Chasing the Albatross

My adventure in search of a bird by David Lawson

  • 0 Sunday 8th July

    • by David Lawson
    • 08-07-2018

    So we diverted to Iceland as you will have seen. At one point we were closer to Iceland than Ireland!!! Now heading East towards Scotland and then hopefully we’ll catch the back of the high pressure system and down into Ireland. Well that’s the plan anyway. With no comms we’re not sure where everyone else is and no weather routing to work with so it’s all guesswork from the old information we have. Anything could happen!! Still cold here. Have three layers on and then foulies on top. Cold in the night. We did briefly see some sun yesterday but nothing to make us feel warmer. 4 of us helming on our watch but with Jerry on Mother Watch and DK suffering with a very sore elbow it is down to just Trevor and me to helm. Managed 6 hrs yesterday and with difficult sea state it was very tiring. Still, managed several hours sleep last night and now feeling good. Jerry back today as his mother duty is over so 3 makes the job much easier. The plus side is my helming under spinnaker has improved a lot.

  • 0 Saturday 7th July

    • by David Lawson
    • 07-07-2018

    So how has your Saturday morning started? A leisurely wake up…coffee in bed? Mine went like this: 3.30am….wake up call from the on watch ‘time to get up’ Dress in my bunk then jump down into the gangway. Boots and jacket on then it’s find my foulies in the wet locker. Pull them on, add life jacket then hat and gloves. Various ‘good morning’s’ to my fellow watch. Right…up on deck. It’s 3.48am. ‘Buon giorno’ I offer to the on watch as I exit the stairway from the galley. I check to see if it’s raining….nope. ‘Morning DL’ is the response from various crewmembers. I wait for Adrian who has exited before me to climb up to the high side. ‘Morning Nigel….how’s it going?’ ‘Morning DG’ ‘Morning JR…..any helming?’ I work my way to the back of the boat. DW is on the helm and Nigel H behind him. ‘How’s it going guys?’ I stand behind the helming station looking at the numbers on the instrument binnacles in front of DW. I look to see how hard he’s working the helming wheel. Others on my watch are filling up the pit area as they file up from below. ‘Ok…so what are we aiming at?’ ’45 course over ground, 150 degree wind angle’ It’s 3.58am. I attach my tether to the high side of the helming station and then lift this over the back behind DW. ‘OK….you want me to take over now and you can go and get some sleep?’ DW exits on the high side. ‘Got it’ as I take the wheel. I settle my feet. The boat veers to the left 10 degrees and I turn the wheel to counter the movement. The wheel has a binding covering 90 degrees left and right of centre and extra binging on the centre point so you can tell where this is just by touch. The new watch are taking up their positions and the previous on watch slowly make their way below. The sky is light but cloudy. A rose tinge colours below some of the cloud on my left. The wind is slightly behind the boat coming over my left shoulder. We have the main sail set out over the right hand rail of the boat and a number 2 spinnaker up. Surf time! The wind is gusting between 16 and 22 knots and we have swell coming at us from our rear port quarter. As the boat heels over to the right a fulmar glides past effortlessly on the wind just above the ocean’s surface below me. Back here I can hear the rushing of the back draught of water stirred up by the boat. It sounds like a constant waterfall. Standing on the helm gives a very different feel to being in the pit area. In the pit area there is no rushing waterfall and the boat feels more stable due to its halfway between front and back position. On the helm you feel like you’re standing on a mountain and as the swell picks the boat up you feel as if you are about to charge down or into the back of the wave in front of you. It’s a very odd perspective. So surf time. The swell and wind pick up the boat and it’s now me versus the elements to steer the course as set. I’m watching the bow and the horizon beyond to judge the movement of the boat. I’m glancing at the instruments every 15 to 20 seconds to check course. I’m moving the helm right or left to counter the direction of the bow. Sometimes the movement is swift one way and then the other, sometimes it’s slower, sometimes I’m just holding it in one place as the boat surfs and then sometimes it’s hard over. You get a feel for the boat as it bucks and heels and today with the wind and the swell it’s a bit full on and I can feel the effort I’m putting into it on my upper left arm. 3.24am and the swell and a gust catch the boat in my left. We heel over hard right. I’m leaning on the wheel, hard right. I’m off the wheel binding now. I’m beyond 90 degrees. We’re doing 12.5 knots. The spinnaker starts to collapse. A combination of the wave action and the wind getting on the front of the spinnaker edge and and creating more force on the front of the spinnaker than there is on the inside of the sail. We’re at a 142 degree wind angle as we ride down a wave. The spinnaker is attached to the bottom of the boat and top of the mast and then we have a working sheet (rope) we can control the spinnaker with from inside the cockpit. ‘Grind’ calls Adrian. 2 crewmembers spin the grinder in the cockpit to pull in the back of the spinnaker. This takes the pressure off the front edge and the spinnaker inflates again. 150 degree wind angle…..back on course. No panic in the boat. No concerns. This is teamwork and we carry on. 3.28am. ‘Ah good timing’ says Jerry as he comes to do his half hour shift on the helm. He attaches his tether to the high side, loops it over the back of the helming station and behind me. ‘What are we steering?’ ’45 degrees course over ground. 150 degrees wind angle ‘Ok, got it’ I let go of the wheel and exit left. Sitting on front of the helming station I watch the ocean as the morning goes by. The waterfall sound is gone. 5.15am Lambo has made tea and coffee. My first cup of the day. ‘Thanks’ At 7.30am my 3rd and final helming duty is over for this watch. All good and clocked up a surf of 16.3 knots. Not bad for this wind. How is your Saturday morning going? Another coffee or something else?

