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Around the World with Catherine Nurrsaw

June 14, 2006

Just a brief trip report this time as there's a bit of a queue for this computer, and anyway it turned out to be a rather short race.

We left Victoria under motor instead of sail, because strong currents in the wrong direction combined with a distinct lack of wind meant that otherwise we might have been 24 hours just getting away from the docks. Well, most of us left under motor - Cardiff had to turn back almost immediately as their engine broke down. A quick repair later and they were following us down the channel, but the engine broke down again so they eventually rejoined the rest of the fleet under tow.

Fortunately there was enough wind the next morning for us to start the race, and the wind kept up for a few days. However, it died down again and we were falling further and further behind our schedule for getting to Panama. Then the news came in that there was a TRS (Tropical Revolving Storm) a'brewin up ahead of us, with the possibility of winds of 70 mph or higher. Under the circumstances, Clipper decided to finish the race early, so that we could motor when necessary and hug the coast to avoid the storm and be ready to take shelter if necessary.

So we finished the race with 2000 miles still to go to get to Panama - and Durbs was in 2nd place after Singapore! This now puts us in 1st place overall - ecstatic applause, hooting, skirling and wild cheering would be appropriate at this point.

The TRS eventually fizzled out into virtually nothing, but the wind never really came back in any force, so we were motor-sailing for the next 10 or so days, all along the coast of Mexico, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Guatamala, Panama...(those are probably not in the right order and I may well have missed a country or two out). For the first week the weather was glorious, but then we had rain almost solidly for five days which washed away much of my tan.

We saw plenty of dolphins on this leg, and the occasional squid would hurl itself suicidally onto the decks. Yet again we were a handy stopping off point for exhausted birds, while just as we were arriving in Panama a flock (herd? flotilla?) of butterflies surrounded the boat - literally thousands of them. Extraordinary sight.

We had a few days in Panama - not in itself a particularly attractive place, but the marina was good and the coastline is lovely. Plenty of crew partying going on, as usual.

Today we went through the Panama Canal, which is a wonderful experience. Three of our boats rafted up together to go through the gigantic locks and a raft of another three would go through at the same time, with acres of space to spare in front and behind the boats and a fair amount of space on each side. When you see the size of the cruise and container ships that go through you realise just how huge the locks really are.

The canal is surrounded by lush tropical rainforest, and it was wonderful to lie there in my hammock (oh, it's a hard life!) watching the world go by. You are required to have a pilot on board each boat as you go through the canal, although their function is not entirely clear - our pilot spent almost the entire trip fast asleep with a sinus spray tube stuck up his nose. Not sure whether the contents of the tube was Vicks or some other white powder, but it clearly left him very relaxed.

We are spending the night in the rather unfortunately named Colon, and will probably be starting the next race tomorrow, if all the boats are ready to go (Cardiff still has no working engine and Qingdao has keel problems - again!). Wish us luck!

Must hand over the computer now - no time to amend or proof-read so please excuse typos etc.

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