Cape Town!

We arrived in Cape Town very early this morning, after a two week crossing from Uruguay, in third place – only a couple of hours behind the leader. Which, considering our boat issues and crew illness issues, is a miracle.

This was followed by a 4am hotel check-in, a 4 hour sleep, and a huge 3-course breakfast; probably one of the best I’ve ever had. Anyway, deep clean time today!

Things I learnt about ocean sailing…

  1. How hot it gets below deck. I think I sweated more in the last five weeks than I did in my life up to departure. With 22 bodies (sun-tanned bodies), a galley churning out bread, cakes and excellent meals all day, not to mention a generator running most days for power – it gets ridiculously hot even in cooler latitudes like the UK. Let’s not even talk about equator temperatures. We basically lived on the sun terrace above deck or in the sauna below deck.
  2. Ocean helming (driving) definitely has more things to think about than coastal, primarily because of the bigger waves. Trying to keep the wind angle just right for the highest speed, remembering to bear away (i.e. turn away from the wind) on the tops of waves to avoid the boat slamming down into the next trough, keeping an eye on wind shifts, trying to keep to our course… concentration is definitely required. No talking to the man at the helm!
  3. All the wildlife. So many flying fish in their flights above the waves, sometimes coming aboard and ending up in our frying pan. A large yellow-fin tuna following our boat for a day. Frigate birds, petrels, gannets and other bird life abound (small birds taking refuge on our yacht for a time). We passed a sea turtle at high speed – just enough to recognise it and then it was left behind. Regular dolphins in shallower waters. The occasional spout from a whale, but we didn’t get to see the whales themselves.
  4. The stars. Not only do they make night helming much simpler (I spent one night watch just keeping the entirety of Scorpius right in front of me), but you see so many stars, clouds, galaxies, meteors and satellites. Of course sometimes you have nothing but cloud and driving by the compass is the only way to keep on course (unless you are Gaëtan and draw on decades of ocean experience to just drive in pitch black by feel!).
  5. How quickly the wind shifts under clouds. You don’t tend to get that effect on land, but in the ocean if you see a cloud coming you are in for some changing winds for a time. Small clouds just give small shifts (in direction and speed) but big clouds can give – as well as rain showers – dramatically changing conditions. We went from 5 knots to 35 knots in less than 30 seconds. One gorgeous morning watch we went under three separate front systems – winds changing by 180 degrees, tacking every few minutes just to keep on course for Punta.
  6. How good a shower, a drink and a huge breakfast feels after 33 days of essentially not washing… glad all the future legs are – in theory – shorter than this one!

Punta del Este is a great place, but most of all the yacht club and mayor’s office have been so welcoming! This is definitely the low season for Punta (population goes from 200k to 1 million from January to Easter) so we are a big attraction. With the huge welcome BBQ the other day, a free tourist day yesterday, and the welcome we have all time at the yacht club, I doubt many places will beat this stopover.

Welcome to Uruguay!

After 33 days at sea, and experiencing flat calms, light winds and 30+ knot breezes both upwind and downwind (the really difficult sailing will come later), we finally made it to Punta del Estes in Uruguay. Yay! 

I found the whole month fairly challenging; this may have something to do with being a watch leader and having a load of extra responsibilities as well as trying to figure out how everything works on the yacht, this whole ocean sailing thing and experiencing ocean helming (driving) too. I could still use that week off…

…But now we have 10 days here to fix the many boat issues that crop up, and with me also being bosun means I have lots of work to do. On the other hand Clipper and the Yacht Club Punta del Este (our hosts here) have organised plenty of activities; we have a BBQ tomorrow, I have a guided tourist day later, so hopefully it’s not all work.

This is my first time in Uruguay (or in South America, or even in the bottom half of the world) and so far it’s pretty great. Lovely people, nice weather and good facilities – and great bars and great wine. Although Punta is clearly an out-of-season fancy holiday resort and possibly not indicative of the rest of the country.

Here are some of the photos I took during Leg 1 – I didn’t take many due to the aforementioned responsibilities pushing things like cameras out of my mind. I did at least remember to take it up the mast during the spinnaker block check and mainsail check.

Off to Uruguay tomorrow! 

And I could really do with a week off.

Level 4 training followed by a hectic prep week followed by a 5 day delivery passage followed by the further prep and events of Liverpool has not given a lot of time for sleeping – this is something I’m just going to have to get used to! 

I will try and update this blog when possible (although Clipper are having some satcoms issues at the moment from the supplier, which nobody is happy about) but you can also follow us in these ways – some of which I’ve added to the menu at the top of this page:

Skipper and crew diaries from Garmin – written by Gaëtan and a random crew member – will appear here on Clipper’s website every day: http://clipperroundtheworld.com/team/garmin/news

The Race Tracker, in which you can track our progress across the oceans every hour is here: http://clipperroundtheworld.com/race/standings – Team Garmin is the black boat! 

For daily race updates by email from Clipper, sign up here: http://clipperroundtheworld.com/news/newsletter-signup

I’ve just had a fantastic evening with a lot of my awesome family and my best friend Hazel, and I’m feeling a little tired and emotional (and also a little drunk). 

See you in Punta del Estes!

Leaving for Liverpool on Wednesday… 

Prep week is done! 

