We are on the home stretch! Only two days left of racing and after 4,000+ nautical miles and 26 days at sea it is all coming down to the last few miles in race 6 during Leg 5 of the 2019-2020 Clipper Round the World Race. Step aboard by clicking the video below to watch team WTC Logistics race to the finish!

You can feel the tension aboard build as we close in the final miles. Below is an excerpt from my journal from February 13th, 2020, the last day before race finish.

“We are currently sitting in a windhole after spending the last 36 hours sparring with the lead boat, team Visit Sanya. The racing has been epic, but the windhole is soul destroying. We went from being on a high this morning as we consistently polled in the “sched” within 1 nautical mile of being in first place, to watching Sanya creep away and team Qingdao reel in from behind. All we can do is sit and wait for the wind to fill in.”

Writing in my journal. Photo credit Sophie Owles

“We are all sitting on the leeward side, both the on-watch and the off-watch. We are waiting for the wind to turn back on. It’s forecasted to veer 180 degrees and fill in first to where we are. Fingers crossed this strategy works. This sort of racing really comes down to luck at a certain point. It reminds me of watching the end of the 17/18 Volvo Ocean Race and how the boat that won took the inshore route. It was a massive gamble and the decision only revealed itself as the right choice in the last few miles of the race. I have a feeling we will get to experience that same stress in the next 24 hours. I believe in our team, our skipper, our AQP and that our tactical decision was the right one.”

“Regardless of what happens in the next 24 hours, I am so grateful for this experience. I look forward to arriving at the Subic Bay Yacht Club and sharing a cold one (or two) with the crew.”

How did we get to the position we were currently in? We exited the motoring corridor in 2nd place, after entering it in 9th place. This was a brilliant tactical move by our skipper. With windhole after windhole in the subsequent 2,000 nautical miles, we fell to 6th place and held onto that position for a majority of the race through the South Pacific.

The next tactical move was exiting the ocean sprint more southwest than the fleet and following the veering wind. This gained many miles for us as we entered the next weather system and “flew” towards the Luzon Strait with 25+ knots of wind abaft the beam. After rounding the Luzon Strait, our third tactical decision was the inshore route. While the lead boats (Ha Long Bay Vietnam and Qingdao) were dueling further west, they entered a windhole. While becalmed further offshore, they saw Visit Sanya and our boat, move into 1st and 2nd place by taking the inshore route. They then followed suit and threatened our position with less than 24 hours left to the finish line. It would be a very tense and stressful last day of the race.

On the morning of race day finish, I was coming on deck for the 0000 to 0600 watch. I had the long (6 hour) off-watch prior and I didn’t sleep much as I knew the end of the race was nearing and the excitement onboard was building. However, I had a job to do and at that moment I needed to rest to ensure I could deliver 100% when it was my turn on deck. I fell asleep to the sound of whooshing water along the hull. This is a positive sign that we were making forward progress at good speed towards the finish. At this point we were within 40 nautical miles of the finish, polling in 1st place but knowing our position was being threatened by team Qingdao. We unfortunately did not know where they were. I woke up at 2300, not to the sound of whooshing water but to the sound of silence. Wait, what happened? On no, not another windhole!

You could hear the crew on deck scrambling to lower the head sails and hoist the windseeker (the sail used in light winds to help get the boat moving). Time passes and we are just floating there, knowing our closest competitor is chasing us down. Yes, they would have to go through the same windhole as us, but what I have learnt in this race is that a boat could be less than 1/2 mile away and have enough “pressure” in their sails to sail by you. I know this from firsthand experience, we were the boat sailing by another boat.

I head up on deck to start my watch and you can tell the skipper and AQP are stressed. The Code 2 spinnaker is on deck in it’s bag. I sit down on it, knowing this windhole could last awhile as we were in the lee of a mountain, but very close to the tradewinds that were making their way over the lower lying land just ahead.

At this point I said a prayer. A prayer for wind. A prayer for our team. For this race represented more than just a potential race win. This was a battle of an underdog team. A team that has yet to see a podium finish. A team in 9th out of 11th place overall in the race. We were a team that shared in all the duties aboard, not just specializing in one task. A team of 10 woman and 8 men. A team that wanted to prove that you could have fun and be able to be a competitive ocean race team. A team that the rest of the fleet was routing for. As I finish my prayer, literally at that moment, the wind picked up. And boy, did it pick up.

