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Sharks, lightning and firearms

The Clipper 2002 race route takes a course around the globe that makes it the longest circumnavigation race at some 34,000 miles. It passes through a wide variety of weather systems which require the full range of sailing skills, from the patience to steer through calms to flying downwind under spinnaker before a gusty tradewind to beating through the Southern Ocean around the Cape of Good Hope. The tactics are fascinating; this is real “chess with press-ups” sailing. Nature, as always, is expected to be capricious, but it&#39s all part of the experience for myself and other crew members aboard the good ship London Sunday December 22, 2002: So, the voyage continues. I&#39ve a new skipper, a new crew and am expecting to experience a very different Christmas and new year.

It&#39s been getting hotter, hitting the mid-90s, day and night. Sleeping is difficult whatever time you try. We have had some amazing rainstorms. It&#39s strange getting soaked to the skin in the boiling heat. There&#39s no need for waterproofs and we all scramble for the shower gel. The next leg of the race to the Galapagos Islands involves crossing the equator so I expect the weather to be even hotter and with even less wind.

My new skipper has new ways of doing things. We have split into a three-watch system. Typically, it runs like this over a 48-hour period. 0-3am mother watch (clean and make tea); 6-9am on deck; 3-6 pm on deck; 9pm-00 on deck. Day two: 00-3am on deck; 9-12 noon on deck; 6-9pm on deck; 9-00 mother watch.

Food this week has been exciting: fruit portions x6; cereal x3; rice x2; mash x 2; soup x2; frankfurter x1; homemade pizza x2; pasta x4; veg portions x4; spag bol x1; noodles x3.

During my time on board I&#39ve had 44 sailing days; 11.5 work days and 6.5 free days – getting knackered.

Tuesday December 24. Panama: We arrived in Panama City last night after finishing the race from Cuba to Colon, Panama on Saturday. We finished second, about two minutes behind the leader. All boats finished within two hours.

We have to wait for a slot to go through the Canal and could wait up to two days. We&#39re on an anchor mooring so we can&#39t get to shore. However, carrying firearms is apparently the norm in Colon so we&#39re not trying too hard to reach dry land!

The race to Galapagos starts on December 28. We will work on the boat today, have a crew Christmas lunch tomorrow and the prize giving on the 26th.

Stop press: At 4am, we got the go-ahead to begin our passage through the Canal.

It was an amazing passage. The cost is per boat and by size. We spent $1,500, with the average vessel going through costing $47,000 – so big boats! Around 197 million litres of water is used in each of the six locks. The passage took us about 11 hours.

As some of you will know, if our first skipper had not resigned, I would have not rejoined the boat at Cuba. Our new skipper is an excellent sailor and his people skills are first class, and his coaching is excellent.

We are due to land on Hawaii on February 2, which is when I get off and head home – I have definitely not changed my mind on that one. Hope to be home mid-February.

Anyway, Happy Christmas to you all. I will be crossing the Pacific on New Year&#39s Eve so no fireworks, but a nice, cheap bar bill.

Monday December 30 to Thursday January 2, 2003. Galapagos: What a result, not the fact we finished second, but that we got here two days early! This will make it my longest stopover by some days… more of that later.

The weather has been different than planned. Sailing through the Doldrums is meant to be a nightmare but we only had nine hours of little wind and only four of those with no wind. Other boats have still have not arrived, having been stuck in &#39wind holes&#39 for days.

Our tactics from the start were to head south to use currents and better wind. Two other boats followed us and we all arrived on January 2 within two hours. The other boats went southwest as it&#39s the most direct route. Been cloudy all the way here which dulled the sun and heat and gave good winds, 20 knots most of time.

Saw the two other boats during the leg which was a real reminder of what we&#39re doing. We came within 300 yards of one. With the other boats so close concentration levels were high. This all adds to the overall exhaustion we are feeling.

The sun broke through on the last day to be blisteringly hot. We are now 1,000 miles south from Panama so the sun is much stronger. We have experienced amazing rainstorms again including scary lightning one night. Our skipper assured us if we got hit, we would be all right as the boat is &#39earthed&#39. Some of us remained worried, In one three-hour shift on Monday, I saw sealife including whales, tuna, marlin, dolphins, sharks – incredible, but it has put me off swimming in the sea again.

Food exciting again this week. So far I&#39ve had cereal x2; fruit portions x9; spag bol x1; seafood pasta x1; pot noodle x3; mash x1; dried mince x1 and rice x1. Roll on Hawaii!

•Follow the race at www.clipper-ventures.comû

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