For the third time in two days Quokka’s outright speed record has fallen. It now stands at a staggering 22.1 knots!

True Wind Speed 24knots, Apparent Wind Speed 2 knots! Kite completely inverted and spray everywhere!

Quokka has overtaken Parma and is now in 3rd place on the water with just 8 miles to the finish!

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We have entered our final day at sea on Quokka on this epic Transatlantic crossing in style! With the Levellers “It’s a beautiful Day” blaring out of the deck speaker the day broke. With a lively but angry sky ranging in shades of grey which were nearly black in the heart of the squall clouds which surrounded us to a cobalt blue at the other end of the spectrum in the sky that was not covered by the low cloud base.

The 3 – 4 metres wave height has become the norm for us and sailing on the edge fully powered up with our small red kite in 30 knot squalls before the inevitable drop is now second nature. There are just 129 miles to the finish line in Rodney Bay where our first rum punch awaits us. As the music continued with Annie Lennox’s “Sweet Dreams” there were smiles all around from the weary bunch of sailors who have just had the adventure of a life time and who have sailed across the Atlantic Ocean.

The first song of the morning was Queens “Flash” from the movie Flash Gordon and was played as a tribute to Michael. Due to an unfortunate incident in a car park where Michael was preparing for a swim, which caused Sam to blush, his apt nick name has stuck. Michael, a charismatic and fun loving German, joined Quokka for the first time in Gran Canaria the week before we set sail having been recommended to us by a close mutual friend. Flash sleeps with his face mask on to cut out unwanted day light so has also become known as a super hero on board. He revelled in the lyrics of the song that was played for him.

Coming from a business background and living in Zurich, Michael has taken a few months off work to travel the world, starting with this transatlantic crossing before heading to South America for the next part. Flash is a great character, with a very gentle nature and a lovely sense of humour that always makes me smile as he carries on with his every day duties on board. Life at sea is somewhat far-fetched from the normal luxury living of Michael but he has adapted to the hardships of life aboard a small yacht extremely well.

Coming from a different country and fitting into a small team for days on end can be a big challenge in itself. Whilst we all come from the Western world cultures do vary significantly in many ways, which become more noticeable the more days are spent together in small proximity. I find it fascinating learning about new cultures and watching as everyone adapts to form a united team. Values and personal things of importance are varied at the best of times as a team tries to find common ground to bond. Michael has bought the lovely sense of humour that I very much like in Germans to Quokka and is a pleasure to sail with. As an experienced dinghy sailor Michael has developed his helming skills extremely well and has joined a group that can handle Quokka in difficult conditions. Indeed he broke Quokka’s all time speed record yesterday notching just over 19 knots on the clock!

Paul was the final team member to sign up for the ARC on Quokka , only deciding to do it weeks before the start. Like Richard, Paul had no previous knowledge of Quokka and came based on trust and his own instinct. I am always amazed at how people commit to such a big adventure with no prior experience of the people or boat they are about to join. It does take courage to turn up in a foreign port in such circumstances to spend the three weeks together on a boat with no escape. As a keen rock climber though, I guess Paul is slightly fearless and comes across as the type to try anything.

One of my lasting memories of Paul will be on the second day at sea when he volunteered to cook lunch for everyone in what had become the sauna down below. Quokka was heeled over in a difficult sea and Paul had never spent a night on a boat at sea before let alone cooked in such conditions. As he was thrown from pillar to post and sweated in the intense heat Paul continually cursed as his patience levels were pushed beyond the limits. There are certain rules to follow in the galley (kitchen) when at sea and Paul had not quite mastered them! Lunch appeared after several profanities but unsurprisingly Paul had lost his appetite! I did wonder if we would ever get Paul back into the galley but undeterred he was back two days later determined to conquer art! I am pleased to say that he very quickly did and is now a dab hand down below and contributes as well on deck. Always seeing the funny side, eventually, of everything Paul is one of those great characters to have on board and is always jumping in and pushing himself.

The 1000 mile to go to the finish day was another of my favourites. It does seem like a long time ago now and we have had some testing sailing since. However, eating the fresh baked Dorado in the saloon with insane temperatures and seven sweaty bodies strewn around sheltering from the latest monsoon type downpour is still a vivid memory. It was washed down with a lovely bottle of warm Rioja and seeing the smile on Seamus’ face, through the companionway hatch, as he was helming in the fading light said it all to me. Even when soaking wet watching everyone else eating the delicacies down below he could not have been happier!

