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

Day 5 Race to Rio: Slow and steady wins the race

Horror stories of shredded spinnakers, crash gybes and spinnaker poles ripping out of masts have been making their way around the fleet via the daily Skippers’ Blogs, giving us something to talk about each day during our dog watch (the only time all the crew are awake at the same time).

I thought of our sailmaker, Sarah, when I read Team GB wrapped their spinnaker around their forestay, tearing it to shreds within a few days of leaving Brest. The damage was so severe it took them a week to repair it.

And I cringed when I read PSP Logistics (Ryan’s boat) had crash gybed with their Yankee headsail poled out, causing the pole to come whizzing across the boat, ripping the track clean out of the mast when it hit the other side. And that was on Day 2 of the race, with about 4500 miles to go. And that’s 4500 miles of downwind sailing now made even more difficult for Ryan and his team since they won’t be poling out any more headsails.

As I’ve been doing more and more helming for my watch, I think of PSP every time the boat pulls hard up into the wind and I have to fight the boat with all my might to bear away again. It feels like a desperate battle to keep the boat safe, and to fight for every chance at stepping on the podium in Rio. I don’t want to give anything away to human error, much less my error.

It’s a huge responsibility, being at the helm on a 70-foot racing yacht. Unlike sailing in the Solent, with tame seas and predictable winds, out on the open ocean we’ve had everything from 10–40 knots of wind close hauled, sometimes from behind, sometimes calm seas and sometimes huge, rolling waves that threaten to pitch the boat on its side, putting undue pressure on the preventer and our pole, if we’re sailing downwind.

Any time I have to scream “VANG!”, signaling for the crew to ease the boom vang as the boom is about to dip in the water, my adrenalin levels surge and my muscles tense up, as I’m fighting with every ounce of strength and concentration to not let the boat pitch sideways, causing any damage.

Eric, our skipper, seems to have a good sense of the crew’s capabilities, which is why we sailed a fair while longer than most of the other boats without putting our spinnaker up. He didn’t want us taking on more than we could handle.

So, we watched patiently and a little nervously as most of the fleet passed us in the first few days of the race from Brest. Most of the other boats had raised their kites and pulled ahead of us, leaving us behind in 8th place. But with five crew laid up with seasickness to the point where they were either in bed most of the day, slumped on the stern with Bob (our man overboard dummy) or lying on the floor throwing up into garbage bags, both watches were seriously under-crewed for manning a spinnaker, which requires quite a few hands on deck.

So we waited until we had a fully functioning crew to raise our kite, and then we reigned in each boat mile by mile, until we’d clawed our way up from 8th place to 1st place. And like a flashback to the race to Brest, Derry-Londonderry were hot on our heels in 2nd place when we reached the top of the leaderboard.

It’s true, we could have pushed hard at all costs from the get-go, using what few crew we had and what little experience we had with night sailing, squalls, rolling seas and the four brand new spinnakers we had on board.

But could we have done it without the errors that would have cost us the race in the long run?

By the Skipper’s estimate, no. So, we pushed on with what we knew at the start of the race, waiting for the crew to recover to 100% before we took on more. And then we slowly learned about night navigation, flying spinnakers, helming in rolling seas and working together as a winning team.

Which is what makes our current standing in first place so rewarding. It came with a lot of patience and hard work.

Sure, the race has only just begun and we still have the Doldrums to contend with before we get to Rio. But, you know that they say:  Slow and steady wins the race.

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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

Clipper by numbers: 48 hours into the race to Rio

If the purpose of the Clipper Race to Brazil was to show this fleet that our 380-mile race to Brest was mere child’s play, then the smack-down we got in the first 48 hours of our 4800-mile Race to Rio certainly set the tone.

On board the Henri Lloyd yacht, we are a little data-obsessed, analyzing position reports every six hours and relentlessly asking our navigation officers to provide stats on the distance between us and our competition, who is averaging more miles per day and what route each boat is taking. Amazingly, the crew’s hunger for constant updates hasn’t yet seemed to annoy our navigators, who have been incredibly patient with the crew’s constant stream of questions.

But, perhaps our navigators are more annoyed than they let on, as they have now taken to posting and updating a leaderboard in our galley each day in an effort to minimize the barrage of repeated questions.

Henri Lloyd Clipper Race Leader Board

Henri Lloyd Clipper Race Leader Board.

So, in the spirit of continuing my obsession with Clipper Race stats, I’ve decided to use the numbers produced on board Henri Lloyd so far to reflect on my first 48 hours in the Clipper Race to Rio.

Record wind speed: 48 knots
Record boat speed (on Henri Lloyd): 30.7 knots
Clipper all-time speed record: 30.7 knots
Most miles covered by HL in a 24-hour period: 247 miles
Injuries: 2 (Pete – smacked in the eye with spinnaker sheet; Kevin – severe rope burn from releasing a riding turn on the winch)
Seasickness casualties: 5
Gear broken: 2 stanchions, 1 GoPro mount, 2 winches, 2 spinnaker halyards
Number of sails on board: 11
Number of sails torn (on HL): 0
Boats ahead of HL 24 hours into race: 7
Boats ahead of HL 48 hours into race: 0
Record number of spinnaker changes in a 4-hour watch (on HL): 3

Record boat speeds

“Everyone GET DOWN!” Our watch leader shouts as the stern is suddenly lifted into the air, pointing the bow straight down a steep cliff of water. No one is sure what will happen once the boat bottoms out in the massive trough before us, so everyone ducks, including the helmsman, Jo, who’s visibly concerned about keeping his pants dry and the boat steady as it screams forward.

