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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24 - Sailing Fashion (by Jazz Black) - March 2003

Konnichi wa!

Ossie. What not to wear!

As designate Director of Onshore Fashion, it seems fitting for me to provide you with some guidelines and observations of the type of attire that is considered 'de rigeur' onboard the good warship London. Boat attire is a very serious topic as it is easy to get your boat rig very very wrong.

Various things need to be considered both for Leggers and Round the-Worlders as seasons and sea states vary as we race our way round the World:

Hot Legs!

For those fortunate enough to be onboard during the sunnier legs, boat rig is a very simple and bulk free affair. It is likely that a large percentage of the race will be spent in tradewinds, flying spinnakers and holding a consistent course while the sun beats down mercilessly from a cloudless sky. 

When sailing in these downwind conditions, there is very little sea spray, even when working on the foredeck. Due to the sun and heat, minimal clothing is the order of the day.

Boys: very straight forward for the guys, shorts! Some of the more sun shy may wear a shorts and T-shirt combination and most are very conscious of the sun's effects on those, how shall we say, 'thinner' areas to be found on the crown of the head and so will wear a hat. Shades are essential, both for helming and trimming and also for looking hard.

Girls: rig varies among the girls and is generally dictated by how keen they are to avoid tan marks for those vital halter neck and strapless outfits onshore. Some may also feel slightly awkward about charging up the mast or bending over a winch in nothing more than a piece of cheese wire and a strapless bra. In general its shorts (rolled up to hot pant length) and a vest top or bikini top. It is worth noting that with both the vest and bikini option, straps must be left to hang over the shoulders to avoid any unsightly strap marks when in port.

Super high factor sun cream is applied liberally, particularly if you are participating in one of the races that crosses the equator as the suns rays become so strong that a 5 minute visit to the cockpit in your off watch to go and chat with a mate from the other watch will result in lethal burns.

It is also quite interesting to observe which of those on board start to lower the factor strength as we get nearer to the end of the race and closer to port, solely to attain the deepest tan possible. Some slip ups have occurred resulting in ghastly shiny lobster chests and faces at the bar.

These races can be from 8 days to a month in length and it is unbearably hot both on deck and below. The deck itself becomes too hot to stand on in bare feet (which is something ill advised on a boat stacked with metal deck fittings ripe for stubbing toes) so deck shoes are the norm. Deck work quickly produces a lot of hot and sweaty bodies so water intake is high but less than thirst quenching as the onboard water supply is permanently warm in these conditions. There is very little flowing air below decks so the crew accommodation and bunk area become like a sauna and the coffins (where I lay my head) are like swimming pools, nudity is not uncommon and can be quite startling when you wake bleary eyed for one of your night watches to find yourself shocked into consciousness by another crew member lying prone in their bunk. 

Sweat and sun cream play havoc with the skin, particularly when you consider that most of us shower, at most, once a week. However, there is a far more revolting hazard that crops up occasionally and we only speak of it in hushed tones. On occasion, a freak wave will douse those working on the foredeck or sometimes will slap us on the backside and come flying into the cockpit. As it is hot, we are all wearing shorts rather than waterproof foul weather gear and of course our shorts get very wet....with salty sea water. As you sit on deck with damp salty shorts and no sight of a shower for days to come, each crew member can be seen starting to shuffle around in their seat with a slight grimace on their face or even sitting side saddle. This is due to a rash forming on the buttock area, similar to that of nappy rash but much more aggravating and terribly unattractive, that we lovingly call 'arse zits' or 'pizza cheeks'. Thong bikinis are to be avoided in port until enough medicated talcum powder and hot showers have removed said pustules.

Cold and Miserable Legs 

Round-the-Worlders and those Leggers mad enough to consider a cold leg a good idea have quite a challenge on their hands, the bulk of clothing required is quite a struggle to fit into one's cave locker (the small space allocated for crew's personal items, hardly big enough for my onshore kit and make-up bag, let alone fleeces and the like). To give you some idea of the conditions encountered, imagine standing (clinging on) at a 45 degree angle while the ground you stand on bucks and dives like a rodeo bull. Throw icy cold (fantastic skiing weather) conditions and waves the size of multi storey car parks into the mix and you will be on the right road to getting an understanding of how aggressive, wet and freezing the conditions are. And I thought Hell was supposed to be hot!

There is no easy way to talk you through the amount of clothing required for these conditions so a list of essential unisex items (to be worn all at once) follows:

Underwear (to be seen again in a few weeks when you dare to bare your skin in the shower on arrival at the marina)

Thermal and Wicking Undergarments (long johns and long sleeved top)

Polartec Fleece number 1

Fleece lined Buffalo mountaineering smock

Polartec Fleece number 2

Fleece lined Buffalo Tecmax trousers

Two pairs of mountaineering socks

Dubarry Leather/Gore Tex boots

Henri Lloyd Water and Windproof Oilskins (salopettes and jacket)

Polartec fleece hat (preferably two at a time)

Kevlar reinforced helmsman's gloves

Safety harness

Most items of clothing will get wet on each watch either due to a headsail change where it is not uncommon to be washed down the deck by waves breaking over the bow as we nose dive off the last one or by waves breaking over the cockpit. The best way to partially dry out is to sleep in the wet gear, utilising your body warmth. It is fair to say that you never really get dry on these legs (putting stone cold wet boots back on to wet socked feet after a 3 hour sleep is a feeling I will never forget), the heeling angle of the boat and the aggressive sea state mean that leaking hatches are the norm so everyone suffers from wet bed syndrome. The above items of clothing are to be donned 20 minutes before the beginning of each watch and then removed in varying degrees at the end of the watch. This means that, in a 24 hour period, this arduous process takes place 4-5 times. Doesnt sound too bad until you consider the angle at which the clothing is donned and removed, each time you remove your hand from a grab handle to place an arm in a fleece, you hold your breathe, praying that the boat will stay in the same position for at least 2 seconds.

Who said fashion was a boring subject?!!



Click here for diary 25 - Diary from a Wet and Windy London Clipper

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