet the temperature remained decidedly mild and yet another thick layer was set aside and the outer Oilies considerably easier to put on and take of again.  The winds had died back completely and we arrived on deck to the tortured sound of flogging sails and a painfully creaking boom. The wind was spinning around in an erratic fashion, which made it virtually impossible to harness what little breeze there was. We were in the centre of a low-pressure system and stuck!  This was going to be a long 6 hours!

I couldn't help but marvel once again how this race had thrown up more surprises. We'd been expecting freezing conditions, possibly snow, and hard, stormy up-wind sailing – for the first week at least.  It's true it was bitterly cold leaving Qingdao and we had had some fierce winds and now a huge amount of rain – but it was all in relatively short bursts and not all together. It had been testing in lots of ways but just not in the ways I had expected. We started to sail past various small islands to the south of Japan as we went from reaching, to sailing down-wind with a poled-out head-sail, and then back to reaching first with the Yankee and then, just before breakfast and the end of watch with the heavy-weight kite up. The wind was testing us but after 5 months of sailing we were ready and knew how to tackle it... after a fashion!