After a few days with my Mum, a visit to see my brother Laurence (known as Fred), his wife Ali and my nephews – Andrew ( No.1) and Michael (No.2) during which Fred produced the biggest map of the world you've ever seen, mounted on a board ready so that they could plot our progress – I left Swindon with Mum and a car full of my kit to travel down to Gosport to join the yacht ready for part C4 of my training. This time however I would be moving onto the yacht for good – well for the next 11 months!

Having already done a week of training on the Hull & Humber yacht back in June I felt I was returning to my 'new home'. It may be small but as a crew we were all rapidly becoming attached to our lovely Orange H&H – or “Umber” as we are now calling her.

Some of the guys on board were people I'd sailed with back in June but there was also a good number of other crew that I hadn't really met properly yet so it was going to be another week of team building and establishing ourselves as a well-oiled machine...hopefully!

Day one proper and I'm up at 6am to go for a run! I know that sounds a bit extreme but after several days with my family – all feeding me up like I'm not going to eat for the next 10 months - I felt it was essential! I'm also conscious that I haven't really done as much fitness training as I should have done in the run up to race start so am keen to work on my stamina at any possible opportunity – although I must remind myself that the one area I don't need to work on is my drinking stamina!!!

Still in my virtuous mode I declined the Bacon buttie offered me by Ollie and Kirsten on 'montherwatch' and opted instead for a bowl of healthy looking mini, shredded wheaty, crunchy things and milk (powdered milk mixed with water) which looked exactly like milk but tasted exactly like water. Should have had the buttie after all!

Most of our first day was spent rigging the boat, doing all the safety checks of emergency kit - life-jackets, life-rafts, flares, grab bags etc and also all of the rigging – making sure all the nuts and bolts were where they should be and were done up tight enough! Once completed we were all chomping at the bit to be off and finally we slipped the mooring lines and went off to play on our yacht! We went straight into our watch system which Piers our skipper had set out right from the birth of our team. With 18 of us on the boat when we're fully crewed it can get a bit congested on deck but as we'll be racing 24 hours, 7 days a week we get split into 2 teams or 'Watches'. Each skipper runs his watch system slightly differently but Piers set ours as 4 hours watches during the day and 6 hours during the night. So my watch was off watch from 8pm til 2am then on watch from 2am to 8am, off watch 8am til midday and then back on watch from noon til 4pm. Between 4pm and 8pm we have an 'everyone up' watch where we can get on with any general jobs, say 'Hi' to the people we've only passed on the way to and from bed and after a briefing with the skipper, we all sit and have supper together.

So having just set off from the Marina and had supper I went straight to bed! My bunk was on the Port side (right-hand side) of the boat, up at the front and on the top. Once snuggled into my Ocean Sleepwear sleeping bag (a 3 layered bag system with waterproof outer layer and essential kit for the next year's adventure), I settled down to sleep. After an hour of not sleeping at all I resorted to my iPod to try and lull me to sleep and drown out the banging and clanking noises coming from on deck, about 6 inches directly above me! The iPod solution wasn't, so after another 2 hours of not sleeping I resorted to will power. Being the stubborn sort, this did eventually work so I got about an hour and a half of sleep before I was up at 1.30 to get ready for my watch at 2am! Getting up at that hour in the morning to start work is one thing but rummaging around in a series of dry bags by the light of a head torch to try and find the right bits of kit to wriggle into in the confines of your bunk is another. I vowed from that point to always get my kit ready for the next watch before I go to sleep!

We were welcomed on deck with a rare treat of seeing some dolphins swimming alongside the yacht. Apparently they'd been accompanying us for the last 10 minutes and my watch arrived on deck just in time to see them arcing out of the water, their black shape silhouetted against the moon, before disappearing into the water like white, glowing torpedoes and then off out of sight. It was tan amazing way to start another week of sailing!

The night sky was clear and bursting with stars and Piers gave us his 'Introduction to the Constellations and Planets' we could see and promised to teach us celestial navigation during our voyage around the world. Always eager to learn I was quite excited by this prospect but when he went on to say he'd put together an excel spreadsheet detailing every star and planet you could see on each night of the year depending on where you were in the world, I did start to think that he really should get out more!

The rest of the watch passed very pleasantly and with the winds easing all the time we only did one sail change and ended up turning on the engine to keep us moving along. The watch ended with the much awaited “sausage bread” for breakfast – a culinary invention involving bread mix and some chopped up, tinned hot dog sausages, inserted into the mixture before the point of baking. It wasn't quite the Gordon Ramsey style success we were hoping for but on a yacht you get to appreciate not only the most basic food but more importantly the effort by the “mothers” to create interesting food and anything freshly baked!