Adapting to a long period of time at sea on a small boat is one of the biggest parts of a challenge like this. Tolerance levels can be pushed to and beyond the limits but we all have to learn how to deal with it to ensure harmony. This team has excelled and have formed a tight bond with many new friendships. Don’t get me wrong, there have been niggles with the occasional tantrum but we have all developed as people and are getting better equipped to cope as the days progress. These are qualities that often get taken back to our real lives as we will always see the insignificance of the trivial matters that sometimes irritate us. That combined with an appreciation of the simple things in life we take for granted!

Talk at the evening briefing the other day was about what we look forward to most once we finish and the answers ranged considerably from Sam’s desire to bury her feet in the white sand of St Lucia 9obviouslly she will have a Margarita in her hand) to my urge to stretch my body in the swimming pool. Ben, having struggled with the heat, has a strong desire for a comfortable bed in an air-conditioned room – but not before a Mojitto (or ten) and Richard wants to stand in a shower for ten minutes to cleanse the salt out of his body. Finally for me I also look forward to a real freshly ground coffee; the empty cafetiere that gazes at me every time I open the cupboard as I look at it and then Sam with contempt!

The last 600 miles of this race (the equivalent of a Fastnet Race) have been covered in less than three days! That means we have had some fast and furious sailing conditions with one of the best stints being last night. What a way to bring to a close what has been for me my favourite Atlantic crossing to date. It has been tough, there have been many highs evenly interspersed with difficult moments and lows. The conditions have not been the norm for this race but the variety has made it more interesting. There are three things in equal proportions that have made this crossing for me and they are the people, the sailing and what nature has provided for us.

Now back to the race, our tactic of going North at the midway point seems to have paid off. Whilst we never caught Scarlet Oyster, they have been just too good, we took over 100 mile out of the rest of the fleet and are now well positioned for a good result. We are just 10 miles behind Parma, who are third on the water. We are going to continue pushing as we still have them in our sights and are aiming for third on the water.

However, to me what matters most on this race is the happy united team that has bonded so very well together and have been a big part in making this tough and tiring Atlantic my favourite to date. It has not been the hardest, that prize is still held by the Southern Oceans and Cape Horn, but it has been the most diverse with an excellent balance. The three sperm whales that accompanied us earlier in the race is still my highlight and a memory I shall remember for many years to come.

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Quokka has a new outright speed record of 19.09 knots!

Full main and out tiny little fractional chicken chute in 27 knots of breeze! She was on rails! Only 36 hours to go now until St Lucia. ETA is 2200 (LT) tomorrow night (0200 GMT)

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Finally, and not because of the difficulty in getting other fingers of the key board, finally I am able to report that we are experiencing the full package of what was promised in the brochure.

There have been many occasions over the past 2 weeks where members of the crew have questioned the veracity of the information given before they signed up for this great adventure. Instead of ” a relaxed downwind sailing experience with glorious sunshine in this unique cruise / race across the Atlantic” we have, as has been well documented before in these Blogs, had anything but. Apart from the start the spinnaker or kite, the weapon of choice for downwind sailing, has been strangely absent from the deck, that is until it was unveiled 24 hours ago to take its rightful place at the centre of our attention.

So we are sailing downwind at average speeds approaching 9 kts over Atlantic rollers now a beautiful deep azure colour, instead of the slate grey of the recent past, under a pastel blue sky tastefully decorated with the occasional white touch of cloud. The guys are on deck relaxing, taking the rays, each wearing smart designer sunnies (strangely in the manner of sailors, not always in front of their eyes) – this is most definitely what it said on the tin!
However even this idyllic scene is not without its problems, one of the simplest of which is keeping the boat going in a straight line. We have currently 25kts of wind coming in over the starboard (right side) quarter, and as you would expect the Atlantic rollers, which are 4/5m high, coming from the same direction. There is therefore a constant pressure on the boat to turn upwind, which is to the right in our case.

However normally these waves pass diagonally under the boat causing at times an uncomfortable side to side rocking motion or seem to stay under the boat with the bow pointed skywards. The most exciting is when they pick up the stern and push the boat forward, the most apt comparison is that of a surf board in this case 43ft long, powering forward and down – most exhilarating. The maximum speed under these conditions so far is 17.5 kt
Problem number one is to avoid a broach.

The broach can be quite scary, whether caused by a sudden gust of wind, larger wave , human error or a combination of all three, the boat turns violently up wind (to the right), and at the same time heals over to left causing the boom to splash into the sea – consternation all round, screams of anger from those below trying to rest but hopefully no damage done.

