Travel South Africa (with a little help from Facebook)

There’s no doubt social media can be a huge time waster, what with all the Instagramming of breakfasts and updates about needing a good nap. *yawn*  But I have to say, when it comes to travel, Facebook and the adventurous people that are all over it have made planning so easy these days that I don’t even bother buying guidebooks anymore.

All I have to do is land in a country and throw out a question on my Facebook page, like “If you only had a few days in Johannesburg, what would you see?” And within minutes I get a slew of responses like these:

“Leave Jo’Burg and go somewhere better. Haha.” – Brendan

“Without a doubt the Apartheid Museum.” – Michaela

“Drive to Pilanesberg. It’s a game reserve about 4 hours north of Joburg. It’s got the big five, it’s small and not very touristy. Much better than Kruger, etc.” – Lucy

“We went on a half day tour of Soweto, thought it was amazing.” – Toby

“When in Cape Town spend some time in Stellenbosch and Franschhoek–beautiful vineyards and quaint towns.” – Sheri

I suppose, in theory, Ryan and I could spend hours poring over guidebooks and doing online research before landing in any given country. But, often, our itinerary is already so jam-packed with transportation logistics (like arriving by racing yacht and tracking down a rental car) that by the time we get to the traveling part, a guidebook isn’t much good to us since there isn’t a waking minute left for me to waste on reading. And why bother when we have our friends to plan our itineraries for us anyway?

I’m pretty sure Google Glass had people like me and Ryan in mind when they invented a no-hands device just a few more evolutions away from inserting information directly into my brain at the mere hint of a question. But until that device is invented, I will have to rely on my amazing friends’, readers’ and fellow travelers’ suggestions on Facebook. Because, well, you never have time to see everything. But you can start with your friends’ favorites and just see where that takes you.

And, granted, sometimes you end up in places like Hermanus for the recommended whale-watching, and in reality you just end up laughing at the droves of people taking photographs of tiny black specs on the sea. But, unexpectedly, while we were in Hermanus, we discovered the most heavenly coastal trail runs, which made us wish we’d spent more time there just running and hiking. Barely visible whales? Meh. Trail running? Amazing!

travel south africa running hermanus

Okay, the runner looks a little goofy, but how about that view?!

Or sometimes a suggestion goes badly wrong, like when we were determined to see penguins and our trusty Facebook friends suggested we go to Boulder Point. But then we made the silly mistake of letting a local convince us to go to Betty’s Bay instead because “there the penguins are wild” (unlike in Simon’s Town, apparently), and it was en route to Cape Town, where we were headed next.

Except we discovered that the problem with “seeing animals in the wild,” is they don’t exactly adhere to tourist’s schedules. So, instead of seeing penguins, we found ourselves wandering around the coast aimlessly searching for wild life, getting sand-blasted on a rather unattractive patch of windy beach and running back to our car for shelter, all the while laughing at our own stupidity.

travel south africa betty's bay

“Nope, no penguins over here either.”

But even with our epic fails, the wild penguin chase and the road trip around the country driven by Facebook suggestions gave us more than enough of an adventure as we drove our little rental car around South Africa.

In the end, we didn’t need heaps of guidebooks or expensive tour companies to have an amazing African adventure chock full of incredible wild life. All we needed to travel South Africa in style for three weeks was:

  • An Avis rental car – $350 for 21 days (Bargain!)
  • Hospitable guesthouses and hostels, of which there are many – $25 per person per night
  • A Vodacom sim card – $10 w/$10 credit plus $30 for 3 GB data
  • Facebook smartphone app – Free
  • Advice from well-traveled Facebook friends – PRICELESS

See for yourself how we did with very little money and a lot of help from our friends…

apartheid museum travel south africa

Apartheid Museum: “I am the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul.”

apartheid museum mirror johannesburg

The Apartheid Museum forces you to reflect on history and yourself with regard to racism

soweto bicycle tour guide

A highlight was the bike tour of Soweto with our charismatic guide, Tambo

lebos soweto bicycle tour south africa

Which united us with a group of lovely backpackers from all over.

eating pap in soweto

We tried some traditional South African food…

don't drink and walk on the road you may be killed beer

And we drank some traditional Joburg beer.

giraffe zebra pilanesberg park south africa safari

Then we hit the road to see some wild animals…

sunset pilanesberg national park safari safari

And watch some of the most beautiful sunsets we’ve ever seen on land.

driving travel south africa

And we just kept driving and staring and taking pictures…

…Until our wonderful facebook friends suggested where to go next! Which was the beauty of the whole trip — it just unfolded as we went, like some kind of real-life choose-your-own-adventure, where you (my friends and readers) all turned to your favorite page and we (Ryan and I) just drove the car to the next destination.

Sure, there were things we probably missed, but that’s true of any trip. The important thing to us are the incredible people we met and the adventures we had along the way.

To read more about our road trip through South Africa, click here: http://turftosurf.com/category/destinations/south-africa/

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The Clipper Round the World Race

Tasha and Ryan have just finished Leg 1 of the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race, which started September 1st, 2013 in London, UK, and they are racing in Leg 3 from Cape Town, South Africa to Albany, Australia starting November 4, 2013. Tasha is competing on CV21 (the Henri Lloyd boat) with Skipper Eric Holden and Ryan is competing on CV28 (the PSP Logistics boat) with Skipper Chris Hollis. You can read more about the crew and the boats here at www.clipperroundtheworld.com/crew

A year in review: the numbers

“There’s no way I’m ever living on a boat.”

Yep, I said that once. Granted, it was a long time ago, but still I said it. Out loud. Rather emphatically. I may even have stomped my feet a little.

Yet in the last year alone, I’ve not only lived on a 34-foot boat as we sailed south from New York City to the Dominican Republic, but I’ve also lived with nineteen other crew as I raced a seventy-foot yacht over five thousand miles across the Atlantic Ocean from London to Rio de Janeiro. So, yeah, I guess you could say I’ve had to eat my words.

Because of this and other things I’ve been wrong about in the past, I like to take some time each year to reflect on the trials and tribulations of the year — the wild successes, the humorous blunders and the miserable failures – and put some perspective on all those comparative highs and lows. Like the time I landed in the hospital after smashing head-first into the beach during a kiteboarding lesson. Instead of panicking and doubting whether someone my age should be taking on new sports at all, I should have reminded myself, “This isn’t nearly as bad as the time I broke both my collarbones playing roller derby. I’ll be fine.”

It’s all relative. And it’s all about perspective.

Besides, I should know better by now. Because I know what happens when you marry someone crazier than you are:  you develop an appetite for adventure.

So, today, one year on from the day Ryan and I cast off our bow lines and sailed towards the unknown, I’m analyzing the numbers that make up this last year of our lives. And I’m rolling them around in my hand like a pair of Chinese medicine balls, feeling their weight.

