What was I thinking? ‘Olivier, just treat me like another crew member’. Did I really say that? What a muppet!…
What was I thinking? ‘Olivier, just treat me like another crew member’. Did I really say that? What a muppet! Sponsors on boats; visions of en suite bathrooms, pillows on fluffy sheets and some stage managed ‘city boy’ does sailing photos. Perfect. Port Out, Starboard Home (POSH) for old Sammy Softie here. Breakfast at 8, lunch at 1 and dinner whenever I damn well fee like it. Silver platters, filet steaks rare and an amuse bouche or two all washed down with a glass of chateau fancy dan. Oh yes, that’s sailing sponsor style. Or is it?
Not entirely. Night two, boat lurching, surf and crash, surf and crash, staying upright a feat of mighty achievement and then they ask you do stuff. Grind, trim, ease, sweat and then deep joy of joys. Wool the Spinnaker. All around you people not managing to hold down the delights from dinner and you’re cooped up below deck with 5 others, bouncing off not very bouncy metal boat parts, scrunching 100 square meters of nylon spinnaker into a narrow floppy silky tube, held together by granny’s pink cardigan wool, cut helpfully into lengths about 4 centimetres too short. 20 minutes that feel like 20 hours . Sweaty and nauseating, by far the least volunteered for job on a boat. But it’s ok you won’t have to do it again for at least an hour as skipper changealot up above hoists Yankee, drops Yankee, hoists code 1, drops code 1. Hold on a sec; publicity shot? Make sure you catch Chris puking beside you and Fred, delightfully doing the same into the cereal Tupperware. Pure pleasure and quality PR!
Eight hours on freezing deck, chilled to the bone and wet to the core blessed relief as it’s bedtime. A whole 4 hours of rest in the seclusion of your deluxe bunk. Except, someone beat me too it …. Some hairy being in your spot. Oh hell, you have two choices, collapse on the spot or be launched headfirst in the general direction of the nav station. Collapse it is, onto an array of luggage helpfully stored between the two rows of bunks. All about weight distribution courtesy of our details focussed skipper! Finally I find an unnatural foetus position wedged between hard case and soft something to attempt some shut eye.
I drift off and sometime later wake having being heaved violently into the back of Pascal – the hairy thing from earlier. Ugh….he yelps but wait for it. We’re under attack. Attack from a storm of baked bean cans, who target us indiscriminately fromm their hiding place beneath the coffin bunk. The joy of my privileged position as boat sponsor.
Exhausted, baked beans get brushed aside and deep breaths, grunt, snore. Yup Pascal again enjoying the delights of my VIP salon.
Treat me like anyone else Olivier. Really?!
Tears welled in my eyes. ‘I would have loved to have done that; I just never had the opportunity’ said…
Tears welled in my eyes. ‘I would have loved to have done that; I just never had the opportunity’ said a self confessed home bird who loved her family around her in her nest that she’d spent the best part of fifty years creating. Hunting, gathering, layering with mountains of love, affection, warmth and security. Here I was about to do my first ever mid life crisis adventure and climb Kilimanjaro at the tail end of 2009 and my 74 year old mum was telling me she had that spark too. A love of the majesty of the world; strictly from a creationist perspective; I never said she was perfect!
I think a lot about that conversation and even more today as the Mercers reel from another tragedy in the battlezone that is life. The Arctic ocean and on to the Tasman sea; they’re quite monotonous at times and for people, like me, who are used to taking action, making a difference and exerting control a selfish sense of boredom rises. And then a pod of dolphins, a spout of water from the blowhole of a whale or three; breathtaking, awe inspiring, mind blowing majesty. The complexity of the world and the beauty of our planet comes home to roost.
Your mind wanders and you feel oh so fickle for being bored and wishing for a club sandwich and a glass of Pinot noir a few minutes before. In modern parlance they say FOMO – fear of missing out – and it might be that or it might just be a natural inquisitiveness that we all share, that we all observe in children but somehow lose and disguise in a blur of total connectivity that is the curse of our modern world.