For the last 12 hours, the ocean swells have grown progressively larger, pushing the boat’s surfing speed up to 21 knots when I was at the helm, then 24.5 knots with the skipper at the helm, until finally we struck the oh-shit chord with 30.7 knots surfing down a mammoth wave, as my crew mate Jo grits his teeth and clings to the helm.

Having poured buckets of blood, sweat and tears into the production of the new fleet of 70-foot Clipper racing yachts, the Clipper team have been standing by with chewed up nails, no doubt, hoping to see their expensive new boats smash their previous boats’ records.

The speed record for the previous fleet of 68-foot Clipper boats was 28 knots, and that was surfing down waves in the Southern Ocean. So, I imagine raucous cheers sounded from the Clipper office when news hit the grapevine that the Henri Lloyd boat smashed the Clipper all-time record just two days into their second race. And off the coast of France, no less. Which begs the question: What will these boats do when they hit the 50-foot swells of the Southern Ocean?

I’ll let you know when I get there….

Crew and boat preservation

“GRIND!!!” Someone screams as the spinnaker sheet whips the boom with a sickening “CRACK!”

We all duck our heads in the cockpit, instinctively, as the sheet snaps over our heads.

Buzzz. CRACK! Buzzz. CRACK!

The helm drifts off course in gusts of 40 knots, and the trimmer reacts, yelling “GRIND!” a little too late, as the sheets are already flogging the paint off the boat. The buzz of the grinder punctuates the deafening snap of the sheets as the cockpit is a hive of movement and nerves, desperately trying to stop the damaging noise.

Sparks fly like fireworks from the starboard side as the spinnaker sheet whips the stanchions so violently that one of them explodes in orange fire.

“BAM! BAM! SNAP!”

The impact of the sheet whipping against our starboard aft stanchion sheers it clean off its base until all we hear is clanking metal and see the stanchion now hanging limply from the side of the boat.

Pete, one of our crew, is doubled over in pain, holding his hand over his left eye. He’s been hit in the face with the flying sheet.

Pete would later turn out to be okay, and would even earn the nickname “Pirate Pete” because of his eye patch. But the blood on deck is a clear warning to us that we need to work on our spinnaker skills and get our technique under control, or we will find ourselves down both equipment and crew.

It’s one thing to train on these Clipper boats while sailing in the mild conditions of the English Solent, as beginner errors have minor consequences when winds are light, seas are calm and the boats are not actually racing.

But, 2 days into the race to Rio, ocean squalls kick the wind speeds up to 48 knots, which means every line, sheet and halyard on board is suddenly under immense pressure, making precision and technique especially important for keeping the crew and the boat safe.

Of course, we want to push the boat and ourselves hard to win. But there are limits to everything. If we push so hard that we break our equipment, hurt our crew and lose valuable time trying to make up for our losses to both boat and crew, then we will lose out in the long run.

Unlike the race to Brest, the race to Rio is a marathon, not a sprint. We need to make sure we pace ourselves and our boat for the long haul. Every mile counts in this race.

But then so does every mistake.

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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

Clipper Race to Brazil: D-day

Hi everyone!

This is a little unorthodox of me to be writing to you all like this, but it’s come down to crunch time and I’m panicking.

I haven’t gotten all the blog posts written that I wanted to post up before I left, but I’ve now literally run out of time. In T minus two hours we’ll be slipping our lines and departing from Brest, France, setting sail for Rio de Janeiro. That’s a 4800-mile journey across the Atlantic Ocean. Eeeeek!

The satellite phone I bought has yet to be tested because I’ve had no time this week to test it with all the work we’ve been doing on our Clipper boats to get ready for departure, so I guess the beta testing will have to be done at sea. Sigh.

So hopefully you’ll be seeing blog updates here on this site, though they will probably be without photos since I am charged per byte when sending info through my satellite phone. And that is only if the system works. Nothing like living by the seat of your pants, eh?

You should also know you can actually follow our boats online on Clipper’s Race Viewer by going here: http://raceviewer.clipperroundtheworld.com/

Clipper will be updating the boat’s position every hour, so if you keep hitting “refresh” on your browser you’ll see us move along over the next 25 days towards Brazil. Exciting stuff, eh?

Also, you should know that each boat has the right to exercise a 24-hour “stealth period” where we go offline, our AIS is turned off and the other boats can’t see our position. This also means you won’t be able to see our position on the race viewer. But don’t worry – it doesn’t mean we’ve sunk or gone in the wrong direction. It just means you’ll find out where we really are 24 hours later.

I am racing on CV21, Henri Lloyd 50 Years of Pioneering Spirit and Ryan is racing on CV28, PSP Logistics. So I’ll leave it up to you who to root for!

That’s it, folks! I’m either going to step onto that boat with confidence in a few minutes, or I’m going to puke on my shoes. Either way, as of 10 am this morning, I’ll be setting sail for Brazil.

Wish us luck and I’ll see you on the flip side!

Love,

Tasha (& Ryan)

Video: Clipper Race Training

By the time I’d completed my Level 3 Clipper Race Training, it was officially announced that my boat — CV21 with Skipper Eric Holden — had secured a sponsor and would be hauled out of the water immediately to be branded loud and clear: Henri Lloyd 50 Years of Pioneering Spirit.

I’d watched with envy as the other boats in the fleet were all branded before us – One DLL, with their pretty turquoise hull and a sponsor with seemingly bottomless pockets; Old Pulteney, the whiskey company that has a policy of providing enough whiskey for their team to bathe in, and the various city sponsors like Qingdao and Derry-Londonderry-Doire, with their colorful red and pink graphics.

I had wondered, at this late date, if we’d ever get a sponsor, or if we’d have to start the race with our painfully white hull, like a lone seagull in a flock of peacocks.

