The rest of our Atlantic crossing was relatively uneventful by comparison – well almost!!
Early morning (02.35 hours to be precise) on 1st October, we officially welcomed a new day of a new month by crossing into a new hemisphere. Yes, we crossed the equator into the Southern Hemisphere. Now we had to wait for the court of King Neptune to be summoned & see if the Pollywogs (those slimy sailors who had never sailed across the equator before) would be admitted to his court as newly respected Shellbacks (trusted sons & daughters of Neptune).
Unfortunately, King Neptune didn’t make an appearance personally, possibly because with so many Clipper yachts crossing the equator in such a short space of time, his diary must have been overwhelmed, but more likely because we offered a suitable sacrifice of 2 virgin maidens. Well, when I say virgin maidens, I’m talking about “Maria & Brion “- aka Mark & Brian, our intrepid Canadian duo, so really more like virgin on the ridiculous!! Either way, King Neptune was clearly appeased & we sailed on our to way toward South America, celebrating with Dawn’s chocolate brownie & whipped cream – when you’ve been at sea for a few weeks, it doesn’t take much to taste like a feast!!
Yet there was still a sting in the tail of our Atlantic adventure. The final week of our approach to Punta del Este in Uruguay had been plagued with wind holes – areas of light fickle winds which meant progress was frustratingly slow. We’d experienced the occasional heavy squall & the rapid change in weather they bring – heavy rain, very strong winds requiring equally rapid change in sail configuration, but none of that had prepared for a sustained South Atlantic storm. There had been a definite change in the weather generally during our last week – the temperature was colder, the skies greyer, less shorts, more thermals even the sleeping bag came out having been largely redundant for the previous couple of weeks. Despite all this the team was in good spirits. We were less than a week away from port – the end was in sight.
The 12th October was a significant day.
We were only a couple of days away from Punta del Este & had already caught sight of offshore oil rigs within the previous 24hours. I also knew that Nicki would be on her flight to South America & it wouldn’t be long before we would see each other again. It had been an incredible experience without doubt, but my diary entry for this day reveals my true feelings at the time – “knowing Nicki is on her way is a real lift. Desperate for hot shower, clean clothes, real food & a big hug with my soulmate”. And then it happened, the South Atlantic sting!!
We came on watch at 6pm & could already tell that the recent wind hole was well behind us. The skies were darkening, the swell was increasing & the wind was building. Ben was on the helm & suddenly shouted that the storm was approaching faster than expected! The yacht was overpowered with too much sail up despite having a reef already in the mainsail.
Whilst putting another reef in the mainsail the storm was suddenly upon us – driving rain, 360 degree lightening & hurricane force winds. We were surrounded by rising spray from the waves whisked up into the sky by the strong winds. It was like the scene from the Wizard of Oz when Dorothy gets caught in the tornado!! There was still too much foresail up & together with a couple of crew mates & Ineke, I went to the foredeck to secure the sail as it was dropped. Aside from Ben taking a late night swim earlier in the race, this was the single most scary time of the whole trip. The wind was intense & the yacht was rolling & lurching so much that you could only move along the deck on your hands & knees – it was too unstable to walk. Huge waves were breaking over the front of the boat, so powerful that at times I was washed down the deck, completely submerged, held secure only by my tether. Needless to say, the conditions were so severe & treacherous that it was not only impossible to drop & secure the sail, but was increasing dangerous for those of us trying. We all retreated to the cockpit although not before Kiwi John had been crushed by a wave against a metal forestay causing significant chest pain & bruising.
For the next few hours we literally held on for dear life.
Ben fought the storm from the helm, doing his best to keep the yacht upright but unable to prevent several near- broaches, where the yacht is so tilted that the mast & mainsail almost touches the water!! At last the conditions eased. The lightening was still visible, but not as close, the rain was still failing but less heavy & wind was still very strong, but more manageable. Ben was exhausted so went below to rest & regroup, leaving me to take over the helm. It was a measure of my progress that I did so without hesitation (although with significant trepidation) in conditions that only a few weeks previously I wouldn’t have felt any were near comfortable, confident or competent..
By the next day it was clear that we were through the worst & even more excitedly only 36 hours away from port. The storm had turbo-charged our speed & made up for our previous slow progress in the wind holes – see, every cloud does have a silver lining. The sight of the Punta del Este skyline growing larger on the horizon was a welcome one. I had a rough idea of Nicki’s ETA & by my calculation it looked like we might berth an hour or so before she arrived which would be a huge disappointment as we both wanted so much for her to be on the quayside as I arrived.
I needn’t have worried, the universe had it all worked out.
Although Nicki was having her own mini adventure travelling from York to Uruguay via Buenos Aries (including plane storm delays, ferry rerouting & other mishaps which clearly warrant their own blog!!), as luck would have it, she arrived at Punta del Este marina just as team Seattle was preparing itself for its final approach. Timing could not been better or closer & it was truly magical to see & hear her on the dockside, bettered only when half an hour later I was back on dry land & we were embraced in the biggest hug ever!! I’ve never been a believer that “absence makes the heart grow fonder” yet it was certainly true for me that time apart makes you appreciate what you have & more importantly reminds you to show that appreciation rather than take it for granted.
And so leg 1 of my Clipper adventure was complete. It had been a long, exhilarating & at times exhausting journey but ultimately so rewarding with plenty of lessons learnt and great friendships made. It was a huge achievement not without drama & now it was time to reconnect with Nicki, enjoy relaxing in Punta del Este & spending a few days exploring Buenos Aries before returning to the UK. There was Christmas to look forward to with family & friends, before doing it all over again in March 2020 for Clipper phase 2 – the mighty North Pacific followed by Seattle to New York via the Panama Canal.
Bring it on!!!
You can follow the race and learn more about the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race at www.clipperroundtheworld.com but be warned – you might find yourself signing up for a leg or two!
Thank you for reading my blog. If you are able to support and encourage me on my way by sharing my adventure or contributing to my fund raising for UNICEF UK, it was be a great help and much appreciated.
Look out for the next episode!