Transatlantic Diary

Extracts from my diary written whilst on board the GREAT Britain boat on my Clipper Race, from New York to Liverpool 4112nm.

26th June 2018

It was a long day, I got up a bit earlier from my watch so I could type some blogs and emails. I hope to catch the satellite comms system on soon so I can send them but it’s only turned on between 7pm and 8,30pm so depends what you are busy with. Also we changed to zulu time just to confuse things.

A really good morning was spent practising flying our code 2 spinnaker, then a practice Le Mans start. I briefly saw Guy on Unicef and we waved. 

Finally race start was upon us, I was so excited I had goose bumps, this is what I had been waiting for. Our skipper Dave on GB was the lead skipper for the race, we all lined up which was such an amazing sight, some nosey boats in the area diverted to come and see what we were about. We all had set positions and on the countdown we moved to our positions and hoisted the stay and Yankee sail. Sanya pulled away quickly and PSP followed. However we stuck with our plan to be windward of all the other boats and maintained a good position. Our race start area seemed to be a whale hotspot area, too many to count were displaying their existence. PSP did radio in to say they had hit something big and soft, Pip thinks it may have been a dead whale as a few moments later she spotted a lifeless body come past our boat.

I was on watch until midnight and then granted 6 hours sleep as I am on mother watch tomorrow with Sandra so do not have to get up until 6.30am. We dined on dry food of chicken curry on deck tonight watching more inquisitive dolphins who came to check us out.

27th June 2018

As I was on mother watch I had 6 hours sleep in the mother bunk, a tiny bunk in the middle of the boat perfect to hide in!

We are unfortunately 11th position but Liverpool have just missed the first waypoint so are having to go round again and we have very good boat speed compared to the others so hoping to claw back up again. Unicef are currently leading. 

The boat is on an angle making cooking and cleaning a challenge. I feel unwell but Sandra is helping me so been able to take a breath of fresh air when I need it.

We then moved into third during the day but I had a day on mother watch of doing a bit, being sick and then doing a bit more!

We made it international banana day in our cafe as the bananas will not last another day, we made banana custard as well as offering bananas all day. Tomorrow Tessa will make banana bread, then they are finished.

I managed to get on the internet and sent and received emails from Guy, miss him.

A 12 hour off period is then granted after mother watch, I went on deck for an hour to speak with Tessa then slept until 7am. 

28th June 2018

Lovely long sleep after mother watch I got up to write some more as we don’t get much time for this. A small bowl of porridge then I was on deck at 8am for a 6 hour watch. We have done 235 miles in 24 hours, averaging 9.5 knots.

Most of the watch was sitting on the high side as we were keeled over 45 degrees. We were visited by a pod of dolphins and we had lovely sailing conditions. We can see Nasdaq to our starboard, and apparently the yacht Maverick are just 27nm away who I follow on Facebook. Mid watch I was thinking about our bananas which have nearly all gone off now. I remembered making banana smoothies by hand and shot down below to try my recipe. I mashed some bananas added milk made up with powdered milk and added honey. It was delicious and it used sone bananas up.

At the end of our watch we put a reef in, had a sandwich as the bread is starting to go mouldy now. Once a day we have a crew briefing with everyone on deck between watches. Our skipper Dave updates us on any new information and we all have a say on how things are going, a very useful daily session which we all appreciate.

So off watch now until 8pm.

29th June 2018

Last night I got to helm the Atlantic for the first time, it was exhilarating, I was living the dream. I reached the fastest on our watch of 15.6 knots until Pip did the last 20 mins and got to 17knots. We reefed before going off watch.

I still felt queezy this morning so just a had a few dry crackers for breakfast, but after the next watch and sleep I had 2 portions of stir fry veg, our last veg. The ration packs are ok but appreciated fresh. Tonight’s fajita ration packs had sweet corn in them so I’ve skipped dinner. I helmed again and we had a laugh on deck today, it was quite splashy so I now have the sailor look…hair is a mass of knotted curls.

Today I received an email from Katie to say the horses were great, one from Heather and my daily message from Guy which I always look forward to. 

