Day 8: An anniversary at sea
The Skipper pops his head up through the hatch and says in a serious tone, “Tasha, can I see you in the nav station?”
“Uh oh,” someone mutters. Everyone in the cockpit spins around to look at me on the helm, wondering what I could possibly have done to provoke a private meeting with the skipper.
The look on my face says this is not a good time, as I’m preoccupied with the growing speck on the horizon that is the Mission Performance boat. We’ve been chipping away for two days at Mission’s second-place position, hoping to pass them any moment now. And having closed the gap from 11 miles to 3 miles in this four-hour watch, I am loth to give up the helm now.
“Now?” I ask before realizing Eric’s already disappeared. Concerned I might be in trouble, I hand over the helm to my watch leader and run after the skipper.
“You’ve had a call from PSP,” Eric says when I reach the nav station.
I smile, realizing Ryan must have received the card and gift I left with his crew to give him on September 16th, our wedding anniversary. Since it’s the first time in eight years we aren’t together for the occasion, I wanted to let him know I was thinking of him.
Eric dials the number for PSP Logistics on Clipper’s satellite phone, but when I get Ryan on the line, I only have a few minutes to blurt out a quick “How are you?” “Happy anniversary” and “I love you” before having to hang up. But knowing Ryan is out there on a boat nearby – though not too nearby (after all this is still a race) – comforts me.
As I make my way back up on deck, grinning, a pod of dolphins start jumping and playing in our bow wake, momentarily distracting the Henri Lloyd crew from the intense battle to chase down the Mission Performance boat, which we now refer to as “Mission Impossible.”
Day 9: Chasing Mission Impossible
When I wake up, it is to the news that we are just one mile behind Mission Performance, who are flying their A1 spinnaker. Which is great news because we still have our smaller A2 spinnaker up, and yet we’re moving slightly quicker. Which means we can go faster still.
At the front of the fleet, racing towards the scoring gate, is Derry-Londonderry-Doire in first place, Mission Performance behind them, and us in third. All three of us are battling it out to beat each other to the Clipper scoring gate, which will earn one of us three points for first place, two points for second and one point for third.
I’ve been helming non-stop for two hours with the crew continuously trimming the kite to squeeze every knot of speed out of our boat. Over the last two days we’ve slowly fought and clawed our way up to Mission’s stern until now we are close enough to see their entire crew on deck getting ready to “peel” their spinnaker, which means they’ll hoist their A2 kite without dropping the A1 first, cutting down on lost speed and ground. It’s a rather impressive maneuver to watch, so the crew is distracted momentarily as we watch the process unfold flawlessly.
Mission Performance must have hoped the wind would drop, forcing us to change our spinnaker to the A1 and causing us to lose some ground. But, contrary to their prediction, the wind picked up, forcing Mission to drop their lightweight spinnaker, putting us at an advantage.
As we pull up to Mission’s stern just off their starboard side, my watch comes to an end, leaving me both impressed and disappointed that the competition continues to keep us at bay.
But my time is up, so I start to hand over the helm to the starboard watch leader when the skipper steps in and asks, “Can I have a go?”
Focused and quiet, Eric’s determined stance at the helm tells me he badly wants Mission in his rearview mirror. So I take a seat on the rail with the rest of the crew to watch the ongoing drag race, controlled by the skipper. He shows us how to put up a fight from the helm as Mission drops lower and lower, trying to luff us up and steal our wind. Eric responds by steering the boat high and going windward of Mission Performance, foiling their plan.
After another four hours of match racing, Skipper Matt calls Eric on the VHF, congratulating him on catching up. But, according to Matt, they’re aiming for a different course, so it’s not in their interest to continue racing to the scoring gate.
But as Henri Lloyd moved up to second place, climbing further and further out of Mission’s reach, it doesn’t seem they have much choice but to settle for third.
Day 10: Flying F@#&!
Sea squalls in the tropics seem to be a daily occurrence after 4 pm, whipping up unpredictable winds and inking out the moon and stars with dark clouds, making sailing an almost blind experience.
As we fight to catch up with Derry-Londonderry-Doire before passing the scoring gate, the wind does her fickle thing and throws 25-knot curve balls at me, twirling the wind in mini circles, requiring me to spin the boat to stay with it. In a bizarre feat of helming, I find myself sailing downwind in the dark to a comfortable 140-degree wind angle only to feel the wind suddenly spin clockwise, causing me to throw the helm 40 degrees off the wind to avoid gybing, only to find the wind has now spun 40 degrees back in the opposite direction.
The unpredictable wind, however, makes for thrilling sailing. I get a surge of adrenalin every time the boat’s stern lifts on a wave, forcing me to finesse the wheel towards the middle with dozens of small wrist movements, keeping the rudder friction to a minimum. As I lessen the drag on the boat and let it glide freely, it careens down the wave, picking up speed until I’m surfing at 17 knots in 15 knots of wind.
“GRIND!” Maura, our chief trimmer, yells as the front of the spinnaker starts to collapse.
THWACK! Slap slap slap.
David pauses on the grinder and spins around to look at Maura.
“What?!” Maura shouts, visibly annoyed. “I didn’t tell you to stop!”
“Did you just throw something at me?” David asks, also looking annoyed.
“What the…what? No!”
David shines his headlamp on the cockpit floor, revealing a fluttering, scaled creature.
“Holy…I got hit with a flying fish!” David exclaims, picking up what looks like a winged sardine. A moment later, two more fish flop on the deck. THWACK! THWACK! Slap slap slap.
“EWWWW!” Maura yells, abandoning her role as spinnaker trimmer.
Everyone is now rolling on the deck, laughing hysterically. The boys pick up all the dead fish they can find – 11 and counting – and start throwing them at the girls, who are now squealing and threatening to throw someone overboard.
When the shock of being attacked by flying fish subsides, we get back to the task of pushing towards the scoring gate and catching Derry-Londonderry. And in doing so, we set a record for most miles covered in a 24-hour period in this race so far. We cover 270 miles with 70 miles of that distance covered in the last 6 hours, since we spotted Mission Performance on the horizon.
Though we are fast and furious, we aren’t quite fast enough to catch Derry-Londonderry-Doire in the end. When we reach the scoring gate, we are in second place, a mere 4 miles behind Derry.
But we have a long way to go still before we get to Rio. And there’s no telling how the Doldrums will shake up the fleet.
I just know when a boat appears on the horizon, we will have them in our cross hairs. And there will be blood…
Tasha and Ryan are competing in Legs 1 and 3 of the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race, which started September 1st, 2013 in London, UK. Tasha is competing on CV21 (the Henri Lloyd boat) with Skipper Eric Holden and Ryan is competing on CV28 (the PSP Logistics boat) with Skipper Chris Hollis. You can read more about the crew and the boats here at www.clipperroundtheworld.com/