This is an ongoing series of blogs by Dell Ambassadors competing in the Clipper Race, a 40,000 nautical mile race around the world in 70 foot racing yachts. For background on Dell’s involvement, read our initial blog about this exciting race here.
The Atlantic Trade Winds Leg 1 : Liverpool, UK, to Punta del Este, Uruguay : 6,400 nautical miles : 33 days
Hello! My name is Samantha Harper and I’m one of two Dell Ambassadors in the Clipper 2017 – 18 Round the World Yacht Race.
I’m a member of team Dare To Lead (call sign CV25), one of twelve yachts in this years’ race, sailed under the watchful eye of Skipper Dale Smyth. We’ve just wrapped up the first of eight race legs, which has taken us from Liverpool, UK, to Punta del Este, Uruguay, a journey of over 6,400 miles. It’s hard to condense a 33-day passage into a few pages, but I’ll do my best!
Race start (August 20th) in Liverpool was a hive of excitement, and as our boat gingerly exited the Canning Dock area, we were thrilled to see the large crowd of friends and family wearing custom-made Dare To Lead t-shirts. As the boats snuck around each other to gain the best position off the starting line, our skipper Dale let out a warning: “Guys, just to let you know, I can be a bit of an aggressive racer – but don’t worry, I know what I’m doing”. This was met with a mix of both trepidation and gleeful anticipation – with the start line meters away, the engine was shut off and things were about to get real!
As our boat screamed into the tight turn with Garmin only a few metres away, we could literally see their crew ducking for cover.
Our teams first ‘test’ came shortly after when it was nearing time to round our first ‘mark’ and Garmin, who was alongside us, decided to turn, crossing in front of us. Picture someone on your right making a left-hand turn and cutting you off. This gave us one of two options: a) slow and bear away to end up behind them, or b) turn alongside even tighter and not give an inch away.
You can guess what option Dale chose. Remember – “Don’t worry”, right?
As our boat screamed into the tight turn with Garmin only a few metres away, we could literally see their crew ducking for cover. I’m sure they felt they would be skewered by our bow! Needless to say, Skipper Dale is a very skilled helmsman and he executed that turn with confidence and precision, as our bowman Justin, 70 feet ahead of him sitting in our pulpit, was calling out distances. With the fleet nipping at our heels, the next few hours became a co-ordinated team effort to optimize every tack as we zig-zagged out of the mouth of the river.
Once at sea, we did our best to protect our early lead. Our rivals in the first few days were Sanya Serenity Coast, Unicef, and Visit Seattle, but as the first week came to a close some unfortunate changes in the weather forecast meant that the carefully crafted and tactically clever route we had intended to follow landed us squarely in a wind hole and relegated us to back of the fleet. Such is the life of ocean racing. Sometimes a gamble pays off, and sometimes Mother Nature has other plans!
Fortunately, in true Dare To Lead fashion, we kept sailing along with our trademark good humour and teamwork. In a 33-day race, so much can change week by week. Friends and family following the race at home may not realize how little we know about other boats. Although each boat has an AIS (Automatic Identification System) number, that beacon only shows up on our ‘radar’ when boats are within a few miles of each other. Instead, every six hours, each Skipper must upload their boats’ latitude, longitude, and speed, which are then transmitted to the fleet. These updates (aka – “the Scheds”), also include a ranking based on those provided positions. At times these rankings seem completely arbitrary… Unless of course the latest Sched puts us a few positions ahead of our rivals– then naturally it must be accurate!
Racing is a 24-hour a day job, and our daily routine on board is broken down into two ‘Watches’; half the crew on deck at all times sailing the boat, and half the crew below, eating or resting.
Life on board can become monotonous but there also becomes a certain comfort in the simplicity. Eat, sleep, sail, repeat. Small perks become the highlight of a day: the once-a-week bacon for breakfast, seeing a rival boat pop up on the AIS, weather calm enough to take a saltwater bucket shower off the stern (that’s right folks – no real showers for the whole time at sea!), or a surprise email from home.
Emails from home have been a huge morale booster on board and we are very grateful to have reliable computer hardware to provide us with the connectivity to reach out to the real world. The crew shares a 14″ Dell Latitude Rugged laptop (aka ‘the Media PC’) for blog writing, composing emails, photo editing, and of course, reading the latest news updates (supplied in condensed form by the Clipper Race Office – sports scores on request!). Our ships Navigation Station is home to a second Dell laptop which runs our navigation, weather mapping, and communications software, and links to our satellite phones. Without these we would literally be lost!
Our Trans-Atlantic voyage on Leg 1 has taken us through a variety of temperatures and weather. This has ranged from scorching heat off the Cape Verde islands, to pelting, icy rains as we closed in on Uruguay. The Doldrums, ironically, were anything but calm, and our worst weather came in the form of the 45 knot winds and squalls off Fernando de Noronha as our tired crew retraced our steps towards the Rhum Line after the successful MedEvac of a sick crewmember.
The MedEvac to Fernando de Noronha, an archipelago off the coast of northern Brazil, was both a highlight and a lowlight for team Dare To Lead. For all of us, seeing the Jurassic Park-esque volcanic islands appear to rise out of the ocean as we approached was both beautiful and surreal. Having to say farewell to a sick crew member – who became perilously ill while we were in the middle of the Atlantic – was hard. But the race goes on, and we were determined to prove that you should always be on the lookout for Dale and his band of ‘Dark Horses’!
With the bulk of the fleet crossing the finish line in Uruguay only hours away from each other, it is obvious that this years’ race is full of talent and competitive teams. We were the fifth boat to cross the finish line, in sixth place overall in the standings after a redress was given to Greenings. Considering we had to travel over 100 nautical miles out of our way for a MedEvac and still managed to overtake a few teams, we feel it’s a very respectable finish!
They say, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” and as I sit here in Uruguay contemplating the rapidly approaching start of Leg 2 to Cape Town, South Africa, it’s dawning on me what an incredible journey this race has already been.
With South Africa being the home country of both our Skipper and our Sapinda Rainbow Ambassador crew members, team Dare To Lead is ready to make this leg our glory leg! Keep an eye out for us on the official Clipper Race Tracker (we hear it’s addictive!). Thanks to all friends and family back home for following and stay tuned in a few weeks for my Leg 2 wrap up, where I’ll write a bit more about how we live life at 45 degrees, a summary of our Leg 2 adventures, and reveal the story behind the “Dark Horse” moniker!
Thanks for reading,
About Samantha Harper, crew member, Dare To Lead
Samantha is a 37-year-old doctor from Happy Valley-Goose Bay in Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada. The Dell Latitude Rugged Laptop was made for people like Samantha; when she is not sailing 40,000 nautical miles around the world on board Dare To Lead, Samantha splits her time between working in remote communities as a GP, and pushing herself to the limits mountaineering and running ultra-marathons (she has done the infamous Marathon des Sables, a 250 kilometre race in the Sahara Desert, five times). However, the Clipper Race is Samantha’s first sailing experience, and after initially considering only doing three legs, she signed up for the whole circumnavigation, knowing that once she started, she wouldn’t be able to stop until she completed and experienced the entire thing.