It’s very hot below deck, I am layer on the bunk in my knickers and sports bra. My bunk buddy above is Pip she has some scented talc which I have just covered myself with. It dries the sweat and I now smell nicer.

A visit to the heads to pass a number two was interesting, feet up against the wall but it was a relief! I haven’t really eaten properly for 2 days but the veg today did me some good.

We are currently in 8th position, Halifax, Canada is our nearest land. Averaging 10knots .

30th June 2018

Last night it was F7 but a squall gave disturbed sea conditions, then it rained. It was quite exciting though after trimming we would huddle on the deck, get drenched with waves and hang on. We had a cargo ship pass and so changed course, though we only saw it within 6 miles as the visibility is not great. However towards the end of our watch the sea state got to me and I was sick twice, luckily Beanie was next to me to supply sick bags. I went to bed with no dinner.

The next watch we woke up to blue skies and pleasant seas. A beautiful sunrise and a cargo ship in the distance. Later on we were visited by a pod of dolphins which you never get bored of seeing. I did not risk breakfast so had a few dry crackers and more water. Our 6 hour watch was mainly helming which I love helming these 70s, trimming and chatting. We have now been on the same tack for 6 days under white sail.

Later on our first mate Scotty brought his sextant on deck which I had a go at lining the sun up with an introduction on how to use the data. Hopefully we will have a clear night on the next watch so we can use the stars. Guy is using Bobs  sextant on Unicef so it’s nice for me to have a go so I know what he is talking about!

Having great fun, we have a very happy boat with everyone getting on well. Pip, Beanie and I are near each other in the bunks and swap gossip and keeping clean tips! I’m a great fan of talc powder now, helps keep you dry and smell fresher in theses humid conditions below deck. One more day until a change of base layer though, looking forward to that.

We have achieved 261nm in the last 24 hours.

1st July 2018

This morning we woke to calm seas and blue skies. A lovely sunrise too, as I had been sick before coming off watch I only had crackers (again) for breakfast.

The day was great, everyone was in really good spirits. I took my turns on the helm. I managed two meals today but the dry ration packs don’t really agree with me so I shall limit them and stick with dry biscuits. I’m not normally sensitive with any foods so it surprises me. Must drink more water though.

Mid day I had a go using Scottie’s sextant, using the sun. Hopefully we will get a clear night at some point to use the stars. It’s very interesting and now I know what a Guy is talking about when using it.

Our later watch of 8pm to midnight started with the sun shining and relatively flat seas, so we hoisted the code 2 spinnaker and made a steady 8 knots instead of the 6 knots. We have a great watch and worked really well as a team. I was on the grinder to start with then rotated round the jobs every half hour. Once the kite settled and trimming got less we had a little sing song until the next watch came on. A few of us are on support watch so I’m in my bunk fully dressed as we don’t think this watch will fly the kite for much longer. And correct I was woken to help out.

So another great day, first spinnaker hoist in the North Atlantic.

We are still 8th, Liverpool have had to divert to St Johns in Newfoundland as one of their crew who is diabetic needs a medivac. We think they may abandon this race.

The off coming watch warned us it was cold, but we were ill prepared at just how cold. We were 50 miles North of where the titanic sank, near the Grand Banks of New Foundland. It was thick fog and our 4 hour watch was miserable. We had hot drinks, took it in turns to come below to warm up and check the radar and AIS for any squalls and other vessels. At the end of the watch we huddled and had a warm breakfast to dry out, there were a few snow flurries starting. I then had a change of underwear and base layer, my first weeks change, it felt lovely and I fell into another deep sleep.

The day got better, the fog lifted and the sun came out. We have dropped back a bit but are trying to sail well. We are 1871 miles to Derry.

It feels like it has been the longest Sunday ever, but still in a good way, just the way the watches have worked.

2nd July 2018

I was quite tired when I woke for the next watch at 8am, I always go into such a deep sleep quickly and have lots of dreams. 

Today marks a milestone for me, a week at sea, 1500 miles and last night helming under the stars. Followed by helming the code 2 spinnaker today. Though I helm at home with the spinnaker up it’s quite different on these boats.

