Welcome to Sanya!

Allegedly, Sanya – in Hainan province, a large island just off the mainland in the South China Sea – is the Hawaii of China. This is bit oversold, but it is a very popular domestic tourist destination and a very busy city. Also, weirdly, quite a lot of Russians.

View from my hotel

We made it here yesterday after a 24 day voyage from Australia. Although extremely hot (I spent the whole time in shorts & sandals & t-shirt, even at night) and many very frustrating wind holes and light wind sailing, I actually quite enjoyed it. Plenty of downwind sailing in the trade winds (once we reached them anyway) and some squalls in the night giving some exciting helming and unplanned sail changes – we finally managed to explode our lightweight spinnaker after 20,000 miles by flying it in a 25-knot shower – it is only rated for about 12 knots. You can read my and GT’s Clipper blogs on the subject here and here. It’s after events like these that sails acquire names, and our Code 1 is now called Esmerelda St Martin.

Finally I managed my first crossing of a Chinese multi lane highway this evening, on the way from the cash machine to the ‘English bar’ in the centre of the Dadonghai area of Sanya. I’m pretty sure that was far more dangerous than any ocean sailing…

Edit: added links.

Another place to come back to

Tomorrow morning we set off on a roughly 4-week voyage up to Sanya in Hainan Province, through the Coral Sea, Solomon Sea, round the north of the Philippines and into the South China Sea. I’m actually looking forward to this trip; not entirely sure why but maybe it’s an interesting route.

Although this stopover in Airlie Beach was 11 days, I only managed a couple of half days off, one to go skydiving (which was awesome again) and one for a flight over the reef. We were supposed to land and go snorkelling but it was too windy. I spent the rest of the time working on the boat, and still not having enough time for me to get everything done, which all in all was really a bit disappointing. Even Bill managed one day off and she works more than anyone on the boat (with team coordinator and victualler jobs currently it’s mostly unexciting off-boat work). Not much tends to happen when I’m not on the boat either, unless I leave detailed instructions for jobs.

I could really do with a week off.

Anyway, here’s some photos from our flight that didn’t land.

Up the coast to Airlie Beach

We arrived in the hot & sunny Whitsundays a couple of days ago after an 11-day sail up from Hobart in Tasmania. We were delayed a little on the way due to many wind holes; the Bass Strait again being kind to us. On this leg we’ve sailed across it three times, each time the wind being relatively gentle and excellent for sailing. I’m told it’s usually rather more enthusiastic!

It was mostly upwind for the first few days; I may have spoken before on this blog about the (un)comfort of these boats upwind!  A few days before Airlie Beach however a major front passed northwards up the coast, passing over us at night. We went from tacking upwind, to a slight backing (moving anticlockwise) of the wind direction, to a dropping of wind and some drizzle (all accompanied by an excellent light show of continuous lighting coming closer), to — 10 minutes after my watch went to bed and the other watch came on — a sudden increase to 30 knots of wind from the opposite direction and pouring rain! Altogether an exciting night, and the last few days were then downwind under spinnaker, sailing up the coast behind the shelter of the Great Barrier Reef.

Now I have some days off here in the tropical paradise (it says here in this brochure) of the Whitsundays, with plans — along with a lot of boat jobs! — of visiting the reefs, some skydiving and maybe some diving or snorkelling.


Coming in at twilight (photo by Clipper)


View from our balcony!

Tasmania – what a wonderful place

We arrived here in Hobart on December 29th after a very fast downwind Rolex Sydney-Hobart Yacht Race.

It’s nearly time to leave again; tomorrow morning we’re racing up to Airlie Beach in the Whitsunday islands on the Queensland coast. It should take around 10 days, and I’m told the Whitsundays are amazing.

They’ll have to be pretty special to beat Tasmania though. Hobart is a lovely little city, with a very eccentric private modern ‘art’ gallery (the Museum of Old and New Art, or MONA) which is definitely worth a day’s visit. I managed to get out to a couple of the national parks here too (Freycinet and Mount Field) – the former on the east coast with exceptional beaches, and the latter in the middle, with mountains and temperate rainforest. Lots of wildlife too – we saw wallabies, plenty of birds and a tasmanian devil in the forest – although the only kangaroos so far have been roadkill examples. ☹️

Tassie has great food, nice wines and many excellent ciders too. It also has a lot of climbing, so I definitely foresee coming back here on a climbing trip. In fact the only downside is its rather inconvient location on the opposite side of the world to the UK.

