Rio De Janeiro

23rd October

Did I say relax and enjoy Rio?  What I meant was, enjoy being on dry land.  Err, no, actually that doesn't work for today either – what I obviously meant was, enjoy not moving anywhere!
My first day proper in port was almost entirely spent on-board the yacht, sewing.  Finishing sewing the wet-weather covers for the saloon...which have now become known as 'The Bloody Saloon Cushion Covers” - (we're hoping that won't become a literal description during the race), sewing repairs on the spinnaker anti-wrap net which had come apart in a few places and while the sewing machine was out, sewing my second Orange Hull & Humber polo-top which I had fashioned from an oblong piece of fabric with sleeves into a lady-fit style garment I was happy to wear!  Even racing sailors have standards you know! After a long day’s slog I did finally leave the comfort of the yacht and marina and ventured out into the big scary world of Rio – a city with cars and buildings (ah yes, I remember them) and a rich mix of people - some of whom who will apparently relieve you of your jewelry, wallet, camera, phone and watch before you can say 'Welcome to Brazil'!  So there was to be no gentle meandering down avenues and streets, exploring the local life, grazing from food shops and wandering sublimely in and out of the odd bar or two.  Nope. It was a dash from the marina entrance straight into a taxi - sans watch, jewelry, phone and camera, carrying the smallest bag - just big enough for a guidebook and chewed biro and sporting only the merest dash of mascara (ha, I'd like to see them try and take that off me!).
Dinner was an extremely pleasant affair just off Copacabana Beach in a small fish restaurant with fellow Round-the-worlders, the two Mikes, Jeremy (Victor), Brett and David – who had just joined us for Legs 2 and 3.  At last, I got to have the delicious fresh prawns (that were the size of small lobsters) and the salad I had been food fantasizing about for the last two weeks! 
From a terribly civilized dinner, the chaps then took me to a little bar they'd discovered earlier, opposite their hotel (they are all luxuriating in hotel rooms while the rest of us with tiny budgets stay on board the boat), where some of the 'interesting' locals appeared to congregate.  Here we experienced some great Brazilian hospitality in a tiny bar that had all the charm of a burger van crossed with a public swimming baths changing room.  The people were warm and friendly – although in fairness, with the language barrier, they could have been saying “Come in and let us chop you up into small pieces and eat you for dinner”.  We'd like to think it was more like “Welcome to our humble bar. Please come and enjoy a glass of rum or fine wine, on the house”.  In actual fact it was far more likely to be “Ah ha, here come some poor British tourists, let's get them drunk on our cheapest booze and sting them for a fortune”! The truth of the matter was that we had a great time chatting to them - in sign language  - and despite the red wine that tasted like luke-warm vinegar and was poured out of an old pop bottle, and the fact that there appeared to be some dodgy contraband dealings in the corridor that led to the loos, the bill was ridiculously small and we left happy and feeling like we'd had a proper taste of real 'Rio life'!

24th October -  Rio - (Fanfare)  Day-off!!!! (Whoops & Cheers)
At last a day-off.  Today I stop being a sailor in the middle of a yacht race and become a normal person – doing normal-person-on-holiday things – like launching myself off the top of a steep mountainy-type hill, strapped to a strange man and a hang-glider!  That is what normal people do on holiday isn't it? Actually I'd had my first ever hang-gliding flight penciled in for tomorrow and was already half-way across Rio sitting in one if its famous coffee houses - having just had the frothiest cappuccinos in the world, accompanied by a variety of fruit pastries and about to venture up to the Saint Teresa area of the city on old fashioned trolley-car, when I got a call to say that today was the day to Hang-glide.  So I downed my coffee, left the rest of the guys and hot footed across Rio back to the marina to pick up the video camera and to meet up with Carey – from North One Productions - who was keen to video me launching myself off a precipice!

The journey to the take-off point was in itself quite an adventure.  Having scooped up Sally B – who had arrived on Singapore late the previous evening and was due to fly back to England later tonight and who was delighted at the chance to actually see Rio in her few hours on land – we then went on a magical mystery taxi tour of the Copacabana area.  This ended-up feeling like a scene from the film 'Groundhog Day' as we went round the same block eight – yes 8 times – while the taxi driver tried to locate his next pick-up point and passenger!  He then pulled over and disappeared to chat to someone – during which I had time to cross four busy lanes of traffic to a distant ice-cream seller, buy ice-lollies for us three plus the new passenger, return and eat them before our elusive driver reappeared.  We then made another stop for two more prospective 'hang-glidees' at which point – as our taxi was already full, our driver then spent another ten minutes trying to hail another cab for them. This was very obviously 'Hang-Gliding Tours R Us' done the Brazilian way. I was hoping there would be a slightly better sense of order about the flight itself.  I had visions of the taxi driver dropping us off at the take-off point, hailing the nearest passing hang-glider and asking if he'd mind awfully dropping these British girls off at the bottom!

It wasn't quite like that – but the reality wasn't too far off! On arrival at the bottom departure point – which was very obviously the place to be if you fancied dangling yourself from either a parachute or hang-glider – there were a whole host of young surfer-type dudes with ready packed chutes and gliders ready to leap on any prospective passenger with the proposal “Come Fly with Me”!

