Ok so I know I am way behind in updating my blog so here come the excuses… I’ve been busy, the dog ate my homework, my computer took a wave and now the keyboard doesn’t work (that one is true), I didn’t feel well, someone told me I didn’t have to do it. In all seriousness, being in China was a bit of a technical problem as they do not allow access to social network sites (my blog may start some political moves!) and since being back on the boat we have had a medical evacuation and some very bad weather. Now, along the way I make notes on my i.pod, so, I now have a list of notes as long as your arm, all of which should make up about 4 or 5 blog entries once I’ve added padding to them but I’m sorry to say you are going to get a bit of a ramble with all the notes shoved into one blog and then I’ll get back on track.
Righty, quick rat update; Did I mention the rats 360 degree spread-eagled handbrake turn in the saloon as he shot past me one evening and realized that his way from Keith and Paul’s cabin to the ghetto was blocked? And that I’d been woken by Baz with a mallet trying to catch him? I think I may have done so I’m sure you are now all curious to know ‘is he still around?’ Well, Trinngg set a proper rat trap (not the pan with bit of cardboard see-saw that he first tried) the first night we arrived in China, the rat happily ate the chocolate and resisted the trap; Rat 1 – Trinnngg 0. Oh, by the way we also found a family of 5 mice in our pursuit of rat catching and chasing. They were under one of the saloon seats and when we found them nestled on top of the rice and flour they were sleeping/hibernating due to the cold. On first finding them Trinngg duly dispatched one of them overboard and shut the saloon seat on the rest of the mess. Webbo then went in the following day and dealt with the rest of the family. So back to the rat, the second night in China the rat trap was duly set again and much to Trinnggs delight in the morning it was Trinnngg 1 – Rat 0. Rat saga over and mice all gone we were pet free until yesterday when we acquired a blackbird sized bird. I’m not sure he was designed to be at sea as, not only was he blackbird sized, he was similar in design with yellow feet (not of the webbed variety either, more the sitting on a tree variety) and a yellow beak. We kept him (Bobby Bird) fed, watered and sheltered (he favoured the unusual spot of between traveller winch and traveller jammers) for a wee while before he met with Davy Jones’s locker when, taking our biggest wave over the deck ever (I was below on mother watch, clinging on for dear life when the biggest deluge of water I have ever seen came cascading down the hatch filling the companionway with a swimming pool sized puddle of water) he was washed overboard. Janet and Trinngg went on a little journey of their own too; Janet from one side of the cockpit to the other and Trinngg from the cockpit into the guard wire where he came to rest against the push pit. He is bravely sitting downstairs drinking coffee and being nursed due to complaining of sore ribs (don’t worry Mummy Triinggg, doctor Steve says he is fine, it’s just bruising, he can still laugh and cough freely and just needs a bit of light duties to recover).
A quick update on boat names from the AIS list over the last few weeks that have made me smile:- Lavender, Moondance, Aurora Light, Star Lady, Pine Wave, Turtle Bay and Toreador.
Bad weather on the way to China was a little patience testing at the end as although the cold stayed away a lot longer than I thought it would we did eventually hit the cold weather a couple of days from Qingdao just at the same time as we encountered some rough weather (it never rains but it pours!). Being on the boat 24/7 is patience testing at the best of times but never more so than when the weather is rough or you are just about to arrive in port as the end is in sight and people are at their tiredest. Anyway, one night shift after being battered by wind and waves on deck Trinngg and I came downstairs to find the box from the engine bay had given up the ghost and was sitting at a jaunty angle in the middle of the saloon surrounded by saloon cushions (the weather also causing the velcro for them to have given in to gravity). This is just what you need at 2.10am when all you want to do is crawl into your bunk. We spent the next half an hour with an electric drill and some screws fixing the cover back on while Scarlet passed along equipment – he was waiting for Trinngg to come and fix the nav computer which had also given up. In the galley, the surround for the oven came off, the measuring jug persistently flew from it’s cave and the flat plates (no idea why we keep these as they are little use at sea!) no matter where we put them, kept flying frisbee like, through the air. I know as you are reading this that I may have made it sound light hearted but in reality when you are cold and tired, the last thing that you need is for everything to be breaking and going wrong, especially as it is dark, tools are never at hand, things take 100 times longer to fix at sea than at home, the motion of the boat is throwing you around as much as it is the plates and you are working in a small space surrounded by other moving objects. There is talk of digging deep on the race and this is when it really kicks in. It’s at times like this when the choice is laugh or cry, no matter what you choose though, you just have to keep going.