Because these numbers tell a story…

Countries visited: 7

Continents visited: 4

Airports slept in: 2

Islands visited by boat: 17

Islands visited by plane: 1

New sports learned in foreign countries: 5

Hospitals visited in foreign countries: 2

Visitors received: 8

Weddings attended: 1

Funerals attended: 1

Miles covered by boat: 9,500

Top sailing speed: 30.7 knots

Oceans crossed by boat: 1

Torn spinnakers: 4

Longest time at sea: 28 days

Hurricanes endured: 2

Times we almost gave up cruising: 2

Pairs of running shoes worn out: 3

Pairs of shoes ruined by cat pee: 6

Electronics ruined by water: 3

$$ spent: Too much

Time spent with family: Too little

Times I vomited on boats: 6

Times I vomited in Cross-Fit class: 3

Blog posts written: 130

Magazine articles published: 3

Hours of TV watched: 24

Hours of Game of Thrones watched: 14

New adventures dreamed up for next year: 3…so far.

a year in review sailing port washington

On October 16, 2012 we said good-bye to our friends in New York…

a year in review sailing new york

And we sailed on past Manhattan with our two cats on board.

a year in review hurricane sandy

We had to strip the boat and hide from Hurricane Sandy…

a year in review visitors on board

But we were visited by friends all along the ICW… (Photo credit: Justin Dent)

a year in review ragnar relay key west 2013

And we took up as many physical challenges as we could fit in as we moved south.

a year in review sailing to the bahamas

And then, finally, we reached the Bahamas…WOO HOO!

a year in review sailing the bahamas

And we slowed down a little to take in views like this…

a year in review making cruising friends

And drink with newfound cruising friends… (Alex, Dave and Michelle from s/v Banyan)

a year in review sailing to the dominican republic

But hurricane season was upon us again, so we headed south to the D.R.

a year in review driving a motorcycle

Where I took to driving a motorcycle…

a year in review kiteboarding cabarete

And kiteboarding…

a year in review dominican hospital

Which is how I ended up in the hospital…again.

a year in review cross-fit class

But I worked my body back into shape through Cross-fit…

a year in review clipper race

To prepare for the upcoming Clipper Round the World Yacht Race.

a year in review goodbye hideaway

So, we said good-bye to Hideaway and left her behind in the D.R. for now…

a year in review clipper round the world

And we went to England to train for the race of our lives.

a year in review clipper race boats

So, here we are, on another adventure… (Photo credit: Clipper Ventures Plc)

Which begs the question…what do you think the next year will bring?

Featured Photo Credit: Taken from original artwork done by Catherine Matthews-Scanlon.

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The Clipper Round the World Race

Tasha and Ryan have just finished Leg 1 of the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race, which started September 1st, 2013 in London, UK, and they are racing in Leg 3 from Cape Town, South Africa to Albany, Australia starting November 4, 2013. Tasha is competing on CV21 (the Henri Lloyd boat) with Skipper Eric Holden and Ryan is competing on CV28 (the PSP Logistics boat) with Skipper Chris Hollis. You can read more about the crew and the boats here at www.clipperroundtheworld.com/crew

Clipper Race Stopover: Rio de Janeiro

When 250 or so booze-starved sailors turn up in Rio de Janeiro after four weeks at sea, things get a little messy.

To start with, those of us lucky enough to arrive first discover there is a well-stocked bar and restaurant within spitting distance of the docks in Marina da Gloria, and they offer to stay open until the last paying customer leaves. I laugh out loud as the marina’s bartenders make this generous offer to the Clipper crew because they have no idea what they’ve just gotten themselves into.

Since even the fastest boat arrived six days later than Clipper originally anticipated, the whole fleet is on a time-crunch to enjoy themselves. At best, the skippers and round-the-world racers have one, maybe two days to see Rio when they’re not deep cleaning the boat, provisioning for Leg 2, attending crew meetings, taking the new “leggers” out for pre-race training and doing sailboat repairs. It has the effect of turning nights out in Rio into a desperate race to drink ALL the Caipirinhas, eat all the meat and see all the sights.

marina da gloria rio de janeiro

The teams spreading out their sails for repair at Marina da Gloria

Ryan and I are forced to toss out most of our plans to travel in Rio de Janeiro because though we booked our flights with the intention of giving ourselves at least ten days, the Doldrums whittled away six of those days, leaving us with two days to work on the boat and just two days to speed through Rio before sprinting to the airport and flying to South Africa for some hopefully-less-hectic travel time.

And, don’t forget, we are the lucky ones. Teams like Switzerland, Invest Africa and Mission Performance – who took the most westerly route and got stuck in the Doldrums – will limp into port a good four or five days after the lead boats. I feel bad for them floundering around at sea, knowing all the while we are here partying it up at the Clipper Awards Ceremony, guzzling free beer, sipping Caipirinhas and stuffing barbecued meat of all kinds into our faces. Meanwhile, Invest Africa has to forfeit the race to motor for three days until they reach Rio. That’s how bad it is to come in last. It’s not just about being at the bottom of the leaderboard. It’s about missing all the fun, to boot.

But, as I said, we are the lucky ones. And Ryan and I are determined to get the most out of our two days in Rio, so we hit this city like two Olympic tourists on a mission. If only traveling were a competitive sport…oh, wait. According to this article on CNN.com, it already IS.

We may not be as hard-core as the dudes in the “Travelers’ Century Club,” but here’s what we crammed into our forty-eight hours in Rio:

1. Parties – LOTS of parties. Parties in the marina. Parties in the bars of Lapa. Parties in Copacabana. Even a party in an amazing, lofted Samba bar called Rio Scenarium, which is known as one of Rio’s Best Bars. Every time another boat arrives, there is another crew to party with. Which explains how I woke up in a sail locker one morning… on the wrong boat. Not unlike that time after my Level 2 Clipper Training… *sheepish grin*

rio scenarium clipper race party

Samba turns into hugging when we’ve not seen each other for a month

2. Running along Copacabana Beach – Our Air B-n-B rental apartment in Lapa turns out to be the perfect place from which to explore, party in the evenings and even go jogging from, as it is fairly central to everything. After a month at sea, I am ecstatic to finally stretch my legs and run through the streets of Rio. Unfortunately, it’s been so long since I’ve run that I nearly collapse before I even reach the Copacabana boardwalk. But I can definitely vouch for Copacabana as a lovely place to sit and hyper-ventilate for a while.

3. Favela Tour – When I mention to a Citibank CEO on board Henri Lloyd that Ryan and I are going on a tour of the favelas, he frowns and says, “Why?! You can see them fine from here!” as he points towards the hills.

rocinha favela travel in rio de janeiro

This is how you cram 11.5 million people into a small space

We are standing at the base of Christ the Redeemer at the time, a cold monument visited by every tourist in Rio. But I’m seeking out more of the warmth of Brazil. More people, less monuments. I want to see the real side of Rio and see for myself the places that CNN and the BBC love to splash across the TV as they portray Rio as one of the world’s most dangerous cities.

Our visit to the Rocinha Favela with “Be a Local” Tours is, by far, the highlight of our stay in Rio. With a population of 11.5 million, this favela is an incredibly intricate community woven together with concrete-box homes (some fancier than others), electrical wires, tiny shops, makeshift steps, exposed water pipes, garbage heaps and people. People everywhere — working in shops, carrying heavy sacks uphill, playing music, playing with children, shooing the chickens, smiling and welcoming us in to explore the veins of vibrant life that all connect to the heart of Brazil.

It is a fascinating, eye-opening tour that allows me to see up-close how so many people in Rio live.

travel in rio de janeiro rocinha favela tour

The streets are so narrow, I struggle to get out of the way of passing workers

favela tour travel in rio de janeiro

Housing is stacked, one on top of the other, to fit everyone in

4. Christ the Redeemer & Sugarloaf Mountain – The slow, leisurely way to see both of these would be to set out for a long day’s walk up the hill to the base of Christ the Redeemer, hang out for a few sunset cocktails with a scenic view, wander slowly down the hill and then take the tram down to the metro station. And then you could repeat the process the next day, but with Sugarloaf Mountain.

But we don’t have time for that, people. We have a plane to catch.

travel in rio de janeiro christ the redeemer

“Taxi! To Christ the Redeemer, please!”

So, instead, we take a taxi to the base of Christ the Redeemer, skip the long wait for the lightrail and instead take a bus to the top of the hill and then dash up to the foot of the statue for some photos, buy a few pairs of Havaianas, guzzle a few espressos and then dash back down to the taxi so he can drive us back to Lapa for our afternoon Favela Tour.

