We are currently hurtling (well plodding at 5 knots) under spinnaker down the East coast of Scotland. We’re level with Edinburgh and all wishing we could call in to say hello. Our send off from Derry/Londonderry was the most amazing yet, people lined the waterside for miles in the spitting rain to send us on our way. There must have been hundreds and hundreds of supporters waving and cheering as we paraded up and down towards the Peace Bridge before setting off. We had the most amazing welcome in Legenderry, the friendliness and interest was second to none, we couldn’t have asked for more. People on boats, people on the quayside, people in flat windows, people on visiting warships, it was just incredible. Quite different from our support in China where, I wonder how much of it was genuine interest!

It’s been a great race so far (not least because, having been given antibiotics for my chest infection, I am now feeling much better). We have been chasing the leading pack all the way and are only 13 miles behind the leaders. For me this has been an amazing race. I have always wanted to sail the Western Isles and round the North coast of Scotland and here I am (ok so doing it cruising style, stopping to enjoy the beaches and coves, visit the distilleries and eat lots of seafood may still be on the list but this is a close second). As we sailed passed Lewis (much longer than I thought it was and much further north!) the other evening we had the pleasure of waving to Yorkshire as they tacked behind us and then DLL. It was quite something to have both of them so close and in such a short space of time. That put us into 4th for a bit but DLL took a brave move to follow the coastline into the Pentland Firth which gave them better speed than us and put us back in 5th place. We have been playing cat and mouse with them round the oil rigs of the North Sea ever since.

As I write it’s 2255 and still light outside. I love the longest day of the year (21st June when we were once again in the Atlantic) but this year is likely to be the only year where, after the 21st June the days have continued to get longer for us. We’ve continued to head north, 59 degrees north to be precise, the most northerly any boat has been in the Clipper Round The World Race before, as we rounded the tip of Scotland. In fact, the most northerly I have ever been! It was the most spectacular sailing coming round the north of Scotland. Up to that point we had been beating upwind yet again (more seasickness for some :-() but as we skirted the spectacular coast of the Orkneys we hoisted our heavy weight spinnaker and began enjoying the beauty and peacefulness of downwind sailing. A fitting way to pass the giant cliffs and hundreds of seabirds up there. I even saw a Puffin fishing, a personal highlight for me as I’ve done a bit of Puffin following round the UK but with no joy (only cuddly toy versions so far!) until now. It makes me laugh to see their wings flapping ten-to-the-dozen to keep their little fat bodies in the air. I’ve also had fun listening to the shipping forecasts delivered in a lovely lilting Scottish accent. All in all, the Scottish coastline has definitely been one of my biggest highlights.

It would be unfair of me not to share the latest tit bits of boat gossip with you all as I know that, much as you are following the race, you are also following the people so here goes: Jussie has celebrated her 6 year anniversary of her double lung transplant. Goldilocks has made a new addition to the crew by bringing along his very own ‘Purple Beastie’ (a lovely purple dragon that his gran gave him in Derry. The dragon is now sitting in the nav station with Derek the tea monkey whilst Hector resides looking out from the bottom of the companion way.) Keith has become cheery and we are all wondering what can possibly be wrong with him. Scarlet is very excited at the prospect of a visit to Amsterdam. He and Shaggy have booked a town house for a few days and are threatening to assist Georg in his search for a girlfriend!!! Webbo is working out a plan for how to take us all home as he claims he will miss us all (I’m sure his family will miss sail repair a bit less!) Baz and Trinngg are considering how they can maintain their 20 minute chats (who would have thought a watch-leader handover could take so long?) 3 times a day from a distance. Bernie will be glad to be rid of all of us and our ailments, as she has become our surrogate mother whenever we are hurt or feeling ill and she’s run out of space in her ‘the crew have done something stupid to themselves’ book. Paul has started planning his Clipper lunches on land and I’m sure has selected the wine already. Martyn is making the most of his last few days at sea and contemplating who he can climb the Old Man of Hoy with as his next adventure. Karen will be delighted not to have to make pizza for the entire crew ever again and is looking forward to getting over her cold. And as for me, I look forward to, the not too distant future, when I will never again have to stick my head in a bilge at 2am at an angle of 35 degrees and pull out 15 buckets of water from under my bunk! Of course I will miss all the great things, the fresh air all day, every day, the scenery, the crew, the wildlife and the feeling of adventure. I’m also looking forward to seeing how I’ve changed and what lessons I’ve learnt which I’m sure will only become apparent when I get home.