A glorious day with sunshine, good wind and the crew in great spirits.

We are now in 8th place, made 241 miles in last 24 hours.

Dolphins visited us late morning, then the watch until 2pm was spent flying the spinnaker so helming, easing and grinding. It got quite warm and layers were coming off. We made pizza wraps for lunch.

Yesterday and completed today was my first change of baselayer, that’s my underwear, long johns and top. I’ve tried to keep relatively clean most days and talc and powder is my new best friend. Trying to keep jotting botty at bay, Pip, Beanie and I regularly discuss hygiene on board and it makes us giggle.

Pip and I also had an issue of a fishy smell near our bunks, we blamed everyone else, took everything apart but could still not find the culprit. After 2 days Pip decided to look between the sheets on deck near our porthole. And guess what, a decaying flying fish was found between them. We are much happier now, the smell has been eradicated.

The final watch until midnight saw us fly our code 1, a pleasant evening with everyone in good spirits.

3rd July 2018

Today is Guys Birthday, I was going to use Scottys First mate email to send him a message as my emails have been playing up in the past few days. But this morning Skipper Dave rang Unicef on the Ops phone so I could speak with him. It was fantastic to speak with him and wish him Happy Birthday, we chatted for a while but did my usual before ringing off and got a little tearful. Skipper Dave gave me a hug and I had cinnamon toast for breakfast and chrysanthemum tea to wipe away the tears. Never gets any easier but also didn’t expect to speak with him so was a little overwhelmed. Everyone was so lovely as usual on GB.

We gybed before breakfast, it’s a little foggy still. 

The fog stayed all day but we still had a visit from some dolphins. We are currently in 2nd position and flying the code 2, the union watch shredded the code one which has seen better days despite Beanies patching it up in port. We blew the tack and put the white sails up but just before the end of our 8pm watch we repacked the code 2 to hoist again.

All good, the watch system is fine, life is eat, sleep, sail, repeat with some fun in between. 

4th July 2018

The midnight to 4am watch is definitely my worst, I am just not awake enough and was not completely all with it and nearly dropped the stay sail on Scottie’s head. We were only doing 7knots but the sea state was pushing and pulling the boat around. I took the helm from Thomas, only my second night helm and it went pear shape as I ground the boat to a near halt. The whole watch was not good, everyone was struggling, the others were trying to mend the code 2 spinnaker and pack it. I wrongly blamed Thomas not communicating with me as I took the helm, there were no stars to follow and I didn’t realise the force of those waves.

Anyway, by morning it was forgotten. It took a while for Nicola to wake me for mother watch. I was on again with Sandra, after the breakfast shifts, cleaning and bilges we decided it was spa day. I heated a pan of hot water, talc and a cloth, stripped off in the heads and had a full body wash. It felt great, I washed some underwear so I could change my base layer ration pack a few more times. We then used Sandra’s dry shampoo and brushed our hair. 

The lunch menu were wraps, we tried our best to make them more appetising, I made some chocolate spread and almond wraps which went down well, in fact I only ate one of those.

Dry ration pack dinner tonight is pasta bolognaise.

5th July 2018

Feeling refreshed after yesterday’s mother watch I awoke from the mother bunk which was nice and warm and toasty at 3am ready for my 4am watch. It was cold and raining on deck so took longer to get all my layers on. First time I had base, mid layer, hat and foulies on. But they were required, it was raining and cold. 

However under white sail we were doing 10 knots, we raised the code 3 spinnaker and increased to 11-16 knots. It was a difficult evolution in the conditions but as we are known as the A team we are favoured at doing this ready for the next watch. Our first mate has said we are one of the best watches in the fleet, I feel lucky. We are a great team.

Back in my bunk at 8am to dry out and sleep until 1.15pm. A little porridge has helped warm me too. This is as cold as I would want to be on a ocean crossing.

We have done 2000nm and just under 1000 to go means we will be in Derry earlier than expected, I have written to a Guy to keep an ear out for any accommodation should we not be able to get in ours early. Not sure if his email is playing up but haven’t received my daily messages from him for a few days. The system can play up. 

