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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30 - Race 8 - Shanghai to Hong Kong - April 2003

Hong Kong marks the half way point of the race, in terms of time, distance and races.  We were always due to have a long break in Hong Kong but as a result of the Shanghai stopover being cancelled, we were able to look forward to a three week break from the race.  We just had to get there.

It was the getting there that created the problem.  One of the benefits of an early arrival in Hong Kong was the Hong Kong Sevens that were due to be played over the w/e of 28 to 30 March.  We had eight days to cover 750 miles in order to be in Hong Kong in time for the final day of the Rugby - having got used to 200 plus mile days as we crossed the Pacific, we would surely make it. 

But this became the most frustrating race so far.  Firstly, it was very much a drag race.  The fleet had to follow a course that kept us outside Chinese territorial waters and there was no advantage in taking the boat much further from the coast than that.  This was mainly due to the second main problem with this race - the lack of wind.  On day five of the race, we travelled about 30 miles in 24 hours.  It is extraordinarily frustrating to get up and go on watch to find that the boat has travelled no more than one or two miles since you were last on deck.  The wind was light for most of the race and for large parts of the week, what little wind there was blew from the direction that we wanted to go in - it added to the frustration.  With light winds, a drag race edging slowly to Hong Kong and HK Sevens tickets that were rapidly becoming out of date, everyone on board was getting more and more fed up. 

After getting away from the start line off the anchorage point in China, we managed to drag ourselves into third place.  And that was effectively the end of the race, until the last day.  The order of all the boats stayed the same for the next six days and while the distances between the boats changed a little each day, that was the only excitement that existed in terms of the race.  To deflect the boredom a little, we began a quiz with Liverpool, the closest boat to us, in that each boat set the other a set of six questions (on sailing, entertainment, sport, music, geography and literature) and we then had 6 hours to answer the questions before spending 6 hours setting another set of questions. 

The other excitement was the existence of hundreds of  fishing boats together with the pots and nets that go with them.  And they didn't like eight yachts drifting through their nets and their pots.  So we were often confronted with angry Chinese fishermen driving their fishing boats within feet of us presumably shouting obscenities at us in Chinese, although my knowledge of Chinese extends no further than Sweet and Sour Pork and Egg Fried Rice.  Throughout the night, we were always ready with the engine in case the situation got nasty or unsafe.  At times, the horizon looked like the Blackpool illuminations - very different to the Pacific Ocean.

Chinese Gybe in China!

It all changed on what turned out to be the last full night at sea.  The wind finally picked up coming from behind us and we took off towards the finish line.  We were finally travelling at about 10 knots and with 160 miles to go, we were confident that we would be in for a few beers on Thursday evening, happily in third place.  The heavyweight kite was up and as the wind grew, it was decided that it would be sensible to change to a poled out No 1 sail.  Everyone was on deck ready to make the sail change but we waited due to a large fleet of fishing boats had passed as they would have been in the way when we lowered the kite.  The boat was rolling quite heavily but Foxy, who was at the helm was quite comfortable.  All of sudden, Foxy lost steerage of the boat.  It was later established that this was caused by our shaft brake breaking*.

With very little control over the steering, we had to get the kite down as quickly as we could so as to avoid a catastrophe.  Everyone ran to their positions and I was by the mast with Dave and Ben when a wave caught the boat and the wind got on the wrong side of the main sail.  And over we went!

A Chinese Gybe is when the wind gets on the wrong side of the boat and pushes against the main sail and the headsail/kite.  The boat is pushed over on its side as the main sail is held in place by a preventer.  It is not a good thing! 

I saw the main fill on the wrong side and dived at the mast, hanging on as the boat went over.  All of a sudden, the guardrails were completely under water, the spreaders at the top of the mast were touching the water and the kite was flogging itself towards destruction.  My safety line was clipped to a part of the boat that was under water.  My main concern as I hung on to the mast with nothing to put my feet on - I was annoyed that my feet were going to get wet again, having only just dried out properly!

