Demolition Watch Reporting for Duty

AKA – The night we almost broke the boat (or Level 2 Training Diary – Part 4)!

After making sure that Dobie was securely fastened to the back of the boat, we left Cowes, with the sun shining and blue skies… it was also bitterly cold and windy, the recurring theme for the week it seems. On the short trip back to Gosport, we practised sailing with the storm trysail in place of our main sail – a small, but pretty effective sail, especially downwind. It was pretty hard to rig onto the mast when we were in the marina; it will be so much more difficult to do for real at sea when the conditions were so bad that you needed to sail with it.

De Lage Landen, who were training alongside us, had also had to make the trip back to Gosport for a replacement main sail after they had ripped theirs the day before. We were both going to make the trip out west towards Weymouth later that day; we would be a few hours ahead of them. As my watch weren’t quick enough to come up with a name for ourselves, ‘Frogs Legs’ watch chose to stand the first watch (18h00-21h00) whilst the ‘Flying Dutchmen’ watch went down below. The rest of the night went something like this:

18h00-20h30 – Once out of my wet weather gear, I tried to get some sleep / rest. It was pretty difficult as the boat was bouncing over and through the waves. Lying in my sleeping bag, with the lee-cloth tied up as tightly as I could to my bunk, there wasn’t much chance of getting any sleep over the next few hours. It was a bit like trying to sleep on a bucking broncho – and if it wasn’t the boat moving on the waves, it was the crew on deck carrying out manoeuvres, very inconsiderate! At least I was warm, and relatively dry in my sleeping bag.

20h30-21h00 – Got up, and into my wet gear. Took a look at the track we had covered over the past 3 hours. Not good – with the strong tides against we were now 4 miles behind where we had been 3 hours ago, having sailed about 18 miles (and done a couple of doughnuts) Managed to get a cup of coffee before going on deck.

21h00-00h00 – Rough weather helming; waves crashing over the deck. Did manage to eat some dinner (meatballs and rice) and have a hot drink. Lots of tankers around, travelling at high speeds, so we need to keep tacking to avoid getting too close. Went down below at 23h30 to wake the next watch up. Got thrown from one side of the boat to the other at the bottom of the companionway steps; landed on face, skinned knees and hands. Hmmm… nobody noticed… picked myself up and went back up on deck. On coming watch crew not impressed seeing the same lighthouse from roughly the same distance that they had last seen 3 hours ago – and we had sailed about 20 miles! Deja vu for us all 🙂

00h00-02h30 – Back in the bunk. Lovely warm sleeping bag. Still no sleep forthcoming. Waves bigger, so the crashes were louder and more violent than before. You can feel the yacht climb up the face of a wave and then there is a feeling of weightlessness, as you lift off the bunk… all the while knowing that in moments to come the yacht will crash down again, and shortly after you will hit your bunk with a thump and a shudder.

02h30-03h00 – Took longer to get gear back on… so no hot drink before going up on deck. Arrive on deck to be told that our watch picked up a lobster pot earlier in the evening which had wrapped the propeller and was caught around the rudder so we would not be able to use the engine until the pot was removed. Going to wait until first light and see if we can dislodge it by doing a few manoeuvres, otherwise De Lage Landen will have to tow us into Weymouth.

03h00-06h00 – The wind had picked up over that past few hours, we were seeing wind speeds of 40 knots with gusts over 50 knots. The waves were even bigger and more and more were crashing over the deck. At least it wasn’t raining so there were a few stars to sail by. Then it was my turn to helm – the feeling of responsibility you have for your fellow crew when you are helming at night is huge, especially when the weather is rough.

Undertaking any manoeuvre in these conditions are hard – when we tacked the boat, someone who was meant to ease the sheet managed to let go of it, so we now had a rope thrashing around out of control which was dangerous to any crew on deck who got in the way. Everyone else had to go up onto the foredeck and brave the crashing waves and pitching boat to try and solve the problem. I am now alone, helming a 68 foot yacht in huge waves and high winds with all other crew members either in their bunks or on the foredeck – bit of a change from a 14 foot Laser dinghy. There are a few prayers being said that everyone up on deck is clipped on to the boat – our man overboard practises from the past few days are more than enough to remind me that recovering anybody in these seas will be difficult.

And then the traveller, which is holding the main sail and boom in the correct position slips; nobody is around to help me and the banging alerts the Skipper who comes up on deck to help out. I am pretty sure he is not too impressed with our antics! The sheet can’t be sorted so the staysail is dropped to the deck – we can sort the issue out later or in the morning. We are now approaching a sandbank which we would normally be fine to sail over, but with the huge swell we are experiencing it is not so clear cut so we tack to be certain.

