Today was a big day for all kinds of reasons. It was the start of Leg 3 – the next part of our adventure and the crossing, which would take in the Southern Ocean. It was also my birthday, (happy birthday to me, Happy Birthday to Me...!) but both of those things were to be overshadowed by the events of the day.

It started off bright and sunny and a few of us strolled down to the waterfront and a local hotel that did a fabulous buffet breakfast for a very reasonable price.  Kirsten went to get a couple of glasses of bucks fizz to toast my special day while I wrestled with a few of the cards that I'd either been sent or had brought out with me under strict instruction not to open too early!
Back at the boat I took 10 minutes to open the rest of my cards and several parcels that had arrived – while everyone else rushed around getting the boat ready to depart. Apart from a few hasty “oh by-the-way Happy Birthday's” from the crew, my 43rd arrived and seemingly went unnoticed. I have to admit to feeling a little sorry for myself – but we were here to race and that comes first and I felt sure that I may have a special supper later on that day, as Albert had hinted as such with a variety of less than subtle nods and winks!

By 11.30 we were all finally leaving the Waterfront – to the sounds of a local brass band and much cheering and waving from friends, family and a huge Cape Town crowd. I took up my usual role with video camera in hand to capture our departure and race start.

First we had a parade of sail with the whole clipper fleet in formation out in the bay with Table Mountain in the background.  We were accompanied by a large selection of sailing and motor vessels - many from the yacht club where we'd spent most of our stay. Finally the time neared 2pm and foresails were hoisted ready for the off.  As we neared the start line we left the wind-shadow of Table Mountain, the pace increased ten-fold and all the yachts were zipping around at about 15 knots. We were on a good line with a minute to go – on starboard tack, running almost parallel to the start line ready to tack across as soon as the start was signalled.
Singapore crossed in front of us trying to get their line right and no sooner had they passed than the hooter was sounded and California, timing it just right, got a flayer across the start line first. I filmed them 'hooning' along, looking magnificent and turned back around to the other side of the boat just in time to hear a cry of “whoa, Whoa, WHOA!” from a couple of the crew and to see Cork flying at 15 knots straight towards us. It was obvious in that 3 seconds that they were not, or could not turn and were going to “T-bone” us full on and with some force.  We all dropped to the deck to cling on to something in an act of survival and I felt sure for a split-second that our race was over.  We would surely be damaged badly and in an abandon ship mode just as we had discussed in our safety briefing 24 hours earlier!

In actual fact Cork hit us very close to a bulk-head (Strong-point in the structure) which minimised the damage, as did a metal block on deck which had obviously taken a huge amount of the force. On impact we were first heeled right over towards Cork's bow and as it retreated, we were then pushed around (luckily) onto port tack which meant the port side (damaged side) was naturally higher out of the water.

Pandemonium should have followed but once again Piers showed his true colours, stayed completely calm and controlled the situation, calming everyone else by his actions, manner and reassuring words. He got a few people to assess the damage from both the inside and out, had others moving unused sails up and onto the starboard deck to keep the weight there and the damaged area as much out of the water as possible.  Pumps were made ready and preparations to try and shore up the damaged area started, all the while he informed the race director Joff what had happened, and got us safely back into the V&A Marina from whence we had just come. His natural talent as an outstanding skipper and leader shone out in this near disaster situation. It's hard to imagine anyone handling that scenario better and I was glad that I captured the whole thing on camera so others could witness just what a sterling job he'd done.

Everyone was working on adrenaline for those first 15 minutes until we were safely moored back up and then the shock set in – as did the many assumptions about what this meant for us, Hull & Humber and the rest of the race.

We were quickly assured that the damage could be fixed but how long it would take was an unknown.  Many of the crew had families coming out to join them in Geraldton for Christmas, and the fact that we might not get there in time was the initial cause of concern and upset for most.

The rest of the day passed in a mixed blur of uncertainty and lively accounts - re-living from every possibly angle what had just happened. Cork arrived back alongside us. The damage to their bow seemed insignificant by comparison but there was a fear that they may have sustained far more unseen structural damage. Their skipper Richie, came and shook everyone of us by the hand and apologised.  Whether he could have taken any other evasive action is something we might never know but he obviously felt a great sense of responsibility and guilt for ruining both ours and his crew's race.

After the initial checks of the boat had been made, there was a lull in the hubbub and Al arrived on deck sheepishly presenting me with a card and present from the crew and apologising for not being able to do the usual Birthday celebrations we would have had on board. At that point I was just glad we were all safe and well but Charles improved my mood immensely by producing half a hundred weight of Cinnabons which the owner of his Guesthouse had tracked down for him!  My much sought after and dreamed of Cinnamon Buns! Yum! Maybe it wasn't such a bad Birthday after all!

Eventually we were told that we would move the boat back around to the Royal Cape Yacht club, where we had first been berthed and from there repairs would take place.  We were to sleep on the boat that night (four of the crew were found alternative accommodation as we had been hot bunking plus both Mike and JR's bunks had been trashed by the impact (thank God they hadn't been in them!)

Once back and settled we went off to the club for a very subdued supper and much needed drink while many of the crew potentially had some difficult decisions to make about the next month. Depending on the surveyors report, the subsequent quotes for repairs and how long they would take decisions would have to be made by some of the crew on if they could wait and continue to sail on this leg ...or not.  I felt most for the guys for whom this was their only leg.  There was no doubt at all that if and when we finally set off, we wouldn't be racing against the other yachts. They were now long gone. At best we would be sailing as hard and fast as we could to Australia on our own and hopefully would get there in time for Christmas. At worst the delay might mean that some people wouldn't be sailing with us at all. A difficult possibility to contemplate which left us all with an uneasy night's sleep ahead.