CLIPPER RACE BLOG 1: Reef Beginnings by Marlow Ambassador, Simon Du Bois

So it’s ON! Race has begun. After slipping the Marlow lines in Liverpool 7 days ago, we made our way up the fleet, tack after tack, up the river and have since been trying to keep up with the fast pace establish by veteran ocean racers. The weather has been up and down with a lot of light wind periods and Marlow’s ropes have provided to be resistant but also more lightweight than prior editions which has helped a lot.

I finally got to go up the mast yesterday for a rig check. Was I nervous? Maybe a bit, because those Clipper 70 have pretty high masts. But secured to my Marlow halyard, I went up and down like a monkey to make sure the mast, the halyards, the sails, the electronics were all good.

After a few hours of running free, I realise that this was exactly what we needed to step back and turn ourselves into learning mode as everyone gathered together to really try to understand SeaSea (CV26 Visit Seattle’s affectionate name). Pull there, grind over here, ease on the other side…nope not working, grind other side, switch these lines, move this forward, ease over here…+0.2 knots! ECSTATIC! VICTORY! No, really, all that work for 0.2 knots? Yes, when you are doing a 40,000nm race, the difference between first place and 4th place comes down to the sum of all these percentage of a knot.

Little did we know that the next wake up call would bring the the worst weather we’ve seen so far. Bang, crick, crack, boom! I woke up at the sound of the boat banging up and down (and even sideways). Woke up to the sound of a flying teammate getting thrown through the head’s door and landing on his butt on the other side of the galley. OUCH! That one is going to leave a mark.

Will and I got up not knowing whether it was watch change time because we felt help was needed on deck. Once on deck, we found our teammates pretty exasperated, tired with a look on their face that said it all : “Get us out of here, we want to go to bed.” After much discussion about sail plan (“do we reef, do we change the Yankee, are we OK?”), the banging continued further until the old watch were assigned to their bunk. Battling out the element trying to maintain as much speed as possible, we knew we were in for a hell of a ride.

After a few wipe outs and face wash from the waves, the call that everyone seemed to have awaited (and feared) came: “Set up to take a reef”, said Skipper Nikki. Not going to lie, this was going to be a bit acrobatic. But that’s when I realised how our watch is performing better when busy and when the intensity level is high. Seems like we are either hot to go or not focussed. Something we’ll have to work on to improve consistency in the future.

Reef 1 taken, we are still crashing up and down the waves and now the rain joins the party. Have you had your shower yet? Mother Nature must have thought we were a smelly bunch because we probably had over 20 showers on that watch. Time to put down that overpowered Yankee 1. Helmet and knee pads on, I knew this was going to be  life at the extreme.

Those were definitely the 20 longest minutes of our race so far. All watch was on the front deck fighting the elements and pulling down this big sail. Wave after wave we were pulling that sail down inch by inch. Ended up breaking two nails on that manoeuvre.

The rest of the watch was a breeze. NOT! Three other evolutions before we saw the light at the end of the tunnel. Some sunlight coming out of the clouds. The new watch came on deck with some desperately needed food which seemed a bit salty. But that might just be the remaining sea water dripping down our faces.

And guess what? Sanya Serenity Coast was back in our sight.