And after we finish the two-hour Favela Tour, we get the tour bus driver to drop us at the base of Sugarloaf, where we race the sun to the top so we can enjoy the view from our incredible vantage point over-looking the harbor before dark.

travel in rio de janeiro sugarloaf

Cramming in a quick sunset “selfie” on Sugarloaf

travel in rio sunset view from sugarloaf

The view from Sugarloaf at sunset was worth the rush

And, as soon as the sun goes down, we hurry off to find another taxi to take us to…

5. Maracanã Stadium for a football match –  Going to see a football match at the famous Maracanã Stadium in Rio, which was recently renovated for the 2014 World Cup, is like peeking through a window into Brazil’s soul.

Sure, there are players playing with a ball on the field and, yes, some people – especially Brazilians – like watching them. But the night Ryan and I go to see Flamengo play (Rio’s team), I can’t take my eyes off the football fans packed into the stadium. They are dressed in red and black (Flamengo’s team colors), shouting at the field, waving their arms, swearing, hugging, singing and dancing.

It is clear Brazilians have as much passion for football as they do for dancing, partying and laughing. If you want to see a nationality that brims with loud personality, go see a football game at Maracanã and then go out to a samba bar for the night. Trust me on this one.

flamengo football maracana travel in rio de janeiro

Gooooooaaaaaal! Flamengo scores!

flamengo football fan rio maracana

Football fans come in all sizes in Brazil…

samba dancing boy rocinha favela

…as do the samba dancers

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The Clipper Round the World Race

Tasha and Ryan have just finished Leg 1 of the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race, which started September 1st, 2013 in London, UK, and they are racing in Leg 3 from Cape Town, South Africa to Albany, Australia starting November 4, 2013. Tasha is competing on CV21 (the Henri Lloyd boat) with Skipper Eric Holden and Ryan is competing on CV28 (the PSP Logistics boat) with Skipper Chris Hollis. You can read more about the crew and the boats here at www.clipperroundtheworld.com/crew

Clipper Race to Rio: The marathon finish

If you’ve ever run a marathon, you know it’s not 26 miles. It’s 26.2 miles. And you know that because, if you’re anything like me, you cursed each and every agonizing step of that last 0.2 miles.

In 2006, a few months after our wedding, I convinced Ryan to train with me for our first-ever marathon, completely naïve to the mental fortitude such training would require. I’m a runner. He’s a runner. How hard can it be?

I was standing at the finish line in Seville, Spain when Ryan crossed, panting and grimacing. His face said it all. No, actually, HE said it all.

“What the FUCK was THAT?!” he exclaimed. “Twenty-six miles. I was all set to run twenty-six miles. And then I get inside the stadium and the finish line isn’t there. It’s over there! WHO MADE THIS THING AN EXTRA POINT TWO MILES?!”

I knew exactly what he meant. Just fifteen minutes earlier, I’d entered the stadium broken. Mentally, I’d prepared to make it to mile twenty-six (because that last 0.2 miles is hardly worth mentioning, right?). With each passing mile, for the last ten miles, my mantra was just to get to the next mile. And then the next. So, when my muscles seized and I hobbled along the road clutching my butt in pain, when I was crying because my ham strings were rubber bands on the verge of snapping, I kept going. After all, I was almost there.

Then I got to mile twenty-six. When I ran through the stadium entrance set to collapse and I realized I had to run an entire lap around the stadium before I could stop the pain, a part of me died. How could I come this far and it not be over?

And, more importantly, why am I telling you this?

Because that is exactly what the last sixty miles of the Clipper Race to Rio was like.

clipper race to rio land ho

Land ho! Now if only we could get there…

We sailed over five thousand miles towards a waypoint set for Cabo Frio, just around the headland from Rio, where I thought my pain would finally come to an end. At this point, I could almost see someone standing on the docks of Marina da Gloria with an icy strawberry Caipirinha in hand just for me.

But it seemed like the sea turned to molasses as soon as we rounded the headland. We sailed and stared at that point for eight hours, trying desperately to put some miles between us and Cabo Frio. But whenever anyone asked how much longer it was to Rio, the response remained the same: “About twelve hours.”

So I went to sleep and woke up four hours later, expecting to see the rocky point of Cabo Frio well behind us. And yet, when I came up, there it was. No further and no closer than it was before. How could this be?

“The winds turned,” someone said. “We were supposed to be on a beam reach all the way to Rio, but now it’s right on the nose. We’ve been tacking back and forth for hours and yet we’re going nowhere.”

“How much longer?”

“About twelve hours.”

So I went to bed. And when I woke up and stood on deck AGAIN, there it was. Cabo FLIPPING Frio. (See illustration below)

Map Cabo Frio Rio de Janeiro Brazil

“What the…?! Is that OneDLL and Derry in front of us?!” I exclaimed.

When running downwind, OneDLL and Derry-Londonderry-Doire struggled to keep up with us, but now that we were going upwind, they were leaving us for dead. Checking the AIS stats, it seemed both the other boats could point much higher and closer to the wind than we could, and no one on board Henri Lloyd understood why. We had the same boats, the same sails and the same sail plan. But somehow they could hold a better course. Which was how we dropped down to sixth place.

“Is it our trim? What are they doing differently?” I asked.

But no one answered. My watch had collapsed. Another day turned into another night with us no closer to Rio. Then the news spread that the first two boats in the fleet – PSP Logistics and Jamaica – had finished, which had the effect of zonking my crew of all their remaining energy. It was like our muscles had seized in that last mile of the marathon and we could push no further. The watch leader was in bed, suffering from seasickness, the assistant watch leader was lying in a fetal position on the floor in front of the helm, and half the crew were asleep on deck, unable to hold their heads up any longer. It was like mile twenty-six of a twenty-six-point-two mile marathon. We were supposed to be there by now. We desperately wanted to be there by now.

And then the Skipper came up on deck and looked anxiously at our sails. He looked both excited and confused.

“I can’t point any higher than sixty degrees,” I said, hoping to answer his question. “I don’t know why.”

“If my calculations are right, with the redress we get for our watermaker, we could still beat Qingdao,” said the Skipper.

“I’m sorry, what?”

Everyone on board knew that meant a gain of seven hours, since it took us that long to motor to OneDLL, collect water and motor back to the starting point. Suddenly, the dead and dying crew all sat up and looked lively again.

I looked up at the sails and repeated, “But I can’t point any higher, I swear.”

“Maybe it’s the halyard tension?” Maura (aka Trimma Donna) offered, perking up. Throughout the race, our halyard jammers had been causing problems – the halyards were too thin for the jammers on the boat, which meant we couldn’t release any of our halyards without having them slip through and sit way too slack for upwind sailing.

Some of the crew jumped up and offered to free up winches so we could get all of our halyards out of the jammers and onto the winches. And as soon as we cranked up the tension on our mainsail, staysail and headsail halyards, suddenly, I could point as high as thirty degrees.

“Holy shit!” I shouted. “That’s it! You’ve done it!” Suddenly the boat picked up speed and I could hold a much higher course to the wind. “Why the hell didn’t we think of that earlier?!”

It was just the boost we needed to keep fighting to the finish. Even if it was too late.

clipper race to rio maura tasha

Me and Maura (Trimma Donna), happy to be closer to land

In the end, we didn’t pass OneDLL or Derry before pulling into Rio. But, with the seven-hour redress we got for our faulty watermaker, we earned third place on the podium.

Ryan’s boat, PSP Logistics, match-raced Jamaica into Rio, losing to them by a hair’s breadth of nineteen seconds, which is the closest race finish in Clipper history. But with the one-hour redress PSP got for helping Team GB with their faulty watermaker, PSP finished in first place.

