Leg 5, Race 7 Day 17, 18th March

Night watch last night was fairly busy. We took the Y2 down and went up with the Y3 and reefed in. It's still very cold and the water temperature is cold too, so when your Oilies get wet the effect has an instant cooling of your all over temperature by several degrees. The winds are still good – in the mid to high 20's and we are tanking along at 10 & 11 knots. The winds having piped up looked like they were settling down again but we spent all watch thinking we were just about to shake a reef out and then the wind would pipe up again. Just when we really thought it had settled down we then had a 5 minute period of winds gusting up to 38 & 40 knots!  Weird! We crossed the scoring gate at half past midnight – half an hour ahead of our planned schedule. It's good for our morale that we are keeping up with that. We have also just passed the half way point time wise so are now counting down the days ‘til we arrive in San Francisco – which should be either the 2nd or 3rd April.

I woke up this morning with bloody 'A Whole New World' and 'Part of their World' going round and round in my head! That's the downside of playing Disney tunes on the stereo late into the evening! Just when you think it couldn't get any colder it does. The wind has swung round from the north so you daren't even think about getting out of bed without putting your mittens on! Watch leader Tom's solution to the cold was to get everyone up on deck to enjoy it! The sea state had calmed a bit and the forecast is for the wind to ease during the day. We changed down a gear in the sails and then Tom put his master-plan to keep us all warm in place and we were kept busy bagging sails, re-running halyards and fixing things. Late afternoon Tom went up the mast to fix the headboard sliders which seem to be an on-going problem. He had a race on to get the job done before it got dark. We went down to the 3rd reef in advance to effectively bring the top of the sail much lower down the mast and to help make the job slightly easier. Even so Tom was still getting bounced around and the work took him an age. I was watching him like a hawk from on deck and I was near frozen, so was concerned that he would be like a lump of ice when we finally brought him down. The effort had kept him warm however, so he was warm but exhausted.

My feet were like blocks of ice after that session and for the first time I was moved to dry my feet off and change into thick ski socks and shoes to try and warm my toes up for a couple of hours before we're back on deck for night watch.

Things feel more like they're back to normal now. We're in the routine of life on board again. It's not quite the happy-go-lucky boat and crew that it was, but we're all fairly up beat, are good at spotting when others are having a down moment and helping to cheer them up. The main difference is that Brendan is very much hands off with us. He's working on a purely advisory capacity, is hardly on deck and is keeping a very low profile. I think it's good for our own development that we go through this and are now taking more control of the boat ourselves, however there is also the feeling that a little more leadership would be good. We can do without it but I think we are all missing the support and encouragement that Piers was very good at giving.

Race wise H&H and SOA are now level with Qingdao – although they are much further North than us. It's good to know we are gradually making ground on the rest of the fleet.

In our AA evening meeting Brendan went through the weather for the next 36 hours. Winds are due to come back round to the west and then south east so we are hoping for a slight warm up. He also mentioned a very intense low pressure ahead of us. Apparently, in the middle of the low the isobars are very tightly packed and the grib files are predicting winds of 56 knots. The gusts could well be 40% higher than this so this is not something we want to be dealing with! Our course has changed therefore from 80 degrees round to 100 degrees to try and head south away from the centre and therefore catch the edge and winds of around mid 30s. Qingdao being further north, could well be hammered by this unless they are currently altering course radically. Brendan said getting caught in the middle of such an intense low could easily knock a boat on its side and do a fair bit of damage. Although it's intense it's also a small system and we should be through it pretty quickly. That makes me feel much better about it! (Not). Can't wait!!!

We have less than 300 miles to go before we cross the International dateline.  That will be a huge landmark to reach. We'll really feel we are on the downhill section to San Fran and in a way it will almost mark the start of the passage back home – although we think that coming through the Panama Canal will really signify that. When we get to California we'll have to face getting our heads around a new skipper and a very different feel to the rest of the race.