If the boat rights itself after the broach then normal service is resumed. However the process can continue further. As the boat is turning upwind in the broach, the helm is fighting to prevent this by putting the wheel hard over in the opposite direction. If at the moment the boat comes upright the helm is still hard over then it turns sharply to the left, heels over to the right and the boom comes swinging across the boat clearing everything in its path. This “manoeuvre” is known as a Chinese gybe and is dangerous, extremely frightening and can cause severe damage both to man and boat.

As a consequence either our skipper Philippe or mate Peter will on the helm during these difficult conditions or at least very adjacent!

Perhaps a good opportunity to give credit to Philippe and Peter for the fantastic job they have done if forming a racing team out of the disparate bunch who showed up on the pontoon 3 weeks ago. Of the 7 members of the crew only 3 of us had raced on Quokka before, whilst the remaining 4 had no offshore racing experience at all, in fact Paul had never sailed at night! Fast forward 3 weeks and as an example one hour ago (its 2 am Tuesday) I was called on deck. The wind had risen to 30kts and the stars had disappeared behind a BBC (Big Black Cloud). As it happened the wind dropped but the fact that we were able to contemplate a sail change under those conditions is a testament to the professionalism, not just as sailors but as instructors and confidence builders, that Philippe and Peter have and it should be added all carried out with a great deal of patience!

370 – that’s the number of miles left to the finish, so the talk will all be about position at the finish – we are currently 4th on the water but that’s before getting involved in the black art that is the handicap system. Whatever the result we will all remember our great adventure and perhaps in retrospect come to believe that it really did mean what it said on the tin.
369, 368 ……….

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As we enter the closing stages of this Transatlantic crossing Quokka is powering through the ocean toward our final destination of white sandy beaches, rum shacks and palm trees in St Lucia. She surges through the Atlantic swell with grace and confidence knowing that a well-earned rest in the tranquil waters of a Caribbean lagoon awaits her in two days time.

Today the sun is burning high in the blue sky with the cumulus (fluffy white) clouds clinging to the horizon whilst the 5 metre Atlantic swell glistens under the intense heat of the Caribbean sun. There are good days out here and there are bad days. Today is one of those good days and we are continuing to take miles out of our competitors as we are surging forward at speeds hitting 13 knots under our tiny fractional kite and a reefed main. It feels like we are living in the brochure now!

There are few luxuries out here on the oceans waves but the ones we do have are real treats and the things we take for granted in life provide great pleasures out here. I have just taken my 2nd shower of the voyage and am now clean shaven, smelling like roses again and donning a clean pair of boxer shorts. Does life get any better?

Another day of treats came last week when we hit the half way stage, which was also the last time I had a shave and a shower. It felt like Christmas Day and came with many of the emotions associated with it. First came the present, a 20lb tuna, which the crew could feast on for the rest of the day. The weather was glorious and morale high. However there were the sulks as miles were lost, tantrums as the squalls hit, niggles as tiredness set in and ultimately the much celebrated and long awaited lunch was over cooked! Luckily the left overs were not wasted and the tuna steak evening meal was divine. Finally the badly executed kite hoist under the darkness of a moonless night was my cue to go to bed, tired and pouting after a top day on the water.

Seamus is my fishing buddy on board. In Gran Canaria we visited a local fishing shop on the edge of the city where the staff’s knowledge and expertise was most welcome as we gazed in bewilderment at the vast array of tackle, lures and kit. We carefully selected 5 new lures, under the recommendation of the helpful staff and noted all the techniques and top tips which would surely land us our feasts.

Like Sam and Peter, Seamus joined Quokka in the UK at the start of our 7,000 mile adventure. Totally unknown to me but recommended by a mutual friend in Ireland Seamus was destined for Malta, a third of the planned adventure. Much to his girlfriends displeasure he is still with us (I suspect I am not on the Christmas card list). Seamus has all the charm of an Irish man with the boyish looks and cheeky smile that makes him fit in extremely well with everyone. Sharing my complete respect for the oceans we have similar principles and ideas about the environment that surrounds us and only take what we feel is necessary without being greedy. It is a healthy way of being, providing a complete and rounded experience.

In the summer Seamus is a beach guard but his trade is as a joiner. He has been a huge asset to the team and whilst quiet and unassuming he has a gentle but fun humour that certainly makes me laugh at the most unexpected moments. A man with a half glass full attitude to life Seamus is now, as I type, guiding Quokka over the 5 metres Atlantic swell with confidence in his new found skill as a very competent downwind helmsman. As we caught our last fish to celebrate the 1000 mile to go stage he quietly and simply said “thanks – but sorry” as he took the priest to its head to quickly and painlessly put it out of its misery.

