Level 4 – Happy Skipper, Happy CLIPPER!

I turned up to Gosport Marina with as much excitement and nervousness as I had for all of my previous Clipper training weeks. We started the week gently, with an 08:00 sign in, and my first task to go and pick up more of my new Musto kit – water bottle, crew shorts, and UV top, as well as smock and foulies. Once the rest of the crew were also fully kitted up, and onboard CV28 (The Zhuhai Team yacht) we were greeted by Nick (Skipper) and ushered to a bunk relative to our watch team (green, blue or red – I was blue).

Happy Skipper…

Once I had my bunk identified, it wasn’t long before I was back up on deck and working with a couple of other crew members to hank on the staysail and yankee, ready for later. It was nice to get straight to work and re-familiarise myself with a Clipper ‘70, and not any old ‘70, but our ‘70!

The names of the crew by watch colour and number
The tasks that were assigned by watch colour and number

At 10:30 we had our first safety debrief of the week (first above, and then below deck), where for some this was their first time on a Clipper ’70. Surprisingly I remembered more than I thought I would have from my Level 3 training, and after a spot of lunch (crisps and packet sarnies), we readied to slip lines for 14:00. Slipping lines was an interesting experience, as all 11 yachts in the fleet slipped at fixed intervals (ready or not). All 11 teams would be out on the water at the same time this week, and for the final collective Level 4 training before race start on 1st Sept. Insta Clipper video – leaving the Marina.

The first activity on the Level 4 syllabus was towing practice with The Qingdao Team, and amusingly the practice of passing items between yachts. Qingdao decided to send us 3 tins of tuna in a small blow-up dinghy, which I volunteered to go and collect. All in all a straight forward task, much the same as a MOB drill. I dressed myself in the dry suit, harness and helmet, and had the opportunity to practice my one handed bowline as I secured the staysail halyard to myself. I was then lowered down the side of the yacht, down to water level, and from that point, able to step inside the small blow-up dinghy and retrieve the tins. We decided to return the food compliment by sending a tin of peas back to Qingdao. Mission complete!

Qingdao sending their rescue swimmer (exactly as I had done) down to the dinghy to retrieve their peas.

The next task was to get the spinal board out (once we had a willing volunteer). It was surprisingly easy to get him attached in the right way, and to carry him from the foredeck to below deck. Thankfully we didn’t drop our patient, and he made a full recovery (from his imaginary life threatening injuries) once we’d made him some food! Hopefully this is another one of those safety things we’ll never actually have to put to use in real life!

After an afternoon of playing around in The Solent, at 19:00, and thankfully with the Coast Guard already having been notified, our next task was to complete a full fleet MOB drill using just the AIS (Automatic Identification System) for the first time. It was quite something seeing all of 11 x Clipper yacht AIS spring up on the helming nav screen. We retrieved our deployed AIS device in pretty good time, and then made our way out into the English Channel for some evening sailing.

At 22:30 we finally entered our 3 watch system. The watch system consisted of 4 hour shifts of being ON watch, and then being OFF watch, and then being in a 4 hour STANDBY watch. Apart from between 12:00 and 16:00, where the watches would be 2 hours long. Sounds complicated, but once we got into the swing of things, it was actually pretty good – the standby watch meant that if not required either on deck or doing a designated duty, feasibly you could get some extra rest.

This chart illustrated when we would be on watch, when we would be on standby, and when we be off.

As I was on blue watch, we had missed our ‘OFF’ (sleeping) watch, and so I plowed on through into our STANDBY and thankfully this meant I was already on deck for the 03:40 middle of the night/morning MOB drill! As it turns out, we were pretty good at retrieving our MOB in the dark. By time we had everything back on board and packed away, this had taken us into our ON watch, and eventually through to 08:00.

Come 08:00, I couldn’t get to my bunk quick enough. I stayed there until 12:00, when we were then summoned back on deck to support a sail change (the Yankee).

We spent the morning sailing in the Channel and putting into practice all of the upwind evolution practice from previous levels – Yankee 1 – to Yankee 2, Reefing in and out, and tacking like it was going out of fashion… We also took some time to again setup the emergency steering (tiller) using 2 handy billys.

Setting up emergency steering was surprisingly simple, and even at an angle!

Next piece of action was a tethered (attached) MOB. He was on the low side, and given I was pretty close (to the scene of the crime), yelled “tethered man over board – low side”. This was enough information to have the helm gybe (turn in the other direction through the wind), so that our MOB was then attached on the high side. From this point we (me and 2 other crew) were able to drag Bob over the safety line and guard wire, back on board. Success, yes, however on the case for perfection and in order to be prepared for the scenario when the mob might be a little too heavy, he was thrown back over board again (still tethered), and we practiced using the Spinnaker halyard as a hoist to bring him back on board. This will be a crucial skill to remember as it’s potentially quicker, and more effective to get someone back over board given that you don’t have to even attach to the individual, but just to the tether itself.

