Belinda Buckley with the latest from the front of the Clipper fleet aboard Western Australia

Date13 December

Position37 02S/101 40E

Current Placing3rd

Distance to finish755 nm

Distance to leader (Durban)89nm

We’re in the final furlong – well 800 miles actually – of the rough and ready leg that is the Southern Ocean. Indeed, we’re hoping to get to Australia in time for a full weekend in Fremantle. And how excited is the crew of WA? The prospect of seeing family and friends and having a good Aussie Crissie under the sun, means that most can hardly contain themselves.

Conversations about the race invariably turn into discussions and droolings about which meals in which restaurants and which beers in which bars are to be enjoyed in the homeland. Not that we have eaten badly on this leg. Quite the contrary: our media guests think we eat like kings (nice victualling combined with an expedition style animal carcass). Then this is topped by Roberto’s galley talents, quite how we are going to cope without him for the rest of the race is beyond me.

Bizarrely, we seem to be eating less than we did on the race to Durban, probably because we have seen less heavy weather than on that leg and than we expected. But now there is a bit of panic eating going on, as we know that Australian customs will strip us of any food they don’t want being brought into the country and this seems to be all of the food groups we have left to eat. Oh well, at least we won’t be looking scrawny when we dock in Freo.

Life onboard is business as usual, and much drier than we expected. But one of the heads gave up the ghost yesterday – we think it couldn’t cope with all the extra people and good food they were eating. This undermining force is eclipsed, however, by our biggest enemy – chafe. And, my, have we had our share of that in the Southern Ocean. Chafe at sea is like a parasite within a racing yacht – it eats into everything and nothing is immune from it. It spreads down wind like wildfire: spinnaker halyards, guy ropes, peeling strops – every line, it seems, is infected and weakened by it. We do our utmost to prevent it taking root with widespread prophylactic use of hose piping and gaffer tape, but still we seem to be endlessly hot knifing, whipping and repairing lines.

In social news, our dear diarist had her birthday. The WA crew very sweetly sung her Happy Birthday on deck, after planting our mascot, Ninu the stuffed bilby, in her bunk, made her a cake and she wore her Birthday Girl crown practically all day. Bouncing around on the chilly, inky blue Southern Indian Ocean is a pretty unusual place to have a birthday, but with a crew like this one around you, it’s a pretty special moment. Even a local Bryde’s whale popped up to wish her many happy returns.

Getting back to the wildlife we have seen, there is some debate onboard as to the species of dolphin that we saw last week. Having found the Pirate’s ‘field guide to sharks, whales and dolphins of Southern Africa’, we are now thinking that the jumping trio we clocked were young Risso’s dolphins, but then they could be Heaviside’s or even Dusky dolphins, as the drawings in the book don’t quite correlate to what we saw.

Apart from these, a few whales and lots of birds, that’s all the fauna we’ve seen of the Southern Ocean. So we are definitely looking forward to approaching land again and looking at all the marine beasts that live around the continental shelf.

Right now we are concentrating on the drag race around the Great Circle to Rottnest Island that is well and truly on across the fleet. Everyone is very keen to get to Australia, get the Southern Ocean under their belt and get on with a bit of festive R&R. This is an unusual way to spend Advent, but it sure is a memorable one.

Bring on the Land of Oz.