Another great character on board is Ben, an officer with the Met Police, who has recently found himself loving sailing on board Quokka. I first met Ben in Antigua earlier this year when he arrived at our crew villa with the five female teammates he had travelled with. His opening words to me were “I have no idea if I am going to like racing, I think I might get bored and by the way I get grumpy when hungry!” “What have we got here?” I thought to myself! However, full of energy and enthusiasm Ben excelled on board and was an instrumental part of our victorious team in Antigua. Maybe it was a one off for him I thought, but after a few beers at my birthday party in London he signed up for the Fastnet Race and then after a few beers at a Deep Blue party at the Royal Ocean Racing Club he signed up for this Transatlantic Race. I guess he quite likes racing with us then!

Ben has a methodical approach to everything with an inquiring mind, as you would expect. He likes to understand the finer details and you can see him quietly thinking each and every process through to ensure they are well executed. Needless to say, he very seldom makes a mistake and is a natural leader. Like so many of the team, he has a wicked sense of humour and likes to see the funny side of life. His helming skills have improved massively and so long as we keep feeding him he is not grumpy!

Finally for today I must mention Richard, one of life’s quirky but most interesting people. Richard breezed into our lives in Gibraltar as an unknown to all of us with no connections or recommendations, he just had a trust in his instinct that we would be an ok team to join and likewise we had no idea what to expect.

Richard is one of life’s colourful characters, a man with a great sense of humour who always has a hilarious story to tell and who is always demanding to be told stories given his genuine interest in people and the world! He wears his Australian outback hat that has travelled the world with him for the past 10 years and that only comes off when the weather threatens to relieve him of ownership! Full of enthusiasm and bundles of energy Richard is always there to get stuck in whatever the task, be it cleaning the bilges, trimming the sails or helming. He throws himself (sometimes literally) at everything he does making him one of our most interesting and fun crew members who continually keeps us entertained!

St Lucia is just 479 miles away now. All tactical cards have been played and yachts are racing toward the finish line coming from all angles spanning 400 miles of latitude. It is now a drag race to the finish with Scarlet Oyster, who have sailed a perfect race, leading the charge with an unassailable lead. However, 3rd place is still up for grabs and we are sailing our hearts out. Whilst we are not pushing beyond the realms of sanity (as in shorter offshore races) the pace is picking up, just like at the end of a marathon, as we are all pacing ourselves in the hope we have a little in reserve for the final push to the finish without breaking.

By the time we have finished the final stretch will have been the equivalent of a Fastnet race (600Nm’s) at full intensity in downwind conditions of 20 – 25 knots which keeps us on the edge day and night. We cannot stop focusing, we cannot take our eye off the ball for fear of showing weakness to our rivals or wiping out! We are aiming for 3rd on the water, one more boat to take, and then it will be a long wait to see if the smaller boats have done enough to push us of the podium on corrected time. At least we will be sat in a rum shack somewhere, after a good night sleep in an air conditioned hotel room, drinking cocktails and sharing stories of the good times!

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I had never been in a yacht race before. Nor ever seen one. I had seen photographs of big yachts bows nearly clashing over the crest of small breaking waves with which they to jostle mate in magazine bling watch adverts. Nope never interested me, not the watches, the magazines or the yachts. So we left the marina in Gran Canaria, a brass band playing us out and crowds of people waving from the break waters. I had been yelled at by Sam in spectacles with school teacher authority to put my team T-shirt on, it was hot, but it seemed to matter to them so why not.

Just offshore the water was grey and choppy and full of yachts going every which where if you please. In amongst the lot of them was an anchored Spanish frigate. Pete and Philippe were discussing something about the start line. So the Frigate bridge is one of the markers of the start line. That makes me smile and shake my head a couple of times. The second being a big yellow buoy.

Philippe helms and we circle the frigate from a few feet. Funny how close-up warships always look like they are skinned in grey tin sheet like a cheap toy. We sail South then North, but I’ve lost track at this point as other yachts move closer to us and the frigate. He heaves hard at the wheel to avoid a collision. Then another.

Pete, Seamus and Ben are on the bow and at the mast. Elsewhere everyone seems to know what to do. There is more shouting than normal. Brian is calling out the minutes to go periodically. The water seems choppier. More boats crowd in. We seem to be sailing a couple of boat lengths then tacking or gybing. Everyone is very focused. Well not everyone. Gestures are made from skippers conceding, demanding or ignoring water. Some crews are in fancy dress. Some wave, cheer and smile or hold up a bottle to offer a toast. Some are serious in matching shirts and underpants and avoid eye contact and embarrassment. The countdown cry from Brian has dropped to now to seconds. We tack and draw up fast next to the frigate. We look like we are going to pass the bridge deck before Brian finishes his countdown. Pete and Seamus are on the foredeck a kite is spilling out from its bag at their feet. Ben is at the mast sweating a halliard. There are no boats in front of us, the sea is suddenly clear. There is one to the side a little way back. I look around and behind us see the photo from every watch advert. Huge gleaming yachts are fighting and stabbing at each other over choppy grey waters. They are coming in from all angles. A big gun goes off somewhere to my right. I turn round and the spinnaker fills, I turn back and watch the big yachts and their crews in matching underpants two boat lengths back fight for our waste water.