The Clipper Round the World Race, which stretches over 40,000 nautical miles – the world’s longest sailing race, is almost over. We have had wind speeds from 0 to 55 knots, wave heights from 0 to 12 meters (probably even more), boat speed from 0 to 26 knots, we have covered anything from 4 to 80 miles in 6 hours. During our voyage we have visited all continents (except Antarctica), been to 11 countries (Netherlands still to go) and we have even been able to lift the Purple Beastie 20 meters above sea level as we went through the Panama canal. So with the adventure drawing to a close I’m sure I’ll do a lot more reflecting and bore you with my findings over the next few blogs!

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We have had the most amazing welcome in Northern Ireland.  The people could not have been more friendly and helpful.  They have done so much for us and organised so much around our race it is amazing.  Tonight we are off to the first of 2 live concerts in the park before we sail again on Saturday.  Daddykibs made it out to visit and we have had a lovely time catching up.  It’s been lovely to see him and to be looked after (Thanks for dinner and the cinema tickets).

I eventually gave in and went to the doctor as I couldn’t stop coughing and have been told that I have a chest infection and that I’ve strained my intercorstal muscles with all the coughing so I’ve got antibiotics and pain killers, hopefully I’ll be on the mend soon.

Being back in the UK has given us all a bit of an opportunity to start arranging things for getting home.  I’ve changed back all my foreign currency, got contact lenses from the optician, unblocked my stopped credit card (thanks M&S!), phoned the dentist etc so life is beginning to pick up again for after the race.  I’m not quite sure what it will be like when we do eventually finish but I am looking forwards to finding out.  Got to run as I’m late (again!) to meet Daddykins for breakfast.

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So near, yet so far…

Well our race to Derry is drawing to a close. We have 2 days left to run and are in 5th place, pushing for 4th. It’s been a tough race. Upwind all the way so we’ve been at a 35 degree angle for 2 weeks now and it gets a bit wearing after a while. In the last few days we’ve seen winds of up to 36 apparent across the deck, and although not the strongest winds or the biggest sea state that we’ve experienced, in the last stages of the race when we are all tired, it makes for very hard going. Life outside at the moment is grey, damp, cold and windy. Below deck is not much different as the boat is quite wet. My foulies are wet and cold when I put them on and I’m not getting enough sleep due to a horrible cold that has me coughing every time I lie down. Roll on the shores of Derry, a warm bed, a pint and perhaps some good old fish and chips. It will be odd to be sailing into a country where the local language is English, the currency sterling, the local delicacy stew and potatoes. So near yet so far for us as we will shortly leave there to sail away again to Den Helder before coming back to the UK and our finish in Southampton. I am aware that I sound a bit doom and gloom but I have most definitely had enough. It is time to get off and get back to work, friends, family dry land home comforts, greenery etc. I am sure once I’m over the cold and have had a few days rest in Derry that I’ll be looking forward to the last 2 short races but right now there is nothing I’d like more than to curl up in a big comfy bed and go to sleep with no pressure of having to get up and do anything. Fingers crossed for 4th place.

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Today is the longest day (21st June). It’s my favourite day of the year so I wasn’t best pleased when I woke this morning at 5.30am to thick clinging fog with water dripping from everything. We have been expecting the effect of tropical storm Chris for a couple of days now so our storm sails have been serviced and we are like coiled springs ready to reef or change sails at any moment. So far, so good though, the sea is calm and we are trucking along under the Yankee 1 with a full main in 21 knots of apparent breeze. [so that was this morning and it’s now into the wee small hours of the following day, Chris has now reached hurricane status but is most likely going to miss us – yeah]. The weather gods must have been smiling on us as at around 9am (when I returned to the deck from having bilged out the small swimming pool that is under my bunk – caused by some leak in our fresh water system!) the sun was shining in a cloudless sky. We have spent the rest of the day sailing in perfect winds, going in the right direction, in glorious sunshine. Our day was made even better by the beautiful sunset at 9.15pm and the joy of it still being daylight when we came off watch at 10pm. It’s now 3.15am in the morning of the following day, we are being treated to a clear starry night. The Milkyway is the only cloud in the sky surrounded by millions of stars. Fingers crossed for a beautiful sunrise just before we go to bed (not until I’ve emptied the swimming pool again though!). As Terry Wogan would say, ‘the nights are drawing in now so make the most of it.’