And then, as luck would have it, we got our sponsor – the UK’s largest sailing clothing company. No doubt, the rest of the fleet would be jealous of all the Henri Lloyd swag we’d be receiving. Not to mention that Henri Lloyd himself provided foul-weather gear to the Clipper Race Founder Sir Robin Knox-Johnston in 1968 when he set the record as the first person to ever complete a non-stop circumnavigation. So there was history in this transaction, to boot.

It was the perfect reward for a challenging few weeks of non-stop training on Levels 2 and 3 of Clipper Race Training.

A few days after the Henri Lloyd announcement, Ryan’s boat – CV28 with Skipper Chris Hollis – also had cause for celebration. His predominantly Aussie boat would be sponsored by PSP Logistics.

It’s taken me a few weeks to do this, but having sifted through hours of memories and video footage of my Clipper Race Training in the Solent, the English Channel and on the boat delivery from Gosport to London, I finally managed to put together this video to give you a little taste of what race training is like on board a Clipper Round the World yacht.

What do you think? Would you sign up, if you had the chance?

Clipper Round the World Race Video – Training 2013 from Tasha Hacker (Turf to Surf) on Vimeo.

Featured Photo Credit: Julia Ramsay

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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 starting September 1st, 2013 from St. Katharine’s Docks 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

“Suck it up” – Clipper Race to Brest

Day 1: Off to a good start

The horn sounds, announcing to the fleet that it is ten minutes to race start. I am standing on deck with the Henri Lloyd crew, all of us in our pristine, matching white jackets, all too aware of the media crew zipping around in their red ribs looking for good PR shots of the Clipper Race Fleet.

As we nudge our way towards the start, I notice we’re one of few boats who haven’t raised our spinnaker at this early stage. The other boats are all flying their branded kites proudly out front , like body builders puffing out their chests before competition. And most are off to a smooth start, apart from Mission Performance, who manage to hour-glass their spinnaker just before the start line.

Eric, my skipper, is at the helm looking dead ahead, focused and serious, and I’m watching him closely for any indicator of how we performed as we cross the start line in the top half of the fleet. I don’t have much to go by, though, as he seems utterly unconcerned with our position, which is somewhere between third and sixth.

“Have we started yet?” Someone asks.

“I don’t know… I assume so?” A crew member says – an exchange you wouldn’t expect to hear on a competitive racing yacht. It makes me wonder how good a spectator sport yacht racing is when the crew can’t even tell where the start line is.

For spectators, it must be even more confusing. I imagine them turning up to the docks expecting a sporting spectacle similar to watching Mo Farrah run 10,000 meters to victory in the Olympic Stadium, and being sorely disappointed. With a dozen boats sailing towards an invisible line that has no discernible markers or audible gunshots marking the race start from a distance, it can be hard to tell whether they’re watching a parade or a race.

On board Henri Lloyd, we all know the drill when it comes to hoisting and trimming sails. But, like most of the crew, this is the first time I’ve ever raced a boat this size or done any major offshore sailing. So it’s not lost on me that this is no weekend beer-can race I’m starting out with. Soon, I’ll be racing across the Atlantic Ocean.

But not just yet. First, we test our skills in this 380-mile race to Brest.

Day 2: Half way there and we’re in the lead

For two days, we battle to stay out in front of the fleet, gaining distance on the boats behind us, though we’re unable to shake Derry-Londonderry-Doire from our side. The crew is pushing hard with sail changes and sail trim to gain any advantage over the fleet while we carefully monitor the AIS boat positions to see where we stand.

When the wind drops off and the fog rolls in, though, our badass-looking black and yellow boat isn’t such a speed demon anymore. And the back of the fleet seems to be riding good winds, as they quickly gain on us. We change spinnakers three times in a four-hour watch in an effort to keep up with the fickle wind, all the while hoping vigilance will be the key to victory.

At one point, in the dead of night, as we cut through a fog so thick we can’t even see our own bowsprit, our AIS alarm goes off, letting us know that Derry are less than a mile away, somewhere off our starboard side. Yet we still have no visual on them.

Suddenly, out of the fog, the white and pink hull of Derry appears from the haze like a ghost ship, headed straight for us. From the shrieks heard on board Derry, I guess they are just as surprised to see us as we are to see them. As they quickly head up and pass us to our stern with just half a boat length between us, the Derry crew wave and snap photos.

It’s a close call and one we’ll surely share a laugh over when we meet up in the pub in Brest.

Day 3: Bad news with 130 miles to go

I’m starting to realize that a large part of ocean racing has very little to do with sailing. When each watch isn’t sweating, hoisting, grinding and trimming sails, there is a full schedule of hourly checks that need to be diligently attended to.

There is the hourly log, which requires someone to write down the boat’s position, speed, wind speed, wind angle and host of other navigational information, as well as plot the boat’s position on a paper chart. At the same time, someone needs to check and manually empty four different bilges and gray tanks every hour, as well as check the fuel levels, the generator, whether the water maker is working and a host of other mechanical systems.

And then there are the less frequent checks – once a day, someone has to open up the crash bulkhead in the forepeak and pump out the water that collects there. And every day, twice a day, the heads need to be thoroughly cleaned, all handrails need to be wiped with antibacterial spray and the toilet paper bin needs to be emptied over the side.

None of these are jobs are ever snapped up by enthusiastic volunteers, but we all know they need doing, so we get on with them.

About 1 pm on our third day of racing, it is my turn to go down and fill in the log and do the hourly checks. But, when I get to the nav station, I find the Skipper looking intently at the chart plotter with a look on his face that says “Now is not a good time.”

An hour later, the Skipper requests the starboard watch gets woken up for an urgent team meeting. Once we are all up on deck, he explains that because of the lack of wind and because Clipper has a deadline to get the fleet to Brest by a certain time, the race will end at 4 pm today, 130 miles short of Brest, with podium places being awarded to those boats who are closest to Ushent at that time.