So, there you have it: both Ryan and I made it onto the podium, after all.

At the moment, there’s a lot of debate (aka smack-talk) about who has the better boat. Sure, Ryan’s boat came in first in the standings. But, Team Henri Lloyd earned more points for coming in second to the Scoring Gate and winning the Ocean Sprint, on top of getting third place overall. Which means we tied PSP in points.

Let’s just say, there’s some big talk going on in this little family right now. By the end of the race to Australia, I half expect Ryan and I to buy a second boat so we can race each other the rest of the way around the world.

But, then, that would just be crazy.

clipper race bar shots in rio

This is how we celebrate in Rio. BAR SHOTS!

psp logistics win clipper race to rio

Yeah, yeah, okay. Quit yer bragging, PSP.

ryan tasha clipper race to rio

Thank Christ we’re here.

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The Clipper Round the World Race

Tasha and Ryan are competing in Legs 1 and 3 of the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race, which started September 1st, 2013 in London, UK. Tasha is competing on CV21 (the Henri Lloyd boat) with Skipper Eric Holden and Ryan is competing on CV28 (the PSP Logistics boat) with Skipper Chris Hollis. You can read more about the crew and the boats here at www.clipperroundtheworld.com/crew

Race to Rio Week 3: The pain, the gain and the final push

Day 20: The pain

“The Doldrums is essentially a race restart,” says the Skipper. “The boats that break away first could easily find themselves hundreds of miles ahead of the whole fleet in just a day or two.”

I am thinking about this statement when I wake up to the news that three boats have broken out of the east, clearing the Doldrums and gaining the lead quickly. The boats to the west of us seem to have been cursed with even less wind, showing a pathetic twenty or thirty-mile gain in twenty-four hours. And then there’s the middle pack – Henri Lloyd and the boats on our tails — moving along at a slow but slightly quicker pace, which is no comfort whatsoever as we watch the boats to the east gain over 60 miles on us in just a few hours. We know that every hour we sit still is another hour that widens the gap between us and the podium.

Jamaica has climbed to first and – to my pride and horror – Ryan’s boat, PSP Logistics, has bounced suddenly from eleventh place to second place overall. And there’s absolutely nothing the crew on board Henri Lloyd can do about it. We are drifting, watching, cursing and waiting for each position report as well as any change in the weather forecast while the lead boats sail farther away from our reach.

As I’m now back on a steady coffee drip after our water rationing is raised to a more reasonable 3 liters per person per day following our successful rainwater harvest, I am unable to sleep at all anymore, checking the AIS on the chart plotter and tapping my foot while trying not to stress about the thing things I can’t control. Like the damned wind.

But it’s impossible. I’m picturing Ryan running back and forth on the foredeck calling for better trim on the headsail and staysail, all the while shouting, “C’mon, people! My wife’s boat is catching up!”

So, to take our minds off the excruciating wait for the calm winds to lift, Jo, the Skipper and I take to mid-morning plank-offs and push-up challenges to keep our minds and bodies distracted from the fact that we are falling behind in a race that we’ve dominated up until now.

henri lloyd plank off clipper race to rio

The crew challenges our unbeatable skipper to a daily “plank off” (Photo credit: Maaike Wassenaar)

Day 22: The gain

We’ve crossed the Equator and therefore have been transformed from Pollywogs to Shellbacks by Neptune himself with a fair bit of ceremony but none of the shenanigans like being covered in galley slop or being forced to kiss a flying fish that I’ve heard about on the other boats. Which is a relief because I’m not exactly in a celebratory mood, knowing that PSP Logistics is now 130 miles ahead of us and swiftly widening the gap.

But just as I begin to think morale is at an all-time low, we spot the faint glow of Derry-Londonderry-Doire’s mast light on the horizon and, suddenly, my night watch is alive and scurrying to trim sails, check Derry’s speed on the chart plotter and change from the Yankee 2 to the larger Yankee 1 headsail to eke another knot of speed out of our boat.

The carrot on the horizon appears at just the right time, as we hit 5 degrees south, which is where the Clipper Ocean Sprint starts. The Ocean Sprint is a challenge within the Race to Rio to see which boat can sail the fastest between 5 degrees south and 10 degrees south, earning 2 points towards their overall round-the-world score.

I’ve drunk my second coffee and fixed the Skipper a strong one with my specialty touch – a heap of hot chocolate mixed in for an extra sugar kick. Ryan and PSP may be securing their podium spot as they climb further ahead, but Henri Lloyd will not go down without a fight.

As I swig the last of my coffee and take the helm, I have Derry in my sights and I’m thinking about Qingdao in third place. There’s still 1000 miles to go; the strategy is simply to reel them in, one boat at a time.

equator crossing clipper race to rio

All hands on deck to take photos of the Equator, which isn’t much to see?

tasha turf to surf equator crossing ceremony

Me, transforming from a pollywog to a shellback. (Photo credit: Maaike Wassenaar)

team henri lloyd clipper race equator crossing ceremony

Jo, getting a good douse from Neptune. (Photo credit: Maaike Wassenaar)

Day 27: The final push

When the Doldrums finally leave us, it’s like a switch is thrown. We go from floating flat for nearly two weeks to having our world thrown on its side, racing alongside squalls and dodging whales with panicked screams from the helm of “TELL ME WHICH WAY TO STEER SO I DON’T HIT THE F@#$ING THING!”

The whale sightings are a dose of welcome fun when they are jumping and playing about three miles away from the boat, evoking oohs and aahhs from the crew like a good fireworks display.

But when they turn up just 100 meters off the bow, or 50 meters off the starboard side, swimming alongside the boat, they FREAK people out. We’ve all heard the horror stories of whales breaching under boats and ripping off keels or capsizing ships, so we shout and veer and panic, hoping the whales will go back to playing far away on the horizon, where they are much better appreciated.

As if this isn’t enough of a challenge, after a week of lolling sleepily in the Doldrums, night watch now brings 30 knots of wind on a reach in a feisty, squirrelly blast, making the boat hard to helm steadily. As Watch Leader Nick says, as he takes the helm from me after my shoulder-aching battle with the wheel, “Oooh, she’s got her slag boots on tonight, hasn’t she?!”

The roar of the wake blasting the sides of the boat as we accelerate to speeds of 21 knots, 23 knots and a pants-wetting 26 knots is so loud, Nick has to scream a thunderous “RELEASE VANG!” to be heard at all, as the boat is heeling over so far the boom is now dragging in the water, steering us in an arc like a third rudder.

The crew in the cockpit are all ducking, holding their hands over their heads, half expecting the boom to snap and come crashing down into the cockpit. Bits of yellow and black plastic are flying out of the wake and into the cockpit, an indicator that we’re now essentially pressure washing the Henri Lloyd graphics off the side of the boat, we’re going so fast.

We ease the sails as Nick sweats and fights the boat flat again, pulling the boom out of the water, and a collective sigh of relief is heard when we realize we haven’t snapped the boom after all.

“Okay, let’s get ready to drop the Yankee,” the Skipper shouts, seemingly unfazed by the boom washing. Indeed, it would appear we are a tad over-powered, so no one hesitates in their rush to the foredeck.

With the Yankee down on deck, we only have the mainsail and staysail up, and yet we’re still doing 17 knots with the wake roaring in our ears.

The question now, from our position about 600 miles from the race finish in Rio, is what sail plan are the lead boats using and can we still catch them? The latest position report tells us that we are only 60 miles behind the lead boat, yet we also know they are in the same weather system, so they are matching our speeds in these high winds.