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It’s definitely time to finish. Although I do have times that make me smile every day, I am very ready to get back to ‘normal’ life. It’s less about flushing toilets and readily available glasses of wine than you might think. But more about a number of other things:- being in control of what happens to me i.e. when it is wet and windy I can choose to stay indoors, I do not need to be at the mercy of the weather. Not having to get up at 2am to ‘go to work’ for 4 hours. The luxury of walking from bed to toilet in the middle of the night without a gymnastics routine over/round/under/clinging onto things/other people and being able to do it in whatever attire (or not!) I choose. On the subject of going to the loo – being able to go at a moments notice (unless stuck in a traffic jam on the M6!) and only having to lift a skirt or drop some trousers, not take 10 full minutes removing layer upon layer of cold, wet clothes. Also the delight of a toilet that is completely flat, not at 35 degrees. [I’ve just re-read this, there’s a lot about toilets isn’t there!]. Oh the pleasure of time to myself, not worrying about who can see my wobbly bits as I’m getting changed, who will be in the way when I want to get into the kitchen, that when I want to sit and read, no one will talk to me. The joy of knowing that the tin opener/toilet cleaner/sharp knife/electrical tape/gaffer tape etc will still be where I left it and it will not involve a 20 minute hunt for them and if it did I will not be getting soaking wet from water pouring through a hatch or clinging on for dear life as I look. Oh the joy of turning on a light to find the thing that I’ve lost in the dark and not having to worry about waking anyone up. Knowing that there will not be 5 or 6 different opinions on the best time or way to make soup/clean the toilet (toilets again!)/store the food etc. being able to pick and choose who I spend time with and choose not to spend time with others. Southampton and the 22nd of July cannot come quick enough. Family, Friends, Greenery, Driving and even work are all things I’m looking forward to. I am lucky, I love working for Mars and have learnt to appreciate even more over this year how great a business it is, how much I love my line of work and what great people I work with. It’s been eye opening racing alongside people from all walks of life and I’m happy to say that the people I work with at Mars are really the cream of the crop. I’ve also realised that I am an average sailor. I cannot help but bench mark myself against Rich/Triinnggg/Daisy; he started sailing the same as me, from a base of zero and in this year he has become watch leader. He has picked everything up so quickly and not only sails from a technical perspective but from intuition now as well. I am no where near as good and without a gargantuan effort, I never will be, so if I’m honest I’m a bit bored now because I’ve stopped putting in the effort and am satisfied with average (I know that I will have sailed more miles than most other people who own boats etc and yes, compared to Jo Bloggs who potters around once a month on nice sunny days in the summer I may have a bit more knowledge and skill but my bench mark here is high and I’m nowhere near). That’s one of the reasons I am so keen to get back to work. I am looking forward to adding real value again (something that is so important to me, feeling that in some small way, I do something that makes a difference for people) and to doing what I do best every day, also, working with great people as opposed to my days now which consist of hoping for sunshine and wildlife to ease the boredom (I’ve just re-read this and it sounds a bit doom and gloom aboard for me, don’t worry I still laugh every day and am positive and optimistic most of the time, after all there are some people here to have great fun with). If the race had ended in Panama it would have been lovely having survived the Pacific then having had a bit of sunny downwind sailing to ensure that I was re-energised about sailing again and not ready never to set foot aboard a boat again. Of course there have been many highlights and some real benefits to this year. The simplicity of eat, sleep, sail has for the most part been a pleasure and made for a very easy life with very few decisions or complexities. I’ve visited many places in the world in the last year and am looking forward to going back to some of them. I’ve learnt a lot more about how strong my values are and how I react when they are constantly challenged. I’ve discovered how different people can be, and how, when people have similar values amazing friendships are created. I’ve realised how much I know about some stuff (leadership/management/motivation – again, a bit of benchmarking went on here!) and how little I know about other stuff (wind angles/engineering). I am sure there will be lots more when I have a chance to step back from it all and get everything in perspective but right now I am looking forward very much to getting home. Not long now – woo hoo.

