|LEG 5, RACE 6||The Asia-Pacific Challenge|
|Start marina||Coral Sea Marina | Resort – Whitsundays, Australia|
|End marina||Subic Bay Yacht Club, Philippines – was supposed to be Sanya|
|Start date||20th January 2020|
|Days at sea||26 (predicted) | 26 (actual)|
|Distance||3800 (predicted) | 4403 nm – to Sanya|
|Max wind speed||41.9 knots|
|Typical clothes||Day – shorts and T-shirt, if that! |
Night – shorts and T-shirt.
|Wildlife||Dolphins and a lot of flying fish|
|Clipper writeup||ONE YEAR ON: THE SANYA TROPICAL PARADISE RACE|
|Race video||Race 6 action|
All change for team Zhuhai, as our new interim Skipper Wendy Tuck (Wendo) was drafted in to lead us from the Whitsundays, in Australia. I for one was very excited, with Wendo previously being the first female to win a round the world yacht race when she lifted the Clipper Round the World Race trophy in August 2018
Race 6 was supposed to be a 4,380 nautical mile race from the Whitsundays, Australia to Sanya, China. This race would begin with a sail though hydrographers passage to get out through the barrier reef, and an offshore Le Mans start (which are always good fun!). We’d then cross the equator and navigate the varied conditions through the Solomon Sea, into the Pacific Ocean and towards the first Chinese stopover (Sanya). Or so we thought when we set sail…..!
As is usual for these races, the scoring gate for this race would be the first opportunity to gain bonus points (for the first three teams to reach it). Set off the most direct Rhumb Line route, its always a debate at the time as to whether (or not) were in a good enough position to try for it.
After leaving Airlie Beach, Zhuhai and the rest of the Clipper fleet prepared to motor 153 nm through Hydrographers Passage (in extremely warm conditions), to RV at the Le Mans Race Start area 27 hours later (15:00 LT) – the east side of the Great Barrier Reef. As the fleet were unable to find enough wind for Race Start, the lead boat made the call to delay the start until the following morning, and so we all motored onwards for another 16 hours and throughout the night. It was pretty amazing, and so far not experienced by me, to see the whole fleet moving TOGETHER to our next waypoint. The nod finally came during my off m-watch that the race would begin at 07:00 LT, and was confirmed via radio not long after we were on deck at 06:00 – which meant it was finally time to get into race mode – RESULT!
For the Le Mans race start, as is the case for any good team, we’d already practiced which positions each crew member would take up. And so knowing exactly what one another was doing, and exactly which position we’d need to be lined up ready – we were ready to race into our respective actions: hoisting the headsails – and then trimming the sails in the fastest possible time.
The race began with a ten, four, and one minute countdown – at ten minutes we were notified that all boats should start to line up with the lead boat, and with only the main sail permitted to be hoisted. At four minutes all engines were cut, and from this point no crew member could venture ahead of the first coffee grinder, or boat ahead of the lead boat. With just one minute to go, all crew were poised in their racing order (we were actually stood like we were about to run a 100m sprint, except with crew in lines behind one another both on deck and in the pit), ready for action. We got off to a reasonable start, and as stipulated by the rules, maintained course along with the fleet for the first ten minutes after race start, before the cat and mouse games began and we were permitted to sail any course.
By Day 4, the good ship (yacht!) and Zhuhai crew were finding their feet. Our new Skipper (Wendo), was keen to understand what we’d been doing above and below deck, and so she could share her ideas and contribute small tweaks (where it made sense), to see if we could make us go faster. Amongst some of the changes, we implemented a new watch system – moving from a three and four hour system to a six and four hour system. Early days it proved a good switch, with the two and six hour watches being between 18:00 and 06:00, meaning we had our best chance of sleep when the day was at it’s the coolest (even if it really wasn’t that cool), and the four hour watches in the day – ordinarily this would be the other way round but works perfectly in these very hot conditions. We re-balanced weight throughout the boat – anything to optimise our speed. On the plus side, it also made our watches pass much faster as we were constantly on the move – from high to low side (and back again), depending on where we want the extra (human) weight relative to the conditions. High side when we’re heeled over, and low side when we’re in light conditions. We learned some new techniques for hoisting and dropping various sails/kites, again to increase the speed and precision of our evolution.
A few days in – it was extremely hot on deck and below. Whilst on-watch (which means on deck), the primary objective was to keep sheltered from the sun. The only time you’d really leave the shade would be to trim the sails or get to the helm – before retreating again.
Below deck wasn’t much better, but as sleep is pretty critical, it’s something you just have to get on with. Hot-bunking brought a whole new meaning to the word on this leg. Even with my little USB fan doing it’s best to get some air to me, I’m not sure I’ve ever sweat so much when moving so little in my whole life.
The very worst job however was ‘mother watch’ standing next to the cooker and trying to make food for the whole crew, not to mention the countless demands for tea and coffee – even in this heat!!
With an Aussie skipper onboard, there was no chance we’d let Australia Day pass us by without celebrating it. Wendo started the day by opening her own tattoo parlour in the saloon so all crew ended up with matching Oz tattoos. Wendo’s quote “a team that inks together stays together.”