Our watch leader is on the helm – we are sat on deck recovering from the past half hour. ‘Can someone go down below and get the Skipper?’ he calmly asks us. ‘Sure, no problem’ I reply; ‘What is the problem?’. ‘We have lost the steering’ is the response I heard. My first thoughts – Yikes. This isn’t good. We are hurtling towards France at a good rate of knots towing a lobster pot, with a fouled propeller, and now have no steering. But then you quickly realise that it isn’t such a big deal, we have an emergency steering system that we can rig up which is exactly what happens before the Skipper and the first mate go down into the lazarette to try and fix the main steering. 20 minutes later, we have the main steering back working but as a precaution leave the emergency steering system in place. That is enough havoc and mayhem for one watch – luckily our 3 hours are up and the next watch can take over.

06h00-08h00 – Back in my sleeping bag, I’m pretty sure that I won’t be getting much sleep over the next few hours as there is a fair bit of adrenaline flowing through my system. At least I can’t be responsible for breaking anything else for the next few hours.

08h00-12h00 – At about 8am I get back up – I am not great at lying in bed when I am awake, something I need to work harder on 🙂 I dress and go back up on deck; the wind has dropped a bit by now and as it is daylight, the other watch can sort the sail out that we had dropped in the night and I help them hoist it once more. The rest of my watch comes on deck and we set about tacking the boat. Easing the sheets during the tack, it comes free once more but we are able to get it back under control quickly. Then someone notices that the staysail that we have just hoisted is almost completely torn from one side to the other, probably as a result of the flying sheet making contact with it; that is another thing we have to add to the growing list of breakages, so we quickly drop the sail to the deck once more.

It seems that we weren’t the only boat having problems – at some point in the night De Lage Landen had torn their mainsail again so were returning to Gosport. We were still towing the lobster pot we had collected at the start of the evening and now we had lost our tow into port; Portland Coastguard decides to launch the Weymouth Lifeboat to give us a tow into Weymouth Harbour.

An hour or so after the lifeboat arrived, we are alongside the quay in the harbour, arranging for a diver to come and remove the lobster pot that had hitched a ride with us overnight.

And as if we hadn’t had enough excitement for the day, our Skipper decided that it was a perfect time for each of us to climb the mast! I hadn’t climbed it before, but it was definitely worth the effort to see the views of Weymouth you got from there! Don’t worry – I didn’t break anything whilst I was up there…

Additional photography from crew on the Weymouth Lifeboat.

Related Images:

Clipper Race And De Lage Landen Unite Again

The Clipper Race and De Lage Landen have signed a new partnership deal – so there will soon be a new Clipper 70 sporting the distinctive De Lage Landen branding. Whilst there has been talk about the possibility of a GREAT Britain sponsored yacht, as far as I am aware, De Lage Landen are the first company to announce that they will be sponsoring one of the Clipper Yachts in the Clipper 13-14 Round the World Yacht Race.

You might recall, I did my Level 1 training on the current De Lage Landen Clipper 68 yacht; as the first Clipper yacht I sailed on, I have a certain affinity with the yacht. Plus… the colour goes perfectly with my eyes 🙂

Additional information about the sponsorship deal from the Clipper Race website:

The Clipper 13-14 Race will set off from the UK in August on an eight-leg journey around the globe

Following a hugely successful partnership in the Clipper 11-12 Round the World Yacht Race, De Lage Landen a global provider of leasing and finance solutions, has announced that it will continue the relationship, sponsoring a yacht entry in the 2013-14 edition of the world’s longest yacht race.

De Lage Landen, a subsidiary of Rabobank, invested in the Clipper 11-12 Race to launch a worldwide employee engagement programme following a period of global growth through acquisitions, with the yacht acting as a catalyst to unite their 5,400 members (employees) worldwide. Eight specially selected DLL Crew Ambassadors raced to their international offices on almost every continent.

The project flourished with De Lage Landen members coming together to celebrate the Clipper Race at stopovers around the world, including New York and the Dutch port of Den Helder. Positive reactions from customers across the globe were equally overwhelming.

De Lage Landen will use their involvement in the 2013-14 edition of the Clipper Race to build on that external success using the global reach of the Clipper Race to unify the business and engage with customers in key markets while building on their previous internal engagement initiative through a popular nomination process for staff to take part in the race, giving 16 specially selected members the chance to compete as a tag team in this extraordinary around the world adventure.