  • 0 Friday 6th July 9.30am

    • by David Lawson
    • 06-07-2018

    Well last night was a cold one…in fact as cold as the Southern Ocean. Bearing on mind I hadn’t packed for a cold Leg it was cold hands on the helm and cold feet in my sleeping bag but the best thing was finding some shirts I’d forgotten I’d packed. Result. So this morning I’m now nice and warm. Fresh shirts, one of which is thermal and 2 pairs of socks. Little things but so rewarding! As you’ll probably see on the race viewer PSP are off on the long route again. A tour of the Scottish isles is a strong possibility. We’re trying to skirt around the wind hole and sneak in the back door if possible. Now that would be a first!! So more sea miles for me. I can hear Sir Robin typing up the excess mileage bill as I write! Today is brighter than yesterday and the highlight of the day so far has been the ending of Trevor’s 24hr embargo on winding up Fiona. It’s a multinational pastime on the boat. So with the 24 hrs over Trevor has been letting rip with all the things he’s been holding back on and the banter is infectious!! As you would expect I personally have it become involved…..well only a little bit….well actually….. We’ve just had a pod of pilot whales and dolphins cross our bow but apart from those and a few birds the ocean is very empty. The weather is slightly brighter than yesterday and drier thank goodness and I’m definitely looking forward to seeing some sun again.

