Clipper yacht Liverpool tries for a record, and a computer programmer reflects on the meaning of life 14/7/06

Liverpoolhas made amazing progress since my last report – Tim’s weather strategy worked out well, and towards evening the wind picked up to a WSW Force 6, causing us to peel to our heaviest spinnaker. By 0400UTC we had regained our lead over the rest of the fleet, briefly lost toVictoriaandNew York, and in the following nine hours have managed to log over 100 miles. Reaching under spinnaker with up to 30kts of breeze and following seas has given some spectacular surfs and speeds – I spotted 17.2 knots on the clock at one point, although the average is around 12 knots. Speed comes at a price though, in this case constant vigilance from the crew and attention from the helmsman to avoid broaching.

The massive loads incurred by this kind of sailing are bound to increase wear and tear, and some of the results were seen this morning. I was trimming the kite when, without warning, there was a loud crack and the spinnaker flew out to leeward. It turned out that the eyesplice on the guy had broken, so we’ve now re-rigged with a spare guy and packed the luckily undamaged kite, but for the time being are taking the opportunity to sail slightly higher under No 2 yankee, staysail and main. We’re still making 10-11 knots, and at a better angle, so we can’t complain, although our chance of beating the fleet record for miles logged in 12 hours has largely disappeared.

The sail and rigging changes called for a frantic 40 minutes’ work, so we were glad to be able to come below to the ample breakfast of corned beef fritters and fried eggs that today’s mothers had prepared.

Tim has just taken the opportunity to head for his bunk after staying awake all night, sharing the helming for both watches with the watch leaders. Our watch leader, David ‘Smurf’ Ralphs, is similarly exhausted, but quotes one of Robin Knox-Johnston’s sayings: “If it’s not difficult, it’s not worth doing.”

Smurf is a computer programmer by profession, and came on board the Clipper race in the hope that it would give him a new direction. So far it hasn’t, and he expects to return to his old job, but he says that it has certainly changed him as a person. “I’m a bit more assured, less stressy,” he said. “I’ve learned that all problems are surmountable. I’m not sure that my tolerance has improved though.”

Until now, Smurf’s sailing has been limited to dinghies, windsurfing and some occasional crew work, but after Clipper he hopes to collect a few qualifications and take part in round-the-cans racing and ocean races such as the Fastnet, as well as some holiday charters. “I’m looking forward to returning,” he said. “We’ve been away long enough. The drudge wears you down eventually – your time’s not your own, it’s wet, cold, falling over for the fifth time while trying to put on your salopettes – it all gets wearing, as does being such a long way from friends and family. But I’m really glad to have done it – this has made the world a big place for me. It puts everything in perspective.”

As to the headline, whatever the walrus said or thought when he began to talk of many things, it wasn’t the delicate scent of ships at sea. The smell of damp boots was joined yesterday by something yet more malodorous, finally tracked down to a fermenting cabbage in the overhead storage nets. The fresh veg is definitely on the way out now, but with only a week left until our projected arrival in Jersey, scurvy shouldn’t be a problem.