The partnership also keeps De Lage Landen at the forefront of the Clipper Race’s own growing success story. The 2013-14 edition of the race will see the introduction of the new fleet of Clipper 70 ocean racing yachts with De Lage Landen Embraces the World one of an expanded fleet of twelve boats and around 650 crew taking part in the 40,000-mile race.

Jan Kusters, Executive Board Member and Managing Director Europe and AsiaPac of De Lage Landen said: “This is the second time De Lage Landen will participate in the Clipper Race. We used the last edition to strengthen the connection between more than 5000 members of our worldwide organisation. We also brought customers aboard to witness this. This combination was a tremendous success. Therefore we are going to build further on this initiative, bringing our networking organisation to the next level.”

Set up by legendary yachtsman Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, the Clipper Race is the only event of its kind for people from all walks of life, regardless of previous sailing experience, offering ordinary people the chance to achieve something extraordinary sailing around the world.

Sir Robin said: “We are delighted to welcome De Lage Landen back on board as an official yacht sponsor in the race. De Lage Landen’s vision to use the race to unite their members around the globe proved to be a great success and their renewed sponsorship demonstrates the power of the race to meet our partners’ objectives. With the introduction of the new fleet of Clipper 70s we hope there will be even greater opportunities for our partners and we know De Lage Landen will be at the forefront of the growing success of our event.”

De Lage Landen also benefited from significant global media coverage during the race with the brand reaching a cumulative global news media audience of over 120 million people and receiving a 30 per cent share of all Clipper 11-12 Race media coverage. De Lage Landen Embraces the World also featured prominently in the Clipper Race television documentary, Against The Tide, which is broadcast in 126 countries worldwide and reaches a cumulative audience of more than half a billion people.

via Clipper Race – Clipper Race And De Lage Landen Unite Again In New Partnership Deal.

Level 1 Training Diary – Part 3

Andrew and Anne on Night WatchAt some point over the four hours between going off-watch to try to get some sleep and being woken with the news that it was really cold and wet on deck and to dress accordingly, the other watch had reached our furthest upwind destination for the trip and had turned the yacht around. This makes a huge difference to life on board the yacht. Imagine standing in your kitchen, trying to cook a meal for ten hungry people. Now imagine that the floor is sloping to a 35 degree angle and keeps rising and falling four to five metres at a time – and still having to cook that meal. I love upwind sailing when I am on deck – but life down below is hard work, even getting in and out of your bunk is a physical challenge. Once the yacht is sailing with the wind behind it, everything levels off and becomes much calmer and flatter.

Suitably bundled in many layers, we arrived back up on deck at 1am to torrential rain. The On deck at nightothers hadn’t been joking then when they said it was wet! Luckily after about an hour, the rain stopped, the clouds cleared and we were treated to an amazing display in the night sky. There were so many stars and a rising moon and I even saw a shooting star. As the yacht was flatter now, I could helm the boat and spent a fantastic hour trying to surf down waves towards the moon.

Sailing at night is so different to sailing during the day. There are so many more challenges, like trying to figure out what the lights on ships mean, which way they are moving and even if they are on a collision course with you or not. Sometimes it felt like we were driving down the motorway at night, doing 80 miles an hour, with the headlights off! But in some ways it is calmer to daytime sailing; there are usually fewer people on deck as anybody off watch tends to be sleeping which means you get a chance to talk to the other members of your watch without a lot of distractions.

For the next four hours, we helmed in pairs; the wind was quite gusty and when the gusts hit it was hard to hold the yacht on course without some additional help. I was helming with Andrew and Freddy have a morning coffeeGus, another dinghy sailor, so between the two of us we spent our two hours trying to get a 68 foot, 32 tonne boat to surf down the waves… well it is just like a big Laser afterall, with a few extra sails! As we finished our watch at 5am, we were just approaching The Needles off the Isle of Wight, setting the Skipper and his watch up for a fantastic sunrise and sail up The Solent towards Cowes. I only have photographic evidence that it was a lovely sunrise… I was in my bunk trying to get warm and a bit of sleep.

Four hours pass very quickly; luckily we had a Skipper who liked to cook and we crawled out of the Crew Ghetto just before 9am to the smell of baking bread. There was even a bake-off between the Skipper and Tanja, a Croatian whose mother had insisted she learn to make bread at an early age; only once a girl can make bread is she ready to get married! We were treated to two loaves of freshly baked bread for breakfast on deck in the sunshine – both of which disappeared very quickly, giving us fuel for the activities the Skipper had planned for us that day!

