Thought I’d do a post and add some pictures to share with you guys who have yet to have your adventure what life was like on board Qingdao!
I have to say, before I left I was worried about the trip due to the fact I had been in hospital with a kidney infection just 3 weeks before race start after my level 3. However, when people say that Clipper is the best thing they have ever done, they’re not lying.
My first piece of advice would be, PACK AND THEN UNPACK HALF EVERYTHING YOU HAVE AND THEN PACK AGAIN!! I promise you, you will not need all the kit you plan to take with you! Before we started the race Gareth made us take all our personal kit off and stand next to it on the dock. He then told us that we basically needed one small bag of clothes which included shorts, t-shirt x2/3, 1 pair of trousers, underwear and socks (obviously shorts and stuff will be different for cold legs). He made us narrow what we needed down and store the rest of it in ‘long term storage’ which ended up being mostly RTWers belongings. You might think because you have a cold leg you need more things such as mid layers and thermals, but I can tell you from experience, you will not change your clothes as much as you are planning to. You will wear your clothes until they smell so bad you cannot get away with wearing them any longer (or someone tells you that you smell). Once coming off watch, I found that I was normally so tired and so hot (and as the leg went on cold) that I couldn’t be bothered to look around for my dry bag with my clean clothes in, I just wanted to get into bed! And it’s the same before coming on watch! You will do anything to have that little bit longer in bed, and so will ultimately just put on the clothes you took off 4 hours before (unless they are of course wet)
My second piece of advice is about sea sickness…and it’s this…it will happen! Coming from someone who suffers from seasickness, I’m telling you that even if you’ve been on the water for 4 weeks, being down below on mother watch still pushes that sea sickness button. My advice is to just get on with it!! If you suffer from seasickness carry a plastic bag around with you (the head bin bags are perfect speaking from experience) and if you feel sick do not try and fight it! Be sick as you’ll feel so so much better, and then get on with whatever you were doing before! Obviously if you suffer badly don’t try doing a headsail change right after being sick but I found normally if I felt sick and just took a few minutes out to be sick, I could normally turn around and feel a thousand times better and get on with what I was doing before perfectly well.
My third piece of advice is MAKE SURE EVERYONE KNOWS YOU ARE ENGAGING THE SECOND WINCH (COFFEE GRINGER) IF YOU WANT TO USE IT! I was unfortunate enough to experience what happens when people don’t know you’re engaging coffee on the start line of Brest to Rio. I can tell you when the handle of that grinder smashes you in the face it REALLY REALLY HURTS! Not only did it really really hurt, it actually smashed half of one of my teeth out which sucked because now all my photos of my Clipper experience I have a gappy smile!
My fourth piece of advice is GO BACKWARDS DOWN THE STAIRS!!!!! I can also tell you from experience (I actually did this twice so even I didn’t learn the first time) that falling down the stairs also REALLY REALLY HURTS! Especially your back! After a couple days on board its easy to get lazy going up and down the steps but its not worth it, falling down really hurts!
Some people have asked me about Gareth and what he was like as a skipper. I know he doesn’t give much away in his skippers blogs and lots of people, including my parents, were annoyed at this but there’s method in the madness. Due to the fact that all boats get sent all the skippers reports every morning report, Gareth (who is very tactical in the way he sails) puts very little in his blogs about what we are actually doing sailing wise as he doesn’t want to give too much away. I think personally that he’s a fantastic skipper, and although when you first meet him, he comes across very serious and focused, once being on the boat with him for a couple of days he lets his guard down and was actually lots of fun. He’s very inclusive of the crew with tactical decisions, an example of this being when we were deciding whether we go West with the rest of the fleet towards America and tack down towards the doldrums giving us a good distance to finish the whole way or take a risk of going East and picking up more wind and being on a better angle when we tacked for Rio. He basically came up on deck during happy hour and said ‘Here’s the deal, if we risk it we either come first or last, what do you guys want to do?’ And with his help and expertise we decided that we should take the risk…and all I can say is that it paid off! All the boats which went to the East came in the top 3 (over the line not overall finish).
As for things such as happy hour and team morale and bonding, I think out of the whole fleet we were one of the teams which got on the best! Although, at times there were minor disagreements or fallings out, I think we worked so well as a team because we all had the same goal! To win (or get on that podium)! Gareth is very competitive and doesn’t hide the fact that he is in this race to win, and it’s hard not to get caught up in his excitement when we are doing well! I understand that not everyone is doing Clipper to win the race or even get a top 3 position but I don’t think that matters, the fact is that you are still part of the team and everyone respects that and allows you to get involved as much or as little as you like. But my advice would be if you’re not happy about something on your watch, speak up. Tell everyone over breakfast that you’d like to helm during this watch, or you’d like to learn how to read the GRIB files etc. You’ll be surprised how keen people will be to teach you stuff and to make sure you’re getting a go at everything.
I have to admit it wasn’t what I was expecting! My training had prepared me for gale force winds, freezing cold conditions and huge waves…what it didn’t prepare me for was the doldrums which is basically the complete opposite to everything I have just listed. Basically imagine water which is so still that you can see your own reflection in it, now imagine that by as far as you can see on all sides. Adding to that was the pure heat which you cannot escape from!! Clipper prepare you for the cold but they do not prepare you (or don’t prepare you enough) for the heat. It ended up being 20 crew members cramped into any shade on deck you could find for most of the days in the doldrums.
Another thing which Clipper does not prepare you for is how sore your bum is going to get!! Although at times it is very go, go go, I’m not going to lie that there is also a lot of sitting around! And sitting around for hours on end in damp clothes (everything is damp by the end even if you try drying at the back of the boat) your bum gets red and sore and numb! By the end of leg 1 I couldn’t sit down on deck without having to sit on my feet or a rope because the deck just gets too hard after a while! It’s also very hard to dry out so your bum just stays damp which sucks! So a warning, a dry bum means a non sore bum!
But overall, I had the most amazing adventure!! I saw some amazing wildlife which included whales (we nearly hit two humpbacks!) loads of dolphins, a leather back turtle and loads of birds! I got to swim in water 5000m deep in the doldrums and got to take Qingdao, our lovely little red boat, over the finish line in Rio’s harbour being looked over by Christ the Redeemer. Not being on the boat with the guys makes me sad every time I think about it (I have just started University and am trying to catch up with the work I have missed while I was away) and if I had the opportunity to carry on I would have taken it! It’s hard to describe the feeling of having completed an Ocean Race but I can say that it is hard to feel alive after it’s over! Enjoy every second of it! And take each day as it comes, if you start looking too far ahead you miss the new things that you’re experiencing everyday on the boat.
In the words of Sir Robin, the Clipper Race was the best thing I’ve done in my life…so far!
Olive (WOOHOO, for Lawrence)