Clipper RTW – Leg 6: Stitches and spinnakers

Qingdao to San Francisco was going to be a long one, and probably a fairly grey and miserable existence for a while. We started off our 6500nm trip with a small crew of 12. Considering Lindsay still had cracked ribs and I already had stitches, it was never going to be easy.

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Rounding the bottom of Japan.

We also had the addition of cameraman Olly, who was to be recording the next month of sailing. While filming was his primary role, he was up for getting involved with the sailing, and matched Courtney’s ability for being able to reach high up things without needing ladders. He could often be found hugging his camera close whilst sleeping.

The first three days were fast and furious spinnaker sailing, trucking down to the bottom of the Japan, then turning left and making for San Fran. Good speeds were maintained in exciting conditions, and despite some early spinnaker damage we reached Osumi Strait in a good position.

However, shortly after this, things went very downhill. Caught out on a big surf, the helm drove the boat too far downwind, and the heavyweight spinnaker that was flying at the time became entangled in the rigging. It managed to wrap itself around both the inner and outer forestay, essentially flying itself with complete independence from the halyard, sheets or tackline. This meant it was a) out of control, and b) unable to be dropped. The only option was too try and unwrap it by hand. This was attempted, but involved sending me up to the top of the mast, and then down the forestay to above the wrapped area. Hanging upside down while trying to drag large portions of heavy sail material around was challenging to say the least, and despite getting several wraps out, I was too exhausted to continue while the majority of the sail was still wrapped. With the weather deteriorating and night falling, the decision was made to hold station as best we could, and leave dealing with it until morning.

Upon daybreak, various bits of the sail had already shredded themselves with the winds of over 45kts, and the best way to get the rest of the sail down was to cut it off. I spent an hour cutting some free from above, and the rest of the day was spent cutting and untwisting from the deck. Over 24 hours after the initial wrap, the spinnaker was finally down. Several portions were retained, but much had blow away into the ocean. With everyone completely knackered, we got back on course and started to finally head in the right direction again.

Over the next few days everything returned to normal, however having survived hours fighting a spinnaker 100ft up in 50kt winds, two days later I slipped over on deck and smashed my ribs on a deck winch. Whilst not broken, Dr Dan suspected I had separated a couple from the adjacent cartilage, and it hurt a remarkable amount. My stitches however were now being more of a hinderance that help, and I removed them with my Leatherman when off-watch the next day.

The weather stayed fairly stable for the following weeks, and while the waves and wind were still a challenge, no great dramas were experienced.

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Stunning yet dangerous surroundings.

Time on deck was cold, and not overly stimulating. As you can see below from Kit’s behaviour, it wasn’t always enjoyable. Especially with many layers and always being clipped on adding to the restriction.

 

The final three days were spent dealing with a complete absence, and then light winds; and were a complete contrast to the previous 3 weeks. In sight of the coastline, all we could do was drift around, enjoying the company of the occasional whale, before finally getting enough wind to take us into San Francisco Bay, where we were all very happy to arrive.

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The squiggles South East of Southern Japan show where our spinnaker troubles occurred. Our route took us over 6500nm across the biggest expanse of water on the planet.

Leg 6 - Qingdao to San Francisco

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