This would be the day that I would finally get some rest, and even managed to sleep for a full 3 hours in a row. It’s surprising how keeping active, and just grabbing a few hours sleep on the go really does keep you going. I think the hours I put in at work, and the sometimes ridiculously early start for that first plane out of Heathrow to somewhere in Europe has been great training for my ability to push on through.

The night time sailing near France was just a series of lights. It was quite impressive how the fishing pots lit up an otherwise pitch black night. My watch spent the 4 hours keeping watch, and ready to jump into action at a moment’s notice. Once our uneventful watch was complete, I went straight to my bunk. The beauty of my toothpaste tablets also means it doesn’t take long to freshen my mouth a little before bed.

Standby watch came around within what felt like just an hour or so (it was actually 4 hours). Even though we all ended up on deck (rather than getting any extra rest), getting the Spinnaker ready, it was great to see it flying in much stronger winds than we’d had the week so far.

Next up would inevitably be a MOB drill, and this time with a spinnaker – happy Skipper, happy Clipper. We managed to complete the whole evolution while ensuring Bob was no more than half a mile away at any time. This, while again not perfect, was a much improved effort from our last MOB drill.

The rest of the standby watch passed pretty quickly, and before we knew it we were back on watch and on deck. We had a nice amount of wind, which while great for sailing was causing havoc with the halyards getting caught on the spreaders. At least it passed some time while we fixed this and tried to prevent it from happening again. This was the watch for fixing stuff, when next thing to happen was a hank breaking on staysail – a bit of a pain – given we were trying to get it ready for hoist. After a quick repair, we were able to hoist without any further issue.

The wind continued into our off watch and made for an interesting experience trying to sleep. Particularly with the bell in the galley/communal area constantly ringing due to being heeled over and bouncing through the waves.

An example of one of my crew mates attempting to stand upright when the boat was heeled over.

On Tuesday, we were back up on deck for the 8-12 watch. This would turn out to be another watch for learning, first with a few tacks – further perfecting our technique each time. A nice watch for sailing was only broken up by a fire drill. The alarm sounded, and everyone on board mustered on deck as quickly as possible. I think we did pretty well. Helped that my watch was already on deck, and therefore didn’t take too much effort. As we do with all drills and evolutions, we spent some time after the fact, de-briefing on what had gone well and what we could do better next time. A key learning was to use the Nav Station hatch as a means of escape if need be – we don’t always have to walk to the galley and come up the companionway, particularly if the (imaginary) fire is in the galley!

With our off watch approaching the skipper informed us that we’d instead be doing some practice race starts with CV21. Due to local constraints and conditions it is not always possible to create a standard start line. To enable the Clipper Race fleet to begin racing in these circumstances, the Le Mans (rolling) Start was invented and has been successfully used in all previous races.

After a couple of practice race starts, came time for a practice race. We were joined by Qingdao and Seattle. On completion of the third practice race start we had a mini- race down to Cowes (a yellow buoy), and back (to a red buoy). After some hairy (and exciting!!!) moments we were able to take the lead, …. and more importantly keep it! We (just) edged Qingdao over the (imaginary) line, for first place.

The buoy marking our imaginary finish line!

After a couple of hours in race-mode, it was time to pack the yacht to sleep and anchor up near Isle of Wight, alongside a number of other yachts on their Level 4. Dropping anchor means we would temporarily drop out of our watch system, and into an anchor watch for the night. I was allocated the 02:00-03:00 slot. Per previous anchor watches, all I had to do was be up on deck to monitor the distance we had moved, and fill in the log book at the end of the watch. Thankfully, and particularly as it just started to rain, I was back in my dry warm bunk by 03:10.

On Tuesday we anchored up not too far from Cowes, and alongside a number of the other Clipper Yachts.
My Marine Traffic app showed just how many yachts were anchored nearby.

The second to last day of our training would be practice for a parade of sail, and for a photo shoot that would happen the following week (race start). Following that, we’d get int the final race of the week, and this time, with the whole fleet. We started nice and early readying ourselves and our yacht for the events ahead. We had already been warned that it would be a long day, and that we should grab snacks when we could, as dinner would happen only when all hands were not needed on deck.

Practice for the photoshoot the following week.
Proud to have our team host flag onboard

In order to prepare for the race, and as we had to be tethered, it was important to

Lined up – race mode….