Something that made me smile on the last leg was the Christmas decorations. Once they had been taken down (before 12th night to prevent any bad luck) it was then a bit of a dilemma as to what to do with them. Now logic suggests that as we won’t be on the boat next Christmas and we won’t be carrying them off the boat to our homes that the best place is to put them in the bin (gift for Davie Jones!) however, it seemed wasteful to throw them overboard when they had been used just the once and were only a few weeks old so it was decided that the best thing to do with them was to put them in the attic, which, in this case, was the now empty fruit net above the ghetto door, which is where they sat until we got to port and then we threw them in the bin!!!!
I guess I had better mention a bit about the sailing and the weather conditions on deck as that is what this race is all about and so far this little catch up has been about the things below decks (downstairs). Well after the calm sunshine cruise to Singapore it is fair to say the weather became a little more sailing like on the way to China. As I mention earlier it was less than pleasant before we arrived. We were sailing under the storm jib with the wind gusting 40 knots and 2 reefs in the main for a period of time. It was wet, cold and head to wind for a few days. With each wave that washed the deck we were brought some flying fish, there was one point when I went to the snake pit to find at least 6 flying fish in there all dead and either floating around, entangled in the lines or sitting handily on top of the drains (thanks to Webbos chicken mesh though they were not blocking them!). At night during the worst of the weather it was pitch black; this is both a blessing and a curse sometimes, you cannot see what is coming your way – quite good when it’s a bit scary but also doesn’t help with the helm’s anticipation of the waves. Not only did we have quite a bit of swell, we also had very lumpy seas. It was a bit like taking the boat down a mogul field that moves under you both left and right, rising and falling by 20 feet and every so often you bounce off the top of one and slam down into the hollow behind it which sends everything below decks up in the air. The weather has been bad again this leg with little respite since leaving China with the decks covered in snow. We have had strong winds, again up to 40 knots, a mixture of head to and beam on. It is no mean feat getting out your bunk time and time again to a rolling boat, pouring rain, and a wave swept deck. Being half asleep in the pitch black putting on wet foulies for the 4th time that day can be soul destroying, especially as when you get on deck you are unable to hold a conversation with anyone over the noise of the wind and the fact that your foulies are done up covering your head and mouth. Time passes slowly on deck and watches seem cold and endless as wave after wave hits you on the back or over the head or if you are on the helm then straight in the face and into your eyes. Our weather systems have been confused thus far making it difficult for us to set the correct sail plan or even to plan a course. The wind is constantly shifting making holding course hard and the strength is varying from 8 to 39 knots within minutes. Just as you think you have hit a period of calm and can begin to change up in sails and shake reefs out the wind will suddenly pick again and you’ll be holding on for dear life while the helm fights to keep the boat upright. It is a game of surprises which is very frustrating and tiring to play. The sea state today is big, it is very clear that we are entering a vast ocean as instead of a sea with a bit of a swell the whole ocean seems to be moving beneath us. Nothing is stable, the whole sea is a boiling bed of water with big swells, peaking waves and unpredictable movements so yet again we are wet from either rain, waves or drips of condensation from inside the boat. The temperature has dropped once more; the hot water bottles are making a re-appearance and the gen set cupboard is full of wet hats, gloves, socks and buffs. Nothing seems to dry in this environment and it’s a real test of will to get out of our bunks. Even once in our bunks life is not that simple. I have spent many off-watches now holding clinging on to my cave lockers as gust after gust takes the boat and we become heeled over again and again. So far on this race I have not experienced such unpredictable wind and it is tiring just surviving. Our poor new leggers have had a bit of a baptism of fire due to all this and sadly they were all affected by seasickness for the first few days. How they managed to carry on I do not know. With as little as a day each in bed they all got on with it and through gritted teeth made it on deck most of the time.
This brings me to Alan, one of our new leggers. Alan is not with us any more as sadly he had to be rescued by the Japanese Coast Guard after only 3 days. I know he would love to still be here or to have a heroic tale to tell about his injury but unfortunately he was injured twisting out of his bunk to reach an apple. He has fractured a bone in his knee and has pulled some ligaments which are very painful as a result of an old injury. Steve, our on board medic this leg, advised that we should send him ashore if possible. Lucky for us and Alan, Steve’s decision was the right one as he is now in plaster and unable to do anything for about 5 weeks. We were very lucky that we were just off the coast off Japan and once the call to the lifeguard in Falmouth was placed, within 3 hours and 10 minutes the Japanese Coastguard was with us medivacing him from the boat. The Pacific is very committing, we have now left the shores of Japan and such help will not be easy to reach now, so we are relying on each other to stay safe and we hope not to need Steve’s help in any other situations.
