Race 10 Day 1, Mon May 24th

Leg 7 Race 10  Jamaica to New York
Monday 24th May

I awoke this morning looking like I'd done 10 rounds in the ring with Frank Bruno! Not a great omen for race start day but there it was. That's what you get when you share a bedroom with 20 or so mosquitoes. Despite virtually bathing in Deet “Sod off all Mozzie” spray, the little tykes had feasted properly on my blood and I was now covered in large, itchy lumps and had two swollen eyes. I felt violated. Thank God we were heading out to sea today and would be saying adios or whatever the Jamaican equivalent is, to the greedy, vampire beasties.

As usual the few hours before race start is a mad scramble to get your bunk sorted, kit stowed and  say a final farewell via phone, email or skype to family and friends. I wasted 40 minutes trying to get connected to the Marina wifi, before giving up and resorting to phoning Mum the old fashioned but horribly expensive way. She was stuck on a bus and had just witnessed a skate-boarder go through a car windscreen. Then proceeded to remind me to be careful out there at sea! Hmmmmm......!

It's a stonkingly hot morning. Beautiful azure skies with some persil white cumulus offering a whiff of a threat to rain on our parade. Charmaine, the delightful owner of the delightful Jamaica Heights Resort, where I stayed for a few nights, had said it was much hotter than normal for this time of year.  Apparently this signified a great Hurricane season. I struggled to find any comfort in that information! The Yachts as always, are festooned in the colours of their sponsors, the clipper flags and for some, their podium race pennants. Our newly acquired 2nd Place pennant dressed our Umba and you could almost feel her bristling with pride. I promised her we'd get her a yellow pennant to go with the red. Everyone knows when you mix red and yellow you get orange, so it's only right we dress our yacht in her correct colours!

The goodbyes were as tearful as ever. Sue and her friends offering encouragement with gusto, Cara and John, our two departing ambassadors, Tom's Mum and Cousin Laura, and Maggie and Kirsten. Kirsten was almost inconsolable as she waved us off. Having been part of the team since Cape Town and our chief 'Navigatress' as Piers used to call her, she had played a big part in our campaign. I watched with sympathy knowing all too well that my time to say goodbye to the team and to Umba was now not too long away.  Maggie waved cheerily and threatened to 'kick our asses' via email if we weren't 'doing the business'!

And so we motored off, away from Errol Flynn Marina, away from Port Antonio and away from the Jamaican people who had given us the warmest of welcomes and had shown great enthusiasm and interest in our mad-cap Yacht Race. My liver was also quite grateful that we were now heading away from the Jamaican Rum!

We had a few hours out in the bay to use for some last minute refresher training for the new leggers, who were just about to start their adventure. For some it was the first time they'd been on a Clipper 68 in almost a year, so the chance to practice loading winches, tacking, gybing, what to do in a Man overboard situation, is invaluable. We had lunch under ever darkening skies and looking back at our  temporary home with it's dormant volcanoes, Blue Mountains, and lush viridian vegetation. It was stunningly beautiful but I was oh so happy to be back out on the water with the prospect of another race up to New York. Now that would be a contrasting skyline!

At 2pm all the yacht jostled for position in light winds and at 2.10pm we all edged across the virtual line. California were too early and had to spin around and go back again and Qingdao who had moved further away from the bay to do their training session, had then developed an engine problem and didn't make it back in time for race start. They would have to live with the fact they would start a good 15 minutes behind the rest of us.  We didn't have our best start. 6th or 7th across the line and then 9th around the first mark. It was then a game of catch up, combined with tactics. Like the previous race we needed to sail as tight to the wind as we could but also keep our boat speed up.  We can't afford to let the rest of the fleet get away from us now.

For the new guys, the helming is quite tricky, with so much to think about.  It's important they get to grips with it as quickly as possible and the rest of us try and talk them through it, while being mindful that we've had 8 months to get our head around all of this! We go past Cork and are 8th in the next scheds. We spend all afternoon trying to catch California and Edinburgh.  By evening we are finally making ground on them but it's painfully slow progress. We need to hope that they lose some concentration during the night hours while we need to make every effort to be “on it” 24/7 now.

At least the conditions are kind and favourable, to allow everyone to settle in to life on board. Not too bouncy, not too wild but still bloomin' hot!