Chasing the Albatross

My adventure in search of a bird by David Lawson



0 Update Tuesday 9th January

  • by David Lawson
  • 09-01-2018


Àll good here in my sailing bubble. Some brighter weather today which is great.

So today I thought I’d share my morning routine for today with you.

No alarm clocks here as we get a personal waking service. A bit late though today at 7.28am. Shorts on and wet sealskin socks. Sounds horrible but they are really good.

Swing myself down from my high side bunk. First dangerous manoeuvre of the day and always good when still half asleep. Base layer shirt next and then wet boots. Trip to the heads and hope one is free or have to sit and wait.

Once that’s complete rush through a bowl of cereal sitting balanced on the edge of the seating area. Engage core. Second exercise of the day. Can’t sit flat on a heeled over boat so it’s all about balancing in precarious places. Have a few gulps of isotonic drink from my water bottle. Tea, coffee or fresh orange juice not a normal breakfast offering here.

Now it’s get my foulies on and a life jacket   and up on deck just before 8am. Today the on watch need some help with a sail change. It’s blowing 25 knots and we have a full main sail up plus 2 headsails, a staysail and a yankee 1. This is our biggest sail plan but with the boat heeled over and the port side in the water this is too much sail for the conditions. The on watch have managed to get a smaller Yankee 2 sail on deck and now it’s a case of taking down the Yankee 1 to put the new sail up. Some crew never go forward of the mast and especially in these conditions. 3 of us go forward and I’m in the pulpit at the bow end. I wedge myself in and put my tether around the pulpit rail so if I do go over I’m still attached to the boat. I sit on top of the pulpit rail and wedge my feet in to try to protect me from going over if a big wave crashes over. With the bow of the boat burying itself into the incoming waves it’s a bit precarious up here but I must admit there is a bit of an adrenaline rush sitting at the very front of the boat and looking back along the deck.

So the next part of this morning routine is a shower. Most people get undressed at home to have a shower! Ha….here it’s a fresh salt shower in full gear. You’re still guaranteed to get soaked and this has been the case several times on this leg. Actually the sea is fairly warm which is helpful if you’re going to look like a drowned rat afterwards.

The next morning workout is to pull the front Yankee 1 sail down. From the pit area in the boat someone releases the halyards at the top if the sail and I’m able to pull the front of the sail down and unhank the brass clasps holding it to the forestay. There are 3 other people helping drag the sail in as it comes down. They’re all having a morning shower too.

It’s a tricky and physical job and even harder in 25 knots of wind with the boat heeled over and bouncing in and out of the waves.

I unhank the sail from the forestay and as I’m doing this I attach the hanks to a sail tie we’ve rigged up between the inner and outer forestay.  Once all the hanks are off they are tied together with the sail tie to stop the sail blowing away. The sail is dragged back out of the way. Easy!!

Now it’s a case of attaching the new sail. The sail is dragged up to the pulpit area. It is removed from its bag and then it’s a case of physically pulling the sail up to me to hank on and then we’re ready to raise the new sail. Again very physical and in a confined space and difficult conditions. It’s not just physical for me but for for all of us involved and everyone could tell their own story.

Back to the pit area of the boat it’s now a question of doing all those things we do all the time to get the boat moving as fast as possible and in the right direction.

The off watch go down and for the remaining on watch whilst the new sail is up we still have too much wind so to stabilise the boat we put a reef into the main sail. This reduces the sail area to make the boat manageable to sail. In all we put in three reefs and as the morning progresses and the wind reduces we are able to shake these out to have the full main back up. So lots of grinding on ropes and the sails and lots more physical work.

By 11am we’ve done 9 different sail changes in all which is a significant work out for the day.

So that’s breakfast, dress, shower and workout all done. As a treat we have some fruit and nut mix on the go.

Now we’re not a competitive group….much!! So with a mixture of 3 Australians and several English on my watch the banter turns to England being thrashed at cricket. Our own contest is to see who can get top speed in the helm whilst on course and going in the right direction…..of course!. My initial marker is 8.2 knots and Trevor our competitive Australian knocks out 8.7 knots. We take half hour shifts on the helm and I then manage an 8.5 but I’m convinced Trevor throws my opportunity to beat him by letting the traveller out as I approach his speed. The traveller acts to depower the main sail. Lots of banter and with a ‘traveller gate’ enquiry threatened our watch ends in lots of laughter. These are the moments that help bring us together and unique moments we’ll miss as and when this comes to an end. But importsntlybits the stuff thst brings people together and in this unique environment friendships are firmed which will stand the test of time beyond Clipper.

So back to our race.  Well we’re still making progress albeit slower than anticipated and at the mercy of the weather. The weather isn’t delivering what has been expected but as previously said sailing is a fickle friend and whilst we can give it our best we are so dependent upon what the weather delivers. So frustrating!!!

Wow, well that’s a bit if a long piece. Hope it gives you a good picture of what life is like on board!