New skipper Jan onboard, we started out of Singapore, heading straight up to Qingdao, China. This was, however, to a be a short lived plan. When two of the other yachts suffered structural failures with a rigging component, it was deemed a high risk that other yachts would suffer a failure of the same nature. We were therefore diverted to Hong Kong in order to effect repairs so the component in question (the forestay bottle screw) could be removed.
Another period of motoring ensued, with a relaxed but frustrated few days.
We arrived in Hong Kong too late to start work that evening, and had a bit of a relax at the pub on the island. We were strictly forbidden from going across to the mainland as we weren’t cleared through any form of immigration. These sort of rules however, don’t apply to Jim, and the fact his cricket team were on tour in the city the same evening gave a clear and legitimate reason for being exempted from immigration regulations. He turned up the next morning looking much the worse for wear, having spent an amount of time hiding in a bush to avoid being spotted by the Clipper staff as he made his way back.
Once all was complete and another refuel dealt with, we were off, again. A short motor/sail took us up the coast and to the bottom of the Taiwan Strait. We arrived in rapidly deteriorating conditions, and the outlook for the passage past Taiwan and to China indicated it was going to be fairly unpleasant. A combination of shallow waters, high winds, a heavy fishing and shipping presence, and the fact the strait is only 120km wide at parts, meant it was going an intense few days.
The sea state was very rough, and the winds maintained up to 50kts true, consistently from a direction making nearly our entire passage upwind. The slamming the boat was suffering from was unlike anything we’d previously experienced, and constant checks were being made on all running and standing rigging to ensure all was as it should be.
Life below, and especially in the galley, was exceptionally difficult and most unenjoyable. You were liable to be thrown out of your bunk, despite all the adjustments that could be made, and as my bunk was right at the Port Quarter where movement could be significant, I ended up literally lashing myself in while attempting to sleep. What wasn’t bolted down moved, that that was bolted down was still liable to move, the oven door exploded on one particularly heavy impact, and the carefully organised and labelled engineering lockers gradually emptied themselves, with their contents slowly being distributed through the length of the yacht, to be slowly rediscovered over the coming months.
One notable incident was the detachment of the port running backstay while sailing upwind through rough water, surrounded by a dense Chinese fishing fleet, all engaged in a varied combination of trawling and fishing.
I was woken up to have a look, and as I climbed the companionway steps still in my socks, was handed the top end of the running backstay. Definitely not meant to be on the deck. Sailing on a Port tack, the shackle had obviously failed, most likely as a result of the rig pumping, as it was liable to do when there were 2 or more reefs in the mainsail and the staysail up. We immediately tacked so the mast could be supported by the Starboard runner, and the only option was to go aloft to reattach the failed support. This entailed climbing the leeward side of the rig as we needed to remain on starboard tack, which was never ideal at the best of times, let alone in rough conditions with restricted manoeuvrability due to traffic. It was a horrible dark night, with wind sufficiently high that communication to the deck below was nearly impossible.
I managed to get up the top spreader without succumbing to the fate of falling off and swinging like a pendulum out from the mast head, only to be smashed back into the rigging and sails, as so wonderfully demonstrated by Mark Burkes in a previous edition. It was, however, impossible to hold myself in position on the slamming rig, while holding the spliced backstay end still, and threading a new shackle and pin through the mast attachment. With a slightly break in the traffic, the boat hove-to, and within seconds the backstay was reattached and we were ready to go again. Some impressive bruises served as a lasting reminder of the event for some days afterwards.
Once we turned North-West and began our run along the Chinese coast the conditions settled considerably, and the sailing became more manageable again. We undertook our final motor into Qingdao with happy scenes on deck, and generally smiling crew.
A bit of an epic passage complete, we were all pleased to be a cold, but flat Qingdao,
PS. In Qingdao I had my first ever stitches as a result of a knife related incident. Luckily Dr Dan was on hand to provide 1st class care, and had me patched up in no time. Remarkably painful for what it was, but no long term damage done. Just another 1st on Clipper.