The plan for the evening was to stay in East Cowes Marina – so the Skipper decided that we could stay up all day and do some more drills as we were going to get a good nights Laurent on the coffee grindersleep that evening. That meant a day of tacking, gybing, reefing and man overboard drills, followed by a Le Mans start upwind race with Visit Finland. In a Le Mans start, the yachts line up next to each other with their mainsails hoisted and their headsails hanked on and ready to go. On each of the yachts the crew wait behind the big winch on deck called the coffee grinder for the start signal, at which point they race forward to hoist the headsails and trim them as quickly as possible. The crew who manages to do this the quickest will get a lead over the yacht whose crew are slower. Unfortunately that crew was us due to a combination of poor planning and equipment problems.

Dinghy RowOnce we had tied up in East Cowes Marina, it was time to get the dinghy out and pump it up for our next challenge. As part of our Level 1 training, we were being assessed for the RYA Competant Crew certificate which meant that we each had to demonstrate that we could row a dinghy. With a safety line attached to our life jackets, we each took it in turns to row between the pontoons; on completion we were given the code to the shower block and allowed to go and get a warm shower.

After an evening in the pub and a good nights sleep, we were ready for our last day at sea. De Lage Landen during a sailing evolutionUnfortunately there was not much wind to play with, but that didn’t stop the Skippers of our yacht and Visit Finland setting up a number of races between the two crews. As we had lost the race the day before to Visit Finland, we were told in no uncertain terms that we would not be losing the races today – luckily we managed to better organise ourselves as a crew which meant we won the majority of the races (and the promise of a drink from the Skipper that evening!)

For the final hour at sea, we put the spinnaker up again – and this time I got to helm under spinnaker which was an amazing experience. Visit Finland were doing mast climbs just behind our yacht, and one of their crew managed to get a number of fantastic pictures of me helming De Lage Landen under spinnaker from the top of the mast. I love the reflection of the sails in this picture – not bad for a Laser sailor who is used to only having one sail to deal with!

Helming under spinnaker
De Lage Landen under spinnaker in The Solent

Level 1 Training Diary – Part 2

On the second evening of training, I had an encounter with ‘The ankle breaker’. This is a raised area of the deck which people use to brace themselves against when the boat is heeled over to one side going upwind. It is even painted fluorescent orange to deter people from standing on it. But after a long day of sailing, I was getting ready to start packing the spinnaker away, when I stepped down onto the deck and ended up in a heap by the entrance to the companionway. I may have uttered a few choice words at this point. Luckily for me, I only sprained my ankle (but with some oh-so-impressive bruising :)) but as the plans for the next three days were to sail offshore, I needed to be sure that I could at least move around the yacht and be a useful member of the crew.

The following morning, after a discussion with the Skipper, I decided that I would carry on with the training week. Even though we had only spent two days together as a crew, everyone had gelled as a group immediately and I couldn’t imagine leaving the yacht at this point and returning in a few months time to start training again.

We set off from Gosport heading out to the English Channel around the Isle of Wight. The plan was to sail upwind for two days towards Dartmouth, then turn around and come back downwind. Before we had set sail, we had been divided into watches. This means that the crew is split in half and works four hours on watch, four hours off watch all day and all night. As there were only eight of us on board a yacht that is usually raced with eighteen crew, this was going to be a tough challenge, especially as the weather forecast was predicting strong winds which mean lumpy seas and the probability that at least some of the crew would succomb to sea-sickness pretty quickly.

After a few hours out at sea, there were a few people starting to look a bit green, so they were given tasks like helming to keep them occupied. I have always been lucky that I am not affected by sea-sickness – however I took some painkillers for my ankle that didn’t agree with me and I ended up in a bunk for the best part of twelve hours. Sis – I know how you feel now! The bunk I was put in was right underneath the cockpit, next to the navigation station, which was great because I could hear everything that was going on on deck, even the Croatian singing when Tanja was on the helm! It was also interesting to hear the difference in the sound that the water made as it swept past the hull, depending on who was on the helm at the time.

After about ten hours, I started to feel better and was about to go back up on deck when someone hit a wave and I got bounced back into the bunk. As I lay there for a few minutes to recover from another bruise, the Skipper took the helm and before I knew it I had fallen asleep, only to be woken as we entered Weymouth harbour for the night. The Skippers of both our yacht and Visit Finland who were sailing in proximity to us had decided that we didn’t need learn how to be sea-sick or how to deal with exhaustion as we would get enough experience of that along the way and with half of each crew down with sea-sickness, it was better for everyone to get a few hours of sleep and we would continue on our journey up wind in the morning. After a cup of tea on deck, with the obligatory chocolate and biscuits, it was time to get some sleep.

