Tuesday 2nd August

And we’re off!

We’ll I’m about 40 hours into my second round the world yacht race –
except I’m not going around the world this time, and strictly speaking I’m
not “sailing” either. I’m here to document on video the experiences of
the crew as THEY set off on THEIR adventure. My last race is still oh so
fresh in my mind but despite being back on the Clipper 68 foot yachts that
I know so well, with all their familiar sounds, the grinding of the
winches, the squeaking of the helm, the hauling in of the lines, it is the
“same, same but different”. The smells are not even quite the same.
There are Magic tree air fresheners here on New York Clipper and they’ve
invested in electric dotted all over the place to keep the air circulating
and the tempers cool. Despite that they are a few gentle early grumbles
about the heat and I try to bite my lip and not say “you ain’t seen
anything of heat yet”!

Race start on Sunday had all the pomp and circumstance befitting the start
of a Race of this calibre and magnitude, although the crowds and event
didn’t come any where near the show put on in Hull for the start of MY
race – not that I’m at all biased of course, but the parade of sail out up
the Solent was a sight to behold. The Fleet of 10 Clipper yachts all
dressed with their branded finery, with a rear escort of “Dusty” the
hugely impressive aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious, and an accompanying
flotilla of what seemed like many hundreds of spectator craft – of all
shapes and sizes.

The excitement had been building over the 10 day run up to the race, and
whilst I’d been filming, trying to capture the extent of the HUGE amount
of preparation and sheer hard graft that goes into getting these boats and
crew ready to circumnavigate, the overall feeling amongst the crew seemed
to be “let’s just get going”. For many of them there had been a 2 year
build up and with a few days to go, race start couldn’t come soon enough.
Once race day dawned however, so did the realisation of saying farewell to
families and friends and the enormity of the challenge ahead, and while
excitement still filled the air there was an underlying anxiousness which
was palpable.

It was the same for me but for different reasons. I couldn’t wait to be
off and back on the boats I know so well and out on the water I love so
much but this time I had a new challenge of trying to make an interesting
piece of television from my time on board. Something I still had deep
concerns about my ability to produce especially when I was still very much
trying to get to grips with loads of new equipment.

Race start itself was exciting and despite the confusion over how many
minutse we had to go til the gun on the run up to it, the New York skipper
and crew timed their run well and we crossed the start line in 3rd place,
carefully dodging the many other yachts and curious windsurfers that
littered the waters just off Cowes. The race out to the first mark kept
everyone focussed and with the fleet all choosing different tacking angles
there were many nerve-wracking close encounters and shouts of “starboard”
as they all jostled for position and tried to force others off their line.

Ric, skipper of Gold Coast Australia, led his boat out into the channel
ahead of the others and was first up with his spinnaker but New York
skipper Gareth quickly spotted that there was no advantage to be gained
and held onto the large headsail, and along with rest of the fleet set off
in hot pursuit as darkness fell.

As the light departed so did the wind, and the next 24 hours saw a battle
of wills and concentration amongst the yachts, as the teams tired every
trick in the book to keep these large and very heavily laden-down yachts,
moving forward in roughly the right direction – even if it was only at 2
or 3 knots.

New York suffered their first spinnaker injury – a sharp protrusion on the
top spreader caught the lightweight and snagged a hole the size of a large
orange, so down came the sail, out came the tape and the sewing machine
and back came all my memories of my hours cursing and swearing and trying
to coax the sewing machine into actually doing some sewing. This time it
was Sue who had to go into battle. An expert seamstress and therefore used
to dealing with these kinds of “beasts”, even she waved the white flag,
and sought my “expert advice”. I fiddled for about 20 minutes only to
declare in my expert opinion that it was “knackered”! Needless to say I
don’t have that on film.

After a solid day of going nowhere fast (we actually made ground on our
nearest rivals when we had no sail up at all!) Gareth was forced to make
the unenviable decision to drop the anchor for the night. The tides had
just turned and we were in danger of being propelled backwards, so 100
meters of chain and warp were duly flaked on deck and the race came to a
temporary halt while the team sat it out waiting for the tide to turn and
the wind to fill in.

The crew were remarkable chipper though. It had been a productive first
36 hours and at least the fairly benign conditions had given everyone a
chance to settle into the routine of life on board without being thrown
around or having to learn to stand at an acute angle. The only sign of any
sickness had come from Darren when he’d been hoisted up to the top
spreader of the mast to sort the naughty “sharp bit” that had ripped the
spinnaker. With no sail up at the time the boat developed a nasty rolling
motion which is 10 times worse at the top of the mast than it is at deck
level. After 10 minutes of being subjected to this I heard a coughing,
choking sound from above and witnessed my first ever sighting of sick
flying through the air from a height of 90 feet. Despite his condition
however, Darren at least timed his aerial vomiting to coincide with the
roll of the boat so none of it hit the deck. It all went into the sea,
which as it had been tuna sandwiches for lunch, somehow seemed fitting!

I awoke this morning to feel a slight heel to the boat and the sound of
moving water – we were finally off! The first schedules from race office
also had New York in first place. There’s no complacency on board this
boat though and rightly so as Visit Finland soon snuck past and at time of
writing Gold Coast are hot on our heels. I’ve been pretty impressed with
my adopted crew so far. They’ve been working hard and concentrating hard
on keeping the boat moving. The only sign of unrest was a heated
discussion about how mother watch should work- which I wished I’d had the
camera out for! However on the whole it’s a happy boat and all is well,
but it’s also a pretty easy ride so far and many challenges lie ahead.