Mary Ann’s Blog

Mary-Ann is a freelance journalist who has joined us for this leg. She is writing for the Independent, Zest and Getaway. Her writing is much more eloquent than mine so I thought you’d like her descriptions of what it’s like at the moment. “WAVE!” the roar from the Helmsman cuts through the roar of wind and sea. A heart-stop, and then BAM! tonnes of raw Pacific powering over, around, under us. Primeval instinct curls my fingers into a vice around the webbing safety line behind me, we cling to each other, brace and breath-hold. A boiling tumult sweeps across the decks and surges into the ocean behind, the helmsman scrambles back to his feet and brings the Clipper 68′ racing yacht back on course. A quick shout around to confirm everyone is ok…and then the six-hour deck shift continues as normal. We’ve been navigating through a relatively intense low pressure system, bashing and slamming upwind into the vertiginous peaks, and slewing down the craters and troughs of a wild, rough Pacific. Conditions on deck are cold, wet, exhausting. The crew members experienced enough to helm safely in these conditions face hours of gruelling, physical strain to maintain the boat’s course. The rest of us on deck are alert to changes in the sound or feel of the boat, indicating that a sail, a line or a piece of rigging has reached its threshold and is about to fail. There are no other ships to look out for, no lights, no GPS plots on the digital charts – absolutely no-one else is here, save for a few albatross, surfing on the 50 knot gusts. I have never seen the sea as grand, as relentless, as it has been for the past 36 hours. It’s an awful beauty that most people will never see, I am one of the few. I’m surviving another vicious episode of seasickness, though, which if I’m honest, is tipping me towards ‘survive the challenge’, rather than ‘enjoy the challenge’. Below decks offers no respite – moving from one side of the boat to the other involves scaling a 30 degree slope, hanging from one hand-hold to the next. Getting into your bunk, your trousers, the toilet, is both comical and dangerously acrobatic. The mantra ‘one hand for the boat, one hand for yourself’ comes into its own. If you don’t hold on, you’ll find yourself hurtling face-first towards something that will crack your teeth, your ribs, your skull, or all three. I heard that one of the other boats in the fleet now has a tally of forty broken ribs since the start of the race seven months ago. These boats can hurt you in many and varied ways. This is the reality of racing across the North Pacific in winter. Boat and crew are put to the test – resilience, endurance and focus are the characteristics of a good sailing crew on a long-distance race like this – and at 6,000 miles, this is the longest and arguably most challenging leg in the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race. What might be theoretically a downwind course (so smoother and faster), is rendered anything but, when intense weather systems come ripping across the thousand-odd miles from land. In a sailing boat, you make the best of the weather you’re given. On Edinburgh Inspiring Capital, we’re pushing hard to preserve the boat and keep everyone safe and injury-free, but also continue our assault on the leaderboard. From a lowly 9th place, we’re fighting now to keep 7th, and improve as we cover the 3,200 miles still to race to San Francisco. We’ll soon move out of this weather system into the edges of a high pressure area – with manageable conditions – 30 knot winds, rather than 50 knot gusts; a more consistent sea-state, rather than the tumult of mountainous peaks and troughs we’ve been battling through until now. The daily team meeting got heated for the first time today – matters of safety protocol and timekeeping – the unforgiving conditions are sending us into a high pressure area in more ways than one.” http://www.maryannochota.com

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