I realise I am fortunate, very fortunate to have the opportunity to discover and most importantly try to understand this world. Like the rest of us I don’t think I’ve made much progress in understanding but I do my best to appreciate. And I appreciate all the more when I think of Andy Ashman who would have loved to be at the race start in Sydney and cross the line in Hobart. We held him in our hearts as we cruised down Storm bay; an emotive name and an emotional time.
I appreciate it when I think of Kevin and his loved ones, of the pain in the hearts of T and E and C and all of us, his family. I believe there’s a light left on for you Kev, there is a mum or two we know well with their lights on and arms wide open. The majesty remains and the joy was ours. Rest my friend.
We just passed the Giants causeway by sea although they call it Eaglehawk neck down here in Tasmania. Columnar jointing…
We just passed the Giants causeway by sea although they call it Eaglehawk neck down here in Tasmania. Columnar jointing or tessellated pavements typically caused by volcanic lava cooled rapidly by the ocean or alternatively evidence of Noah’s flood depending on your point of view ;-).
Pods of Dolphins escorted us through and put on quite a show. It has been quite idyllic and a reminder that ocean sailing can be a beautiful, uplifting experience unlike the Spielberg inspired Armageddon nightmare endured just 48 hours earlier.
I could show you the photographic evidence but the skipper was grunting ‘we are not on holiday, we are not tourists….. Ah, oh…. Pretty Dolphins ….. There are a lot of them’ grunt grunt chunder chunder.
The fact that we are talking about the scenery and wildlife obviously means we didn’t get the result we wanted. All credit to Danang and Team GB for sailing a better race and many congratulations to all from a tired LMAX Exchange Team who gave it everything.
I am very proud of the team and feel privileged to have been part of this well oiled unit. Now I need a holiday!
I’ll be back with more refection soon but for now suffice it to say it’s been emotional, magical, horrific and scary all wrapped up in a neat 4 and a half day Sydney-Hobart classic. Is that the time? Yes you guessed it. It’s beer o’clock!
Like a big cat eyeing his prey the French magician prowls the boat. A shake of his mane, a flare…
Like a big cat eyeing his prey the French magician prowls the boat. A shake of his mane, a flare of the nostrils, an immediate spin of 180 degrees, two twitches of his neck left and right.
He studies and searches and peers out to the horizon. A sharp look back and a glare at his tellytubby red suited crew, a flail of his arm ‘get high, get forward, now’. We shuffle off and still he prowls. A sudden feline pounce down to the pedestal, a quarter turn on the staysail, his eyes flick up and down the line of the sail, a loosening of the Yankee, maybe three inches of adjustment. He purveys everything …. Again a nostril shiver. He stands, shoulders back, a proud figure of oceanic majesty. “There is the wind…. Looook”.
He’s lost the plot. There is barely a ripple on the dark misty blue sea. Time for the cat to crawl into his basket for a few hours rest we think. “10 minutes” he utters with a wide eyed look of a lion possessed.
And there it is; the black line in the horizon. By Jove he’s good this fella. “Get ready, keep the couuuuurse”.
And then as if by magic with only a 1 minute misjudgement the sails fill and CV24 gets a kickstart, like the end of an M25 traffic jam without warning. We’re gliding again, we’re back in the game.
The cat strokes his mane, twitches a shoulder and goes to the helm; where will his next prey come from. Come it will.
For a start we have the full compliment of 23 crew members – up from yesterday. The rest were laid…
For a start we have the full compliment of 23 crew members – up from yesterday. The rest were laid up with chronic sea sickness; I'm told that's not pleasant but thankfully yours truly seems to have avoided it – hooha!
Why the quick turnaround you ask? Well yesterday was upwind on the nose being battered and beaten by a constant 40-50 knot wind with some gusts maybe up towards 60 knots on top of an inconsistent swelling sea with 6-10 metre waves rolling us around like its plaything.
Well playtime ended abruptly today and the wind stopped. Just like that – suddenly you could walk, you could eat, you could clean and you could live.
But what we couldn't do is make the boat go very fast. Wind speeds down to maybe 4-5 knots and going nowhere very quickly. we're halfway but unless this improves the second half could take three times longer than the first.