I was slightly disappointed then to be whisked off to an almost official-looking office, to sign some relevant “ I hereby release you from all blame if I drop to my peril” forms.   Carey and I were then loaded into a jeep with “Mauricio” my pilot and set off on another 'interesting' ride up to the top of  Pedra Bonita – the take-off point.

At the top of this beautiful mountain, surrounded by the lush, green Tijuca Forest with the most awe-inspiring views out over the city, the bluest of seas and the whitest of white-sand beaches, was an absolute mayhem of jeeps, people and flying machines! In a small clearing of trees leading back from the wooden ramp that was the take-off platform, there was a constantly moving conveyor belt of hang-gliders, rigged, part-rigged and about to be rigged, all jostling for position.  Underneath the ramp was a grassy bank and rows of wooden benches where the parascenders were waiting like lemmings, for their turn to be strapped into the chutes and to hurl themselves into the unknown.

Bizarrely – none of this was disconcerting and none of it was stressful or noisy.  It was all very well-oiled and laid back and without any perceptible order, it all just kind of 'happened'.
Despite what appeared to be a long queue, within five minutes of arriving I'd been strapped into my big bib-like harness, had done practice take-off runs with Mauricio (“You run and look straight ahead. You don't jump and you don't stop”) and before I knew it was on the edge of the wooden ramp preparing for take-off. I wasn't nervous but even if I had been there was no time to contemplate last wishes etc – it was “Ok, Ready, Let's go”.

The eight minutes or so of flight was incredible. The views were spectacular and Mauricio was a great tour guide as he pointed out Sugar Loaf Mountain, Corcovado (Christ statue), the various suburbs of Rio de Janeiro and the numerous stretches of idyllic white sand that made up the famous beaches of the area. He had initially been reluctant to let me video the flight but once he was happy that I wasn't going to make any rash 'glider-crashing' moves, he let me get the camera out and capture it all for posterity.  I'm hardly likely to forget the freshness of the blues of the sea and sky, the brightness of the sand, the lush green hues of the tropical forest – or the feeling of being part of this flock of both real and pretend birds that soared in the skies above Rio today.  But at least I can share it with others – who now might get a tiny sense of what I experienced as we circled among the warm Brazilian air currents.

A truly unforgettable day and one that I know I am privileged and lucky to have had.

25Th & 26th October

Sunday – my second day off was a far more relaxing day.  Partly out of necessity as a group of us had done the essential Samba Club the night before (you can't go to Rio and not go to a Samba club!).Plus Raych & Fred (of Bubbles Club fame) had given me the 'Rio Guide for Partyers' before I left England – and I wasn't about to let them down! Needless to say far too many Caipirinhas were consumed and much jollity and dancing was enjoyed.  I was whisked around the dance floor by several local Brazilian guys – the cutest one – called Igor (apparently his parents liked the Russian name) took the time to teach me some Samba steps – which I enjoyed very much!!! Did I mention he was very cute?!

So after not nearly enough sleep, my second day off was spent trying to get onto the marina wifi to catch up on emails and blogs – but the wifi wasn't working - and not doing all my shopping as the shops were shut.  So after a hearty, hang-over cure lunch with the rest of the troops, I did the sensible thing and went to relax on Copacabana Beach for a few hours to read my book and admire the view.  Bliss!

Monday it was straight back to work.  We had our first 'Leg 2' crew briefing – followed by our bunk lottery to determine where we would be sleeping this leg (I'm bunk 15 which is Lower starboard aft in the fore-peak – for those that like detail!)  Then it was on with the mammoth spinnaker repairs (on the damage that was done on our final few days into Rio). The two Mikes had done the patching the day before, so it was just the sewing to be done and the trixy repairs around the clew.  It was far more pleasant here though, as we got the sewing machine set up on the marina alongside the boat and had loads of room to spread out the 'patient'! If you had to repair a sail – this was the far more civilized way to do it!  Lunchtime had me in a mad dash to the local shopping centre to stock up on toiletries – and during my several mile hike around all  floors looking for the chemist I chanced upon a Mr Cinnamon Roll outlet! Joy of joys!  Not quite the same as 'Cinnabon' (not quite as gooey!) but with the same kind of yummy frosting and equally as Cinnamon-y!  I was in food heaven! 

Having established that we would have no time at all the following morning before departure, Tom, Tom's friend Pete, Ollie, Charlie and I decided we would try for a dusk trip up to Sugar Loaf.  It had been in cloud for the last couple of days and still was, but we set of at pace to climb Urca – the peak on the way up to Sugar Loaf.  I had thought we were going to get the cable car up so I was somewhat surprised to find myself scrambling up a very steep muddy 'almost path', grabbing hold of tree roots and anything else that could act as a hand-hold, while trying to stay united with my flip-flops. I wondered how Piers would react to the news that three of his round the world crew had broken wrists and ankles and decided very firmly at that point that I for one, would not be coming back down via the same route!

It was worth the scramble at the top however.  Although there was no point continuing up to Sugar Loaf just to disappear into cloud, the views from Urca of the city, the marina and the surrounding coast line were spectacular – and got more magical as the light grew fainter and the city adorned itself in sapphire and amber light.  A beer at the top, the cable car down and more beers at the bottom rounded off my last full day in Rio perfectly. Tomorrow it would be back to sailing, back to racing, back to a life on the Ocean waves.