Later in the day it was confirmed as Guy sent a message from his skippers address to mine which Dave kindly relayed to me and I could reply. Guys brother has sent a too larger email, I presume with attachments and it has crashed Guys system. So annoying, knew someone would cock it up.

We had a hairy kite drop on our last watch, the wind was strong and we thought we had got it stuck under the rudder. But it was recovered and all was good.

Off watch now until midnight, then it’s up for my worst watch time.

Sent Heather a message to send Dad a Happy Birthday message in case mine didn’t get through.

6th July 2018

Dads birthday,  he received my email and all is good at home.

No wind, code 2 flying as our code one needs repairing more than we can do on the boat. It’s quite cold but we don’t have the heavy rain forecast. I helmed for a while.

We are about stuck at the back of the fleet, appearing to be the only ones stuck in a wind hole, the boats to our north and south are doing 10 – 15 knots and we are doing 5 if we are lucky. Unicef and Qingdao are in stealth mode. 

So, we may now be later into Derry, I don’t mind as being stuck in the middle of the Atlantic can be quite fun! On our 6 hour day watch I decided to see how many exercises I could muster up on deck – plank, tricep curls with water bottles, lunges, biceps presses, Russian twists and step ups. After this I made a rowing boat out of a plastic veg storage box, using winch handles as oars threatening to escape and tow the boat in. Let’s hope the wind picks up as I may run out of things to entertain us. Though Nicola and Beanie had a clear out of the cupboards and rustled up a delicious aubergine bake for lunch.

Next up is the 4 hour watches, I don’t mind the watch system at all as I like cat napping, though on and off with foulies and cold weather gear is a bit tedious as it takes a while to put it all on. It’s easier to sleep now cooler and nice not to be continuously sweating but it’s cold and damp on deck over the night watches which can be testing.

We saw 2 whales which I spotted, couldn’t tell what sort as I was flying the spinnaker at the time. 

7th July 2018

I’m feeling really tired though I sleep well on every off watch. My ocean wear sleeping bag is so warm and cosy though, it’s hard to leave. We have about 700nm to go until Ireland, looking forward to spotting the coast. We are currently in the ocean sprint section so looking for good speeds. We have only seen 2 cargo ships in the past 2 weeks.

We have not been able to connect to the satellite system for this part of the Atlantic, it has gone down so we can’t receive any weather reports, is there a wind hole or not? Nor any position reports or messages, feels like we are all alone in the world, is there anyone out there?

4am watch saw good wind and we reached speeds of 13 knots. I helmed for a while, the big swells pushed us along too.

Our Union watch continues to be strong, always in good humour. It’s funny sometimes we split on deck with the boys one side of the helm and the girls the other. The boys talking about submarines and cars and us girls usually giggling talking about all sorts to amuse us !

8th July 2018

Safety Sunday, named because we unpack and check and repack our life jackets. It’s also the 3rd day with no satellite comms. Apparently the satellite above us was due to changed in September and our Great boat cannot connect to the system for some reason. This means we have no communication with the outside world, no positions or weather. The light winds are fairly boring, though we try to keep the speed up. My highlight today was helming for an hour with no break and being on the helm as the crew hoisted the code 2 spinnaker, their life and the code 2 was in my hands! All went well and I was chuffed to bits.

Another highlight was 2 pods of visiting pilot whales. The first pod turned around to follow the boat but didn’t stay that long. However the 2nd pod about an hour later were in abundance, maybe 30 who followed the boat and came close alongside. Smaller than I expected but spectacular, we have a whale and dolphin identification book on board which Sandra supplied.

We have about 400nm to go so if these winds continue should arrive late Tuesday or early Wednesday. It’s giving a little time to wind down and as it’s Sunday I had a wash and changed my base layer, felt good. Many are holding out until we arrive but I wanted fresh clothes.

3 weeks through my 6 week holiday, going so fast so trying to soak up every moment, though can be difficult when you can get very tired with the watch system. Still enjoying everyone’s company and I hope we are not too near the bottom of the fleet, though we have no idea at the moment.

