May 2014

Success or failure apparently brought by chance rather than through one’s own actions. The word ‘luck’ is banded about a lot in everyday life but perhaps does not have as great an impact as it does when one is ocean racing.

Or perhaps one does not have as much time to think about it than when travelling thousands of miles at 10 miles per hour while enclosed in the social experiment that is an ocean-going yacht. Some people’s idea of luck during this race is merely to cross an ocean safely in a 70 foot yacht and there have been times when we have thanked our lucky stars that we have managed this with our boat and selves intact. But as a recently anointed ‘ocean warrior’ I am after a bigger slice than that.

On PSP Logistics we have certainly suffered our share of bad luck in the middle legs of the race. To paraphrase the band Hot Chocolate, “it started with a crash” in Albany, and continued throughout the remainder of the Australian campaign: leaking rudder bearings on the way to Hobart allowed a ton of water into the boat and meant we bailed continuously for the last 12 hours of the race; then a crack in the deck that threatened to swallow those sitting on the rail forced our retirement from the subsequent race to Brisbane. For our Australian skipper and mainly Antipodean crew, Leg 4 was as bad as we could have envisaged: heads dropped, morale took a hit and we sought solace in the usual place...clichés.

Their luck must change soon is a much loved saying. A distant close friend tells me this is “furphy” and there is no reason for such optimism. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “shallow men believe in luck, strong men believe in cause and effect.” Call me superficial but I went into the next leg hoping for better things.

We placed 9th in our trip to Singapore and, while the sailing was without any particularly dramatic incidents, the long uncomfortable trip took its toll on nerves, patience and humour. The upshot was that we began the remainder of the leg minus three crew, two due to injury and one due to what I can only describe as 'sailing differences.' With eight more races to go and 20,000 miles left to sail, the trip back to London looked like a very long one indeed.

And the bad luck just kept on coming. A forestay failure just a few days into the race from Singapore to Qingdao was followed by a broken engine part on the subsequent motor up to Hong Kong, requiring a tow for the remaining few hundred miles. Oh the shame of it! The replacement part went off with another boat which delayed us in Hong Kong. This itself was not bad luck when I remember the hospitality provided by Hellfire and the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club but the delayed departure meant we were under pressure to make progress up the unforgiving Taiwan Strait to Qingdao and rig problems and sail damage meant we had to retire from the same race twice. To retire from a race once may be regarded as a misfortune, to do so twice looks like carelessness.

We left Qingdao two days after the rest of the fleet and, after making excellent progress, had a crew member suffer a serious injury and had to stop to put her ashore in Japan (I’ve never heard anyone scream with so much pain, 4/10 Ange? I’d hate to hear you on a bad day!) That left us limping into San Francisco way behind the fleet and placed 10th (I think? I’d kind of lost interest). I guess Derry-Londonderry-Doire’s recovery of Andrew during that leg left us thanking our lucky stars and showed us what bad luck (or good luck, depending on how you look at it) really is. If you were to compile a pack of Top Trumps based on sailing misfortune, our incidents would hardly register. Losing a leg to a shark while swimming, asphyxiation by a flying fish and running out of all sources of carbohydrate except for polenta would score far higher. But when one looks at the continuing good fortune of the likes of Henri Lloyd, Great Britain and One DLL, one gets to a point when one looks to Huey and asks for just a bit of a break.

Going into the final five races of the regatta and last two months of this epic year I do remain optimistic that our luck will turn before I run out of luck-related quotes and sayings to paraphrase. I’m not saying that I believe in miracles but one must keep the faith. At the end of the day, we must believe in luck for how else do we explain the success of those we don’t like?

To read more of Neil's stories on board PSP Logistics in the Clipper Race visit his blog