Skills have been learnt (covered eye splice): 

Boat has been branded (by the way, we are Team Garmin now instead of Team Gaëtan):

Winches have been disassembled and reassembled:

And we are (nearly) ready to set off on a race around the world. Still lots to do both on delivery and in Liverpool (my job is bosun, and I need more grease in the winch/grinder junction boxes and to whip/run/anti-chafe some more new halyards) but we are definitely getting there.

I’ll be in Liverpool from 14th to 20th August if anyone wants to come and visit, and you should totally donate to my UNICEF fundraising page

Gales in the Channel

Fourth (and last) week of training just completed in the English Channel. After various drills and exercises, and night sails and anchoring, and some practice race starts, we took part in a race to France and back with the other 11 boats in the fleet. 

Unfortunately the weather had other ideas. An almost-gale of southwesterly wind gusting up to 50 knots, combined with a wind over tide situation off the headlands of St Catherine’s and St Albans’s Head, gave some very short and very large seas, and none of the boats actually sailed the whole course (though five boats, including us, finished under engine).

Long story short, I now have a very large bruise and some muscle damage on my upper thigh, which is causing a bit of a limp and difficulty raising that leg. Should be healed in a few days, first (and hopefully last) sailing injury of this trip! 

Now we’re stuck in to prep week, overhauling and checking and repairing and improving and customizing so many bits of the boat – Jerry here fitting anti-slip tape in the saloon. 

We leave for Liverpool on boat delivery on Wednesday 9th August, and will be there between 14th and 20th if anyone wants to come visit! 

Off to sea!

All my life in two bags

Today seems to be the day I head off to join my boat. It was supposed to be tomorrow but there’s so much to do on the boat it’s today instead.  My life for the next year has been packed into these two bags, and to be honest I still probably have too much – some may well be discarded for race start in Liverpool in August.

Tomorrow is prep day for the last week of training, in which I will be training only with my team and Gaëtan and on our boat for the race. We’ll be doing lots of emergency drills and then a race against the other teams in training. This last training week then segues directly into prep week, 9 days in which we make our boat ready for sailing round the world so I am sure this will be super busy! And then we sail up to Liverpool.

I am so looking forward to sailing with my team (which if you are on Twitter you can follow here; we do not yet have a Facebook page since we are waiting for a sponsor); I haven’t actually sailed for about 2 months, and after team-building weekend, the regular emails and the team WhatsApp group that never shuts up I can’t wait to spend time with them all. Of course I probably won’t be able to stand the sight of them by Liverpool.

Hopefully I will be able to update my blog by e-mail direct from the boat from now on, including (maybe) via satellite phone from the middle of the ocean!

Remember to donate to UNICEF on my JustGiving page please!

Less work, more sail!

I signed up for this crazy trip nearly two and a half years ago, and now (tomorrow, Friday) it’s my last day of work at the place I’ve been for the last 11 years!

it's happening!

I say ‘sail’ but really I mean more ‘doing-things-other-than-working’, since on Saturday I’m off to Venice and climbing in the Dolomites for 10 days. After that I need to sort my life out (shouldn’t take long…) before joining the boat in Gosport towards the end of July.

PS: you should sponsor me!

Raising money for UNICEF!

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UNICEF is the charity partner of the Clipper Round The World race, and since this seems like an excellent cause I decided to get involved.

Unicef is the world’s leading organisation for children. They work with families, local communities, partners and government in more than 190 countries to help every child realise their full potential.

I’m not very good at writing this sort of thing, but it would mean a lot if you can sponsor me for doing various dumb things like sailing around the world for a whole year, and completing Total Warrior this Saturday, preferably without injuring myself…

My sponsorship page is here – https://www.justgiving.com/michaelbrien (see also the Donate! link in the menu above) and obviously all money raised goes straight to Unicef. You can sponsor me personally if you like too, and all that money would go straight into the drinking/retirement fund…

Our race team pages are now up (Team Gaëtan is here), so you can see exactly who I’ll be spending the next 11 months with. Clipper also took a fancy photo of me too, which you may notice to the right here.

I’m making a note here: huge success

Now that I’ve finally recovered from the weekend hangover(s), I can talk about what happened!

Not only am I sailing with my favourite skipper from training – Gaëtan Thomas – I seem to have ended up with a superb bunch of people (of course, I say that now, when I haven’t just spent five weeks living in close proximity). You can see our list of crew right here on Clipper’s team pages, which can also be filtered to show only circumnavigators; the lovely people (I have to say that because they’ll probably read this) I’ll be spending virtually a year with! We also have a bunch of excellent single-leggers (and multi-leggers) that I am sure I will miss once they are no longer aboard. In fact there was not one person I am not looking forward to drinking sailing with! there was like eight  /s

Team Gaetan at portsmouth

Team Gaetan at Portsmouth Guildhall – image from team member Saj!

Gaëtan is also known as GT, which means we are also now team gin & tonic. Maybe time to re-purpose those water tanks in the bilge… and, since we do not yet have a team sponsor, anyone with contacts at Gordon’s for a sponsorship deal?

If you want to follow us already we have a team supporters page on Facebook, and in time regular blogs will appear on Clipper’s team page I linked above – and of course, here.

One other minor point mentioned at the crew allocation presentation is internet access from the boat; there’s no internet access per se but text-only emails will be not only possible but also reasonably-priced, so expect (in)frequent blog upates from mid-ocean!

Next up is our team-building weekend (drinking again) in mid-June, last training course end of July, then straight into boat preparation week (more drinking) and the delivery up to Liverpool for the race start week of events (i.e. drinking) in August.

I’m pretty excited now!