As the Skipper speaks, the crew glances at their watches, trying to analyze how far we can possibly get in two hours. Especially since we are now stuck in a wind hole on a long-term course that has just been made redundant by Clipper’s announcement.

With just two hours to work with, we head south as quickly as we can. But as we count down the minutes to the early race finish, the mood on board becomes decidedly quiet and heavy.

“Five…four…three…two…one… That’s it. It’s four o’clock.”

There is no clapping or cheering. And not much is heard on deck but a few exasperated sighs. The fact that we pushed really hard, or that we were the front-runners for most of the race, doesn’t seem to be any consolation to the crew of Henri Lloyd, who officially tied with Derry-Londonderry-Doire for 7th place.

One thing is clear: it is going to be a long, quiet 130-mile motor to Brest.

“Suck it up,” says Skipper Mark Burkes on my Facebook Page, where I whine loudly about the race results. “I once sailed in triangles for 1800 miles. Shit happens.”

There’s nothing like getting slapped with the truth: no race is over until it’s over. A yacht race is both a marathon and a sprint – you have to set yourself up for the long haul, but you also have to sprint hard when the wind is with you. Because you never know when it might die on you.

Henri Lloyd did well in this race, but not well enough. And no amount of self-pity will change that. So, we will suck it up and get our heads in the game for the next race to Brazil.

Because that’s how you win. You never give up.

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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

Day 1 of the Clipper Race: Mother Watch

The Clipper Race Kicks Off

The big day has finally arrived: It is the start of Race 1 of Leg 1 of the Clipper Round the World Race.

It’s been an intense week in London for the hundreds of Clipper crew about to start Leg 1, considering the boats have been under construction up until the 11th hour. My schedule has been full of boat prep, guardrail installations, sail checks, deep cleaning, winch servicing, boat naming ceremonies, media interviews and desperate gear purging to make sure my belongings fit within the 20-kilo limit per crew on board Henri Lloyd. Which has left little time for visits from friends and family or spending much time with Ryan before departing for the high seas.

The last week has been so stressful, in fact, that it isn’t until London grows smaller in the distance, and we are finally motoring towards the start line, that I begin to relax for the first time in months. As we hoist our sails and wait for the cannon shot that will kick off our first 380-mile race from London, UK to Brest, France, the adrenalin kicks in and I finally start to enjoy myself.

Mother Watch: A hell of a job

When you think of yacht racing, you probably think of high-pressure moments like the ones seen on YouTube, where a boat tacks around a fixed race marker with the crew grinding on the winches or scrambling across the deck to the high side, each boat coming within what seems like inches of each other.

But, despite all the pressure of performing on deck, it’s the crew on Mother Watch – the 24-hour below-deck rotation in which two crew at a time are responsible for all the day’s meals – that bear the mother lode of high-pressure responsibility.

Just imagine, if you will, the look on my skipper’s face at 6:40 am on Race Start Day when he’d asked for the crew to be fed and on deck for work by 6:30 am at the LATEST. And yet I and, Jo, the other “mother” on duty, had to admit that the hot porridge was nowhere near ready to be served.

Lesson #267 in onboard living: When the porridge package instructions say “2-4 minutes to cook on the stove” they are NOT referring to a 20-person serving.

Having thoroughly disappointed the skipper during the morning shift of Mother Watch, Jo and I were determined not to screw up lunch and dinner. So we made sure to be below deck, cooking away in the galley at least an hour and a half before each meal serving time.

This, unfortunately, meant missing out on a lot of the first-day-of-Clipper-Racing action (I had to pop my head up on deck every half an hour to check what the status was – were we beating or losing to my husband’s boat, PSP Logistics? “Priorities, people! I’m slaving away in the galley – the least you can do is make sure we beat Ryan!”)

This also meant Jo and I were forced to spend most of the day below deck, which is a sure-fire way to kick-start seasickness. So, it was lucky that one of our Leg 8 crew members, Emma, had provided the boat with homemade meals to get us through the first two days of racing without having to do any heavy cooking. I’ve never been so happy to see a frozen catering tray full of chicken Thai curry. Reheating and serving was about all I could handle by dinner preparation time, considering the 45-degree tilt and the bouncy conditions.

The winds kicked up in the English Channel, making tacking a violent experience below deck. Bowls were flying out of the cupboards at our faces, a bottle of olive oil smashed all over the floorboards, Jo (the other Mother) was lying face-down on a sail retching into a garbage bag and I was crawling periodically to the head on my hands and knees to vomit, while emerging now and then to check that the rice wasn’t burning.

Let’s just say we were not the same ravenous crew who, the previous night, had scarfed down two entire chocolate cakes for our first Clipper Race birthday on board Henri Lloyd.

As I pulled my head from the toilet, I thought to myself that it may be a while before I see chocolate cake again. But then again, it may be a while before I want to see chocolate cake again.

Either way, there was no turning back now.

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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

Clipper Race delivery: The good, the bad and the ugly

As of September 1st, The Clipper Round the World Race has begun and, unfortunately, I’m already behind on my updates. So I’ve devised a way of recording and posting snapshots of my experiences on the race to give you, my readers, a picture of what it’s like to sail, race, maintain and live aboard the twelve 70-foot Clipper Racing Yachts that are competing against each other in 8 Legs that will take them in a full circle around the world starting in London, UK.

Since I am transmitting these updates via satellite phone, text and images must be kept to a minimum to keep the cost of transmission affordable. So I’ll be posting fairly frequent but succinct updates while I’m at sea on Legs 1 and 3 of the race.

