Clipper RTW – Leg 5: Another drift, then a thrashing, Part 1.


Brisbane, Aus, to Qingdao, China, was always going to be up there as one of the most varied legs. Fast sailing up the coast of Australia, until the tropics where things were expected to get hot and slow again like our last equatorial crossing. Then busy busy on the entry and exit to Singapore, and a right royal thrashing up through the South China Sea to Qingdao.

Those were the expectations that had been set. Pretty much spot on in terms of what was delivered!

Rudders repaired, nuts and bolts organised, some fresh blood onboard, and we were off. It all started quick enough, and some fast spinnaker sailing got us up and into the Solomon Sea in no time. Then the wind buggered off, and we basically spent a week or two drifting, with the occasional excitement of lots and lots of wind from varying directions. Very hot, and very frustrating. On the bright side, we had lots to look at, mainly the coast of Papua New Guinea and Indonesia.

Searching in vain for wind. Looking for hope.

Luckily, there was the occasional excitement to keep us sane. One such event was the head being winched off the top of the Yankee 1 headsail. The halyard had been caught around the topmost mast spreader, and the increased friction on the winch was misinterpreted as a sign to winch harder. This obviously never ends well, and both the sail and spreader showed it. The sail was sent below to the sweatshop (I mean sail repair station), and I was up the rig to deal with the spreader. It was fairly impressive how far up the metal had bent without breaking, but it wasn’t anything that could be put right with what Skip Burkes described in his email to Clipper as “the 75kg body hammer”. Once I’d jumped up and down on it repetitively for a while and relocated it to the precise original angle, all was well with the world again.

Forever ingrained in the memories of all sailing this patch was ‘Long Island’. Located at 5º23’40″S 147º07’03″E, it was initially unclear as to how it gained its name. However, once we had drifted in its vicinity for over 32 hours, we understood. Watch after watch was attended to the same bloody view, in some cases having gone backwards. I distinctly remember Lindsay coming on deck and using some really quite offensive language to describe his opinion of the situation. It was what we all thought, but hadn’t managed to articulate as eloquently as Mr Cousins did.

A nice team picture. Long Island is still in the background…

The Australian contingent had been trying in vain to catch fish for some time. This slow (ahem, stationary) pace was apparently prime conditions for such an activity. Unfortunately this wasn’t enough, and no fish were caught, however the rod out the back made us feel like at least something constructive was being attempted while the sailing productivity was at an all time low.


The water temperature was right up into the mid-30ºC range. Normally this would be a welcome concept, however it was nothing but to our detriment. The boat was phenomenally hot already, with the deck too hot for bare feet. This heat then transferred below, where ventilation was basically nil. Our only hope was that the seawater would act as a heatsink, and cool the boat from the outside. Not so in 35º water.

It also meant the diesel generator was struggling to dissipate the heat from its internal coolant to the raw water cooling system, leading to endless faults. Not a good thing when we were hammering the batteries with a freezer and watermaker turned up to 11. I spent many, many an hour in the engine room stripping down the raw water intake system, and replacing shredded impellers. I took a thermometer in with me to answer my question of how hot it really did get in there in these conditions. It went off the top of the scale at over 45ºC, but I knew that already.

Hot working fixing stuff in a thermally insulated box.

We sweated and drifted our way slowly West, on towards the Bismark and Celebes Sea.

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