We shouldn't complain really because the previous 24 hours was pretty hellish – I wondered why anyone would put themselves through this but like
always – if you're going through hell, just keep on going.
Now we have arrived at a different type of hell – especially for our skipper who is understandably frustrated at the lack of progress. It might be the weather has put paid to our chances in this race but we're still trying, searching for that elusive wind….
Be careful what you wish for.
Caught, suspended and dumped like a one night stand in Ibiza. The Tasman sea showed me who's boss today. My…
Caught, suspended and dumped like a one night stand in Ibiza. The Tasman sea showed me who's boss today. My first wipeout on deck and not one I particularly look forward to repeating.
Raise the Staysail was the simple instruction and my job was to “sweat” it up; basically pull down on the down rope (halyard) which makes the mid sized sail go up. Pull and feed, pull and feed and keep pulling and feeding till your fingers bleed. Easy enough and surely not a task even this bambi of the seas could fail. But fail I did….
The sweating bit went ok as far as it went but I guess I've omitted to say the wind was gusting between 30-40 knots which was a big drop from the previous 50-60 knots.
We're a racing boat so that drop into an uncomfortable upwind means we need more sail and more boatspeed. Keeping your feet with the added variant of 10 metre waves is tricky but we did ok until the ‘crash'.
I didn't see much; the bow dropped, I had an impression of a frothy white a blueberry slush puppy sea rolling towards me and then it almost helpfully lifted me violently towards the boom. I forlornly tried to grab on to it but it was pointless.
Suspended animation and my initial reaction was “bloody hell David, you are so rubbish – you can't even sweat a staysail”. And then the realisation was there – this is gonna hurt!
It didn't disappoint – dumped unceremoniously in a heap – thrown two metres back from the halyard landing against the mainstay but another metre could have been much worse.
I managed to give the ok gesture within a few seconds and they went on without me and ground it up.
My pride was hurt along with my backside and a few other bits but all in all not too bad. We had the sail up and the boat moving quicker within minutes – that was the important thing!
Crash – I slept well last night!
A full Christmas Day platter of anticipation and excitement all smothered in a healthy dose of fear as I sit…
A full Christmas Day platter of anticipation and excitement all smothered in a healthy dose of fear as I sit and wait. I wait with 22 crew members and another 107 crews to start the iconic Rolex Sydney to Hobart yacht race.
Butterflies a plenty, I’ve just checked my Personal Locator Beacon wondering if it would actually work and whether I’d be able to activate should the situation require it. Let’s hope so and most importantly let’s hope it is not required. To be clear if it’s required it would be my own fault; we’re tethered to our yachts and failing some freak unforecast weather then Mercer being Man Overboard should not happen.
But there’s risk – I contemplate if it’s worth the risk but there’s risk in everything. A wise man once said you only regret the things you didn’t do. So we’ll do this thing.
But I dwell too much on the risk and the fear; it is not just fear of the danger but fear of failure for I am joining a successful race team and we’re racing to win. I want to win. There’d be no point in racing if we didn’t race to win. I look forward to the physical hardship and the mental torment; the human soul can bear a lot and craves the adrenalin these challenges create. I do anyway.
The prize of achievement and the satisfaction of winning, of making it, is a drug. You get your fix in early life from sport, or exams or career success but as life goes on there are bigger challenges and bigger fixes required. For how much longer can we do these things and will we always have the opportunity? I am fortunate to have this opportunity and am determined to make the most of it.
I do not want to let my team down and most of all I don’t want to let me down. I could, as my training skipper Wayne put it, ‘sit in my bunk and suck my thumb’ and it may yet come to that but I’ll give it everything to make sure that’s not the case. Mind you, sitting in your bunk is easier said than done on these floating washing machines colliding with 3-5 metre waves.
The sailing bit, the working on deck is in many ways the easy part. The hard part is living but we’ll get busy living and see how we fare.
15 hours to go and I’ve packed; ok I admit I’ve packed 3 times and I suspect there’s another couple of iterations to go but I just want to get going now. I just want to get busy living.