The best part of 10 days into the race, and as we crossed the equator we were visited by King Neptune for the “Crossing the Line” ceremony – an age old Navy tradition. It dates back almost 400 years, and involves sailors participating in a ceremony once they have crossed the “line,” (equator). Back in the olden days, Crossing the Line ceremonies were designed to prove a Sailor’s worth as a mariner, and marked their transformation from a “Pollywog” a seaman who had not yet crossed the equator, to a “Shellback” an official child of the mythological ancient Roman God of the Sea, King Neptune.
It’s quite the sailing club to become a shellback, of which we already had a few from the earlier race crossing of the equator in Leg 1. Which meant only those new crew (me included) would be due to face Neptune’s Court as a Pollywog. I literally had no idea what to expect… Soon after court was called, and all crew summoned on deck, James (our AQP) appeared in perhaps one of his most fetching outfits – King Neptune! All soon to be shellbacks had their ‘crimes’ read out one by one, and which featured the following:
Simon’s was for his poor time keeping and the fact that he’s a fitness instructor that smokes.
Mine was for (apparently!!) being smarter than the skipper – almost unforgivable. [Im pretty sure I only got this ‘sin’ for helping the skipper out with some IT issues in the nav station 🤓]
Melody’s was for constantly forgetting stuff and the ability to spread her clothes to every corner of the boat,
Eve’s crime was for drug dealing (she was our medic).
Phil, our Zhuhai Ambassador for his heroic tan lines, his feet looked like those fab ice lollies you get back home.
Magnus’s crime was for attempting a yoga pose before getting into bed and falling over
Chris Ball, for being the outrageously energetic director of our entry in the media competition, despite the fact we’ve made it abundantly clear to all the media types that have come on Zhuhai – media is not our priority
Each crew member knelt before ‘Neptune’ and had their sins cleansed, with a mixture of porridge, hot chocolate powder and who knows what else – as shellbacks. YUCK!!
Following the lulls of the equator crossing and now heading north with only small patches of wind at any one point, it was roughly day 14 that we were notified that we wouldn’t be going to Sanya – due to some virus that was growing in severity and temporarily preventing our route to China! Instead we were headed to Subic Bay, Philippines.
Never a dull moment sailing – over the next few days we were inundated by a number of flying fish who had all apparently decided that landing on our deck and freaking out the crew, could be fun. The fish typically bounced around the deck until a crew member was able to catch them and set them free. Either that, and for those who evaded capture, would unfortunately eventually run out of air. In these cases, we would only find them a day or so later when they really started to smell. Often trapped in the lines or wedged under something immovable.
When not saving flying fish, we found ourselves in close company with Dare To Lead – with our courses almost identical. It was always good motivation to be able to see one of your rival teams. At this point we were in the NE trade winds and being carried up to the Luzon strait near the top end of the Philippines.
We had a couple of days of actually being able to see Dare To Lead, and with both of us chasing the rest of the pack – praying for a windhole or anything to slow them down. It was wishful thinking!
By day 16, the wind had really begun to pick up. This by far is my favourite kind of sailing. It meant you tended to get a bit wet as the water crashed over the deck, but that’s all part of the fun. My fun was soon cut short though, when I realised it was my day to be ‘mother’! A day in the galley was not what I wanted to be doing, especially when I could hear all of the head sail changes, fast action, and crew excitement above me on deck.
The day was made only slightly amusing by a small random blue fish making it’s way through the galley hatch (own up – who forgot to shut it?!??) and landing on the galley side while Simon and I were prepping food! We quickly returned the fish to the sea, and got back to cooking!
As we made our way around the top of the Philippines, and 500nm to go to race finish, our racing motivation Dare to Lead went into Stealth Mode. We spent the next 24 hours doing our best to keep up the pressure, and wondering where they would pop back onto the AIS. It likely wasn’t a coincidence that this was nearing the start of the Dell Latitude Rugged Ocean Sprint, positioned just off the north-eastern coast of the Philippines (between 130°E and 125°E). Again, as normal, the first three teams with the shortest elapsed time between the two designated positions received three, two and one bonus point respectively. Congratulations to Ha Long Bay, Viet Nam, WTC Logistics and Dare To Lead on your scoring gate points.
After the recent fun of good sailing winds it wasn’t a surprise that as we headed down the west side of the Philippines, we were destined for yet another wind hole! It came and thankfully passed after a few hours. Unfortunately by this point Dare To Lead and Seattle had caught some good wind pockets and pulled ahead and away from us. Only one thing left to do – soak up the world, enjoy the last few days of sailing, and take in the stunning sunsets.
We also encountered a fisherman in his skiff, who came worryingly close to us trying to sell his day’s catch. At one point we were considering all putting our bright yellow foulies on as a show of strength and to warn him away from coming any closer. Though the smokers on our crew had other ideas, and were more excited at the prospect of him being able to sell their next fix – turns out he was all out of cigarettes!
The most memorable moments of the final day or so into Subic was unfortunately the amount of rubbish we had to dodge in the sea, and the vast number of fishing skiffs (with next to no lighting) that we needed to be on constant look out for – and avoid!
But…. We eventually we made it into Subic Bay where we were greeted by some familiar faces…