I get it now and for the rest of the day I have a bloody big smile on my face.

That glance back gave me one of the highlights of this journey. I tell the others about it afterwards and I think they don’t quite believe me. I can’t wait to see the official start photos. Quokka alone on the start line as the cannon fires. And if you see a photo of the start of the ARC 2013. Look to the bloke just in front of the helm transfixed and still, surrounded by focused activity… staring backwards.

That would be me.

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What a race we have had so far!  Whilst the first 24 hours did not quite go
according to the tactical plan we have worked very hard to dig ourselves out of the big hole that we were in.  Having decided to take the long way around
the wind hole south of the Canaries we sailed much further in distance than
many of our competitors.  That combined with our conservative approach to
the challenging conditions very quickly saw us with a 60 mile deficit!
Every day we play some music on board to either lift spirits or just for a chill out hour, if the mood takes!  I quite often play something that seems appropriate to the situation.  It now seems hard to believe a week has passed since our really tough 36 hour period where we experienced relentless squalls, high winds and driving rain.  After 6 hours of solid rain I thought that “Singing in the Rain” would be most appropriate, though I was pleased to discover that was not available on my I-phone!   So Prince’s “Purple Rain” blared out of the cockpit speakers as the on watch enjoyed the torrential downpour.  Just a day later the world was a better place as the scorching tropical sun had burnt away the cloud and Jamie Callum’s “What a Difference a Day Makes” seemed well suited.
One of the great things about life on the sea is how everything can change so quickly, every hour can be different, even a minute or two can be the difference between 10 knots of wind and bright sunshine and lashings of torrential rain with 35 knots of wind and 200 metres visibility.  The contrast of conditions makes our lives challenged as we just watch and react in total awe of mother-nature and what she is capable of.
Another example is how one moment we can be talking about the rationing of the food and the next moment a 20lb tuna takes the bait at the end of our line and we land a fish big enough to feed us with a snack of Sashimi for mid-morning snacks, a risotto lunch and tuna steaks for dinner.  What a treat – raw tuna with wasabi and soya sauce just 30 minutes after it was landed – no restaurant in the world can compete with that for freshness or quality, without even mentioning the view from the table!
It is now time to introduce all our followers to the crew that you may not know.  Over my next blogs I will talk about everyone on the team and I feel there is no better place than to start with my longest serving team mate Brian.  Since Brian started racing with me in 2005 his love for the sea and sailing have only slightly out shone his competitive nature and desire to win.  Over the past nine years Brian has sailed with me on almost every offshore race I have done, in fact I can count on one hand the number he has missed!
Brian brings a cheeky but lovable smile with a very dry humour to the boat. Always shying away from any position of responsibility he has always made it clear he would not want to be a watch leader.  However, on this race he has become rather the elder statesman on board and has taken great pleasure in imparting his knowledge on those less experienced by pulling his watch together in a charismatic but efficient way. He has become a self-appointed ‘acting’ watch leader almost by mistake and is clearly revelling in it.  One of the highlights of this race for me is realising how much Brian has learnt over the years and the way in which he wants to share his experience to help others.  I will never believe Brian again when he tells me he does not want to do something, just like when he assured me six years ago that this would be his last season of racing!  His watch is affectionately known as Brian’s watch. I fully expect that he will inform me at the end of the race that he never wants to be a watch leader again – without really meaning it of course as he is quietly loving it!
Next up is Peter, 1st mate on board, who started racing with me in 2006 when we were campaigning for the British Team selections of the Commodores Cup. Peter, an IT boy by trade, (I am sure there is a more technical name for it but as a boat bum I am not quite sure what it is) comes from an active dinghy sailing background and had just finished his first crossing of the Atlantic on the ARC when he first sailed with me.  As a talented mathematician Peter brings a brain the size of a planet to the boat and is able to do anything with the computer including building new software in addition to the capability of analysing data to process a tactical edge on board.
Having joined Quokka in September as we embarked on a 7000 mile adventure Peter has grown in stature and confidence as the weeks have ticked by. Wanting to re gain his love for sailing, after a few years of intense sailing commercially, Peters smile has increased in size as he deals with all situations with the same precision and meticulous approach each time. Always there to help wherever it is needed Peter is a huge asset to the team and knowing that if there is any sort of problem Peter will be there to deal with it effectively is a reassuring comfort to all of us.  Another one with a dry but witty humour Peter’s big smile brightens up the day as his face sparkles.  The only question is – will we finish in time for him to catch his flight to the French Alps in time for the start of his next season in his other role as a ski instructor/guide?  What I am very confident of though is that Peter is loving his sailing again and revelling in it.
Finally for today we must mention Sam – a girl whose name for some reason comes up with regularity in the blogs!  Like Peter, Sam joined Quokka in September the night before we set off on our epic 7000 mile adventure.  We had never met before Sam arrived at Universal Marina, in fact we had exchanged two or three e-mails and had a short chat on the phone.  By the end of dinner on that first night I just knew that Sam would fit in
perfectly with us.
Hailing from the Isle of Wight it is no surprise that Sam has a keen love for the sea and sailing which became clear almost instantly.  Early on Sam pointed out that one of her main goals was to learn to helm properly, especially with the kite up.  If Sam was in the slightest bit nervous about joining us she certainly did not show it as she breezed into our lives with handfuls of confidence and personality to match.  Sam’s humour and fast wit is one of her greatest assets as she has to live on a boat full of random men that she has never met before, for three months!  Luckily for us Sam also has a passion for cooking and has taken on the most difficult role of victualing (buying and stowing of food).  We could not have hoped for a better job to be done as we have eaten like kings and the first four fresh meals were legendary.  Another self-appointed watch leader, Sam has also grown massively in confidence and ability taking control and leading from the front.  And now Sam is helming Quokka and guiding her across the Atlantic in the pitch black and moonless nights in 20 plus knots of wind with the kite up!
It is a few days since Ben wrote about our tactical dilemma and mentioned that we would be losing quite a few miles on the fleet as we headed north to get around a windless area.  As he mentioned, it would be the weekend before we knew if it had worked or not.  At the time we were 90 miles ahead of Lancelot, we were behind Northern Child by 10 miles and 110 ahead of EH01. Later today you will be able to gauge the outcome yourselves, but I am quietly confident we will have gained a little!  Sadly, Scarlet Oyster were far enough to the west not to be affected and we are unlikely to make any dent in their stunning lead.
But as I keep telling everyone with all seriousness, there is more to crossing the Atlantic than racing.  As you will have gathered from the blogs so far it is a test of human endurance which pushes our resolve to the
maximum as we learn a huge amount about ourselves and others.  A
transatlantic is about being close to nature and witnessing all it has to
offer in abundance from the largest mammals on the planet to the ever
changing sea conditions.  It is about adventure and enjoying a life that is
so far stretched from the reality that is our normal life whilst absorbing
the many lessons learnt along the way to take home that will enrich our
lives.