This leg will probably be mostly upwind sailing; we have chosen to play our joker, doubling our final points. Hopefully the weather favours us and we keep on working hard!

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(Nearly) Halfway round…

Technically not, not only because I still have two races to go on Leg 4, but also I still have 7 months to go until Liverpool. But being in Sydney feels halfway round.

I certainly feel like I’ve spent enough time on the boat. The start of this race was quite tough for me, since I didn’t particularly enjoy Leg 3 and we only had 5 days to rest in Fremantle, which is nowhere near enough. I spent the second half of Leg 3 (the South Indian Ocean) thinking of other things I could be doing with my time, and the first week of this last race to Sydney in a similar I-hate-this-boat mood. There’s a few reasons for this…

Firstly, I feel like I’ve already done what I set out to do. I didn’t (and still don’t) have any particular desire to complete a circumnavigation by sail. I joined to gain experience, try some ocean crossing, maybe later on be a watch leader, and generally be a better sailor. Unfortunately I vastly overestimated the level of sailing experience of the rest of my crew, with the result that I was watch leader continuously from Gosport to Fremantle – which is rather exhausting, mentally. (The reason I enjoy chef duty on the boat so much is it means I don’t have to think about sailing for 24 hours!) I know that one never stops learning; it’s certainly not like I’ve learnt everything and I’ve finished. But… there are Yachtmaster courses in Australia, and the Whitsundays seem an excellent place to gain some mate/skippering experience in coastal and tidal seas.

It also turns out that I enjoy ocean racing less than I expected. Coastal sailing, exploring bits of land and sea and the boundary between the two, I have done a fair amount of over the last few years and enjoyed it immensely. Although ocean sailing is certainly not all the same, in general I find it much less interesting. (Occasionally though it really is awesome – watching glow-in-the-dark dolphins swim around the boat under a starry sky, surfing down huge swells at 20 knots with the cavitation roaring underneath the boat, the wandering albatrosses silently soaring in front of the boat…) If I did sail professionally, I imagine it would be something like teaching, which usually means day sailing.

On the other hand, if I wanted to go back into a job that doesn’t need another month or three of training, now would seem like a good time to continue my travels on land (before the money runs out). I’d like to see more of Australia; I’ve always wanted to visit New Zealand which isn’t far away. I could travel the other half of the world by air and land, a road trip across North America on the way home, and maybe more places. I’m in a very enviable position of not having any commitments back home and still having some savings; I could select destinations on the basis of interest and where the next flight happens to go… an early-mid-life ‘gap year’ is very tempting. Going to the Blue Mountains today certainly didn’t help – it made me realise how much I miss mountains, I could’ve spent another 5 days there easily!

Finally, I can say with confidence that the Clipper 70 is my least favourite boat I have ever sailed. It’s sturdy, yes, it’s easy to maintain and it sails very well downwind. However, it’s clear neither crew safety* nor crew convenience were in mind when they were designed, and they are absolutely awful at sailing upwind. Going downwind in a boat designed to sail upwind is simply a bit slower; going upwind in a boat designed to sail downwind will test your patience and endurance (and your ability to fall asleep in a sloping bunk with condensation that drips directly onto your forehead).

Really, the only thing keeping me on the boat is the crew. All the people I’ve sailed with so far, all the people I’ve yet to sail with on later legs – they deserve to have a full crew. And yes, I have enjoyed sailing with all of them so far. Not only that, but I really love sailing with GT, I’m learning so much and he doesn’t deserve to lose his bosun, coxswain and a watch leader (did I mention how all these jobs tire me out? I think I did). Also I pinky promised Bill Lyons not to leave her. So there’s that…

Oh, and my parents keep telling me about all the distant relatives and acquaintances that are apparently following me religiously and that I really shouldn’t let down. Hello to you all!