9th July 2018

We have been really unlucky with these light winds on our passage. We have no satellite still so no idea what’s happening with the weather or positions of the fleet, however Dave did manage a brief call with Tom Way our deputy race director. 4 boats are already in with more to get in later today. We still have 300 miles to go. We have the wind seeker up and gybing like mad to catch whatever wind we can, the sun comes out now for the majority of the day so sunsets and sunrises are lovely. This morning we were visited by many dolphins and a few pilot whales once again. I wonder if we will abandon the race and motor in, we are only chasing 3 points.

The topic of food:

The first week I ate some of the ration packs, even if half portions. The flavours we rotate are:

Beef Stew – quite nice

Macaroni cheese – sickly

Chicken Fajita – mainly sweetcorn so definitely NO

Spaghetti bolognaise – liked this to start with but sits on my stomach so stopped eating it.

But my appetite has got less and less, I know my taste buds change at sea but I also think it’s a mixture of I like good quality food ( cheap American cereals are vile) and I don’t find below that hygienic, which puts me off. There are tonnes of snacks but mainly biscuits, I don’t eat those. So I’m probably losing weight. In Derry I will stock up on nutrition bars as I think I may eat these. I didn’t anticipate not liking the food. Wraps most lunch times are nice if warm so I will eat these. 

NB I lost a stone!

10th July 2018

We have had no internet for a week, finally it came back on today so just received a message from Guy on shore as he has finished this race.

Being stuck in the wind hole was awful. It was so boring even though Pip, Beanie and I are quite good at entertaining ourselves. But was very frustrating knowing the other boats were getting in. I got a bit emotional which wasn’t helped the fact that I felt ill for 24 hours. I just can’t eat the food on board any more, so I have a mixture of feeling hungry, then not feeling hungry but sick. It’s a mix of food I don’t like and eating in dirty conditions, my stomach won’t take it. I am now living off apple flavoured electrolyte gel, tasty and I know how the horses feel now!

However it doesn’t dampen my spirits generally and I have enjoyed myself. It’s like being in a girls dorm with Pip and Beanie, we laugh so much and the guys are wary!

So, my first Atlantic crossing nearly complete, look forward to celebrating with everyone in Londonderry.

11th July 2018

Though I was granted extra sleep as I had been on mother watch the sight of land was too exciting. I came on deck as we entered Lough Foyle, it was stunning scenery and I could smell the trees and green fields. I stood at the back of the helm as those on deck were being noisy and not taking in the views. As I came on deck skipper Dave and a First mate Scotty shouted across that I was an Ocean Warrior now, I said a lightweight ocean warrior maybe!

As we got to our positions to moor up we went under Foyle bridge and friend James was on the bridge and took some great photos. We were also met by a local guy and his son on a rib, flying the Union Jack for us. I was on the bow as we came up to the pontoon, it was quite early but we were met by the Clipper team and Guy was there to greet me.

It was a lovely welcome in, then just over an hour later friends from home a Jane de Wend Fenton and Milly arrived. We celebrated with prosseco and Seafood Chowder. Shore food I like at last, I will be filling my boots this week to eat all the food I like!

24th July 2018

This race is 820nm back to Liverpool, our distance was 1004nm

I’ve been a bit lazy not writing my diary everyday, after race start if I was not on watch I was asleep as soon as I hit my bunk.

We had a great time in Derry, Guy and I got a lot of quality time together. We hired a car and explored the beautiful countryside. On arriving Guy was on the pontoon waiting for me, I was 3 days late! It was lovely that Jane and Milly flew over from home on the day I arrived. We also drove out to celebrate with good friend and colleague Lynn, along with her brother and nephews we explored around the lovely Donegal Bay area.

Race start saw a short bay race, never that well raced by the Clipper boats but good fun with lots of spectators from Derry right up to the mouth of Lough Foyle. We did lots of waving.

Back out into the Atlantic, we started off with quite rough sea states so I was sick a few times for the first few days, but aiming to eat more on this race to keep my strength up. I have been moved to a Jack watch as Assistant watch leader. 