Oh the joy of those Christmas songs that haven’t changed since Noddy Holder screamed out “Merrrrrrry Christmas” in the 70s.…
Oh the joy of those Christmas songs that haven’t changed since Noddy Holder screamed out “Merrrrrrry Christmas” in the 70s. To be fair Mariah Carey’s saccharine “All I want for….” is only two decades old and oh how we enjoy it every time we buy a pack of peppermints in December….. Every time…… Love it.
Shakin Stevens remember him? If you don’t, have another mince pie – you’ve missed 25 years of denim clad Christmas. He’s number 10 in the charts again right now so fear not – Shaky is just a few clicks away. Number 10 ….. Seriously!
No really, I love a Christmas tune…… George and Last Christmas — what possessed you George? You were cool even with the perm and the rather too tight shorts and we all knew…. We did George….. Honest. Cool and then wham bham….. Bloomin Last Christmas! Have another funny cigarette George …. We’ll forget soon…… Mind you Bing is still going strong 60 years on with White Christmas….. Honest to goodness 1954 he pumped out that all time classic….. The tune that just keeps giving and giving and…..giving me indigestion!
But there are things I do love about Christmas. There’s the office party. Generally the best night of the year and informative too. It should be included in all MBA classes immediately. The things you learn, the things you coulda learned earlier if only you’d thought of asking Jonny from logistics where you’d been going wrong all this time. Chuck in a few glasses of sparkly and it’s there for all to see ….. You’re a donut, you don’t care and you should be selling your widgets in China to the Chinese…… There’s lots of them you know….. A big market allegedly…… Damn Jonny….. You da man……. See ya Monday working on the Macclesfield delivery John …… Skegness here we come….it’s just round the corner from Beijing and there is a market there.
Client lunches times a million …. They’re fun …. and declined dinner invites from your widget supplier – really a discount and enhanced efficiency will do…. You can hold the Harvester set menu….. much as I love an overcooked brussel sprout…..I just can’t fit you in – I’ve got Bing and Mariah and George and Noddy and Elvis and Luther and Cliff …… Oh Cliff do bore off man….. It’s done now. Enough already!
So this year I’m sad I’ve missed all of that. I ran away to a land far away where they’ve never heard of Christmas – well clearly not cos they’ve thrown in sunshine with the shrimps on a barbie but what’s that I hear – oh here comes Bing …. White Christmas….. Are you for real…. There’s no Ozone layer let alone a snowflake.
Have a wonderful Christmas one and all – family time, enjoy, relax, over indulge but do yourselves just one favour – change the record !
Ok I admit it the first Mercer blow up on a boat has happened. Training skipper Wayne – a thoroughly…
Ok I admit it the first Mercer blow up on a boat has happened. Training skipper Wayne – a thoroughly good bloke with the patience of a sailing saint – a must if you are coaching Nobby novice here – got it full throttle at 4am!
Nothing is normal on a boat – I got a gentle wake up call at 03:30am. I heard myself say “thanks”. The conversation in my head was ‘are you having a laugh? I’ve had 2 hrs kip, the boat is lurching like a high heeled teenager down high street early Sunday morn after an alcopop soaked Saturday night and its raining cats and dogs – what the hell would you wake me for?’
No coffee, no shower, no checking of emails and no scent of bacon from the toy kitchen three feet from my 1 star salubrious bunk – strap yourself in folks otherwise you’ll wake to a face plant of sail bag and unforgiving metal.
The foulies get dragged on – imagine an astronauts suit except heavier, wetter with way less manoeuvrability – damp boots check, wooly hat check, life jacket, safety harness – ready to go. I jest – I’ll never be ready for what lies above.
And then…… All hell breaks loose!