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It’s not always calm and quiet like it was just before dawn this morning. We’d had a busy watch but as I prepared to hit the sack I looked out on deck from the saloon whilst brushing my teeth. There, silhouetted against the pre-dawn sky with the last stars fading away, I saw Richard poised winch handle at the ready to trim and Seamus helming. The lighting and image was truly magical, unfortunately beyond the capabilities of my camera to capture, but hopefully engraved in my memory for a long time to come. The night sky has been an absolute delight and completely unlike what you’d see from light polluted land. Venus is so bright she casts a loom of light on the water after sunset, Jupiter and Mars rising around midnight whilst bright too can’t compete. Then there’s the slightest slightest sliver of a new Moon yesterday. Esquisit.

Earlier, squall watch (aka squirrel watch), were on and at DefCon 3, when I asked Richard to notify Philippe that a big black cloud (aka big squall) was about to engulf us. Richard stayed calmly sitting on the step – obviously his normally ultra-sensitive ACME squall detector was malfunctioning. With a sharp call of “Richard!”, he suddenly jumped like a startled rabbit, rushed down and shouted “PHILIPPE!” loud enough to raise a dead man. Unsurprisingly, Philippe sprung up believing the boat was in deadly danger and charged on to deck, “What, what” he exclaimed, grumpily followed with “oh just a squall, is that it? I thought we must be sinking! Where’s my tea Richard?”