It’s an exciting race along the stunning Irish coastline. The top 3 on the overall race leader board are not doing too well at present, they must be under a lot of pressure. We are in the mix and racing well despite a poor start.

Life on board is challenging, a gale force storm is due. I have prepared as much as possible but sure it’s going to be a tough challenge, but should experience it once! 

I continue to use talc and powder, brush my teeth – spitting into a piece of kitchen roll. But haven’t changed my socks yet which I will do after the gale.

Last night a pod of dolphins visited for the first time on this race, I was on the helm but they stayed with us for a long time. A cargo ship diverted his course for us too. 

Guy messaged me via Bobs skipper address to my skippers address, he has no more memory for this race. It’s only a few days so not too bad.

25th July 2018

I’m feeling good, eating better and sleeping well. Three crew have a viral chest infection which is keeping our medic Tessa busy. Scotty first mate keeps getting seasick and I’m with him that it’s the water. We messed up on the fresh coffee front, thought we had bought some but appears to be instant, not sure how this happened but feel bad about it, I know from Guy how important his favourite brew is.

Helmed at sunrise, nice helming though the sea is throwing us around a bit. A family of dolphins visited this morning, I am unable to capture them on the camera but about 6 adults and two babies jumped out at the same time, it was spectacular.

We are constantly on a heel which is challenging moving around though you get used to it. Missing being on the same watch as Pip and Beanie.

The sea state and gales started mid day, I loved it though the rest of the crew and skipper are cursing. I attempted some videoing as we are on a great angle, over 45 degrees sometimes. We changed to the Yankee two and I got soaked.

Despite these conditions dolphins still visit, though skipper Dave would shout dolphins at the stern, when I looked to the stern they would move to the bow. It was a bit like their behind you, though I did eventually see two adults jump out simultaneously which is a stunning sight.

We have had PSP and Visit Seattle on our AIS, the pack is close and I hope we are still in the mix tomorrow. Sad to think just 2 more days in the Atlantic, I’m really getting into it now!

26th July 2018

The fruity sea state and gale winds continued into our next watches. We put two reefs in. The bilges needed checking every hour as they filled up and those in the watch who are not confident to push their barriers were more of a hindrance than help. I spent 4 hours non stop working, trimming sheets, emptying bilges and filling the log in, I did not helm that watch. 

I was unsure about going to the bow in the dark in these conditions but as no one else would I decided to give it a go. I went slowly and closed my eyes a few times as waves crashed over me, but always aware I was holding onto something and where my feet were. Once I made it to the bow I hugged the forstay tight as I shone a head torch up to check the trim. It was scary as the waves continued to crash over me and I was up there on my own but I had done it, another goal reached. I was thanked for my efforts. I went to bed exhausted and soaking wet.

During the day watch as the winds calmed down we changed to our code 2, at last flying the kite with a slightly level boat, though I do like heeling over too. Skipper Dave told me it was a UNICEF fine to smile on deck in those testing conditions!

I finally got a photograph of a dolphin jumping out the water.

27th July 2018

The watch last night went much better, everyone did their fair share. I then went onto mother watch and so missed the midnight watch, but didn’t sleep that well. I woke to discover my watch had not filled in the log, the lazy beasts. I addressed the issue later in the day and as compensation they did some logs for me.

Breakfast and lunch went well. I am on mother with Ray, our Australian round the worlder. Quite a leisurely day and everyone is excited to get over the finish line. I did manage a strip wash in the heads which felt good, using a pan of hot water. 

My skin is so sore with salt water, particularly my hands, but I am eating slightly better on this race. Not sure what I will look like coming into Liverpool, quite weather beaten I expect, we have no mirrors on board which is probably a good thing.

We are still visited most days by dolphins and I have my team on fishing pot watch, I don’t want to be responsible for snagging pots plus it would slow us down. 

I’m sad my adventure is coming to an end in a few days, it’s been an amazing experience and has not sunk in yet what I have done, that will take time when I’m home.