As Gold Coast Australia sailed into our second week at sea we were also welcoming in a brand new year, racing from Gold Coast in Australia to Singpore as we compete in the Clipper 2011/12 Round the World Yacht Race. For days now we have been within eyesight of the closest boat Geraldton as we battled for 1st and 2nd position in variable and squally conditions the tables would turn every hour or so. We have now been at sea for 8 days and were by this stage north of Papa New Guinea and aiming for the trade winds to the north of the equator hoping that this would give us steadier winds instead of the 15 knots to 0 knots of wind we had been experiencing. Geraldton decided to go along the Papua New Guinea coastline sailing off the sea breezes and leaving us behind.
Last night was New Years Eve but celebrations were kept to a minimum and not a drop of alcohol crossed my lips but some how I still feel like I have a hangover. Completely exhausted from the last few days of sail changes and extreme heat making sleep difficult to come buy it was beginning to take its toll on my body with my first line of defense inflamed, a sore throat. I had been experiencing a scratchy throat for a couple of days however I thought that a good nights sleep would be all that was required to counteract it. Unfortunately for me while we had been playing cat and mouse with the nearest boat, Geraldton my throat continued to worsen. By the evening as I was woken for watch change I could barley swallow. This was a real concern as we were hundreds of miles from land in sailing in conditions so hot that the sweet just pours off you and you need to be drinking a litre of water per hour just to stay on top of it. I had barely drunk 1 litre that whole day as it was simply to painful While I was waiting to ask my Skipper Richard Hewson if I could have this watch off as my throat was swollen and so sore that it felt like some one was going at it with a cheese grater every time I swallowed. I fell to pieces and started blubbering like an idiot with uncontrollable tears rolling down my cheeks, that was enough to convince him that I needed some extra sleep. Both of the nurses on-board spotted me and came over to help, one of them, Deb Grant took a look at my throat and diagnosed tonsillitis, something with which I have a history of and issued me a packet of antibiotics and a medicated hot drink of lemsip then promptly sent me off to bed. My body was spent with very little energy, so much so that even climbing into my bunk felt like I had just ran a marathon and the effort it took to hold up my arms long enough to tie off my lee cloth, a cloth that prevents you from falling out of your bunk while in rough sea, left my arms aching. I slept for a full 24 hours completely unaware of the race or where in fact I was but upon waking I was clearly over the worst of it.
On Day 12 on a night filled with stars and light winds we crossed the equator at 2320 at night making this my third equator crossing so we held a mini celebration of chocolate wafer biscuits. In the afternoon of the following day we held the full celebration with an amazing array of costumes from hula skirts worn as hair extensions, to the brightest pink hat complete with matching pink mask to a set of green gloves proudly worn by crew member Terry. When asked what character he was Terry Martin would raise his hands above his head and twinkle his figures saying ‘I am a tree’, like it should be obvious. It was a day full of laughter where the crew on board who had not yet crossed the equator were all lined up on the back on the boat and interrogated by King Neptune (Aka Skipper Richard) who sported a large black beard and a cooking bowl on his head with a crown drawn upon it. After they had all received there various fines from being too good a helmsman to always talking too loudly, the pollywogs ( the term used for a person who has not yet crossed the equator and been accepted into King Neptune’s realm) were pelted with last nights spaghetti bolognaise sauce. This was the last stage in the process turning the pollywogs into shellbacks (someone who has crossed the equator at sea).
The evening sked showed us that Geraldtons tactics paid off giving them a 40 nautical mile lead on us however as we make better ground to the north we will be picking up a steady 20 knots of trade winds and will hopefully be closing that gap shortly. By day 14 we had we had finally reached those sort after trade winds, because of this we were able to alter course and start sailing down wind to the west. Up went the Medium Weight Spinnaker in a steady 15 knots of wind. We unfortunately had torn this spinnaker in the previous race right down the middle so we sent it off to a sail loft in port for repairs. Un-be-known to us they ‘mistakenly’ forgot to finish the repair properly and to the standard of a professional. Down came the Medium Weight Spinnaker and up goes the head sails so that we can effect our own repairs. Once fixed on the following day the Medium Weight Spinnaker was once again hoisted in perfect spinnaker sailing conditions of 15 knots of breeze and a light swell. Unfortunately a few short hours later and for no apparent reason it decided to rip in half from end to end finishing off our medium spinnaker for the near future.
Sail repairs have been happening around the clock as we try to salvage our largest sail. Slipping back to 5th position we give the race everything we have slowly closing the gap on the lead boat.