Head out of hatch, bracing spray hits my face, it’s pitch black, ribs bruise the top of the stairs….. “David clip on” clunk, “David, high side” guess, breathe, “ready to gybe’ ….. Wtf?!! “Dave, get aft…. Now”
What ? Aft? Ffs….. Where is that high, Aft…. Speak English man!……. I’m thinking and thinking….. Obviously 10 seconds is way too long for boat thinking……. Unclip, clunk, reclip, Breathe. Relax …. “Davo for %€$#^* sake get behind the traveller”. Fumble, slip, slide, panic ….. Unclip Alan who says thanks…… Triffic…….. “Gybe ho”….. Oh sh*t…… “Dave, aft now”……….. More fumbling …….Mercer explodes …….. You can imagine ….. It was something like ‘ok, old chap, just unclipping now, thanks for the warning old bean’….. Something like that! Unclipped, clipped, clunk, heart pounding……anger rising, breathing, still on deck and behind the traveler, the helm and the skipper! It’s 4:01 and I’ve been on deck a whole 45 seconds! I’m not sure if you remember me saying this adventure was like performing open heart surgery after a day in the theatre whilst surfing an ironing board down K2….. Well today we did it blindfold !
Maaaaaaaan ……. I need coffee and more sleep. “Prepare to gybe”…… Now he’s taking the p*ss!
I think it was a deliberate training exercise but I guess it could happen…. strangely if you stay on your bunk there’s no real feeling of turning (that’s gybing or tacking in sailinglish) and on the whole if you’ve a worked out your pulley system and tied a decent knot you’ll probably stay on your bunk…… Probably!
But up above its a wee bit tense……..or in my case a lot tense. It’s pretty miserable up here now……. But I kissed and made up with skipper Wayne ……. He got his own back with nominating me as the swimmer for our Man overboard drill later……. Not much swimming just a fully clothed dunk in the ocean strapped onto a couple of halyards (those are upright ropes folks – don’t ask me why they use a made up word) tethered so that you are hanging like a baby in those ridiculous harnesses to a fathers chest. Just while we’re here – how would you like to be dangling by your nether regions with your arms flopping to the sides – if babies could talk they’d be screaming ” the buggy please dad, not the parachute”….. Have a heart pops!
Anyway, back on deck ….. A few more gybes, a tack here, a drop there, a Yankee 3 hoist,lots of easing, some trimming, plenty of grinding, more rain, some wind and the worst helming you’ve ever seen courtesy of yours truly – apologies to the watch below ….. Hope you’re strapped in well!
4 hours pass and it’s time to eat, change, sleep, repeat.
They’re all nuts this mob …. Maybe bananas too …. Incidentally they’re the only decent nutrients I’ve consumed so far…
They’re all nuts this mob …. Maybe bananas too …. Incidentally they’re the only decent nutrients I’ve consumed so far – Couscous? …. Quiche? …. Really? Anyway that’s for another day……
“Remember when the mast broke and we had to get Jimmy helicoptered out?” Oh yeah that was scary……..
I’m listening ….. Bewildered
“There were 50 people in hospital after that one leg to New Zealand……. ”
“Well, I was on a race to Bermuda on a 2-hander and the skipper cut his leg, got septicaemia, tried to fight me because he was delirious…..and ….and….. I got it home…. ”
Enough people. Enough. I’m wracking my brain for another hobby where all the participants while away the wee hours recounting how they nearly died.
Maybe golf —- nah ….. The psychopath on the 18th with a putter didn’t happen. Tennis ….. A twisted sock reaching for the Pimms doesn’t cut the mustard ….. Or snooker …… Dead eye Derek losing an eye slipping into the pocket …….. Dull
But sailors – well, near death is seemingly a constant state….. And they choose this pursuit…. Choose it ….. Yup……. Monkey nuts, bananas the lot …..In all other ways they seem to enjoy life…..they may even pretend to be rational ….but at sea it’s all about the catastrophe round the corner or over the next wave…..
I’m struggling with the mindset to be honest. People pay for the privilege – their life’s dream …… To be seconds from plankton……some bloomin privilege.
A hobby, a challenge or sheer bloody lunacy but they come back year after year to tell their war stories……. Maybe it’s the quiche or the fluorescent cordial served daily …… Me? I’m sticking to nuts …. Did I ever tell you about the fire in the galley…… It happens ….it DID happen….. Too often ….. Bewilderment endures.