The Playing Around team at the Finish on Sunday, September 5Warning: unedited!

Thank you to those who followed the progress of yacht Playing Around over the past two weeks.
It’s been a hell of a ride ranging from an initial blast up the Channel and North Sea to doldrums and a Force 9 gale.
Between four hour shifts on deck, through night and day, we squeezed into narrow bunks stacked up against each other in our increasingly damp if not dank sleeping bags.
The days when all our clothes and boots were dry were cherished – as were those days, usually after 4 to 5 days, when we could change our base layers and have a wet wipe bunk bath.
We were unfortunate enough to miss a number of tidal gates, which meant on one occasion a particularly gruelling upwind fight up to Muckle Flugga – the northern most point of the course around Britain and Ireland.
We lived on boil in the bag and dehydrated meals, looked forward to crisp days (every other day we got a bag of crisps) and saved our day’s treats for the darkest hours of the night shifts.
Porridge, a little poo pooed on the first day, became a warm treat every other morning.
Those of you who read the blogs probably know more than I do about the overall race as we concentrated on racing our yacht on our shifts – off watch we tried to catch some sleep, sometimes not an easy feat as the boat crashed off waves onto the sea and bodies clunked about on deck changing sails, tacking or putting reefs in.
After my first night in a real bed back home – complete with waking up to feeling like the room was swaying – I’d happily say I would do it all again.
Not just for watching the beautiful Irish coast from offshore, sighting pods of dolphins following and skipping around our boat, seeing bright phosphorescence sparkling in the water as we carved through sea creating surf and watching the magnificent moon turn through its phases against starlit nights.
But also for the nature of existence aboard. We were 10 people squeezed into a 40ft boat relying on and looked after each other and surviving with what we had with us – limited clothes and food and a galley tilting at sometimes more than 45 degrees one way or the other.
We saw sunsets and sunrises and dealt with the wind and sea state conditions nature threw at us, relishing shortbread treats every four days.
The girls on the boat sat and laughed about the description of the heads, the name for loos on a boat, as a ride at Alton Towers.
Think of one of the fastest and most juddery rides and then think of trying to go to the loo on it with three layers of clothes to get through. Add to that little to hold on to and stabilise yourself and the fear of dropping the loo roll into the water (if you can call it that) swilling around your sea boots. Wet wipes and anti-bac wipes became intimate friends.
A defining night was when we suffered a force 9 gale.
Coming off watch at 10pm we knew weather was on its way. We’d changed down to a number 3 sail and put a reef in so the boat was not over powered.
But by 1pm the boat was being blown and thrown around by up to 45kt winds and a very rough sea state.
Those off watch laid in bed wondering how on earth the rigging was coping with the immense thrashing we were feeling shaking through ever inch of the boat.
Those on watch were sent downstairs at 1pm deemed less of a risk holed up safe inside the boat than on deck – despite all being fully geared up in foulies and lifejacket and being hooked to the deck with tethers.
We were literally falling off the tops of waves and crashing back onto the surface of the sea and onto the next wave with loud bangs that shook the entire rigging as the sea washed over the boat.
It felt like our yacht was being punched violently in the side.
Those sent down to their bunks told us who were already holed up that it was not as bad as it sounded, although the concern of one crew member and the fact that everyone but those who were essential on deck belied a situation more serious than we had been in as a crew before.
By daybreak the conditions were still bad, but felt like they had subsided. One of the core crew on deck – the skipper – came down for a rest. Shattered he laid down on a pile of sails still in his wet foulies and life jacket, so he was ready to go up after a nap or as and when he was needed.
I covered him with a blanket to try and keep in any warmth he was generating and although he felt making hot drinks would be a bridge too far, I got the kettle on.
I started sending hot drinks out on deck and broke into our week two banana rations to give the two watch leaders still on deck to add to the chocolate rations they had been wading through.
After a break the skipper woke up, had a hot drink and went back out to relieve one of the watch leaders.
He, likewise, crashed and was covered in a blanket.
One of the watch leaders described the boat as a nuclear-powered baked bean can.
Obscenely, despite all, the sun was now shining. Gradually a sea state described as looking like blocks of flats rising up behind the wheel subsided. Perversely, in less than 12 hours later we were virtually at a stand still in doldrums.
It took a good 12 hours for us to recover and get back into our shifts.
I found, after four days, any signs of sea sickness I had went. I have suffered, even when taking sea sick pills, but I’d appeared to get my sea legs. Which meant I was able to stay up and keep the storm watch watered and fed.
That was also the start of me being mother. I started to make sure key crew were fed and watered, organised most of the meals and started making us porridge. Everyone needed all the calories and energy intake they could get and we had not been good at eating our cereal after running out of fresh milk after the first three days.
In the end we came third in our class after a neck and neck battle with British Soldier, another yacht in our class, who beat us by just 15 minutes on corrected time.
We had originally been ahead of the class winner, Encore, but went west going up the east coast – the only boat to take that tactic.
Despite pulling back a lot of ground afterwards, we lost time as a result and never managed to pull it all back due to hitting tidal gates at the wrong times.
My bruises are wearing off and I’m glad to be able to go to a non-Alton Towers style loo.
But I’ve already thrown my hat into the ring for another race in a couple of weekends across the Channel to Ostend.
Not long enough to get the sea legs running but back at sea none-the-less.


Did I mention sailing?

March 25, 2010

Working slightly later than anticipated but it’s not all bad.

And, as I’d inadvertantly started singing the theme tune to Pugwash, it made me realise that I hadn’t mentioned sailing, a big part of 2010 for me.

Up until last year the only boat I had ever been on was a ferry. Then, through work, I had the luck to be offered a berth on a 68ft Clipper yacht (cutter rigged) sailing from Hull to La Rochelle on the west coast of France. It was to do a feature on the start of the Clipper Round the World Race, a race seeing 10 identical yachts raced by non professional crew around the world.

Not only did I get to take part in that journey, in order to do so I had to do a week’s training on a 60ft clipper in the Solent. Somehow they also let me do another week of training after the trip, also in the Solent.

It has been a real eye opener. I’ve loved (virtually) every minute of it (setting aside the odd bout of sea sickness, but it’s all been worth it). Pretty much everyone I’ve met have been wonderful people.

And it has set me on a course (to steer, not compass!) to learn and sail more. Last month I got my Coastal Skipper theory ticket at Anglia Sea Ventures in Ipswich – great little sailing school if anyone is thinking of doing any training.

Then, at the weekend, I did the first weekend of two doing my Day Skipper practical in the  Solent. It was Firday to Monday aboard a 38ft Sigma called Inspiration. We had a lovely chap called John as our skipper/trainer, barrister Dominic George, myself and a chap called Chris who works for B&Q training. That’s the great thing about sailing – you get out on the water away from all your worries with a bunch of people from competely different backgrounds all on a level playing field enjoying the sea and company.

Seems like a long time ago now! Just had to inflict the Pugwash theme tune on what few colleagues are left here tonight!

My next sailling is back on the Solent in April – if I can’t get on a boat sooner!

Signing off,