In the meantime, here’s a little picture of what it was like to deliver Clipper Yacht CV21, Henri Lloyd, from Gosport to London for the start of the race.

The Good

After six hours of motoring through the industrial landscape that lines the Thames River, The Millennium Dome appears around a bend and marks the start of what finally feels like the beginning of the Clipper Round the World Race.

14 Henri Lloyd crew members, some of whom are round-the-world racers, and others who are doing just one or two legs, are taking pictures of each other posing on the bow with some of London’s most famous landmarks in the background like the Shard, the Gherkin and, of course, Tower Bridge.

Like me, many of the crew have been preparing for this race for more than a year, so arriving to London on our branded race boats feels like the culmination of months of stress…even though the race has yet to begin. After what seems like countless training laps sailing around the Solent, I seem to have forgotten that at some point Clipper Race Training will end and the actual race will begin. Sailing into London is a reminder that, despite how it feels, this is just the beginning.

As the Tower Bridge grows larger, looming over the bow of our black and yellow boat, cheers are heard from the crowds lining the Thames River to watch our entrance to St. Katharine’s Docks. And it dawns upon me that I am about to race 5,100 miles to Brazil via France (Leg 1) and roughly 5,000 miles from South Africa to Australia (Leg 3).

I’m feeling simultaneously grateful to have this opportunity and anxious about the unknowns of this journey.

The Bad

“We’re thinking of changing Clipper’s strap line from ‘Raced By People Like You’ to ‘Built By People Like You’” Ryan jokes as sweat mixes with the sawdust glued to his neck. He is using a hacksaw to cut through pieces of plywood on the docks.

Unlike my boat, Henri Lloyd, which has been in the water for at least six weeks, Ryan’s boat, PSP Logistics, was launched just three days ago. Which means their sails haven’t arrived yet, almost nothing on the boat is fully installed, and they only have six hours to go before the entire fleet is meant to depart for London to make their grand entrance to St. Katharine’s Docks. Hence the hasty recruitment of paying Clipper crew to finish building the new fleet of 70-foot racing yachts.

The docks are abuzz with paid workmen and paying crew installing bowsprit supports, drilling holes in the deck, filling holes with Sikaflex, installing new stanchions, servicing winches, taking inventory of sails and spare parts, and doing countless other jobs that ideally wouldn’t be done just a few hours before the scheduled departure..

Ryan looks up at me with a look of frustration and defeat, covered in sweat and streaked with Sikaflex. He rubs his temples as he nods his head towards the workmen on board PSP Logistics who are now packing up their gear at 6 pm, leaving the remaining work to be done by Ryan and his fellow crew. I could just about read his mind – if he’d known that volunteering to deliver the race boats from Gosport to London would mean he’d first have to build his boat, he would have stayed in Ibiza for another week and enjoyed a few more cocktails on the beach.

“We really should give Clipper’s business model a try one day,” I joke, thinking of our own education companies. “We could get our students to pay for their English classes AND teach themselves! That’s genius.”

The Ugly

“I’m sorry the boats weren’t ready on time for you,” says Sir Robin Knox-Johnston at crew briefing before race start. “But when your chief laminator is murdered by the assistant laminator, who was then put in prison… well, you have to make do with what you have.”

I start to laugh, thinking Robin is making some kind of weird joke, but then I look left and right and realize no one else is laughing. “Wait. Is he serious?” I ask one of the crew sitting next to me.

“I think so?”

I knew the new fleet of Clipper boats were built in China and that there were issues with their production. But production-line murders? This was the first I’d heard of it and, well, what an awkward way to exonerate Clipper from being responsible for any delays in the race start, I thought.

I had so many questions and a rising feeling of uncertainty about the readiness of these boats.

Finally! Ready to Race

By 10 pm on delivery departure day, ready or not, the fleet of Clipper yachts are shoved off the docks and pointed towards London with the understanding that work will continue when we get to St. Katharine’s Docks and start preparing our boats for the first race on September 1st.

The crew are feeling tired and frustrated, but as soon as we leave the Solent, I start to relax. It’s been weeks of training and months of preparing for the race, but this is the first time that I know for sure my boat will not be returning to Gosport Marina. For the first time, we are sailing the Henri Lloyd boat to a new destination.

Sure, we’re not headed to Brazil just yet. Or even Australia. But we will be. And, for the first time, I feel like we’re on our way.

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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

Escape to Ibiza or “Top 10 Tips for Living a Little”

I wake up on the floor of the airport in Ibiza, which is a surprise. And not just because I slept in the airport, but because 24 hours ago I had no idea I would even be here.

I wipe the drool off my Clipper Race jacket, which I’ve been using as a pillow, and take a good look around. I am delighted to find that a mere two-hour flight has removed me from the gray drizzle of the UK and transported me to the blinding summer sunshine of Spain.

I see a barefoot girl in a bikini standing in the airport’s corner café nonchalantly drinking a cappuccino. House music is pumping from the David Guetta nightclub located next to the baggage claim carousel. A group of European-looking lads in tight jeans turn to ogle a stream of twenty-something girls walking past in booty shorts, tank tops and ankle boots. No one is toting much more than a small carry-on bag, a clear sign that the incoming tourists all have the same plan: to step out of the airport and into one of the island’s nearest and liveliest nightclubs.

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Rewind 24 hours:

I am shivering on the deck of a 70-foot Clipper yacht in the wee hours of the morning, wishing I hadn’t just done my Level 2 and 3 Clipper Race Training courses back-to-back without a break. After two straight weeks of sailing in circles around the English Solent, I am desperately seeking a view of something — anything – other than Gosport’s Spinnaker Tower. And something to eat that doesn’t include baked beans.