  • 0 Thursday 5th July

    • by David Lawson
    • 05-07-2018

    We are making good speed on a cold, wet and very grey day. The sea is a mixture of dark grey and dark green and it’s all probably unlike anything you are experiencing at home. Last night was very cloudy and cold. No moon and no stars to helm by. To give you an idea of what helming was like last night: firstly the wind is aft of the mast which means our main sail is outside of the boat at about 45 degrees on our port side and we have a spinnaker up. My routing instructions are for a course over ground (electronic reading) of 50 degrees, compass course between 55 and 60 degrees and wind angle no higher than 120 degrees. All that information and more is available from the instruments in front of me. Add to that the swell of the sea, which is moving the boat around, and shifting wind and current across the boat. So I make that 6 things to think about before I even think about breathing (and who says men can’t do more than one thing at a time!!) and of course it’s pitch black too. So this is going to be easy……haha..if only. So in amongst all that you basically have to find a process that suits you. If I have my head down to follow the compass then I’m going to be all over the place and I’ll end up wrapping the spinnaker around the forestay….that’s a definite no no!! So for me it’s a mix of watching the movement of the spinnaker, glancing at the compass and course over ground numbers and wind angle, feeling the movement of the boat through my feet, feeling how the wind hits my face and feeling the water over the rudder through the wheel of the helm….well that’s in an ideal world. In the dark it’s tough and I feel like I’m going around in circles but somehow (and thank goodness Trevor is close by to pass on his experiences) I make it through 3 half hour sessions and the spinnaker is still intact. Result! This morning from 4am to 8am it’s rinse and repeat and the instructions haven’t changed but one thing has…’s light. Halelullua!!  Okay so whilst it’s light, it’s grey and very overcast and there’s a lot of damp in the air. It’s amazing what light does to the brain and helming is so much easier. 3 more helming sessions which I really enjoy…boom! And good speed too….double boom!! Oh and during the night session Jerry and I needed to add a second foreguy to the boom. Now a foreguy is a line which is secured to the end of the boom and this attaches to another line which routes via the front of the boat and back to a winch. The reason to attach the foreguy is to stop the boom rushing from one side of the boat to the other in the event of a crash gybe (where the wind gets on the wrong side of the sail and forces the sail and boom across the boat – very dangerous). In our case as the boat is heeled over from time to time the end of the boom is in the water and we want to stop it being forced back into the cockpit area of the boat. So Jerry goes up to the bow to set up the second rope and works back towards the centre of the boat. I finish my helming session and go to help him. The first challenge us to get the rope which is already attached to the end of the boom unattached from the rope keeping it in place 2/3rds of the way along the boom. So Jerry and I are tethered on, on the low side of the boat standing on the guard rail to give us enough height to get the job done and with the boom bouncing in the water. All in a nights work. If you want to get an adrenaline rush…..this is it!! Last night we also had a lot of bioluminescence in our wake lighting up the sea and every time the boom hit the water sparks of light would be thrown up. A fitting natural firework display for the 4th July celebrations for our American crew member, David Wilson. With about 900 miles to go the bird life has started to change; fulmars, skuas and terns have joined the regular sheerwaters and petrels on this cruise across the ocean. As we speed along amongst them they leave it to the last minute to take avoiding action….a bit like pigeons on the road at home. So with breakfast over I’ve now started on the biscuits…it must be the cold and damp making me hungry. I think the best option though is a nice warm sleeping bag. I don’t see us getting out of this gloomy weather today. Ho hum. Perhaps I’ll dream of a warm holiday to take…now there’s a thought!!!

  • 0 Wednesday 4th July 9.30am

    • by David Lawson
    • 04-07-2018

    Well what a result for England. How great is that for the collective national spirit! So my Mother Watch is over and what a long day that was. Normal watch duty meant a 3.30am get up yesterday, then into Mother Watch and finally bed at 10.30pm. Up at 6.30am today to do breakfast and now straight into normal watch again until 2pm. The troops have been well fed and appreciated home made cake, home made biscuits and pancakes this am. Should be me over and done for this race to Derry. So today is American Independence Day. Dave Wilson our resident American is looking forward to turkey and all the trimmings later…..I think that will be a virtual meal he’ll have to imagine!! Winds are light and changeable today so we could be in for a number of sail change evolutions. But now it’s all about whatever will make the boat go faster and keep our momentum up. As they say those points make prizes and we need all the points we can get on this leg.

  • 0 Wednesday 04 July 14:20

    • by David Lawson
    • 04-07-2018

    Well we’ve just finished the morning session. A bit fresh up there today and had to layer up but great to be back out of the galley and back on top doing some driving. Managed a couple of hours helming over 3 sessions and I’m really enjoying trying to improve my capabilities in all the different wind and weather conditions we get. Light wind helming is still the most difficult and I do enjoy the adrenaline rush of helming when it’s windy and rough. We haven’t got into any real surfing on this Leg but that’s because we haven’t really had a good wind from behind yet. We must all be getting a bit de-mob happy. Lots of banter across the galley this lunchtime. It’s like being back at school….boy humour! You don’t have to be too precious to be part of this group. Everyone gets ribbed sooner or later but we all give as good as we get and as the saying goes ‘it’s all done in the best possible taste’. Breaking news on the boat is that we have found a new crew member who has been hiding away and consuming copious amounts of food. Clive eats enough for 2 and is always scavenging for seconds and now we know why, his imaginary friend, Terence (the tapeworm) has finally been outed and so Clive is now being strictly rationed. He’ll be half the man he was soon, not that there was a lot to start with anyway, to be fair. So that’s about it from here. I did nearly manage to fall asleep on deck this morning, oops…..but not whilst helming so eith that thought I’m off to a nice warm sleeping back and a few dreams… which part of Lawsonland shall I travel to this afternoon…..choices, choices….

