Two things have been on the minds of Ariel's crew as we stride across the Caribbean Sea from Havana to Panama: how to make our 60ft steed sail to weather faster and how to keep our breakfasts down.

Two things have been on the minds of Ariel’s crew as we stride across the Caribbean Sea from Havana to Panama: how to make our 60ft steed sail to weather faster and how to keep our breakfasts down.

The motion of the the Clipper 60 is relatively good considering we are hard on the wind crashing into a lumpy sea (and have 209 miles of this still to go). Perhaps this is because our boat (based on the old Dave Pedrick-designed Nicholson 58 hull) has a keel and underwater shape that comes from an era when designers gave a damn about motion in a seaway.

While sleeping on a sail bag last night in Ariel’s forward sweat box cum dormitory I can remember becoming airborne only twice, although maybe this was more to do with the mesmeric, semi- transendental state this sailing and especially the watch system puts you in. Every five minutes or so our slumber would be broken as Ariel would take a large wave badly with a crash as if someone had walloped the underside of the hull hard with a sledge hammer.

So far only two of the 12 paying crew on board have been sick. One made it to the dignified crouching-in-cockpit-to-leeward position, the other did not and in an attempt to reach the galley sink ended up depositing his lunch Jackson Pollock-style all round the saloon. However there are several others of us who are feeling marginal and the prospect of having to spend time in the galley preparing lunch or even working on this at an angle of 30 degs in the chart table, is not filling me with joy.

On a more positive note – we have recovered our lead. Antiope with whom we had a contratemp at the start, managed to creep past us to leeward night before last. This led to much discussion about how we should regain the ground – sail high and slow or lower and faster; keep the rail dug in or keep the boat level to reduce leeway, etc. Eventually through making a concerted effort to hold a higher course, we managed to claw our way back and we are now 3 miles to weather of her.

There is of course the question about how hard the racing is in Clipper. On Ariel we have hauled all the spare sails up to the weather rail, we are sleeping where possible to weather, have cranked up the backstay and have our halyards and the running backstay bar tight. Against this there is a fishing rod attached to the backstay and we are drying tea towels on the guardrails (not a sight you would see on a Whitbread 60). We are not all constantly perched up on the rail and all the crew with their differing degrees of skill are being given a turn on the helm. Maybe it helps that the pressure is off us a little because we are leading. What I do know is that there is an identical yacht to ours 3 miles astern which wants our blood and we are not about to let them have it. I believe in any circles that is what they call a yacht race.

For skippers there is the uneviable compromise to be made between Ras Turner’s hard line approach which won him the race two years ago (crew for example weren’t allowed on the leeward side of the boat when sailing upwind) to the softer keep-the-paying-crew-happy approach some other skippers are employing.

On Ariel our talented 24 year old skipper Alex Thomson has reached a good compromise between pain and enjoyment and although highly competitive and adamant we will win, seems to be able to do this without inflicting Nazi-style edicts on his crew.