Diary of a Clipper Racer

Around the world in 333 days with Mark Osgood

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

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16 - Our Man in Havana - Friday 6th to Friday 13th December 2002 - Rachel's Diary

I arrived in Havana under cover of darkness and in the middle of a tropical storm.  My mission:  to seek out our man in Havana, Agent Mark Osgood, upon completion of his latest assignment; and to thoroughly de-brief him.

I managed to evade Immigration by means of a cunning disguise:  that of a Clipper Groupie.  Quickly, I slipped into the waiting car, nodding curtly at the driver.

Immediately upon arrival at my hotel in downtown Havana I was contacted by Agent Jon Binks.  Smart work, I thought grimly.  Nobody knew my whereabouts except for Agent Osgood and my mummy.  I made a mental note to instruct her to be more discreet in future with classified information.

Agent Binks had obviously got confused about where exactly Havana was, and had disguised himself by dressing in a rather loud Hawaiian shirt.  He blushed when I pointed out the error, but despite his apparent friendliness I remained on full alert.  What was he doing here?  Who had sent him?  And could I trust him?

Over dinner the answers to the first two questions quickly became clear – at least to my highly trained eye.  He was on a similar mission to myself – only his target was the beautiful but mysterious Agent Jane Black (code-named Jazz).  This could be useful.  By sharing information we may be able to track down the missing agents sooner, and conduct the de-briefing more thoroughly. 

But I remained suspicious.  In this job, you learn to trust no-one.

The following day, I set off into the streets of Havana.  Although disguised, I realised that I was soon being followed by several strange men, all of whom showed a more than casual interest in whether or not I wanted a cigar.  Was this some kind of secret code?  The gaggle of cigar-selling gangsters soon attracted more unwanted attention – schoolchildren; highly dangerous old ladies; rickshaw drivers; and a troupe of carnival people on stilts.

There was nothing for it.  Quickly, I conducted a Benny Hill-style escape and made off down a side street, round a corner, along the harbour wall, through various cobbled and leafy plazas – pausing only for a tortilla and a beer – and finally into a street that looked familiar.  I checked behind me:  I had managed to lose them.  I slipped into my hotel unnoticed.

That evening, acting on information received, I headed to Marina Hemingway – about 20 km from Havana.  I arrived to find that the New York and Bristol Clipper yachts had made it in and their crews were celebrating with an unseemly display of drunkenness.  I was unsurprised to see Agent Binks lounging against the bar, dressed once again in his tourist disguise, guzzling mojito after mojito - but this time I was ready for him.

“Hello, old boy!”  I said, slapping him heartily on the shoulder.  He spluttered into his drink.  “You’ve got mint stuck in your teeth,” I continued, before turning to the barman.  “Mojito,"  I said,  "Shaken, not stirred.”

“Listen,” said Binks, dropping all pretence.  “I’ll be straight with you.  I’ve received information which you may find interesting.”

I cocked an eyebrow, raffishly.  “Tell on, dear boy,” I replied casually, swirling my cocktail around the glass.

“As you can see,” he whispered urgently, “the first two boats are in.  The others are still about 100 miles outside the harbour.  They’re expected to reach the finishing line at about 3.30 tomorrow morning.  I have a reliable source, which informs me that both Agent Jazz and Agent Osgood are on –“ he paused for dramatic effect, which failed utterly – “London Clipper!”

Ignoring my quizzical glances, Binks continued:  “My source suggests that the boats will wait until first light before entering the harbour, as the currents are strong and could dash them against the rocks in the darkness; that it will take them about two and a half hours to get through customs and a further half hour to get from customs to the marina.”  He grabbed my arm.  His face was full of tension.  “We’ve got to be here at 8.15 tomorrow morning.  Or we risk losing them altogether.”

I stared at him whilst I considered my options:  trust this man and agree to rendezvous with him early the next morning in the hope of tracking down our prey; or have a lie-in.  I decided to take the risk.

“OK,” I said, removing Binks’ clutching hand from my arm and watching some of the tension drain away from his face.  “I’ll be here.”

The next morning, I arrived at the Marina on time to find that Jersey Clipper had got in but that there was no sign of any of the other yachts.  Binks appeared, grey from lack of sleep.  “What’s happening?” he croaked.

I had checked the notice board so I was ready for this question, which would have stumped other, less seasoned professionals.  “It’s a disaster,” I said.  “London Clipper has hit a wind-hole.  They’ve travelled less than 3 miles overnight.  The other boats are streaming past them.  They’re no longer fighting for a place on the winners’ podium.  They’re fighting just to stay in the race.”

Binks collapsed, head in hands.  “There’s no hope!” he sobbed.

“Cheer up!” I retorted.  “That was the good news.”

“Don’t be ridiculous.  What could possibly be worse?”

“This:  the latest reports show that they’re now travelling backwards in the current; no-one knows when they’ll get in; and we have less than a week left in which to meet them, de-brief them and prepare them for their next assignment.”

As I watched the realisation of the impossibility of our task dawn over Binks’ face, it appeared to me that there was only one solution.

“Come on,” I said.  “The bar’s open and the sun’s out.”

Throughout the rest of the day, Binks and I fixed our collective gaze upon the horizon as the day wore on and boat after boat breached the finishing line, with little or no news of London Clipper.  Eventually, as the sun began to set, news reached us that London had escaped the wind-hole and was on its way to the finishing line – would she make it before sun-down?  Or would Binks and I have to spend another day waiting, and watching the time left to us tick away?

Only another cerveza could get us through this moment, so whilst I carried out a reconnaissance, Binks kept watch for the boat.  My reconnaissance took rather longer than expected due to the fact that during the afternoon, the way back to the bar had become unnecessarily complicated, and they had hidden the toilets.  When I finally staggered back I found Binks in a high state of nervous excitement.

“They’re just coming!” he yelled, as I broke into a run.

It was true.  I was just in time to see the prow of the boat breach the marina wall, its crew above board, waving at the small crowd which had gathered.  I spotted Agent Osgood immediately.  Or rather, I spotted his huge ginger beard some time before the boat came into view and was eventually able to locate his face as its point of origin.

As I greeted Osgood I spotted Binks flinging himself at Jazz.  To my eyes, his welcome looked rather more warm than was necessary for a fellow agent.  There was more to this than met the eye, but I didn’t have time to think about that – I had to get Osgood to a secret location.  He was frail, having lost at least a stone during his assignment, and I had to get him away before his strength deserted him.  Quickly, I handed him my beer and as I watched him gulp it down it was like watching the life-blood drain back into him.

The success of Osgood’s assignment will be the subject of a separate report, by the man himself.  I of course obtained all the details during the de-brief, which took place at a delightful beach resort in Valaderos, but the less said about that the better.  Classified, you know.

 

Click here for diary entry 17 - Race 3 - Havana to Colon

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