  • 0 Tuesday 3rd July

    • by David Lawson
    • 03-07-2018

      The fleet begins to split with 1200nm to go All looking a little dishevelled!!   Well it’s definitely dishevelled Tuesday here. Looking like I need a good shower/hairwash and trim….any order is fine, I’m not fussy…..but it would be nice to be clean and recogniseable again. With my wooly hat on this morning I was told I resembled a convict……nice…..and that was at 6.30am so the day started well!! Last night I’d like to say we all went out and had a few beers, well lots and lots of beers to be fair whilst we watched the football on tv. However, there was a small amount of water in the way blocking our exit route we decided we ought to stay in and do some sailing instead. Good call!! So we’re over half way now and we’re moving up the leader board as I write. PSP are back on the prowl, doing what we do best, taking the long route and giving the rest of the fleet a head start….just for a change. Now where have I seen this before?? The banter on the boat is great and spirits are high. The new joiners/re-joiners and two watches have gelled really well and we’re sailing the best we can. We just hope to find some luck lurking in waters ahead! So today I’m on mother watch. Lunch is egg and mayonnaise wraps. I’m thinking of adding a secret ingredient. Don’t tell anyone but I think orange could prove to be a winner. Heston Blumenthal and snail porridge….nah….move over matey, your time is up.!!! I’m not sure whether to char the orange in a hot pan before adding to the wraps…..ooooh, choices, choices, now where did I put Heston’ s number. So with the boat sailing flat I’m also looking to make some birthday cake today (no orange required) as we’ve had a few birthdays already and one to come before this race ends. The cakes are in, the quantities are guessed and my fingers are firmly crossed. After the glorious sun of the past few days we have a bit of fog surrounding us today. Down below is still hot but beareable. We’ve finally changed tack for the first time so the high side is now the low side. With a spinnaker up the boat is still pretty flat. Good job I sent my prayers to the Mother Duty Fairy. Preparing food whilst on the lean is horrendous so this is a real luxury. So that’s all the news from the Clipper High Sea!!

  • 0 Monday 2nd July

    • by David Lawson
    • 02-07-2018

    It’s sounding like life is good on board the mighty PSP!  Heres an extract that will raise some smiles!! Helen Jordan…one for you my lovely x “Well it’s been busy busy busy here since 8am. Turtles, whales, dolphins, 6 sail changes (more than the whole of the Leg so far!!), restocking the snack cubby lockers, anyone for tea? I’ll need a holiday at this rate! Glorious weather again. Making good speed, 10 – 11 knots with 3 knots of current pushing us along. Qingdao made a turn towards us yesterday and were close overnight but we caught the wind and with the sail changes we have made we’ve opened up a healthy gap again this morning. They are fast disappearing behind the horizon. I guess they are thinking to shadow us to try to protect their possible podium position. We have a spinnaker up and so the boat is sailing flat…..what a luxury. It’s amazing how a break from life on the lean lifts the spirits. Lots of talk of Guinness in Derry and where to go to find the best bars. Michael, our local boy, has all the inside knowledge so should be a good crack when we get there . Most of us are in shorts and tee shirts today, including Trevor but DK is sporting a natty arrangement of mid grey shorts over black mid-layer long leggings with brown sailing boots and long sleeve blue top. Poor HK……what she must put up with at home!!!! So that’s me for now….I’m off to raid the snack bar. ….if only there was a gin and tonic in there!!!!