It is the final push to Rio. We are tired, we’re grumpy, we’re dreaming of Caipirinhas on the beach and hot showers. But we’re still fighting.

But the question hanging over us in this exhausting last stretch of the Race to Rio is: Who can fight harder?

post-line-divide

The Clipper Round the World Race

Tasha and Ryan are competing in Legs 1 and 3 of the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race, which started September 1st, 2013 in London, UK. Tasha is competing on CV21 (the Henri Lloyd boat) with Skipper Eric Holden and Ryan is competing on CV28 (the PSP Logistics boat) with Skipper Chris Hollis. You can read more about the crew and the boats here at www.clipperroundtheworld.com/crew

Water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink

Day after day, day after day,

We stuck, nor breath nor motion;

As idle as a painted ship

Upon a painted ocean.

Water, water, every where,

And all the boards did shrink;

Water, water, every where

Nor any drop to drink.

— The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1798)

We know something is seriously wrong when James, our engineer, jumps up from his bunk, claws his way into the salon and starts tearing cushions off the settee.

Just yesterday James assured us that the thirty-four buckets of water we emptied from the bilge were not a problem because he’d already fixed the blown hose on the watermaker. So we breathed a sigh of relief and cracked jokes about the salt water enemas we’d have to give each other to survive if our watermaker ever broke.

But that was yesterday. There is no joking around with James now. He isn’t smiling or offering reassurances that the water maker – our lifeline — is going to be okay. Instead, he’s muttering to himself as he rummages through his tool box and glares at our Spectra watermaker, practically sweating.

There are many things on board CV21 Henri Lloyd that we can live without until we get to Rio, which is still 1800 miles away. For instance, the primary winch that broke on the way to Brest and never got fixed in time for the race start. Or the boat hook we lost overboard. Or the running back stay cleats that were never installed. Or even the spinnaker halyards that stripped on the in-mast rigging.

But a watermaker is just not one of those things. We simply cannot live without water. And we can’t survive until Rio on the one 290-liter tank of water we have left.

Which is why, with excessive use of silicone, duct tape and industrial glue, James and crew are trying desperately to save our cracked and failing water maker. Even though we all know deep down the crack in the housing is irreparable.

So, once it’s confirmed that our water maker is well and truly dead, strict water rations are put into place – the crew is limited to one and a half liters per person per day. Which doesn’t sound that bad, but in the Tropics on the Equator with no wind, it takes about three liters a day just to stay mildly hydrated.

But I am okay with the water rations for the first few days. Okay, maybe the first day. Scrap that. It takes the first horrific caffeine-free night watch to realize what it actually means to do night watches without coffee. NO COFFEE. I furiously dig up my Clipper contract to see if depriving me of coffee is a violation of my rights.

Not to mention, my poor crew are now forced to meet the decaffeinated version of me – migraines, grumpiness and an uncanny ability to fall asleep whilst standing up on grinder duty. In essence, decaffeinated Tasha is a terrible night sailor.

Which is why I am incredibly grateful for two things:

1)    The Skipper’s decision to suspend racing and motor thirty miles back into the Doldrums to get a water transfer from Team OneDLL, whose water maker is one of the few in the fleet that are still working.

2)    The monsoon rainstorm that results in collecting an additional four days’ water rations beyond what we get from OneDLL. Which means we can go back to drinking tea and coffee until Rio. THANK HEAVENS! Literally.

When we practiced transfers between boats during my Level 3 Clipper Race Training, I never imagined we would actually use it. Much like doing man overboard drills, I really hoped I would never have to use this skill in real life.

henri lloyd onedll water transfer clipper race

We weren’t looking to raft up in the Atlantic, but hey…

But sure enough, we find ourselves throwing our heaving line onto OneDLL’s deck so they can send jugs of water over to us on the other end of the line. Which is a cumbersome process that takes us about an hour for the water transfer and seven and a half hours in total for us to motor to OneDLL, receive the water on board, and motor back to where we started.

onedll water maker clipper race

Jo, putting our training to good use collecting water.

The only worry about doing the transfer is that we are in the first place position at the time, and we are taking a risk by motoring back into the Doldrums to pick up water. But we also don’t really have a choice.

So, when the skies open up and deliver another four days of water to us via our boom cover turned upside down to collect rain pouring off our mainsail, I try not to think along the lines that we could have done without the water transfer after all.

henri lloyd boom cover water collection clipper race

Turning a branded boom cover into a rain gutter – pioneering spirit, indeed.

“ALL HANDS ON DECK!” someone yells, getting everyone up to collect water in their personal mugs since we’ve run out of receptacles to collect water in.

If you’ve ever wondered what happens when a monsoon suddenly rains down on a crew of twenty parched, overheated sailors who’ve been counting the minutes until their next 500 milliliter water ration, I can tell you.

Shrieks of delight reverberate below deck as crew leap from their bunks and run up on deck with wild looks in their eyes, some holding cups and others clutching their dirty laundry. Most of the crew stand with their mouths open to the sky while bending down to scoop water from the floor onto their faces. Some grab bottles of shampoo and start scrubbing their hair and armpits while others just sit on deck in the rain, out of the way, laughing at the mayhem. The engineers turn every sheet of vinyl on board into gutters and funnels that run into every pot, pan and bowl available while shouting down to the galley to send up more.

In essence, the rain creates a mass hysteria comparable to that of a pub throwing free beer at its patrons. Meanwhile, I’m in the galley, digging the Nescafe out of the cupboard while rainwater boils in the kettle.

Let’s just say, when I signed up for the Clipper Race, I mentally prepared myself for the possibility of food deprivation, sleep deprivation and even water rations on board. But I never prepared myself for the possibility that I would have to give up my coffee.

So, as I throw my third heaping scoop of Nescafe into my mug, I am grinning. Sanity has been restored and all is right with the world on Henri Lloyd.

post-line-divide

The Clipper Round the World Race

Tasha and Ryan are competing in Legs 1 and 3 of the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race, which started September 1st, 2013 in London, UK. Tasha is competing on CV21 (the Henri Lloyd boat) with Skipper Eric Holden and Ryan is competing on CV28 (the PSP Logistics boat) with Skipper Chris Hollis. You can read more about the crew and the boats here at www.clipperroundtheworld.com/crew

Day 13 Race to Rio: Weather helm

Oh, how quickly things change. I was all set to write in my journal how today was just another dull day in the Doldrums when suddenly it wasn’t.

All afternoon we sit around willing the wind to pick up, blistering in the sun and complaining about the heat. Where normally I’m happiest at the helm, today it is hard to stay focused when boat speeds are fluctuating from a pathetic .5 knots to 1.5 knots.

During the lull in activity, I do my crew a favor by taking my first shower on the stern using our sun shower to simultaneously soap up and cool down, making me a much more pleasant person to be around. But other than a few whale sightings at sunset, nothing much happens except the fleet starts to threaten our first-place position as we sit here with our sails flapping helplessly.

Then, as I report on deck for my 8 o’clock watch, everything changes.

Within minutes of putting my coffee down to take the helm, the assistant watch leader comes up from the nav station to announce there are several squalls ahead on the radar. Which is nothing new since we seem to hit a squall or two every few nights out here in the Tropics.

We are flying our lightweight A1 spinnaker with our full mainsail up since we only have about 9 knots of wind and we’re struggling just to keep that.

When the first squall hits us dead on the bow, I am bracing myself at the helm as the boat dips, touching the rails to the water. I yell for someone to stand by on the vang, ready to release it in the event the boom hits the water. I must look visibly stressed because the skipper jokes, “I love it – Tasha’s got white knuckles in 10 knots of wind. That’s a sign this boat hasn’t moved in a while.”

