We took over again at 3am this morning and within an hour we spotted a white masthead light through the gloom off our port beam. This had to be Qingdao. The fact the the light was white meant we were behind them, but as it gradually became green for longer and longer periods, we knew we were catching them,. WE were now approaching the Fastnet Rock off the coast of Ireland. We had to go between this and the mainland – a gap of only 3miles – so it was inevitable the yachts would funnel together. This was going to be another exciting finish that was down to the wire!

My back was still not right so I became self appointed tea maker and Nav station watcher, calling out distances to the Rock and the mainland. As the angle between us and Qingdao narrowed the 2 yachts got closer and closer. The wind was such that we were struggling to hold our angle with the spinnaker flying but Justin wanted to hold onto it for as long as possible so that we moved ahead of the other boat – who were now only about 20 metres away and alongside us!
Eventually we knew we'd need to drop the spinnaker and hoist the yankee 2 to get the angle to the Rock. I was called on deck as we were short handed. We went for a hoist of the headsail but it wouldn't go up. Something was wrong and we suspected the halyards were twisted. This was critical now – we had to get this right or we'd lose third place. We needed to get the sail down quickly and sort. From there it went from bad to worse. We tried twice unsuccessfully to hosit the sail. There was something very wrong with the halyards up at the top of the mast – which in the darkness and with the light of flashlights, was almost impossible to see. Some of the other watch were roused to come and help. Tom got into a harness and was hoisted half-way up the forestay to try and untwist some of the lines but even that didn't help. Meanwhile Qingdao had crossed to our starboard side and were pulling away from us. The wind had backed which meant we couldn 't hold the angle with the spinnaker up and were still traveling at a rate of knots – but now straight towards the mainland coast! There was nothing for it but to send Tom up to the top of the mast to try and untwist the mess. It was dark, the wind was bouncing the boat around like a rubber ball and the spinnaker was flying erratically around all over the place. These really weren't the conditions for anyone to be going up the mast. We had no choice though and up Tom went, his body being tossed around up there like a rag-doll. Justin was on the helm and we had someone in the nav calling up the distance before we hit land. We were getting perilously. We would have to ditch the spinnaker and go bare-headed or we would run aground. “Get Tom down. NOW!” came the urgent bellow from Justin - “we're gonna hit the bricks”! Tom was hastily descended – much to his surprise and all the while the boat was rounding up fast which meant poor Tom was being bashed and bruised to bits. With the spinnaker down – just in the nick of time (!) we were back on course and the conditions were easier for Tom to give it another go. He was up and had sorted the lines and back down again in a trice, we had the headsail hoisted and were back in the race. We had miles to make up again but we still had just under 50 miles of racetrack to do it in. Clawing back a couple of miles in that distance was very do-able. The heavyweight spinnaker was re-packed and back on deck ready to be re-hoisted.

Meanwhile – after 2 headsail take-downs, tailing a very jammed halyard with all my might, a spinny take-down (where you pull for your life) and a re-pack, my back had thrown in the towel and was telling me in no uncertain terms that I had over-done it. My sleeping bag was fetched into the saloon as I couldn't move anywhere else and there I lay, frustrated, listening to everything going on on above, still in disbelief over the drama we'd had on deck for the last hour and a half and trying to remain positive that we hadn't thrown it away in the last few hours.

The wind eased and the mid-weight was hoisted – shortly after Qingdao hoisted theirs. We would have one gybe to do around a mark just 5 miles from the finish line. I listened as Justin briefed the guys on deck. With only one spinnaker pole we would have to do a 'dip-pole gybe'. Something we'd never done before. It would all rest on this gybe going ok. We'd managed to catch Qingdao and there were literally only meters between us...we had just edged in front.

The pole would have to be raised at the mast end very high so that the other end could swing down and inside the inner forestay without having to take the pole off the mast completely – which would take too much time. In the meantime the down-hauls would be switched from port to starboard and the kite would be flown from the sheets alone – a very tricky thing to do for both the helm and the trimmers on both sheets.

The miles disappeared and the time for the gybe arrived. This had to go well. I listened with frustration from the saloon. The pole was moved, the kite flying from the sheets and the new lines reattached. The call came to throw the pole out over the new side to get it into position. I waited and 10 seconds later the skipper let out a stream of expletives. Then there was a pause and then the call I was waiting for – get the kite down. One mistake had meant that the pole had gone straight through the bottom of the kite, ripping the foot off it completely. The bits were salvaged and the heavyweight immediately hoisted but it cost us third place. Qingdao slipped a half mile ahead and with only 4 miles to run there was no way we could catch them. It was frustrating as I listened to it all from the saloon. The call for the finish line, the immediate drop of the sail (as the line was very close to the harbour entrance) and then the applause and 3 cheers for the Qingdao Clipper that had for the second time in recent races beaten us to the third podium position. This was also our last big ocean crossing and I was bitterly disappointed not to be involved at the very end of it.

Almost as distressing, was that I could hear the beer being handed out on deck among the finish celebrations and the team photo being taken. It was horrible not being in the thick of it all with the others.

Pretty soon it was agreed that I should go to hospital to get my back checked out. I was helped up to the local Kinsale Yacht club where a car was organised with super efficiency to take me to the University hospital in Cork, before I'd even had time to contemplate scaling the steps up to the free flowing beer and Irish breakfast that everyone else was already tucking into. Sometimes life sucks, I thought. But then had to quickly remind myself that I was very close to having just spent 10 months sailing round the world. I really didn't have too much to complain about!