As you can imagine, on a long race like this we have time to discuss manoeuvres in detail before execution. We’ve done so many hoists and drops of the spinnakers you would be right to assume it would all be second nature now…. How wrong, tiredness takes its toll on everyone leading to little mistakes. Blowing the asymmetric spinnaker halyard before the spiking the tack is never a good idea. Luckily bow was on the job and, working with pit who arrested the fast flowing halyard, the kite was rescued before it could go underneath the boat. After the rescue, the pit looked on sheepishly and pondered on an apology, but deferred for fear of racking up another crime in Gadget’s notebook. Only earlier a tired hard working Seamus had forgotten to attach a critical line to the spinnaker and Philippe had to abandon the helm and help rescue the situation on the bow. Never a great place for the skipper to be. His nose bleed soon cleared up once back behind the wheel. These little mistakes are all part of sailing the boat and we all laugh afterwards as we recall all the slick manoeuvres gone before performed by the same team members.

It’s also a tricky business keeping on top of individual hygiene whilst racing in the middle of the Atlantic on a sailing yacht when racing. The latest personal calamity to befall one of the crew was not one, not two, but three broken finger nails on a single watch. Fortunately the skipper wasn’t woken from his slumber this time. St. Lucia manicurists, Paul is after your telephone numbers.

Despite Inspector Gadget having a rest recently the crimes have continued. The night before last we had Pringle Gate. Let me explain. Now, we can obviously only take a limited supply of goodies on Quokka and one of them is Pringles. The budget is 3 packs / week for each watch. As Philippe and Peter are on both watches they’re also on a winner, or should be. However, one of the watches waited until skipper had gone for a sleep before cracking open and devouring their packet. Peter was bribed by Ben, Brian and Richard to keep quiet with Pringles – what a dilemma!

When we left Southampton back in September the cutlery draw was overflowing so much we were concerned about the added weight of a ton of cutlery. Back then the crew could select their weapon of choice to eat their dinner. It’s now 7,000 miles of sailing later and the cutlery draw is looking rather bare as items are disappearing at an exponential rate. Eating muesli with a teaspoon is slow work, marginally quicker than a fork. One more day and we’ll be standing in line so we can share the last remaining spoon or fork. Gadget is on the case and currently has two theories – classic Fastnet Pedro style emptying the washing up bucket over the back before removing the cutlery, or one or two crew secreting cutlery away so they can be assured of a meal and perhaps bartering rights over the remaining food. Investigation continues…

And finally…

So the skipper says, “What can you say about a man with big feet?”. Instead of the usual response, “He has big shoes”, there was a quick retort, “He gets his toes stood on a lot”. How true! A murderous gang of serial toe stampers have suddenly appeared on the boat and since the crew spend their time in bare feet the crushed toe count has suddenly gone astronomical. Philippe and Peter are having to get more adept at dodging the fearless toe stamping gang!

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Our watch – only has 3 players but have managed to cop all night-time squalls much to the merriment and giggles of ‘dry watch’, however as a big believer that the universe will ultimately take what it gives to realign the balance of fairness – lady sea joined forces with Neptune last night to unleash unholy hell on the other watch … after an animated performance review by Pete and Philippe all good, sails back up, floors dried banter restored .

Inspector gadget has me down as a serial offender but I have been set up and my pleas to see my ‘brief’ are falling on deaf ears! The real story behind the wafer thin tissue of facts – said bucket was like us on our 4 night squall in a row – on its last legs ! So first dunk off the back for bucket and ‘chuck It’ shower caused it to part with the handle and float off towards South Africa! Meanwhile one of the guys who used the sparkly new bucket to fill the bucket and chuck-it ‘dishwasher’ proudly hung onto his lifejacket strop line instead of the bucket strop! This is now also on its merry way to S.Africa.

Talking of briefs, back of the boat showers taken on the first warm day did see a lot of men running around in boxers squirting shower gel and generally whoop whooping ! I stayed below stock taking, in case I glimpsed something only a close nearest and dearest would love and admire.. when it came to my turn all stayed below in case I needed some privacy – this was welcomed until Philippe mentioned the mast mounted go-pro was streaming! He later admitted that this was only a joke …bl**dy well better be or he and the go-pro will be following the two buckets to S.Africa!

All crew enrolled into the Quokka school of cookery – end of term report reports for some will include the usual reposts -” worked well when here, could try harder if only they would apply themselves, tend to get a little distracted, to rapid progress, works well under pressure” (have opened up a black market operation right under inspector gadgets nose swapping my culinary expertise for sleep/watch duties (rates quite naturally in my favour and rates fluctuate on a daily basis and is especially weather dependant)

One of the most magical things I have ever seen was the display of dolphins playing on the bow at night in the phosphorescence, which looked like luminescent ghosts running through the waves…Speechless, that and 3 whales curiously circling the boat bringing the pantheistic nature of sailing close to home. So I was especially thankful when my bunk buddy Seamus and Philippe caught a Dorado – reeled in and let it go as its mate was still swimming faithfully beside it – as I am sure the universe would definitely have wanted to seek retribution otherwise.