Dave, Ben and I managed to drag ourselves to the high side and sort our safety lines out but we had to listen to a commotion in the cockpit followed by a nasty scream of pain - it later turned out that Chappers had got caught under the main sheet as the sail was eased and she suffered some nasty bruising but was otherwise OK.  And then we sat there and had to watch our second heavyweight kite slowly flog itself into a number of pieces before being released, together with all its ropes, to sink to the bottom of the East China Sea.

But that was not the end of our troubles.  We had three foot of water in the galley - water had come in through ventilation shafts on the coach roof when the boat had been on its side and one of the battery boxes had broken loose, knocking the stern gland** off and creating a hole in the bottom of the boat.  It did clean our bilges out but it took about 2 hours to empty out all of the water that had come in and fill the hole.

So during all of this, we had spent several hours going in the wrong direction.  When we got ourselves re-set with the poled out No 1 headsail, we found that we had lost our third place and we were now in seventh place.  We were without an engine, due to the broken stern gland and would have to be towed into Hong Kong.  Very disappointing, but despite that, I found the whole experience to be very exciting - it is not somthing that happens every day!

And we were there in time for the rugby.

(*A shaft brake stops the propeller turning when the boat is under sail.  Without the brake, the prop will turn and create turbulance over the rudder making it very difficult to steer.  The shaft brake had broken some time ago but had not been replaced - it was due to be replaced in Hong Kong.  It had been held in place by a sail tie for the last 10,000 miles or so.  Unfortunately, the sail tie broke due to the pressure on the propeller)

(**The stern gland is where the propeller comes into the boat and is supposed to stop water coming in as well.  When it broke, we had water coming in until it was plugged up by Lesley's ear plugs and some gaffer tape!)

Hong Kong - there at last

We eventually arrived at the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club (RHKYC) at about 5am.  Hong Kong is amazing to see at night and to see it from the water as you arrive is wonderful.  The beers flowed for several hours followed by breakfast - a full English with a cup of tea in a cup and saucer - at last!

The big concern has been SARS.  From here, it seems that all the concern is a massive over reaction.  The numbers affected seem to be very small considering the total population of Hong Kong and really, the media has overhyped it.  Clipper nearly made the decision to leave Hong Kong early but, thankfully, they relented.

So, off to the rugby!

Hong Kong Sevens

The Hong Kong Sevens tournament is one of the sporting events that I have always wanted to see - to be there when England won it was even better.  We went on the Saturday but the main day was on the Sunday when some 50 of us went dressed in our waterproof trousers and nothing else. 

The drink flowed!  As did the singing as we watched England beat Australia, Fiji and then New Zealand in the final.  A few of the photos from the day are in the Photo Gallery.

The day was topped off by England winning the Grand Slam (watched when we got back to the RHKYC) and then I had a beer with the England team who happened to be in Joe Bananas when I got there - as you do!

Thailand

I am now in Phuket, Thailand for a week's break with Rachel, re-charging my batteries before the second half of the race.  I can report that the sun is shining, Singha beer is both cold and refreshing and the beaches are golden.  Life is very good at the moment. 

The Journey Home

The next section of the race will be mentally very hard I think.  We are only half way round and we still have another five and a half months to go.  Yet the general feeling amongst the round the worlders is that we are now very much on our way home and the discussions about what we have planned when we get back have already started. 

I think that there will be very few new experiences that we will now have.   We have already experienced trade wind sailing, the rough conditions on the way into Japan, light sailing around China and a whole host of catastrophes.  It will be, to a large extent, more of the same.  It is now a question of completing our journey and I suspect that time will start to go more slowly the nearer we get to the finish, especially as we have a lot of long races in the second half of the race so there will be plenty of time to think about the rest of the journey.  But there is a feeling that we are starting to get there.

Click here for diary entry 31 - Thoughts from Hong Kong

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