Ok so I said this would be a bit disjointed… I’ve just come across a note about the swarms of fishing boats on the few days before arrival in China, I’ve looked back through what I’ve written so far and cannot find anywhere to put my little bit of blurb on them so here it is as a little stand alone… We spent at least 3 or 4 days on the way into Qingdao ploughing through murky grey days and dark nights which were filled by hundreds of Chinese fishing boats. At night it was like Blackpool illuminations as swarms of boats surrounded us as far as the eye could see. Our AIS screen was just covered in green dots and our vessel list was endless. It was common practice for us to monitor all boats that came up on our AIS screen, and as we are often in areas that don’t see much shipping, we would usually be days without seeing another boat. On the occasion that another boat came into range we would make sure that we stayed well clear of it, usually aiming for a 2 mile distance between us and it (normally a cargo ship). No such luck with these fishing boats as within our 2 mile clearance would have been about 30 boats all lit up like Christmas trees and coming our way out of curiosity. We started to hope for a 0.5 mile clearance and had someone in the nav station calling up if we were getting to close but even that was pointless as no sooner had they come on deck to tell us about one boat then the next boat would be within 0.3 of a mile before they could even get below. Luckily we missed them all and made it through fleet after fleet unscathed.
Phew almost there, are you keeping up or have you given up on my ramblings and gone for a coffee? I’ll never know so being a completer finisher I’ll plough on to the end. Here’s the last bit… Things that have made me smile so far this leg (I’m sure there will be more as this is our longest crossing, well let’s hope there are more anyway or else I’ll be wanting to jump ship before San Fran). My hats that keep me warm and dry on deck are also doing a good job of covering up dirty hair and, triple bonus, no one can see that I’m not a real blond under there as I’m in desperate need of a hairdressers. Usually I wash my hair on mother watch but this trip so far has been a bit too leany (technical term) and bouncy to do much other than a quick wet wipe here and there (nice!). Smile 2 is from adding a number of other hand drawn cartoon animals to the rope locker door where Triinnggs handmade chicken currently resides. Now he’ll tell you that it is a parrot (made for the equator crossing when he was dressed as Davie Jones complete with Christmas bauble earring) but all Goldilocks and I can do is laugh at ‘Charlie Chicken’ and give him some friends, currently Percy Pig, Moo Moo Coo and Nelly the Elephant (NB: proportions sizes animal to animal are not to scale!). We have a Tony Tiger from the Frosties box to add to the collection too, it just needs 5 minutes for one of us to cut him out and add him in. Finally smile 3 has come from Paul, Goldilocks and I have discovered that he and Katrina have a hippo and a polar bear at home. When Paul mentioned his concern that the polar bear had moved from the glass table at the front door, Goldilocks and I decided that the bear should be called Steve and a search party should be sent out to find him. We are worried that he may be in the back of the spare wardrobe so Katrina if you are reading this please let us know where Steve is and that he is ok.
Oh and one final thing, a quick assistant engineering update; whilst in the heads the other night diligently pumping after use, the little handle, that selects seawater into the bowl or contents out of the bowl, came off just as I was flushing – uh oh! Now at the start of this race I would have looked around in panic for Baz or Triinggg to come to the rescue, now though, with my new skills I was able to calmly search for the pin that holds it in place and replace it myself. Not only that but, on having found the pin and put it in place it once again came out and was this time not to be found (it’s only about 3mm long, it’s a miracle I found it first time in the middle of the night at watch changeover on a moving boat!). Yet again, no cause for panic, just a quick trip to the mate’s cabin and the plumbing spares kit to retrieve a very useful small keyring (it’s amazing the things that are handy on a boat) and voilà, job done, one fixed and working selector and an operational head in less than 5 minutes. Whatever next?
Finally (yes for real this time), I won’t bore you with why we are at the back of the pack again, yes partly it is due to us detouring for Alan’s safe removal from the boat but that is just part of the reason, it’s another one for sharing over a drink in the bar sometime. Anyway, got to go as I’m on mother and I’ve forgotten to turn the bread oven on – eek!, my loaf will have proved (I think that’s the term) but it definitely won’t be ready in time for lunch so crackers and noodles it’ll have to be – very Chinese!