I look at the wind gauge and laugh, though this 10 knots doesn’t feel like any 10 knots I’ve experienced before. As the sky turns black, erasing the stars, the moon and the horizon, I feel like I’m sailing in a vacuum as the wind seems to punch us with gusts from the side, throwing the boat over in what I know are theoretically light winds. “What the hell would this be like in 30 knots?” I think.

After half an hour, I realize 15 knots is probably the most we’ll see so I start to relax and do my thing. I use the wind gusts to get the boat to a nice heel so we can surf on south as quickly as possible. After all, this is a race, so we need to use the wind for all the speed we can get. With the wind coming from behind at a 130-degree angle, the boat glides along at speeds of 10-11 knots in 11-12 knot winds. Which is a welcome change to sitting still in the water watching the rest of the boats creep up on us on the AIS.

This is just my kind of helming. It’s a game to stay ahead of the wind and predict the changes before they happen and it keeps me 100% present in my mind and body as I focus on reacting quickly to the boat’s movements. Despite having to abandon my coffee to grip the wheel tightly, I am wide awake with my adrenalin pumping, enjoying the storm’s onslaught.

Three and a half hours later, I am still at the helm after three converging squalls have collided directly above us, spinning us around to the west, then to the north at one point, then vaguely moving us in a favorable southwest direction. We need to head due south to get to Brazil, but after sitting in a wind hole in the Doldrums for the last two days, this mayhem of three combined squalls is surprisingly welcome.

What is crazy, though, is what happens when we finally hit the tail of the squalls as they depart. Eric tries to warn me that the wind might get a little weird, but I don’t fully understand until I find myself completely out of control at the helm.

The moment the squall stops, the wind seems to both die and spin us around in circles simultaneously. I try desperately to yank the wheel over to keep up with the spinning wind, but in the pitch dark, this has the effect of making me feel like we are literally spinning the boat in circles like some kind of fairground ride.

I must have whimpered a panicked noise in Eric’s direction because he tells me to look up at the windex to ground myself. At that moment, I realize the boat isn’t actually spinning. It’s like the boat is on some kind of treadmill – as I throw the wheel around to starboard, the wind pushes us just as strongly in the opposite direction, giving the effect that we’re spinning in circles when really the boat is practically standing still.

In the end, the squalls have taken us for a four-hour ride, somewhat in the wrong direction but mostly in the right direction, the final punctuation mark being a drastic surge in wind speed to 25 knots, causing the skipper to call for a spinnaker drop.

“KITE IN THE WATER! ALL HANDS ON DECK!”

As soon as we drop the kite, the wind pulls the boat around and blows the kite into the water. Then, an instant later, it pushes back on the kite, pushing it under the boat. As a sleepy crew emerge to panicked shouting, they quickly read the signs to pull the spinnaker in however they can. And as they pull, the spinnaker catches on the stanchions, causing two small tears. But we’re relieved to have recovered the kite in relatively good shape.

When the spinnaker panic dies down, the sky opens up and we are instantaneously drenched in a downpour. Which, from the skipper’s relaxed stance, seems to signify the end of the squall.

As my heart rate starts to lower, I wipe the salty rain from my eyes and hand over the helm to another crew member so I can stretch out my tense shoulders and stumble down below for a drink of water. I would take a whiskey on the rocks if I could but, alas, water it is.

I find the skipper in the galley shoveling leftovers into his mouth with a wild-eyed look and a slight grin that says he took as much of an adrenalin hit as I did. “Nice job on the helm,” Eric says.

“Thanks,” I exhale, feeling a little stunned.

I am tempted to blurt out with a giggle that I am having the time of my life, but considering the situation, the words sound a little crazy in my head. So, instead, I wipe the rain out of my eyes, pull my foul-weather jacket over my head and go back up on deck.

post-line-divide

The Clipper Round the World Race

Tasha and Ryan are competing in Legs 1 and 3 of the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race, which started September 1st, 2013 in London, UK. Tasha is competing on CV21 (the Henri Lloyd boat) with Skipper Eric Holden and Ryan is competing on CV28 (the PSP Logistics boat) with Skipper Chris Hollis. You can read more about the crew and the boats here at www.clipperroundtheworld.com/ crew

Race to Rio: Life in the Doldrums

As if racing and living on board a Clipper yacht weren’t challenging enough, mid-way through our second week of racing, it becomes clear at this early stage in the race that we are stuck in the dreaded Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ), better known as the Doldrums.

But it would seem we’re not alone. Where the previous position reports showed most of the fleet covering 50-70 miles in six hours, now they show yachts covering distances like 10, 1 or, worse, -0.2 miles.

We’re floating…literally floating off the coast of Cape Verde, willing it to disappear behind us while our windseeker hangs limply from the forestay like a white flag pleading for mercy from the wind gods.

It’s hard to remember why we’re out here drifting in the middle of the Atlantic since it hardly feels like we’re moving, let alone racing.

The air is so still it suffocates me in the cabin down below while, on deck, my skin bakes and my clothes bleach in the scalding sun. Waking up for my watch becomes an alarming experience, as it takes every ounce of energy to pull myself from what feels like a narcotics-induced sleep. In my hazy stupor, I find myself thinking, “Who the hell drugged me and dropped me off on this floating, festering trash bin? And who’s feet do I smell?”

It’s in these conditions – when our clothes are crusty with sweat and sea water, our skin is raw and sore, the galley is a sauna, and every day feels like three – that patience is in short supply, tempers are sharp and optimism flows quickly into the bilges, becoming harder and harder to retrieve.

Which is why a sense of humor is useful for coping with some of the uncomfortable aspects of life on board a Clipper yacht.

The Heat

It is HOT out here in the Doldrums as we move off the coast of Africa. It seems we’re following the traditional path to the trade winds, the directions for which are: “Go south until the butter melts, then turn right.” The butter has definitely melted, but we’re not moving fast enough to turn anywhere.

At the helm, there is no protection from the sun and the heat gets to me quickly. So, I’ve taken to filling a bucket with sea water and standing in it while steering. It means no one has access to the bucket while I’m helming but, hell, we all have to make sacrifices.

And if I’m going to steer us away from this solar abuse, then I need a bucket of water to stand in.

clipper race sun shade doldrums

The crew hide from the sun under an old sail turned into an on-deck sun shade.

The Smell

After two weeks on board, I’m certain there is nothing in hell or beyond that could possibly smell as bad as 20 people living on a boat in the Tropics.

Every time I come off watch, I wander around below deck in search of a bunk that isn’t located in a hot pocket of foot fungus, choking off my oxygen with smells that smack of wet, rancid Parmesan with an undercurrent of baby sick.

When I spot a pair of deck shoes anywhere near an empty bunk, I know for certain I won’t be able to both sleep and breathe, so I move on to bunks that are located closer to the food supplies and further away from the largest number of socks, shoes and feet.

But there is no perfect bunk.

The forward port bunk is located in an airless room where our sausage supplies hang, earning it the name “sausage bunk,” as it smells of dead, sweaty pig. Which, to some, may be preferable to the odor of dead, sweaty feet.

The sausage bunks, however, are sometimes preferable to the forward starboard bunks, which are located within inches of the forward head and a 3-month supply of Dutch cheese, earning the names “upper cheese bunk” and “lower cheese bunk.” The further south we sail, the warmer the cheese gets and the more it starts to smell like the main crew bunks, sometimes called the “rotten Rockport” bunks since the biggest offenders to the olfactory nerves are, without a doubt, the crew’s Clipper-issued Rockport deck shoes.

Personal Space

Or, rather, lack of personal space.