The weather that day was beautiful. Warm, sunny with light winds but enough to keep us on the move. The next night-watch passed with a lesson on what I term as the “dark art” of sail trim and some practice on reefing the mainsail – which basically means dropping sections of it down to the boom to reduce the overall sail area. It had always seemed a complex manoeuvre made more so when sailing at night when you can't see what you're doing. However maybe it was because of another beautifully bright starry sky, or perhaps that we were now all more familiar with 'Umber' and possibly because we were all getting on like a house on fire and working well as a team but for the first time putting in a reef didn't seem that difficult at all!

Tuesday was race start day. One of the biggest points to our 'Part C' training weeks was to teach us all how to race. This meant getting all 10 Clipper yachts out on the water together, setting an official course and getting us used to the mayhem of race starts and the concentration required to race over a period of days rather than hours. The course set for this week would take us from the Solent down across the English Channel to Alderney, around a way-point, back across the shipping lanes again to a final way-point before heading back east towards Swanage Bay.

I was up early at 11.15 for my watch at midday to find that all the yachts were circling like vultures, around the area of the start line. All trying to be in the best position and with the right amount of momentum to cross the line first and fastest. Before the long race we did a practice “round the cans” race – which basically involves a race around some buoys. We won that fairly easily – thanks to some great tactics from Piers and then got ready for the big 'off'. Our start for the race to Alderney and back was not the best and we were well down the field as we headed out around the Isle of Wight towards the channel. Our spirits were not dampened and thanks to some more great tactics and some nifty tacking by the crew, we soon ploughed our way back up the field and got to the entrance to the channel in first place. Once out into the open most of the yachts took pretty different routes so before long we lost sight of most of the fleet. Over night the wind picked up and by the time I cam back on deck at 2am for the night watch we were making steady progress towards the way-point near Alderney. We were just congratulating ourselves as we were sure we were the first to get there when I spotted a sail on the horizon in front of us! Luckily – after much concerned peering through binoculars, we established that it wasn't another Clipper yacht and were just breathing a sigh of relief when we spotted another sail behind us – shortly followed by another 2 sails – all of which definitely were Clipper yachts. It was amazing how one minute there could be nothing around you and then suddenly the sea seemed very crowded! Although it added tension to our sail we still rounded the way-point first and then once again seemed to leave the other yachts and they disappeared into the distance behind us.

We were eventually declared the winners of this practice race and after a day of sailing, anchored up in Swanage Bay along with a few of the other yachts.

The next day was an important day for us all as it was the day when all the official photographs would be taken of the fleet. A helicopter had been booked to get ariel shots of all the yachts as they sailed in formation. After a couple of hours sailing to get to the appointed position, during which a squall came in while I was on the helm so every other crew person – including the skipper dove below decks for shelter while I was stuck on my own getting wet enough for all 18 people - we all congregated, got into formation and the crew sat on deck all lined up on the high side in our official clothing ready to pose for the photographer on the helicopter as it circled overhead. I got into media mode and took loads of my own pictures. The conditions were perfect, bright blue sky with some interesting wispy cloud, a good breeze to fill the sails and all the yachts puffing up their chests showing off their splendour!

After a brief pit stop back in Gosport we then spent the next few days going through some more sailing evolutions with the spinnaker and doing some essential man overboard drills and practising using the fire-hose should we ever need to do so for real! On the way back in to Gosport on the Saturday we managed to pick up some stray netting around the engine prop so Tom, one of the crew had to don his trunks and a snorkel and dive down underneath the yacht to see if he could free it up. It was either that or try and get one of the other yachts to tow us back in to the marina. It was still a warm and sunny late afternoon so Tom agreed to do the heroic thing and after a few tussles with the net and a knife, we were free to continue on our way.

This was our final week of proper training and we were all on a high. The crew had all got on famously together. We'd had a lot of fun, had laughed til our sides had hurt but had all worked really well together as a team. Although there was a complete mix of sailing experience, there were no superstar sailors amongst us – and also no weak links. We all had our own strengths and appreciated each other as individuals. There was a quiet – or perhaps not-so-quiet – optimism within the team that week. We knew we had a special team in the making – and we knew we were going to be a force to be reckoned with!

photos for the week:

18th August
19th August
20th August
Photo shoot day