We awoke the following morning to brilliant sunshine; it was great to see Weymouth harbour and the Nothe Fort which had recently played a big part in the Olympic and Paralympic sailing events. We followed Visit Finland out of the harbour and continued on our journey up wind.

Our route took us out into the open seas which were building all the time. We passed Portland Bill lighthouse and then went out across Lyme Bay, heading for Dartmouth. In the space of one four hour watch, my watch had to take a reef out of the main sail, put in reef one, then reef two, then reef three, tack the boat and then take a reef out. With only four crew (including one with a dodgy ankle) and the first mate as watch leader it was hard work, especially as the boat was bouncing around on the waves. We gladly handed the yacht over to the other watch once our time was up and went below to try and get some sleep.

Level 1 Training Diary – Part 1

On Friday 7th September 2012, I set off to Gosport to undertake my Level 1 training for the Clipper Round the World Yacht race. I had heard earlier in the week that I was to do my training on De Lage Landen CV8, one of the 68 foot Clipper yachts that had just returned from its last circumnavigation at the end of July. Another Level 1 crew as also on Visit Finland CV11 and we would be spending the majority of the week sailing in close proximity to each other.

Arriving at the yacht on Friday evening, I was joined by seven other crew members. Our skipper for the week was Jan Ridd, who had skippered the Cape Breton Island Clipper Yacht around the world in the 09-10 race; he was joined by Simon Layton as first mate. With eight novice crew members on a yacht that has a racing crew of approximately eighteen, these two were going to have their work cut out for them!

The evening started with a tour of the yacht, including instructions on how to work the heads and the really important bit of information about which taps had freshwater and which ones were salt water. I obviously missed this vital piece of information but learned the lesson the hard way when I found myself brushing my teeth with saltwater mixed with diesel later that night. Lovely.

Next item on the agenda was a safety briefing, including how to fit life jackets which were to be worn at all times on deck, use of safety lines, how to move around the yacht at sea (keep to the high side) and the location of and how to launch the life rafts if required. Other hazards on deck were pointed out to us, including a raised area on the cockpit floor known as ‘The Ankle Breaker’, which will unfortunately feature again later in the post. There was a lot of really important information to take in; luckily it was revisited over the next few days so I think some of it started to sink in (No pun intended :))

Once we had had complete information overload, it was time for dinner (Slow roast pork – yum) and drinks in the local pub.

Saturday started early with instruction on how to use the winches safely and how put the head sails on and hoist all sails. The sheer weight of each of the sails is phenomenal; it was hard enough to move them around the yacht whilst we were still tied up alongside the pontoon. It will be so much harder to do the same thing whilst bouncing around at sea. We also covered how to tack the yacht (change direction where the front of the yacht is turned through the wind so that the wind moves from one side of the yacht to the other), how to put a reef in the main sail (make it smaller if it gets windy) and the procedures to follow in case of a man overboard. After a quick lunch, followed by engine checks, it was time to sail out into the Solent and put some of the theory into practise. With wind speeds of around 10-12 knots, it was perfect weather for our first time out at sea.

Once out in the Solent, it was time to hoist the main sail and the two head sails. With a mast height of 81 feet, getting each of the sails to the top of the mast took a huge amount of effort. We then went through a series of tacks, putting reefs into the sail, shaking them back out and man overboard drills. We returned to the marina about 8pm, at which point it was time to tidy away the sails, make dinner, get showered and go for a drink if you could summon up the energy!

We spent all of Sunday at sea in the Solent and venturing a bit further afield around the Isle of Wight and consolidating the knowledge we had gained the previous day as well as learning how to gybe the yacht (similar to tacking, except the stern of the yacht passes through the wind). As there were 8 of us on board, and 8 jobs that needed doing during a tack, it was decided that we would do a series of 16 tacks – hard enough in a Laser dinghy, but so much more work on a 68 foot yacht! At any point, there could be a man overboard drill so we had to keep one eye out for that too. Whilst I was helming, the wind dropped to about 5 knots – not much to push a 40 tonne yacht through the water. Luckily, with my dinghy sailing experience, I managed to keep the boat moving through the water – after all, this was just a big dinghy with a few extra sails :). As we had completed all of our tacks, the skipper decided it was a perfect time to put up one of the new asymmetric spinnakers to see what they were like – we were warned that this would add an extra 45 minutes to the day as it would take that long to pack it away afterwards but there were no complaints!

The day finished with the stowing of all sails once we were back alongside the pontoon – at which point I got a lesson in how hard ‘The Ankle Breaker’ could bite…