On board Henri Lloyd, we hot-bunk according to the winds, the weather conditions and where our weight is most needed for racing advantages. This means none of our belongings have a fixed home on board. Clipped to our bunks are dry bags containing all our possessions, which we move from bunk to bunk according to what tack we’re on and where our weight is needed at the time we’re going to sleep.

I find it difficult to sleep in the unbearable heat below deck, so I often try to carve out some space in the corner of the boat where I can retreat into my own head to write, read, listen to music and, generally, distance myself from the 20 crew who are packed into the boat like sardines.

To carve out my space, I put in my earphones — even when I’m not actually listening to anything — to help send signals that I’m taking some time for myself.

Normally, the ear phones work, unless a crew member is particularly bad at reading non-verbal cues. Such a person might see me sitting quietly in the corner tapping away on my computer, avoiding eye contact, and take this as an opportunity to sidle up next to me and read what I’m typing while asking, “Whatcha doin’? Writing? Can I read it?” And then continue to read over my shoulder, even when my response is a sharp “No.”

That person usually becomes the focus of my daydreams about booby-trapping his bunk.

Jon, if you’re reading this over my shoulder, then you only have yourself to blame if you wake up to find some unpleasant bilge growth mysteriously relocated to the bottom of your sleeping bag. I’ll leave it up to you to work out whether or not I’m kidding. 🙂

The Challenge

“There is no change without challenge,” is a phrase that comes to mind often on this journey – particularly here in the Doldrums.

When we’re racing along at 13 knots and the crew is hard at work hoisting, packing and schlepping sails up and down to maximize boat speed, my mind and body are fully engaged, leaving little space for dwelling on the discomforts of ocean racing and on board living.

Here, in the heat and inactivity of the Doldrums, however, negativity starts to take root in my thoughts and taint my perspective. So it’s during the lulls of racing that I have to work my hardest to stay positive and focused on the goal ahead. To do that, I remind myself that adventures aren’t a flat line experience. There are peaks of wonder and excitement followed by troughs of suffering and self-doubt. But, often, it’s the troughs that teach you the most about who you are and who you want to be.

The truth is, if I thought for a moment that sailing over 5,000 miles across the Atlantic Ocean would be a walk in the park, I never would have signed up in the first place. I’m here, racing to Brazil in the Clipper Round the World Race, because I knew it would be hard.

The heat, the smells and the lack of personal space – these are just temporary discomforts. The achievement, the pride and the lessons learned – these are what I’m hoping will last a lifetime.

clipper race not moving doldrums life

When the boat’s not moving, I find myself steering with my face, bored out of my mind at the helm.

post-line-divide

The Clipper Round the World Race

Tasha and Ryan are competing in Legs 1 and 3 of the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race, which started September 1st, 2013 in London, UK. Tasha is competing on CV21 (the Henri Lloyd boat) with Skipper Eric Holden and Ryan is competing on CV28 (the PSP Logistics boat) with Skipper Chris Hollis. You can read more about the crew and the boats here at www.clipperroundtheworld.com/ crew

Clipper Race to Rio: There will be blood

Day 8: An anniversary at sea

The Skipper pops his head up through the hatch and says in a serious tone, “Tasha, can I see you in the nav station?”

“Uh oh,” someone mutters. Everyone in the cockpit spins around to look at me on the helm, wondering what I could possibly have done to provoke a private meeting with the skipper.

The look on my face says this is not a good time, as I’m preoccupied with the growing speck on the horizon that is the Mission Performance boat. We’ve been chipping away for two days at Mission’s second-place position, hoping to pass them any moment now. And having closed the gap from 11 miles to 3 miles in this four-hour watch, I am loth to give up the helm now.

“Now?” I ask before realizing Eric’s already disappeared. Concerned I might be in trouble, I hand over the helm to my watch leader and run after the skipper.

“You’ve had a call from PSP,” Eric says when I reach the nav station.

I smile, realizing Ryan must have received the card and gift I left with his crew to give him on September 16th, our wedding anniversary. Since it’s the first time in eight years we aren’t together for the occasion, I wanted to let him know I was thinking of him.

Eric dials the number for PSP Logistics on Clipper’s satellite phone, but when I get Ryan on the line, I only have a few minutes to blurt out a quick “How are you?” “Happy anniversary” and “I love you” before having to hang up. But knowing Ryan is out there on a boat nearby – though not too nearby (after all this is still a race) – comforts me.

As I make my way back up on deck, grinning, a pod of dolphins start jumping and playing in our bow wake, momentarily distracting the Henri Lloyd crew from the intense battle to chase down the Mission Performance boat, which we now refer to as “Mission Impossible.”

Day 9: Chasing Mission Impossible

When I wake up, it is to the news that we are just one mile behind Mission Performance, who are flying their A1 spinnaker. Which is great news because we still have our smaller A2 spinnaker up, and yet we’re moving slightly quicker. Which means we can go faster still.

At the front of the fleet, racing towards the scoring gate, is Derry-Londonderry-Doire in first place, Mission Performance behind them, and us in third. All three of us are battling it out to beat each other to the Clipper scoring gate, which will earn one of us three points for first place, two points for second and one point for third.

I’ve been helming non-stop for two hours with the crew continuously trimming the kite to squeeze every knot of speed out of our boat. Over the last two days we’ve slowly fought and clawed our way up to Mission’s stern until now we are close enough to see their entire crew on deck getting ready to “peel” their spinnaker, which means they’ll hoist their A2 kite without dropping the A1 first, cutting down on lost speed and ground. It’s a rather impressive maneuver to watch, so the crew is distracted momentarily as we watch the process unfold flawlessly.

Mission Performance must have hoped the wind would drop, forcing us to change our spinnaker to the A1 and causing us to lose some ground. But, contrary to their prediction, the wind picked up, forcing Mission to drop their lightweight spinnaker, putting us at an advantage.

As we pull up to Mission’s stern just off their starboard side, my watch comes to an end, leaving me both impressed and disappointed that the competition continues to keep us at bay.

But my time is up, so I start to hand over the helm to the starboard watch leader when the skipper steps in and asks, “Can I have a go?”

Focused and quiet, Eric’s determined stance at the helm tells me he badly wants Mission in his rearview mirror. So I take a seat on the rail with the rest of the crew to watch the ongoing drag race, controlled by the skipper. He shows us how to put up a fight from the helm as Mission drops lower and lower, trying to luff us up and steal our wind. Eric responds by steering the boat high and going windward of Mission Performance, foiling their plan.

After another four hours of match racing, Skipper Matt calls Eric on the VHF, congratulating him on catching up. But, according to Matt, they’re aiming for a different course, so it’s not in their interest to continue racing to the scoring gate.

But as Henri Lloyd moved up to second place, climbing further and further out of Mission’s reach, it doesn’t seem they have much choice but to settle for third.

Day 10: Flying F@#&!

Sea squalls in the tropics seem to be a daily occurrence after 4 pm, whipping up unpredictable winds and inking out the moon and stars with dark clouds, making sailing an almost blind experience.

As we fight to catch up with Derry-Londonderry-Doire before passing the scoring gate, the wind does her fickle thing and throws 25-knot curve balls at me, twirling the wind in mini circles, requiring me to spin the boat to stay with it. In a bizarre feat of helming, I find myself sailing downwind in the dark to a comfortable 140-degree wind angle only to feel the wind suddenly spin clockwise, causing me to throw the helm 40 degrees off the wind to avoid gybing, only to find the wind has now spun 40 degrees back in the opposite direction.

The unpredictable wind, however, makes for thrilling sailing. I get a surge of adrenalin every time the boat’s stern lifts on a wave, forcing me to finesse the wheel towards the middle with dozens of small wrist movements, keeping the rudder friction to a minimum. As I lessen the drag on the boat and let it glide freely, it careens down the wave, picking up speed until I’m surfing at 17 knots in 15 knots of wind.

