Diary of a Clipper Racer

Around the world in 333 days with Mark Osgood

Supporting my chosen charity - "Dreams Come True"

Final Diary entry, 54, added Monday 6th October 2003.

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15 - Race 2 - Lisbon (Portugal) to Havana (Cuba) - Diary from The End of Race 2 (or was it?)

Reflections

Day 18 of the second race and we are finally approaching the Caribbean after some two and half weeks at sea.  There is still some distance to go before we arrive in Havana (almost 2000 miles in fact), but it is beginning to feel like there is an end to the Atlantic.  We are due to put our clocks back tomorrow for the penultimate time before we arrive in Havana and this too seems to bring the end closer.  

It has been a long and hard trek across the pond.  Looking at the computer every two hours (as I have to when fixing our position for the ship's log book), it seems that we hardly move.  Days seem to go past but time stands still.  The routine is endless, and the break brought about by mother watch seems to take forever to come round, and is over before it has really begun.  Everyone on board is going slightly stir-crazy.

It hasn't helped that so many of the boat's systems have broken down for one reason or another. We've had severe problems with our communications, caused by the phone breaking down and both computers and the short band radio packing up.  Sending emails and speaking to Rachel and my parents on the ship's phone is the only way to maintain some sort of grip on normality, if only for a short while, and to have that taken away has proved surprisingly difficult.

This race has been an extremely demanding endurance exercise for me and it is one that I am looking forward to bringing to a close.   Four weeks is a long time if you're working 14 hour days, 7 days a week, with no more than about 4 hours sleep at any one time.  I don't think that I'll really appreciate how tired I've become until I've had a couple of nights away from the boat when we get to Cuba.  There's no escape from the routine, or from the pressure, or from the rest of the crew - and as we all go slightly mad, tensions inevitably start to show.

Although it's an experience that I'll no doubt look back on from the comfort of my armchair and be very proud of, I have to confess that I haven't particularly enjoyed it.  There will be other long trips, although none quite as long as this one, but I hope that my increased experienced by the time those trips come around will make life much easier. 

The final push

After turning right at the Canaries (technical term), we started to steal a march on some of the other boats.  It was interesting to see the tactics being used by the other skippers as they all made the decision to turn right at different times.  After several days going west, the positions started to become clear.  New York had taken a flyer and were some 240 miles ahead, which is the equivalent of more than a full day's run for a Clipper boat.  Bristol were second, about 90 miles behind them, and the rest of the fleet all followed.  We'd moved up to fifth place and, during the course of the next two weeks, we wormed our way through the pack and reappeared in second place just in time for the final push towards  the Caribbean.  Everything looked promising for both an arrival on time and a place on the podium.

However, as we entered the Caribbean, someone turned the fan off and we stalled with just 250 miles to go.  Without our middle spinnaker, we were at a huge disadvantage and the other boats started to come through us as we sat there waiting to catch even a puff of wind.  For some reason, the wind-hole which trapped us was extremely localised and allowed all of the others to pass.

Our ETA kept slipping.  From second place, we dropped alarmingly to eighth and it looked at one point as though we were actually going backwards.  Knowing that loved ones were waiting (and waiting) for us to arrive in Havana made the wait unbearable.  It was like we were jinxed.

We finally scraped home in 6th place just minutes before Glasgow, who came 7th, and Cape Town, who came 8th. 

New York were the winners, finishing 36 hours before us, with Bristol in second place and Jersey in third.  The final five boats all arrived within about 90 minutes - amazing considering the race had been over some 4,500 miles over 29 days. 

I was gutted about our low position, especially when we were just 250 miles out, we were comfortably in third place and looking at a second podium finish.  However, bearing in mind what happened when we got to Cuba, it was a blessing in disguise.

Calling London

Well, you could try calling London but you wouldn't have had much luck!  For the last two weeks of the race to Cuba, London has been out of contact with the outside world.  We could neither send nor receive email, we could only telephone occasionally when the telephone decided to work, and our long distance radio had not worked since the start of the race. 

So, sorry for the delay in updating the website.

As for communication in Cuba, well they are gently working their way into the computer age, but email and internet access was sparse and slow.  So thanks for all the messages of support - it's great to hear from you - and apologies for not responding to you all.  Panama is supposedly much better.

F A Cup glory

It's great to catch up with news from home when you arrive in port after a long passage.  But to hear that Man Utd are going out of the third round of the F A Cup was just fantastic - especially as it will be Pompey who knock them out.  There are a number of Man Utd fans who will be reading this and all I can do is offer my commiserations - better luck next year!

La Habana - and never a dull moment!

I'm starting to realise that in this Race, just when everything seems to be settling down, something unexpected will happen.  Having arrived 4 days late into Havana, I was looking forward to seeing Rachel and relaxing for a few days but before we could escape, the story took yet another turn - the Admiral resigned.

He hadn't been happy for a large part of the trip across the Atlantic and communication between him and the rest of the crew had become strained to the point of snapping.  Whilst the general feeling was one of relief amongst the crew for the Admiral having done the decent thing, Clipper were having none of it and refused to accept his resignation.  So, the last thing I heard before my escape  was that the Admiral was sailing with us to Panama - and half the crew were vowing to jump ship and fly to Panama to pick the boat up when the new skipper arrived. 

Discussions were entered into between Clipper, the Admiral and, seemingly, whoever fancied chipping in.  Rachel and I ran away to Varadero, a beach resort about two hours away from Havana.

When we got back a few days later, we had a new skipper.  The Admiral had gone and London's new skipper, at least until Hawaii, is Ed Green, better known in these pages as Ranting Ed or Hippy Skippy.  Ed was my Part B skipper - see the earlier diary entries. Ed comes to us following a podium place with Jersey, so we're hoping that his success rubs off on his seriously disheartened crew.

But what of the Admiral?  And was it a good thing that he went?  I think that, on the whole, it was.  He'd never really raced with amateurs before and had difficulty accepting our shortcomings.  He's used to sailing with first class sailors when no doubt his hugely competitive nature is invaluable but with us - and with the benefit of hindsight - it was never really going to work. When we started losing places at the end of Race 2 he became aggressive but then seemed to give up on us.  He left a lot of people on edge and we were not a happy boat by the time we reached Cuba.  I'm glad that he has gone as - sadly -  I don't think things would have got any better in Race 3 or beyond. 

We now have to try and improve morale whilst getting used to a new skipper - another huge challenge.   As I write this several days into our run to Panama, the mood has changed remarkably on board.  We are finally starting to have fun and we're certainly more relaxed. 

Sunset

We've had the most amazing sunset this evening.  The sky was a myriad colours amongst the light clouds and we all watched as the sun slowly set to starboard.  I've already seen some amazing sunrises and sunsets on this trip and will no doubt see many more but today's was the best so far.

Didn't last long though - it's now chucking it down! That's Caribbean weather for you.

 

 

Click here for diary entry 16 - Our Man in Havana - Rachel's Diary

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