22nd September - 24th September

Up at 4.30 am this morning.  Yes – that's 4.30 as in nearly the middle of the night!!!  This Yacht racing malarky is definitely no cruise you know!  Actually once you're up it really isn't too bad after all and there was a great buzz around the marina as all the boats came alive with crew rigging sails, doing final checks to make sure everything was in place and their boat name was correct and intact (there had been an awful lot of practical jokes and pranks between the boat crews all week which meant you were never quite sure what you were going to wake up to each day!!).

By 7am we were slipping our mooring lines and heading out into the Bay of Biscay where we would congregate, perform a procession of sail for the cameras before betting ready for the starting gun at 10am.  It did seem to take an age to mill around and get organised/sail but we were being joined by a famous yacht – Joshua – the boat – along with its owner Bernard Moitessier, who had set off to circumnavigate the globe at the same time Robin Knox Johnston did his first sailing circumnavigation.  Only Bernard was having so much fun, instead of just doing one lap he kept going and did two!

Eventually the start time came. The sails were up the engines turned off and we were all ready to restart our global race.  Having rested and had time to bond properly as a team during our stay our spirits were all bolstered and we all felt much more ready to now start climbing our new mountain.
We had also all prepared ourselves mentally for facing our sail out across the Bay of Biscay. It's notorious for having some of the most turbulent and changeable weather conditions and many professional yachtsmen and women have had their hopes sailing in prestigious races like the Vendee Globe dashed having suffered such severe boat damage in this infamous Bay, that they had been forced to quit almost before they'd started!

And so on the morning of our own race start, we did indeed find we had cause to worry – except our worry was whether or not we'd even make it out of the Bay! The wind was almost non-existent and from the point of the starting gun being fired it took us a good few minutes for the whole of the yacht to actually cross the line!  It wasn't quite the exhilarating race start we'd all pictured in our minds eye over the last year!

As I was very quickly 'off watch' I used the opportunity to pick up the one book I'd brought with me to read (Sea Change – written by Clipper Ventures own Communications Director, Ian Dickens about his own Race experience back in 2000).  Positioned nicely on deck to enjoy what was a gloriously sunny morning, I settled down, sitting on the side of the yacht with my book in one hand and part of the foot of our poor, limp and windless spinnaker in the other – so that it didn't drop into the water!

For an hour or so the bay was like a mirror-paved car park.  All the yachts looked very handsome in the morning light – but not at all happy not to be carving their way through some towering waves.

One by one the yachts caught a tiny breeze and finally – now at the back of the fleet, we did the same and the chase was on!

It wasn't long before we were off, and our brilliant skipper played a blinder on the tactical front and by taking a slightly different route to the rest of the fleet we were charging back up the field.

The sun was up, as we were down-wind sailing the boat wasn't rolling around in too wild a fashion – which meant life on board was generally easier. As we sat around having our supper on deck that evening in the final half-hour before the sun set we all agreed that if the race was all going to be like this then we were laughing! Piers quickly reminded us that while days like this were fabulous we needed to bank them and bring out the memories when things were stormy and freezing!

Weds 23rd arrived and so with it the news that in 24 hours we had gone from leaving in last place to now heading the fleet up in first! Once again all our spirits were lifted and there were smiles and jokes all round. I got into my media role picking up the small handycam we had been given to record and document life on board.  The victims of my 'lens on life' today were Chrissie and Nigel who were on mother-watch and allowed me to invade their galley while they served up a hearty homemade soup and sarnies for lunch, followed with some nice tinned fruit and washed down with something we were calling juice (squash) but because we were rationing it so tightly was really just vaguely tinted water!

Thurs 24th – I rose for my 2 am watch – to find the most beautiful starry night. I hadn't slept much – I had been far too far hot and then a bit chilly so must have got in and out of my sleeping bag at least 6 times during the 5 hours I was in my bunk!  Standing on the stern of the boat all that was forgotten and I took time to reflect on how lucky I was to be here right now, having this amazing experience. Looking back I noticed dozens of tiny brightly dancing lights -  phosphorescence dancing behind the yacht in its foaming wake.  That and the stars made me think of Christmas fairy lights.  We'd just found out before leaving La Rochelle that our Australian stop-over, where we'd spend Christmas – was now not going to be Freemantle as originally planned but had now been moved to Geraldton further up the coast. Most people – myself included - were bitterly disappointed – but in the context of the race we knew this could happen – and there might still be a chance any of the other ports could change for a number of reasons.
So while I knew I'd certainly miss my family and friends back home at Christmas and that I might miss having a Christmas tree – looking out from the stern of the yacht I knew I'd still have my own very special and priceless fairy lights with me.

My mind was soon drawn from its meanderings.  Having gone in pretty well one direction since leaving La Rochelle we needed to Gybe (put a turn in). Which when you have a spinnaker (huge white sail the size of a tennis court) hoisted, is a not inconsiderable task.  We had done this manoeuvre many times in training though so while complicated, it was by no means seen as something to be frightened of.  That was my position before we attempted it! It was yet again a night-watch of lessons.  We learned that when you hoist a spinnaker pole (long metal pole) and stick it out over the side of the boat in the direction of a spinnaker sail, the two separate movements of the sea and the wind make it impossible to control the distance between the two aforesaid objects.  We also learned the when metal does finally come into contact with something not much thicker than tissue paper and at some force, it has a tendency to pierce it. Which it did. Mercilessly.  And then continued along the foot of the sail much in the fashion that one opens an envelope with a paper knife – and with much the same sound!

We also learned that once you've taken your anti-wrap net down (the thing that stops the spinnaker from getting wrapped around the forestay) in preparation for hoisting a new sail, you have a period of time when you a very vulnerable to getting the spinnaker wrapped around the forestay.  We were – and we did! Hmmmmmm!

About and hour of huffing, puffing, pulling in our poor wounded sail later we had our Yankee sail up and decided in typical British fashion after such an ordeal – that a cup of tea was required!

As it turns out our new sail rig was perfect for the wind conditions and I took to the wheel for an hour of helming in pitch black with no stars and no reference – which is not the easiest thing in the world but it means you have to be much more in tune with the boat and how it reacts to the sea. It was challenging and I loved it!

With the end of the watch at 8am I got a couple of hours sleep while the two Mikes who had done the sail repair course, set about drying and patching up the ripped parts of the spinnaker.  As chief user of the sewing machine to date and as I had developed a 'special relationship' with the temperamental lump of metal, I was nominated as the best person to then sew it up!

After two hours of coaxing and cajoling and threats of throwing it overboard, the machine finally decided to play ball and the repairs were completed – almost to the second of our 6 hour estimation.
We were then welcomed back on watch on deck by the most glorious afternoon of sun, good winds, a sea that was the most handsome of deep inky, blues which also gave us some simply Huuuge waves to surf down!  The 'Everyone up' watch arrived and with that a chance to crank on some tunes on the stereo. Nigel's ipod was the first to be plugged in and some good ole fashioned sixties hits blasted out of the speakers to which 'Dangerous Duncan' sprang into life with some classic 'Dad dancing' - which made some of the younger members of the crew cringe and the rest of us howl with laughter.

Just when I was thinking that you couldn't get a better day than this, a small pod of Dolphins arrived and spent 10 minutes swimming alongside, dancing around us and leaping out of the water just in front of the bow of the boat.  Now it really was a Perfect Day!