The race itself, and once we’d got going was very exciting. We made a great start, and with the rest of the fleet following behind as we raced towards the first markers – a buoy, and a fort, before rounding down the north side of the Isle of Wight to our next marker. The wind and tide combined meant that we got a real taste of what I suspect the proper race will be like – heeled at 40 degrees, sea rushing past your feet on the low side, and unfortunately a few instances of flogging sheets. It all became very real when hearing over the radio, that a fellow crew member on GoToBermuda had fallen badly, and was in need of the coast guard – my first (and I hope last) Clipper “mayday”. Thankfully we later learned that she didn’t have life threatening injuries!

We reached late afternoon, and started to find our stride in the top third of the fleet. On rounding the final marker at the other end of the Isle of Wight, we made our way towards France. The evening was a lot less frantic than the afternoon had been, and with the sun drawing in, we steadied ourselves, held our course, and with some extra trimming of the sails, made some small gains on the couple of yachts ahead of us. My watch were due on until midnight, so after a spot of dinner, settled myself on deck, ready to jump into action if called upon.

We woke from our sleep, and with support needed during the standby watch, made our way on deck to help out with a sail change. Following which, I was able to get a bit more rest. When it came to being back on watch, and on day break, we were in the middle of the pack, having made a choice to chase where we thought might be wind. It was a very tranquil day – not ideal conditions for a sailing race!!

Working hard – trying to make the yacht go faster.

The last day on the water was a long one, and with not much we could do other than to trim the sails as much as possible, and be very very patient! It was a long day….! We finally got over the finish line, and back into the Solent, pushed hard my Qingdao for the last couple of miles, who were hot on our tail. I think we finished 4th or 5th. Not too bad, and by this time, all I wanted was to put the engine on and get back to the marina as quickly as possible.

Given the yachts would all now be stripped of their sails and ropes, putting her to bed had a slightly different feel this time round. We completely removed the mainsail, and placed all of the other sails into their respective bags. The weather was starting to turn (it was raining), and so we were pretty speedy knowing that all that would be waiting was a shower and a pint!!

A well deserved pint at the end of the week, at the debrief facility.
This video beautifully sums up our Level 4 week. Video courtesy of ‘Sea Wolf’

Having finally completed all of my training, I’ve had to have a serious word with myself on a number of topics and occasions. The main areas I’ve struggled with at varying times are:

– living in a very confined space! My bunk (with the lee cloth up) appears to be the only place I can go to get some alone time.

⁃ living with people who are less clean/tidy. With space a premium, and only a storage locker (or 2 if you’re lucky), keeping your items tidied away neatly becomes a bit of an art, and a necessity for moving around and use the communal areas.

⁃ living/trying to sleep at an angle (40 degrees). The toughest part was trying to get into my top bunk whilst heeled over. The effort to both get in, and then stay in my bunk, was monumental.

⁃ and one of my pet peeves, living with noisy eaters and with no where to escape!

Some other things I’ve also done since my last blog entry, and my final training:

I’ve tried on and bought my drysuit. I have a feeling that during a very wet and cold Pacific crossing, I might just be living in this thing. Much to my amusement, my mum was very confused by this piece of kit, she had expected me to be trying on a wetsuit when I went for the fitting?!?! 🙉🙈

Right arm, head, left arm, and then zip – that’s the order you put this contraption on. Getting it off needs to follow the same sequence in reverse. I’m sure it will become more intuitive over time!

I’ve also been to TC (Team Coordinator), Fundraising and Satellite Comms training on behalf of The Zhuhai Team. Amusingly, yes I am TC the TC for The Zhuhai Team!

We now know all of the teams and Skippers:

  • CV20 Imagine Your Korea (Team Mike)
  • CV21 Go To Bermuda (Team Wavy)
  • CV22 Seattle (Team Ben)
  • CV23 WTC Logistics (Team Mark)
  • CV25 Punta del Este (Team Jeronimo)
  • CV26 Ha Long Bay, Viet Nam (Team Josh)
  • CV27 Dare To Lead (Team Guy)
  • CV28 Zhuhai (Team Nick)
  • CV29 Visit Sanya, China (Team Seumas)
  • CV30 Qingdao (Team Chris)
  • CV31 Unicef (Team Ian)

Since writing and then posting this update, the race has now begun, and the first race completed. We’d been warned that race viewer would become addictive, but I really didn’t realise just how addictive. It’s now featured in most rooms of my house (some how or another), and a constant open tab in my work browser. I challenge anyone to be able to resist it: https://www.clipperroundtheworld.com/race/standings

As you will know from my previous blogs, we are still aiming to raise money for UNICEF. Please dig deep and show your appreciation too – as they really are a fantastic charity. You can do so via my JustGiving page here: https://www.justgiving.com/TC-1 This will also feed into our overall Team Zhuhai fund raising efforts, and into the overall Clipper Crew.

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