Tuesday 20th April. Race day has arrived. Nine days behind schedule, the fleet is finally reunited and once again ready to embark on Leg 6 of the mighty Clipper Odyssey.
San Francisco was a fantastic stop over and I don’t think any of us were too bemused to have to spend an extra ten days in such a fabulous city, however as the start was postponed and postponed again, there were hints of itchy feet, seriously abused bank accounts and a general feeling that we were all ready to set sail once again. One man down on EIC, our hearts all go out to our crew member David, who should be with us right now. A last minute decision to fly home to spend a few days with his much missed girlfriend in London, got blighted by the Volcanic disaster in Iceland and left him stranded in Blighty with no hope of catching a return flight to join us in time for the off.
They say Ports rot boats and men. However Matt’s feedback on our performance on race day showed no hint that we had all become rusty and useless as we tacked tirelessly and without error through the gusty first few hours of the race. It was certainly up there amongst my race start favorites. The fleet were tightly packed and pushing hard, tacking furiously, all hell bent on getting their boat across the line first. After a wet and miserable morning, the sun had returned to send us off with blue skies and strong winds. With the stunning backdrop of the San Francisco cityscape and then the closely matched fleet tearing their way towards the Golden Gate Bridge and beyond, it was an occasion that shall not be forgotten in a hurry. Even more fantastic, was the sense of cohesion that we were once again starting as a (nearly) full fleet. It never feels the same to start a race with one member missing from the start line and to be back to a strong 9 boats on the start, pronounced a certain sense of satisfaction.
The first 24 hours were intense. It was as if we had never had a fortnight’s break on land, as conditions resembled those of the previous Pacific crossing so closely. Jokes were made about what had happened to the anticipated “downwind G&T sailing” conditions expected for this leg as we endured 40+knot winds and huge swells again. The familiar sounds of gear and galley utensils flying everywhere as the boat heeled were greeted with wry smiles on deck as the mother’s curses and obscenities traveled up the companionway. We were back at sea, back in the thick of it and surrounded by laughter, smiles and good cheer. The Pacific could have greeted us more warmly, perhaps offered a slightly more civilized welcome back to its waters, but there is plenty of time for calm waters and kite flying to come. Described by one legger, Will as a “Baptism of Fire”, the high seas and huge waves breaking over the cockpit did nothing to dampen the spirits. If anything it fuelled them, feeding all of our appetites for fast sailing, racing and adventure.