Within 30 seconds the boat went from upright level to heeled over at 35 degrees on a port tack. I was on the foredeck and with the wind howling at 20+ knots, I had to get the Code 2 spinnaker and windseeker (both in their respective sail bags by this point), down below into the sail locker through the forward hatch. Some crew helped from below and above, with green water coming over the bow and flowing into the sail locker. All buttoned up, it was time to sit on the high side. We were now 12 nautical miles to race finish and still in 1st place.

As we entered the outer part of Subic Bay, we kept a watchful lookout for all the small unmarked fishing vessels transiting the area. It reminded me of the last Volvo Ocean Race where 11th Hour Racing had the tragic accident of hitting a fishing boat going into Hong Kong, where a fisherman lost his life. As we continued into the bay, the original strategy of short tacking to the finish line (it was an upwind finish) was abandoned. We found a “lifter” situation where the wind shifted allowing us to follow the wind towards the mark. With 30 minutes left in the race, the off-watch crew came on deck. A few short tacks later and we were on the layline to the finish. The race committee had charted a boat and were at the finish line between channel markers #1 and #2, by Grande Island, the entrance to Subic Bay, Philippines.

This was it. The emotions were intense. The mood onboard was of silent anticipation. It’s never over until it’s over, and we needed to cross the line. One of the crew members was in the navigation station calling distance to the line from the GPS. 800 Meters. 500 Meters. 200 Meters. And then the call came over the VHF radio from race control. “Congratulations, winners of Race 6, team WTC Logistics!”

Crossing the finish line in the dark. Photo Courtesy of Clipper Ventures PLC

That’s when the celebration happened. The emotions were then allowed to run free. We did it! After 24 days of racing and 26 days at sea, covering 4,300+ nautical miles, we did it! We would have been ecstatic with a podium finish, but a race win?! It was a surreal moment. Lots of shouting, hugging, and tears. The gravity of the situation had not quite sunk in yet, but it was pure magic aboard. It was an experience that will be difficult and most likely impossible to repeat. The pure sense of joy and accomplishment.

Our celebrations were short lived as we still had to drop the head sails, mainsail and then hoist our sponsor flags. It was a 45 minute motor into the Subic Bay Yacht Club. We arrive at the marina and are assigned the dock in front of the yacht club. Race Director Mark Light and Sir Robin Knox-Johnston were there to greet us. We were all on “cloud nine” and the docking of the boat was less than perfect, but no one seemed to care. Lines were secured and the traditional celebratory ice chest with beers was brought aboard. The team photo followed and then the winners champagne was brought out.

Photo courtesy of Clipper Ventures PLC

Our skipper shook the bottle, popped the top, and sprayed us all. The Clipper Race photographer captured that moment perfectly. It is a photo that I will cherish for the rest of my life. It represents so much of what this experience has meant to me. My sailing skills have improved. I have learnt more about weather routing and helming with an asymmetrical spinnaker. I have experienced light wind sailing along with being in 25+ knots of wind and a 4 meter sea state. I’ve learnt a lot about wind angles and how critical apparent wind is.

But, I’ve also learnt more about people and teams and how to co-exist in difficult living and working conditions. Personal sacrifice is critical for the better of the team. I have a newfound respect for those doing the full circumnavigation. It takes a dedicated and resilient person to do this race.

Photo courtesy of Clipper Ventures PLC

I hope you have enjoyed the videos as much as I have enjoyed making them. My hope is that the videos and this blog will inspire others to challenge themselves and to step outside of their comfort zone and do something great. Remember, regular people can live extraordinary lives!

There will be more content and videos covering the shorter race 7 during Leg 5 in the coming weeks. Unfortunately, I will not be producing a weekly Monday release that you have all come accustomed to. Stay tuned and make sure to subscribe to the blog and YouTube channel to be notified when the next video comes out. Take care and I hope everyone is staying safe.

Fair Winds and Following Seas.

Photo courtesy of Clipper Ventures PLC

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