We last left off on the night before departure of Leg 5 of the 2019-2020 Clipper Round the World Yacht Race. The yacht was provisioned and all gear was aboard. I had a quiet night, eating at a local restaurant with another crew member and then went to bed early.

We were now ready to depart the Coral Sea Marina in Airlie Beach, Australia. However, some yachts had inoperable water makers. There were rumors going through the fleet if we would depart or not. At one point we heard that the boats with inoperable water makers would be on a ration of 2 liters of water per day per person, including water used for cooking. This seemed a bit extreme, given we were about to sail through the tropics and across the equator, some of the hottest areas for sailing in the world.

Ultimately, the Clipper Race Office made the right call and the departure was postponed by 48 hours. This allowed enough time for two maintenance staff to grab the last flight that day from Airlie Beach to Sydney, rent a car, pick-up two portable water makers that were purchased in Sydney, and then drive 1,200 miles back to Airlie Beach. A herculean effort that should not go unnoticed.

We kept to the original timeline for the departure ceremony on Saturday, January 18th. The ceremony included speeches from local dignitaries before we were released from the dock on 5 minute intervals.

At the start of every race, after leaving the docks, all the boats do a parade of sail, followed by passing by the media boat for official photos. Below are some photos of the parade of sail. It’s absolutely amazing seeing all eleven 70′ yachts milling about in close proximity.

In addition to the parade of sail, all boats conduct a man-overboard drill. This refresher training is critical to ensure all crew are ready to react quickly in the event of an emergency. The time was also used to do drills, such as tacking, gybing, and putting in and taking out a reefs. About one third of our crew are sailing around the world or doing multiple legs, so their skills are pretty well honed. But, most of the remaining two thirds of the crew have not sailed in more than 6 months.

With the 48 hour postponement to race start, we were given shore leave the following day. Myself and a few other crew took the opportunity to do a snorkeling trip out to the Great Barrier Reef. We opted to go with a business that has a more commercial operation, but it was the only company going to the outer reef. I was pleasantly surprised and they are worth checking out if you are ever in Airlie Beach. You can check them out here. Snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef is definitely an experience I will never forget.

En route to the outer reef. Screen shot of my phone using the Navionics app.

We finally departed on Monday, January 20th, with little fanfare compared to 48 hours prior. I enjoyed my last meal ashore, an acai bowl from the local breakfast spot at the Coral Sea Marina. It was nice to have something cool and fresh, especially since it would be another 26 days before I had that opportunity again.

Upon leaving the marina, all yachts started to motor-sail as a flotilla towards the race start, some 160 nautical miles away. The route took us out through the Whitsunday Islands and then through the Hydrographers Passage. We transited this space in the early morning hours and an outbound bulk carrier passed us, inquiring via VHF what all these sailboats were doing. I do think we looked a bit out of place compared to the normal vessel traffic in this part of the world.

Screen shot of the Navionics app on my phone, transiting through Hydrographers Passage.

Upon exiting the Great Barrier Reef we entered the Coral Sea and our race start was just ahead. However, the wind gods decided that it was not time for us to start racing. With the lack of wind it would be nearly impossible to conduct a LeMan’s race start. This meant we would continue to motor-sail as a flotilla easterly along the race route rhumb line, until the wind built enough to start the race.

Motor-sailing as a flotilla through the Coral Sea. Photo courtesy of Susie Blair.

The race would be postponed by at least 24 hours. Luckily for the fleet, this meant we were able to get some swimming in! We were only 24 hours into our time at sea and already the heat was hard to deal with. It was somewhat refreshing to jump into 1,400 feet of water, although the water temperature was 87 degrees Fahrenheit!

All the crew enjoyed the 30 minutes of swimming. And don’t worry, we had the ladder over the side before jumping in and either the skipper or 1st mate were always aboard. It is absolutely amazing at how clear the water was. It’s hard to describe the color as well, which is somewhat of a deep indigo blue.

Photo courtesy of Sophie Owles
Photo courtesy of Sophie Owles

With our swim over and feeling refreshed, we continued motor-sailing through the night. That next morning would be the Le Mans race start.

And now, enjoy Episode 2 of my journey during Leg 5 of the 2019-2020 Clipper Round the World Yacht Race!

I hope everyone is continuing to stay safe in these unprecedented times with the COVID-19 outbreak.

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