As soon as my boat touches the docks at 4:30 am, marking the end of my Clipper Race Training, I grab my computer and head for the marina office to snag a WiFi connection and the next EasyJet flight to anywhere. Open to any and all budget flight destinations, I soon discover that, for a mere $350, I could be enjoying tapas and a bottle of Rioja in picturesque Ibiza, Spain by nightfall. And the idea is just too tempting to resist.

By the time Ryan wakes up and asks what we should do for our week off before the boat delivery to London, I am eagerly waving two printed EasyJet tickets in his face. And just like that, with a few mouse clicks, I am plucked from a life of dragging sails up on deck, deep cleaning bilges and scrubbing floorboards and dropped into a world of sunshine, beaches, house music and nightclubs the size of small cities.

Ibiza Town Beach

“We’re not in Gosport anymore, Toto.”

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Tasha’s Top Ten Travel Tips

The idea of me — an accident-prone traveler with a bad sense of direction and a phobia of guided tours — writing a list of “Top Ten Travel Tips” for anywhere is completely laughable.

But since I enjoy a little self-amusement, I thought it would be fun to write my own version of the awfully alliterated “Tasha’s Top Ten Travel Tips” based on my latest jaunt to Ibiza.

Okay, so the Huffington Post or the New York Times Travel section aren’t likely to be interested in my brand of travel, which wholly rejects the idea of turning vacation planning into a full-time occupation, which blanches the wonderful spontaneity that makes travel so rewarding in the first place. But, then again, I understand how it wouldn’t make sense for a travel site – which relies on advertising from tour companies — to publish a list of Top Ten Tips for Ignoring Itineraries and Making Shit Up.

And yet that is exactly what I’m doing here. Except rather than call it Tasha’s Top Ten Travel Tips, I’ll instead call it my Top Ten Tips for Not Planning a Vacation or, maybe, Top Ten Tips for Living a Little.

For now, let’s not worry about the title.

Tip #1: Don’t plan, just do. 

Planning is overrated. Just buy a ticket and go! You can figure out those small details — like where to sleep — later. If nothing else, park benches are free everywhere in the world. Not to mention, desperate measures always give way to serendipitous meetings and generous offers from strangers. And those moments always make for great stories.

Bonus: You get to avoid all the stress of pre-trip planning. Because, well, there is no pre-trip planning.

Tip #2: Research is overrated.

You can spend countless hours and all your lunch breaks reading everything about a destination before you arrive only to find your first impression is heavily tainted by what you’ve read. Why ruin the surprise or the chance to discover a place for yourself? Just pack a bag and go. You’ll have plenty of time to learn what a place has to offer once you get there.

Example: When Ryan and I got to Ibiza, we asked around and found out one of lbiza’s most famous DJs, Carl Cox, was playing a show at Space that night. So we bought tickets from a local tout, got gussied up and had ourselves an absolute last-minute blast.

dj carl cox space ibiza

There aren’t too many DJ’s in the world who can pack a club this size

Tip #3: Booking accommodation in advance is also overrated.

So what if ALL THE TRAVEL SITES tell you to book in advance for the high season? Don’t let those fear mongers get to you. There are just as many last-minute hotel cancellations as there are schmucks who turn up to foreign countries without hotel reservations. Trust me, I’m one of those schmucks. And I’ve not yet had to sleep on a park bench involuntarily.

When Hotels.com showed no available hotels in Ibiza Town, we just turned up and walked the beach until we found a hotel with a nice pool. It turns out they had an available room, but for one night only. No problem – we’d take it and find another room later.

Tip #4: One person’s lack of organization is another person’s excuse for an adventure.

Variety is the spice of life. If a last-minute reservation for a week’s stay in a hotel is unattainable because you booked too late, then take what you can get in one or two-night bookings and move around. You’ll see so much more of a place that way anyway.

After one night in Ibiza Town, Ryan and I heard Sant Antoni was where all the English tourists tended to hang out in all their holiday-making glory, and we kind of wanted to go see it…in that way that you might go to the zoo to observe the mating habits of chimpanzees. To get there, we rented a car and set out to find somewhere new to stay. Moving around is always a good excuse for a road trip anyway.

After two nights in Sant Antoni, our hotel had no more rooms available, so we hopped in our rental car and drove from town to town across the north of the island, stopping now and then for tapas and a glass of wine. On the way to San Miquel, we discovered a campsite in the little town of Es Canar, where there were available Tee-Pees and one-room bungalows. We booked two nights in our own wooden bungalow and it turned out our little mid-forest campsite full of hippies and families was our favorite accommodation in Ibiza.

Bonus: We’d never have found Camping Es Canar if we’d booked ourselves a week’s stay in a hotel in Ibiza Town.

es canar camping ibiza

Probably the most adorable camping spot I’ve ever been to

Tip #5: Dress for immediate relaxation upon arrival.

For example, wear your bathing suit under your clothes when flying out for a beach holiday.

After sleeping for 4 hours in the Ibiza airport, Ryan and I made our way to a hotel in Ibiza Town that had a lovely pool with comfortable sun loungers perfect for sleeping on. Since we’d just booked our room, the hotel offered for us to go use the pool and relax until our room was ready. And since we were already wearing our swimsuits, it took us all of five minutes to make ourselves right at home for the afternoon.

Ibiza Town Pool

I definitely deserve this ?

Tip #6: Pay little attention to Top Ten Travel Lists. 

The best travel experiences don’t come from following someone else’s itinerary. For one, the travel experience of a blogger on a PR junket means they’ve had their tours provided, their accommodation given to them for free, and they’re ultimately being paid to say everything they did was THE BEST THING EVER. In short, you should take what they recommend with a grain of salt. Not to mention, you don’t want to recreate the sterile, paid-for travel experience a blogger has written about in a Top Ten List anyway. You want to go out there yourself and have your own, unique experience.