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Uh Oh…

‘I’ve hit a whale’. Well actually it was more ‘Oh shit, what was that?’ Last night on our 10am – 2pm watch, I’d just taken the helm in thick fog (We are crossing the Grand Banks, where Perfect Storm was filmed!) when I hit something squidgy. The poor fellow must have taken quite a blow as 40 tonnes of the Purple Beastie bumping into you cannot be pleasant. I suspect it is the whale equivalent to being run over by a bus. It was a bit of a shock as the bow hit him and then he slid down the side of the boat. All in all it was quite a strange evening. The thick, damp fog clung to everything. We could hear a fog horn in the distance and hear some chattering around us. Strangely, no source could be found for the chattering – no birds or dolphins in sight but a definite constant clicking going on. Scarlet joined in the noise and much to our surprise whatever was out there (birds, ghost dolphins?) responded. I’m on mother today, writing this at 30 degrees and trying not to slip off the seat as I write. I have clean hair and am just about to go and get on with lunch. It’s still foggy upstairs and has been trying to snow so I’m glad I’m down below. So far this race has been quite full on, especially for the new leggers. We left Halifax being first over the line, but not for long as Goldcoast took us at the first mark. After the mark it was spinnakers up and a lovely downwind run for a couple of hours. It was an amazing sight to be at the head of the pack and see the others behind, all with their spinnakers up. Once we dropped the spinnakers for white sails it was upwind racing all the way. We had up to 30 knots of apparent wind, Yankee 3 and 2 reefs in the main although the sea state wasn’t too lumpy. It was a bit of a baptism of fire for the leggers who had joined in New York. The race to Halifax had been downwind all the way, dry, sunny, calm and short. This was a bit of a change and it certainly took its toll on them. We were still in the 3 watch system which left us a bit short handed. Mainly round the worlders trying to sail, cook, clean and bilge with only 3 of us left standing on a watch was quite a challenge. Standby watch became an ‘on-deck’ watch as well so we were spending 8 hours on deck in the cold in between running down to do the bilges, make lunch, check the engine etc. Thankfully we have now reverted back to the 2 watch system and the weather has abated slightly. Most leggers are now feeling back to normal and are enjoying it much more. The other disadvantage with the 3 watch system was that no one really owned the galley or the cleaning for the day so it all got a bit slap dash and frustrating. There was no set meal time and cooking lunch 3 times created chaos along with not being able to start a job and complete it (you’d never guess that I was a completer finisher!). For example, Keith would start lunch and serve half the crew then I’d come into the galley when he went on deck and take over serving twice more then clearing up, I’d then do a bit of prep for dinner then someone else would take over and so on – not ideal, and a top tip – a baked bean pan heated and cooled 3 times does not make for easy cleaning! It is great to be on the way home. I’m looking forward to getting to Derry and seeing Daddykins although I could happily have spent longer in Halifax; it is beautiful, green, scenic, peaceful and a world away from the hustle and bustle of New York, definitely somewhere I’d like to go back to. Off to make lunch now, more in a bit.

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Best Result Yet

4th place and an amazing finish. I came on deck about an hour before we crossed the line to find Singapore right next to us. It is so incredible to think that after 500 miles of racing that we should be so close. To make matters even more tense the fog descended and we were left trying to second guess when they were going to tack. To cross the line we had to tack over then tack back but if course we wanted to do it in such a way that we gained the advantage. Eventually the fog lifted and we could see not only Singapore but New York and Geraldton on our starboard side. This has been the best race finish. It was so exciting to battle it out for 4th place. We finished 30 seconds ahead of Singapore who were only a few seconds ahead of Geraldton. A great finish to a lovely dry downwind short race. The next one across the Atlantic will be a bit if a shock to some if our leggers who have enjoyed the luxury of sunshine and calm but I’m sure once they are used to crashing waves, a lean of 35 degrees and bouncing bunks, they’ll love it!

Last night we all attended the prize giving at the Royal Nova Scotia Yacht Squadron. People there took great delight in our team kilts which went down a storm when we took to the dancefloor for The Proclaimers ‘500 Miles’. Justin (the assistant race director) has specifically requested that we remain polite, respectful and not too outrageously drunk as it was a Royal Yacht Squadron, I’m not sure what he would have made of us encouraging the Commodore onto the dancefloor then unbuttoning his shirt and taking off his tie – he didn’t seem to mind though! It would have been unkind not to share our kilts with the rest of Halifax so we headed into town, more dancing and more live music. The hen do we bumped into got a bit more than they bargained for when the bride became surrounded by 8 kilted men! So a great race, a very exciting finish and a good night out. Just warming up for Derry!

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