Bring on the Sydney-Hobart on Boxing Day!

* this is not a comment on Clipper Ventures, merely on the original design of the boats. Clipper have done – and do – a huge amount of work on safety.

Bill, Ineke (off Nasdaq) and Tom (off Sanya) at three Three Sisters lookout.

Sydney Harbour

Sailing into beautiful Sydney Harbour on a (very busy!) summer Saturday afternoon yesterday. We almost put the spinnaker up for the sail down the harbour, but after one look at the traffic promptly decided not to. Navigating round the ferries, the hundreds of yachts & motor vessels, the many fleets of children in tiny sailing dinghies (one of which we may have charged through the middle of, fortunately without running any down) was already difficult enough!

Now very much looking forward to 10 days off, Christmas BBQs and then the famous Sydney-Hobart Yacht Race which starts on Boxing Day.

The Difficult Leg™

If I call this one ‘the’ difficult leg it virtually guarantees we’ll have another one, right? Oh well. Also my waterproof camera is suffering from water ingress and is not reading the card, so no photos I’m afraid. Clipper will have plenty from this leg on their Facebook page at some point.

It started well (in that we came out of the initial match racing course off the departure port in last place, as is tradition), promptly to be greeted by the Agulhas current pushing us the wrong way first in a wind hole, and then with wind on the nose for about 8 days. All of this made for very slow going for the entire fleet – making us all rather late into Fremantle and serving up a short stopover here.

Unfortunately things got more complex, with one of our crew Erik suffering from some severe health problems necessitating an air-drop of medical supplies (by the Australian Air Force) followed by a medevac (by the Australian Navy) a few days later. He is now recovering well in hospital here in Fremantle. 

I also managed to do some damage to my chest muscles after an action packed morning on the bow (the pointy end) in crashing waves, as well as one morning waking up with an awful back pain between the shoulders, possibly due to all the helming in heavy seas. So it’s time to see a physio here at some point. I was also viciously attacked by the inner forestay (again) in the same bow incident, so I seem to be collecting minor injuries.

Off again from Fremantle on 2nd December heading for Sydney, this time a passage of only (in theory) two weeks. We’ll see about that…

10,000 miles down…

…30,000 miles to go! Leg 3 starts tomorrow (Tuesday) morning, roughly 4750 nautical miles to Fremantle (Perth), Western Australia. This takes us through the Roaring Forties of the Southern Ocean, so it should be quite tasty!

We should arrive in Australia around 21-25th November, then around 10 days in Fremantle until we leave for Sydney on 2nd December.

Cape Town has been amazing, and I even managed a couple days off from boat work (some of my crew managed rather a lot more…) to do some tourist things with Bill Lyons and other crew from my and other boats – cheetahs, wine tasting, wildlife out at Cape Point. And my left wrist even seems a bit better, although I did get a real velcro splint for it that I can use in case of further problems.

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Oh yeah, and I went skydiving too!

Sailing the South Atlantic Ocean

Not many photos from this passage again I’m afraid – way too busy to remember to take a camera on deck. If you follow Clipper Race on Facebook they post regular photos at the end of each leg so you can see what we got up to.

This leg was marred by an awful start in which everything that could go wrong, did – we crossed the starting line a good five minutes into last place. We didn’t let that get us down though, and with GT reminding us again that even a shorter leg like this is a marathon and not a sprint, we came back to take third place eventually!

Weather was generally a bit colder and wetter on this leg due to the latitude, probably a theme that will continue into the Southern Ocean on the next leg. Maybe time to pick up some extra warm layers in the outdoor shops and chandlers of Cape Town.

I managed to develop some kind of tendonitis in my left wrist a few days into the leg, which at first didn’t cause too much trouble, but which later caused some pain and muscle scrunching. I ended up not being able to drive the boat for the second half of the race, which was very disappointing for me (as it’s by favourite part of sailing) and inconvenient for the rest of the crew who had to take up my slack! It seems to be much better now so hopefully it won’t be an issue on the next race.

Currently enjoying some time off from boat maintenance in Cape Town and surrounding areas (including visiting cheetahs!), we’ll be back racing again on October 31st.