And who can produce ten actually good things to write for one of these top ten lists anyway? And I don’t mean that list of Top Six Things I Know Plus Top Four Things I Just Made Up Because I Had to Write This List. How about I just stop at the six things I actually know. Or maybe just forget the list altogether. Excellent idea.

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What a difference a day makes. I’ve gone from being cold and wet on the a boat I share with 14 other crew to lounging with Ryan by an aquamarine pool overlooking the Mediterranean, sipping cocktails, falling asleep on a sun lounger and waking up now and then only to shove tapas and pour red wine into my face.

After a week in Ibiza, Ryan and I return to Gosport with our batteries recharged, our bodies rested, our minds unwound and our enthusiasm renewed for racing across oceans, living on board with 21 other crew and facing the challenges posed by putting our mental and physical limits to the test in the upcoming Clipper Round the World Race.

That’s what travel does for me. It offers me an escape from my current routine and the opportunity to see, taste and experience things I don’t get in my everyday life. And it whisks me away from my stress and reminds me that there’s nothing worth being miserable over.

The trick is to take advantage of a good travel opportunity when it comes up and not shy away from a trip just because I think I don’t have enough time to plan. Of course, there is nothing wrong with planning a trip in order to make the experience as stress-free as possible. But when the effort of planning an escape from work becomes a job in itself, it’s good to remember that I can always just pick up and go. Things will work out in the end, and if you embrace the unknown, an adventure is guaranteed.

Sometimes you just have to let go of your plans and live a little. To me, that’s what travel is all about.

travel ibiza turf to surf

I couldn’t be more glad to have dropped in here last minute

travel ibiza old town running

Jogging around Ibiza Old Town was just what I needed after weeks on the boat


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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

Extreme living: Level 3 Clipper Race Training

“Get me off this boat,” is all I’m thinking.

As I scan the sea with a spotlight in one hand and my other hand jammed into my armpit for warmth, I hear the skipper announce, “I’m sorry to say it looks like we have to abandon the search. You’ve all worked hard and this is a disappointing way to end training, but we have no choice.”

It is 4:00 am. The eleven crew who’ve been shivering on deck for the last four hours respond with complete silence. The tension is so tangible that it seems even the rigging is creaking carefully, so as not to set off any explosions, emotional or otherwise.

My mind wanders, but I’m not thinking of the crew, the ups and downs of the last week at sea or even how we’ve let the skipper down. I am thinking about how cold and tired I am. And how I want more than anything to get off this boat and keep on walking as far as my legs will take me.

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The first time I met my Clipper Race Skipper, Eric Holden, was at my Team Building event in the south of England, the weekend before Level 3 Training. He was standing in the corner quietly drinking a beer, watching some of our race crew smack-talk each other over a game of table tennis.

I watched Eric with curiosity, wondering what kind of skipper he would be.

With only four weeks to go until the race start, the Clipper Skippers’ reputations had begun to precede them. I knew my husband Ryan’s skipper, Chris, was a gregarious, laddish Aussie; the Mission Performance Ltd. Skipper, Matt, had a reputation for bullying his crew; Switzerland’s Skipper Vicky was rumored to be extremely rigid and organized; Pete, of the Jamaica boat, was already famous for having skippered in the previous Clipper Race and word on the docks was that my skipper, a reticent, even-tempered Canadian, was the favorite to win, considering his experience doing weather reporting for the Canadian Olympic sailing team.

As my teammates milled around the BBQ, chatting about their training, background and what legs they were doing, I noticed Eric avoided the noisy tables and the loud game of life-sized Jenga on the patio.

Eric was clearly a man of few words. But from the careful way he watched his crew and the intent with which people listened to him, I suspected our quiet skipper might have potential to make a loud impact.

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When the wind whips up in the middle of the night, jumping from 10 to 20 knots, the boat becomes hard to handle with its over-powered sails. Our standing orders are to wake the skipper any time we plan to change course, drop sails, tack or reef, so we do exactly that, and suggest to Eric that we reef the main.

I’m at the helm, trying to maintain a port tack while my crew work on raising the boom, lowering the halyard and putting in a reef. The skipper remains below deck, presumably confident that his crew knows how to reef a mainsail.

Yet there’s a problem. I can’t see what it is from the helm, but there seems to be an issue with tangled lines. Twenty minutes into the job, we’re bobbing up and down in the waves with our mainsail thrashing and loose reefing lines whipping the boom above our heads, and the boat is getting harder to handle. It is pulling into the wind and I’m fighting against it with all my strength.

“Are you guys almost done?!” I scream at the crew clustered by the mast.

Looking up at the windex, I realize I won’t be able to keep the boat on a port tack for long. And as the boat continues to pull quickly upwind, I scream, “Heads DOWN! We’re tacking!” The boom swings across with a bang.

The skipper pops his head up on deck and I cringe with embarrassment.

But Eric doesn’t say a word. He looks up at our sloppy mainsail, our accidental heaved-to position and then at me. Then he disappears back down below.

Woefully, it takes us another hour and a half to finish the job of reefing the mainsail, during which time the next watch comes up on deck, providing an audience for our comedy of errors.

In the two hours it takes us from start to finish to reef the main, we do an accidental tack, an accidental gybe and communications grow more chaotic the longer we keep working. So I fully expect the skipper to debrief my watch with a catalog of our mistakes. But that doesn’t happen. We simply tidy up on deck, climb silently down below and fall into our bunks, exhausted.

When asked later why he didn’t interfere, Eric simply says to us,

“Was the boat in danger?” –No.

“Did anyone get hurt?” –No.