So onwards for the self-styled superhero squall catchers as we enter the last 6 days of the adventure, currently deciding if we need a costume to go with our daring do ability to simultaneously, drop, reef, cling on re hoist and get back to generally giggling through nonsensical discussions over a mug of tea – that well known superhero elixir, within 5 mins of a dark cloud of doom passing through…… but in case inspector gadget does catch up with my black market racketeering I have baked my sailing knife into a freshly baked cibatta in case I need to escape gaol in St Lucia…now I wonder if MUSTO would be in the market for waterproof superhero capes….hmmmm.

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This is my third attempt at blogging this morning. Does every publisher have so many problems with their author? But like all things on a boat, distractions and priorities change. The other night, in the worst of the weather, completing the ships log entry, which should take about 3 mins, took an hour and 40 mins. Each time I attempted it, I was called back on deck for another ‘letter-box drop’ caused by an incoming squall. This morning has been no different. First a kite drop to slow the boat to land a 20lb Tuna, re-hoist, kite drop for a squall, re-hoist, kite change for a wind drop, jibe for a change in wind direction & galley cleaning duty. Luckily, it’s the publisher calling the writer away.

From reading previous blogs, I thought that you all might like a few updates. Boat Cludo. ‘Seamus, on the stern, with the winch handle’ has been the correct suspect, location and implement for the last four deaths on board. There are few other suspects and photographic evidence, so all pretty conclusive. Seamus’s victims have all been despatched to the inferno of ‘Hells Kitchen’ where Sam has worked her magic & we have all enjoyed the proceeds of crime. Indeed, this blog has already been interrupted to partake in some Sushami (sushi without the rice).

DCI Burwood (holder of the ARC pocketbook) has previously fingered me as the prime suspect in the loss over-board of the Fairy liquid & sponge. Whilst his clear-up rates for murder may be exceptional, he’ll need just a little more than circumstantial evidence on me to get a detection. Admit nothing, deny everything, demand proof.
Sam has been amazing in the Galley & her patience at explaining daily to some of the crew members on how one cooks a ‘boil in the bag meal’, knows no bounds. A few nights ago her shrill scream woke the boat in the small hours & we all thought another murder had occurred. Luckily it was a case of a Kamikazi Flying Fish which had hit her in the face. It being too small to feed the crew, all evidence of the unfortunate incident has been removed, the same way the Fairy liquid & sponge went…. allegedly.

After the perilous sailing of the w/end, the last few days have faired much better. It’s exactly like Philippe promised; sunshine & downwind sailing. We have all dried out and morale has improved with dry clothes & a flatter boat which has made living much more injury free as we are no longer being flung around below deck. On Saturday night I recall helming & peering into the darkness. The lone star which had been my sole point of visual reference had vanished behind the back of a wave. In contrast, for the past few nights, we have been blessed with star lit skies & numerous meteors. Last night also saw the boat joined by the ‘Ghosts of Dolphins’; lit by the phosphorescence of plankton. It is truly magical to see, impossible to describe and something neither Disney nor David Attenborough can bring to the screen.

Richards’ reminiscence of the w/end has been that is has only been through the adversity & challenges we have faced that has made us bond as a team. His conclusion; that if we were all sat in a room together in different circumstances, that we’d have nothing to say. Despite this revelation, I am still looking forward to attending the Quokkette’s Silent Xmas Social in a few weeks’ time.

As morale has improved with the weather, incoming squalls now split the boat into three camps; those that race for their ‘foulies’, those that strip down to their trunks & those that dive on deck with a bottle of shampoo. Brian’s insightfulness; “If anyone is going to smell on board, the best person for that to be, is you.”

In sailing news: we’re about 5th on the water. Nominally, something like 12 miles separates the boats in 3rd, 4th, 5th & ourselves. In reality we are separated by hundreds of miles & we’ve not seen a competitor or any other vessel for days. Today Philippe has been checking the forecast & we have been faced with a tactical dilemma. A Low pressure system is developing in front of us. The route south around it is 60 miles shorter, the route to the north longer, but should provide us with stronger winds. Without exception, the pack ahead of us are further north, the boats behind further south & we are one of the few boats with a choice. So, having made gains on the rest of the fleet over the past few days, we now expect to make losses in the next 24 hours, but hopefully recoup those losses & more over the next 48 to 72 hours to battle our way to the front of the fleet.

So in summary: Crime has soared, we are all happy now that we have dry pants, we have bonded as a team, we won’t be speaking to each other once ashore, some of the crew are clean & we are still fighting for a place on the podium!

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