Sunshine, dolphins and spinnakers for now, but the future is uncertain for Liverpool 16/7/06

How many times can it be Sunday in one day? The madness? as it is termed on board, is today taking the shape of deep philosophy as tired minds try to grapple with the number of times they can be woken up disbelieving that it is still Sunday. The record stands at three so far, but with at least one afternoon snooze on the agenda it could yet climb.

Despite gloomy prognostications from the sail repair team, they managed to mend both the torn spinnaker and No.1 yankee within 36 hours of the damage being caused. The yankee is on deck ready to hoist when next we come onto the wind, and the 1.5oz spinnaker is flying as I write, making the most of a south-westerly Force 5.

We’re averaging around 8.5 knots, but with the wind set to slowly decrease it will become evermore difficult to keep the spinnaker flying in the light Atlantic swell. For days now we have been falling asleep to a lullaby of ‘trim’ hold? as the spinnaker trimmer calls for the sheet to be ground in or eased, and as the wind lessens the calls become more frequent and frantic. But for now, it’s beautiful sailing in bright sunshine. As if in celebration, six dolphins gave us an amazing display of synchronised swimming at dawn, leaping in line abreast.

The south-westerly looks set to continue until the early hours of tomorrow morning, gradually weakening as we sail east, but after that will come the decisions that are likely to decide the winners of this race. The north-easterlies currently dominating the Channel and Irish Sea are forecast to back to the north, giving us a better wind angle for the finish, but a lot depends on how soon we can get away from the light, variable winds dividing the southerly and northerly air flows. That band is narrowing daily, so hopefully we’ll be able to cross without spending too long becalmed or in constant sail changes.

Owing to the two damaged sails and unfortunate wind hole we found the night before last,Liverpoolhas now dropped three places to become fourth in the fleet, 32 miles behindNew York. Also ahead of us areVictoriaandWestern Australia, andQingdaois currently making excellent progress, having logged 138 miles in the last 12 hours to bring her 71 miles behind the leader. Apart fromQingdao, there is a distinct split in the fleet, with the leaders bunched together within three hours of each other, and the closest vessel in the rear group is 126 miles behindNew York.

One of the main sufferers from the Sunday confusion is Graham Wood. Graham is a barrister by profession, based in Liverpool, and joinedLiverpoolin Jamaica for leg 7. With such a demanding job, finding time for the race has clearly been an issue for Graham: “I would have liked to do leg 6 as well,” he said, “but there was a good chance the Morecambe Bay cockle picking case would have run on and I would have needed to be in the country.”

Life on board is a long way from black silk and horsehair wigs, and Graham loves it. Fellow crewmember Andrew Tomlinson (Tomo) said: “It?s been great watching him relax since he got on board. He brought some work with him to do on board, and for the first few days kept trying to get started. Eventually he stuffed it into an envelope and said ‘forget it”. You now even hear a bit of Scouse creep into his voice when he’s not concentrating.”

I had wondered whether the discipline of onboard life would be a problem for someone who is usually very independent, but Graham said: “I find the discipline liberating. In my job, I head a team and the buck stops with me. Out here, it needs the entire team to work together to achieve anything. If one person doesn’t do their job properly, the common object is not achieved. It?s certainly made me appreciate other people’s individual contributions.”

Ironically, sailing long distance has made Graham all the more enthusiastic about returning to his own boat, an Oceanis 311 kept in North Wales. Having started sailing 20 years ago in dinghies and small keelboats, Graham bought his own boat five years ago after owning a part share in a Westerly GK24. Until now his cruising has been relatively local, typically to South Wales and the Isle of Man, but the race has inspired him with dreams of longer passages and perhaps owning a bigger boat as part of a syndicate. “This has been a real challenge,” he said. “I’ve had to temporarily abandon my comfortable life, move out of the zone. But the feeling of being able to look back and say ‘We have achieved this’ is priceless.”