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Around the World with Catherine Nurrsaw

June 21, 2006

Howdy folks!

Well, the big news for anyone who hasn't religiously been checking the Clipper website on a daily basis (and why haven't you, eh?) is that Durban Clipper arrived in Jamaica in first place, maintaining and indeed generally extending our overall lead. Yay!!!!! We're all trying to be frightfully humble and modest and we are certainly well aware that a bad race can happen to anyone at any time, and that if we have (another) one we could fall right back in the ratings, but in the mean time and in secret - gloat, gloat, gloat......

We had a short but surprisingly enjoyable stay in Colon (so many ways in which that sounds wrong) - there was nowhere to buy food for miles around, but a well-stocked honour bar in the marina, which most people seemed to find an acceptable substitute. The crews drank not wisely but too well, which might explain why the morning revealed the rather odd sight of 7 steering wheels at various heights up the mast of one of the yachts. A small ransom had to be paid for their return.

The next morning I went on a short jungle walk to locate the howler monkeys that had been making even more noise than the Clipper crews the previous evening. Found a small family group of the monkeys and got about 35 mosquito bites in the 5 minutes I was watching and photographing them. Also saw the hanging nests made by (I think) weaver birds - extraordinary things.

Anyway, the boats all set off that evening, but once again we were only motoring as there was absolutely no wind. The next afternoon there was a bit of a thunderstorm and over on the horizon we could clearly see a water-spout twisting away. There had been a reasonable amount of wind for about 2 hours, so it was decided to start the race. All the boats lined up for a Le Mans start (or possibly I mean a Lamaze start - lots of deep breathing and tension...) and this one went amazingly well, with all of us in a more or less straight line at the start. And off we went!

At which point the wind died again, and the whole fleet was flapping around going nowhere. There was some (joking) talk about treating that as a practice start and doing the real thing later on once the wind picked up, but no, we had to hang around for the next 7 or 8 hours virtually motionless.

I was on Mother Watch all day, which meant that I had the whole night off to sleep. This turned out to be an excellent strategy, as I missed the hardest night's work of this leg. Suddenly the wind picked up really strongly and we were rocketing along, and there were headsail changes and big waves and lifejackets inflating left right and centre and (minor) injuries and all sorts. Meanwhile, I was snoozing peacefully.....

Speaking of lifejackets, incidentally, a surprising number of you have been asking after the health of my lifejacket. Indeed, some of you have expressed far more concern for my jacket than for myself, not that I'm bitter or anything. Anyway, I feel that I am gaining a slight advantage in the ongoing war of attrition. I have symbolically castrated the beastly thing by removing its hood, which had been viciously poking me in the ear at every opportunity. It has attempted to retaliate by ensuring that its velcro utterly refuses to stick together, so that the whole thing just flaps open, but it's a weak effort - I think it knows I have the upper hand, as I'm tying it up with so much wool the velcro is irrelevant anyway.

Back to the race. When I finally woke up and came on watch, I discovered to my surprise that we were in first place - we'd been about 5th or 6th when I went to bed. Sadly the rest of the crew did not seem convinced by my argument that they clearly did better when I was in bed, and rejected my noble offer to go straight back to bed so that they could continue to do well - and in fact, we did continue to do well.

However, WA in particular were also doing very well, and were only a few miles behind us and to windward (for non-sailors, the windward boat has an advantage). During the following night they came down towrds us - or possibly we came up towards them, there seems to be some doubt about which - and by the next morning they were just ahead of us and still to windward, able to cover every move we made. As we came within sight of Jamaica we had to tack and tack again, and each time WA covered us.

Once we passed to corner of the island, however, WA for whatever reason moved further in to shore than us and we were able to gain the windward advantage and move just ahead of them. It turned into a real drag race between us, but in the end we were able to fly our spinnaker at a tighter angle than they could and we were able to maintain our lead right to the finishing line. WA came in a close second, with New York not far behind them.

All of the boats arrived in Port Antonio on the evening/night of 17 June, and the celebrations started then and are still in full force. It's 21 June now and there has been a party every night so far - there's another one tonight, with a pirate theme, heaven help us.

Last night was the official prize-giving, at which the guest of honour was the widow of Errol Flynn - she's in her 90s now, but it's obvious she was absolutely beautiful when she was younger, and she has the most amazing golden age of Hollywood voice.

As for the prizes....hmmm. How can I explain this. Apparently, when British ships arrived in Jamaica in the old days there used to be rowing races between the long boats of the fleet, and the winning team would be awarded a - let us please call it a rooster (I'm not sure whether this would be a live one or not) - which would be proudly displayed up the mast as a sign of triumph. So, the Clipper boats in third, second and first place were presented with carved wooden - for heaven's sake let us continue to call them roosters - a fairly small one for third place, a larger one for second, and a really quite enormous one for first. And the subtle humour inherent in this is going to keep some of the crew in stitches to Liverpool and quite possibly beyond.....

Jamaica is a fantastic place to celebrate and over all a wonderful place to visit. I definitely want to come back here for a longer holiday. We're here in the rainy season so there have been some incredibly heavy rainstorms, with very dramatic thunder and lightning, but then the sun comes out and it's gloriously hot and sunny again. Because it gets so much rain everything is very lush and green and jungly, with bananas, coconuts, mangoes and all sorts of other fruits growing wild everywhere. Yesterday I spent much of the day at a beautiful beach called Winifred's Bay, and today I spent the morning in the torrential rain rafting down the Rio Grande on a bamboo raft. We had lunch on the riverbank in the rain, attempting to keep the rain off our jerk chicken with rather dilapidated umbrellas. Got completely soaked but had a lovely relaxing time.

Tomorrow I'm hoping to fit in a dive as well as having some work to do on the boat, and then the race starts again on Friday. Wish us luck!

Usual apologies to anyone who has written to me and not had an individual reply. Please do keep on writing - I love hearing from you all!

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