“Did you learn something from it?” –Yes?

“Then what’s the problem?” –Um.

level 3 clipper race training team eric

Trimming, reefing and changing the sails in the middle of the night is par for course in racing

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The 4 am to 8 am watch is so much better than the 12 am to 4 am watch because at least we know the sun will rise on our watch.

One dull, wind-less morning, just as the sun pokes up over the horizon, we are visited by several pods of dolphins who swim alongside the boat and jump and play in our bow wake.

clipper race training dolphins sunrise

We squeal like over-excited toddlers and hang over the guard rails with our cameras flashing, pleading for the dolphins to come closer. The ruckus is loud enough to wake the entire boat, but only the skipper comes up to silently observe what’s got us riled up this time. He seems relieved to see it’s not the mainsail flapping violently. Just a few dolphins splashing about.

It’s a crap shoot, whether you get a good watch or a bad watch, I think.

clipper race training dolphins

Wouldn’t it be great if this happened every time we sailed?

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The four-hour watch system takes about three days to adjust to. For those first seventy-two hours, it’s a struggle to keep myself from curling up in a corner of the cockpit and falling asleep on my midnight-to-4-am watch. And it’s equally hard to make myself fall asleep at 8 pm when it’s still light outside. Especially when I know I have to be up in 4 hours again.

Food and sleep seem to punctuate the days and dictate the rhythm of life on board the boat. And when deprived of either, emotional threads start to fray visibly, manifesting themselves in rolled eyes when the helm is reminded not to veer off course, or irritated sighs when the watch leader requests a headsail change in the middle of the night.

clipper race training level 3

Doesn’t this face just say, “God, I love night watch!”

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At 4 pm on the last day of training, the two crew on “Mother Watch” (cooking duty) discover with horror that all our canned goods have been left on our previous training boat. Which means there is no chili for the chili-and-rice dinner. Dinner would have to be invented from whatever leftover ingredients we have on board.

Dinner is normally served at 6 pm, so this gives the “mothers” exactly two hours to find a creative way to feed 12 hungry people. There are a few cans of salmon, some packets of couscous and some flour, which the skipper suggests turning into fishcakes.

By 9 pm, dinner still hasn’t been served, two watches haven’t slept in over eight hours and the irritation on deck is starting to show. Communication grows increasingly sharp and abrasive. Demands to change headsails or requests to reef the mainsail are met with collective sighs and dragging feet.

Crew starting shouting down to the galley, “Is there anything we can do to help?” Which is polite speak for, “Are we ever going to get our flipping dinner?!”

We’ve only been at sea for five days. And I’m starting to imagine the horrors of life on board with 22 hungry, sleep-deprived crew after 20 days at sea.

Suddenly, “Mother Watch” looks like the most potentially dangerous job on board.

ryan bates mother watch clipper race training

Cooking in a tilted galley for a hungry crew of 12 is not easy

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When I go to sleep at 8 pm on our last day of Level 3, it is with the knowledge that I’ll be woken up at some point in the night for a man-overboard drill.

I know this because a crew member overheard Eric discussing nighttime man-overboard drills with another skipper on the VHF.

“We recovered the buoy in 8 minutes,” the skipper on the radio brags. “It’s easy doing MOBs at night. All you have to do is find the flashing light.”

“Sure, if you haven’t turned off the light before throwing the buoy over,” Eric replies.

clipper race training man overboard drill

Man Overboard Drills are a little easier when you can see the MOB

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As we approach Gosport Marina, a silent, dejected crew stands on deck with fenders and dock lines in hand. It’s been four and a half hours since we lost our “man overboard” and about half an hour since we gave up looking for the lost danbuoy.

Then, just as we turn right towards the marina, someone shouts, “Danbuoy! Holy crap! DANBUOY! STARBOARD SIDE!” from the bow. The crew perks up and shuffles to the guardrails. And there, unbelievably, is the orange, unlit danbuoy bobbing happily towards land, having drifted about 2 miles from its original position.

As we pull the lost danbuoy onboard, relief sweeps over the boat and applause ripples from bow to stern as the crew smiles for the first time since sunset. The mood on board has been tangibly lifted and there’s even some laughter.

But as our boat touches the docks at Gosport Marina, I’m still keen as ever to step off the boat and keep walking.

With the boat docked, I head for the showers without pause. And the further I walk from the boat, the more relaxed I become. Which gets me thinking back to the reasons why I signed up to do the Clipper Race in the first place.

The challenge. The sailing. Taking on oceans. These were the thoughts that came to mind.

I’m up for all that, I think. So why has this week been so hard?

The living. Oh, the living. That was the thing I hadn’t anticipated.

Unlike Level 1 and 2 Training, where we came in to port most nights for a hot shower and a pint, Level 3 showed me what it was like to live on board for a week without reprieve. There was no pub to go to in the evenings. No hot showers to wash off the salt and the frustrations. No phone reception to call home and vent.

It turns out the challenge of ocean racing is more than just sailing. A lot of it is about the living. It’s the provisioning, the cooking, the sleeping, the eating, the not showering, the dozen or so other crew, the skipper, the conflicts on board, the leaks over your bunk, the sails you’re living on top of, the lack of space, the lack of privacy.

Life on board is pretty extreme. I have prepared myself for the extreme challenge of sailing across oceans on a 70-foot racing yacht.

But the extreme challenge of living on a boat with 21 other crew for a month at a time? Now, that’s a different story.

clipper race training level 3 henri lloyd

There isn’t much space above or below deck to hide on these boats

tasha dance moves clipper race training

So sometimes you just have to do a little dance…

perfect sunset level 3 clipper race training

…Or just enjoy the view.

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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 starting September 1st, 2013 from St. Katharine’s Docks 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