  • 0 Sunday 1st July

    • by David Lawson
    • 01-07-2018

    “We’re driving through the Newfoundland fog banks this morning. The sun has just risen and we’re in for a beautiful day’s sailing….again. All on board are good. No sickness just a healthy appetite to help the boat go faster as we head across the great blue yonder. Last night was wonderful here. I was due to helm at 9.30pm, our time, and just beforehand the temperature dropped quite quickly as a low fog bank enveloped us. It was just getting dark and the stars were out so I could look up to find a way point to steer by. The moon wasn’t up but soon I could see an orange glow as it rose above the horizon. It was soon swallowed up by the fog and cloud above. Off our starboard bow we could hear dolphins calling from the water as a small school played beside us. With phosphorescence around them as they surged through the water they seemed like mermaids calling us to join them. The moon continued to rise and eventually broke through the fog and low cloud off our starboard bow. At one point it was sandwiched between a layer of cloud and appeared to sit on top of one layer and hang from another. A shining beacon whose watery glow shone a path to our boat over the ocean. As the cloud cleared, Mars could be clearly seen just below the moon at a positionong of 4 o’clock. Further left of the boat, Jupiter and Venus followed us with a watchful eye. Petrels flew around the boat as if the moon’s light on the sails created a guiding light for these ocean moths to follow us by. Above the moon a plane heading westward created a silvery trail in the sky. Families, loved one’s, business people all heading for a different destination high above us, unaware of our watching presence far below. At 11.30pm I was on the helm again.The conditions were ideal as the boat, beautifully balanced, skimmed effortlessly across the ocean surface. What an absolute joy. As the next watch came on they offered to relieve me of my helming duties before my allotted time was up. Enjoying the moment, living firmly in the now, I politely declined and stayed until midnight appeared on the instrumentation. An end to a wonderful moment. An end to a wonderful day and the start of a new one to come. In these days of Instagram, selfies and the recording of moments in search of a ‘like’ from peers, what I had witnessed needed nothing more than my memory and presence to capture it. A photograph would never have done justice to what I had seen. My trying to turn pictures into writing can never put across the full beauty of the images of the natural world I had just experienced , and there must be millions of these moments that go unwitnessed every day. Undertaking this venture gives me the opportunity to see amazing sights that will stay with me forever and when this ‘Clipper bubble’ is over and reality returns and I wake early from my sleep one morning I wonder where I will wish I was…..tucked up in a cosy bed or gliding across the ocean in the middle of the night? No camera required, just a desire to be present and alive to what the moment has to offer…mmmmm…..a difficult choice, but in my mind I will still see those unique memories….. And so another 6 hour watch comes to an end. The wind dropped off somewhat this afternoon and we’re not quite as far ahead as we had hoped. We’d ideally liked to have benefited by a further 50 miles from the current we had been hoping to find but as we’ve come to know there is no such thing as plain sailing. On PSP it’s always a bit of a lottery. Still there is a long way to go and there are lots of things that will undoubtedly play out over the next week or so. I managed 3 hours sleep after breakfast this am and am eating well. The mood on the boat and the team are great to work with. The boat is sitting a little flatter now and life below is more manageable. With hot days but cold nights we’ve all stopped overheating thank goodness. What an amazing journey! We are so privileged.

  • 0 Friday June 29th

    • by David Lawson
    • 29-06-2018

      The UK has had a glorious week of weather! Waking to blue sky every day is such a joy and  certainly lifts the soul! A strange day for me ahead…my final day working for a corporate after 20 years. I’ve loved every minute but now it’s time to move on. Sadness tinged with optimism… I though today you might like to hear from D….so here is an extract of his email about life on board our red tadpole….the mighty PSP. “So what’s all the news I haven’t written about so far….well the wildlife ha been good, lots of whales as we left the US waters and a pod with young crossing the fleet shortly after the start. Some were constantly slapping the surface with their tails, possibly those with young to warn us off. We’ve had dolphins and lots of sheerwaters on the surface but they are going now and the ocean seems empty and unrelenting again. A distinct contrast to the flight into JFK. As we came down from the north the impact of humanity on the landscape was marked. Homes, industrial areas, railways, roads filled the land for as far as I could see and in the distance the empty ocean looked very enticing. A welcome escape from humankind. It’s funny how appealing the desire to escape has become….but only for a short time. So we’re back to this unique life that is ocean yacht racing. A group of individuals with a common goal to pit themselves against the elements in a small space that affords no escape. We are all different yet with a common goal to beat 10 other groups who have all stepped out of their normal day to day in search of something individual and unique. Rejoining after 5 months away makes me realise how quickly the human mind is able to put those moments of wonder, awe, enjoyment, achievement and satisfaction ahead of the struggle of living and working in demanding and challenging conditions. Life on the lean and on the bounce is madness yet we accept it in search of something greater along with broken sleep and relentless watch changes, the physical challenge of changing sails when you’re getting soaked and trying to hold on with one hand and yet get the job done. And I already know that when the race is over and we’re enjoying that first beer and the reunion with loved ones it will be all smiles, congratulations on crossing an ocean and tales told of memories which will be fondly recalled for years to come and with each day the physical punishment we put ourselves through will recede and become forgotten with time……..madness!!! So we’ve caught the gulf stream and our speed has noticeably increased. Here’s hoping our strategy will speed us ahead of the rest of the fleet and as, once again we’re on our own, it’s going to be interesting to see if the route less travelled will pay off in our favour. Here’s hoping.