Race 9 Start Day, Sat May 15th

7am came round too quickly. I awoke to the sound of heavy rain on deck and a glimpse of dull, grey skies through the hatch, which despite being propped open kept both the rain and any hint of fresh air out.

We all trogged up to the marina block – most in the hope of a shower – to find there was already a huge queue of Clipper crew armed with travel towels and wash bags. The cafe which had promised to be open by 7.30 was still looking ominously dark and unpopulated by 7.45 and many sloped back to their boats resigned to a breakfast of cereal and powdered milk. In a desperate attempt to do some last minute laundry, I waited patiently by the office to get some tokens for the machines, only to find that by the time I had bought them, the 5 previously empty, motionless machines were now all whirring noisily with other peoples washing. Not a good start to the day! It soon got better as the cafe was now open and Charlie who had managed to wangle her way to the front of the queue, treated us all to a breakfast of fried eggs, sausages and toast. We sat round all agreeing that we were still quite tired, that it didn't really feel like a race start day and also pondering the fact that we might all soon be coming down with a bad case of worms!  Now THAT was something to look forward to! Maggie, our on board medic for this leg, assured us that it was no big deal, was easily treatable and that we should just all keep an eye for 'the signs' in 2 to 3 weeks time!

11am was soon upon us – the appointed time to slip lines and head back out to sea. Justin came back from his skippers meeting and informed us that we had drawn a good start position for our Le Mans start but that the whole fleet would be motoring for the first 30 miles to get us out of light winds and to a point where a good race start was guaranteed.
We set off, all clad in our H&H orange livery, in buoyant mood, convinced that this could be our race. This time we'd get a podium finish – or maybe even win. We had to believe it.
We said goodbye to Tom P that morning and hello to Mel – our new crew member with a yacht-master qualification. She had taken part in the last race so knew exactly what to expect and fitted into the team immediately.

As we would be motoring for several hours – I tired to catch up on some sleep. Now we were back at sea there was some breeze flowing through the boat which meant sleeping conditions were slightly more favourable. I woke at 3pm to hear that as the wind was still not right we would be motoring another 20 miles further.  On our way we passed the new Cork Clipper – seeing her in full sail for the first time. A Challenge 67 Yacht she would only be 1 foot shorter than us but looked considerably smaller and would also apparently be slower.  There were quite a few differences in the yacht style, design and kit and because of that we'd been told that race rules handicapping system had been instigated. We would have to beat them by over 2 hours each day to effectively stay ahead of them in the race.

Eventually all the yachts arrived at the appointed long & lat and at 5.30  we had a quick practice run of hoisting our foresails then grouped with the rest of the fleet ready for the Le Mans start.

A Le Mans start means that you start with only your main hoisted and no head sails. The whole crew has to be sitting aft of the coffee grinder on deck and once the race start is called everyone gets into position as quickly as possible. The first boat away will be the boat who hoists and sets their foresails quickest and most efficiently. 

Just as dusk fell the count down started. With one minute to go all engines were switched off and 60 seconds later crews across the fleet were all rushing to winches and sheets and sails, tugging, heaving and grinding, all desperate to get a flyer and be first away on what was going to be a short, fast, sprint up to Jamaica.  We got off to a great start and along with Team Finland and Uniquely Singapore led the way for the rest of the fleet. Within half an hour all we could see were the lights of the other yachts as positions started to drift apart. Pretty soon we could see that the lights of cork were slipping back, confirmation of the fact that their yacht was indeed going to be slower – which would prove frustrating for them over the remaining races. The masthead lights of the rest of the fleet were stretched out to our starboard side – some in line with us and others already falling a little behind. The race was on!