“GRIND!” Maura, our chief trimmer, yells as the front of the spinnaker starts to collapse.

THWACK! Slap slap slap.

David pauses on the grinder and spins around to look at Maura.

“What?!” Maura shouts, visibly annoyed. “I didn’t tell you to stop!”

“Did you just throw something at me?” David asks, also looking annoyed.

“What the…what? No!”

David shines his headlamp on the cockpit floor, revealing a fluttering, scaled creature.

“Holy…I got hit with a flying fish!” David exclaims, picking up what looks like a winged sardine. A moment later, two more fish flop on the deck. THWACK! THWACK! Slap slap slap.

“EWWWW!” Maura yells, abandoning her role as spinnaker trimmer.

Everyone is now rolling on the deck, laughing hysterically. The boys pick up all the dead fish they can find – 11 and counting – and start throwing them at the girls, who are now squealing and threatening to throw someone overboard.

When the shock of being attacked by flying fish subsides, we get back to the task of pushing towards the scoring gate and catching Derry-Londonderry. And in doing so, we set a record for most miles covered in a 24-hour period in this race so far. We cover 270 miles with 70 miles of that distance covered in the last 6 hours, since we spotted Mission Performance on the horizon.

Though we are fast and furious, we aren’t quite fast enough to catch Derry-Londonderry-Doire in the end. When we reach the scoring gate, we are in second place, a mere 4 miles behind Derry.

But we have a long way to go still before we get to Rio. And there’s no telling how the Doldrums will shake up the fleet.

I just know when a boat appears on the horizon, we will have them in our cross hairs. And there will be blood…

post-line-divide

 The Clipper Round the World Race

Tasha and Ryan are competing in Legs 1 and 3 of the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race, which started September 1st, 2013 in London, UK. Tasha is competing on CV21 (the Henri Lloyd boat) with Skipper Eric Holden and Ryan is competing on CV28 (the PSP Logistics boat) with Skipper Chris Hollis. You can read more about the crew and the boats here at www.clipperroundtheworld.com/ crew

Day 6 Race to Rio: Finding my niche

“I really struggled with that and you made it look so easy,” Jon, the assistant watch leader, says to me after I’ve finished helming through a gusty night of 25-30 knot winds. “I mean, really. You made me look like a twat.”

I shrugged and smirked, not really sure what sort of response Jon was looking for. Is that a compliment, or is he just airing his frustrations?

Since we started the race in Brest, most of the night helming on my watch has been done by the watch leader, Nick, and the assistant watch leader, Jon, while the other crew have rotated on and off the helm during daylight hours so everyone could get comfortable helming in the dark. Especially since the pattern of the Tropics seems to be champagne sailing by day, and unpredictable squalls by night.

On this particularly windy night, with swells lifting the boat and rolling us from side to side as we sailed downwind, Jon grunted loudly as the boat pulled him hard upwind while he pulled away with all his might to keep the boat on a steady course. But by throwing the wheel over to fight the wind, he found himself too far off course and having to throw the wheel back the other way, setting off a pendulum effect that swung the boat to and fro uncomfortably.

As Jon gritted his teeth, I could see he was struggling to balance the boat and suspected he might be steering to the digital instruments, which showed the true wind angles lit up on the mast. Except the instruments had a 3-second delay in registering changes, meaning they didn’t so much tell you where you were, but rather where you’d just been.

When the Skipper called me up to the helm to give it a try, I tried to keep in mind what I knew about the wind, the instruments and the boat heel, and tried to ignore the fact that the skipper was standing right beside me, overseeing all my mistakes.

The thing I’ve discovered about helming these 70-footers – which is obviously different to sailing my little Catalina 34, whose top speed is about 5.5 knots — is that if you get them on the right heel with the right sail trim, they just glide and surf at speeds that nearly match the wind speeds, if not exceed them. And from what I’ve seen so far, that can be as fast as 30 knots on the right wave with the right winds.

But there are so many signals to read from the boat — the wind on the sails, the tension in the rigging, whether the boat is heeling or flattening out, the feel of the rudder when it’s in the middle and the lift of the stern right before it starts to ride out a wave. And on top of that, there is always an ideal course over ground (COG) to maintain which, in the race to Brazil, is pretty much 180 degrees due south. Which may or may not be attainable, depending on the wind angle.

But when all the elements come together perfectly – like when the boat’s stern is lifted with 20 knots of wind in the spinnaker and I’m surfing down a wave at 18 knots — I am grinning like a kid on a go-cart track. That feeling of riding a wave as far and long as it will take me brings on an adrenalin rush that reminds me of the long, fast turns I used to slice through the snow when downhill ski racing, a sport I’m much more familiar with.

When racing downhill on snow, my skis are like an extension of my body and I can feel in my core when I have to lean hard to counterbalance the speed of the skis coming around a turn. Which feels similar to the moment I feel the boat lift up and tilt away from the wind just before it rides down a wave. The instant heel of the boat brings on a momentary twinge of uncertainty in my gut, but once the boat starts to glide, my shoulders relax and I enjoy the ride while I work at the rudder to keep the surf going as long as possible.

With ski racing, my goal is always to trust in my training, my experience and my equipment, as well as to lower my inhibitions and let the skis ride out at the speeds they were designed to do. Which is not so different from the feeling of helming during a squall. If I trust the sail configuration and I know the speeds the boat can do, then I just need to take a deep breath, trust in myself and the boat, and ride the waves to the height of their speed. The goal in racing – both in skiing and sailing — is to push for speed as long as possible without prematurely putting on the brakes or damaging any equipment.

I was in a world of my own — thinking about yacht racing vs. ski racing while nudging the wheel back and forth with the hundreds of small wrist movements needed to keep the helm steady — when the skipper popped up beside me and said, “Tasha, you’re a natural.”

The compliment took me by surprise. So, rather than say thank-you, I brushed it off with, “I don’t know about that. I’m working quite hard!” Which was true — I was sweating so much I wished I had worn less clothing. But, perhaps I was more surprised to find that I might have found my niche on the boat.

When I signed up for the Clipper Race, my expectations of myself were quite low in that I wanted only to survive without injury and learn a little more about sailing. But to be good at something? That was rather unexpected.

Of all the jobs on board the Clipper yachts, helming was one that I was sure I would avoid. It seemed like such a great deal of responsibility to take on for such a large boat and crew. And having had no experience racing big, fast yachts, it seemed to me that the helm was a position for a much more experienced sailor. Plus, I loved being the go-to person for grinding, sweating up sails, trimming, working the bow, or doing any of the jobs required of me on deck.

But it’s amazing what a vote of confidence and some experience can do to develop one’s skill. Now, the crew has to practically pry my fingers off the wheel to get me off the helm. And the hairier the weather, the bigger the buzz I get from helming. Every squall poses a new challenge with unpredictable winds and rolling waves that often come with speed and an adrenalin surge.

There’s no doubt I have a lot more to learn about helming a racing yacht. And, for sure, the Southern Ocean has a few tough lessons in store for me. But, there’s no point in doubting myself now; I just have to keep learning.

Like other sports in my life, there comes a time when I just have to trust in my training, my experience and my equipment. And once I’ve done that, I can just let ‘er rip.

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The Clipper Round the World Race

Tasha and Ryan are competing in Legs 1 and 3 of the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race, which started September 1st, 2013 in London, UK. Tasha is competing on CV21 (the Henri Lloyd boat) with Skipper Eric Holden and Ryan is competing on CV28 (the PSP Logistics boat) with Skipper Chris Hollis. You can read more about the crew and the boats here at www.clipperroundtheworld.com/crew