Jessica Daw reports Horses Latitudes, sparrow arms and lots of trouble onboard Liverpool Clipper in the penultimate leg of the Times Clipper Race 2000

The wind has continued to blow and we are well clear of The Doldrums but now anticipating the Horse Latitudes – so-called because traders bound for Britain from South America and Australia used to run short of food and water and the horses were the first to go.

Apart from during the odd squall, we have been flying the heavy weight spinnaker most of the time, but with the wind on the beam in a beam sea this makes for a nerve-wracking sleigh ride. I have learnt fast in these conditions to stand on the low side of the helm and use my body weight to apply the weather helm. This is by far the best technique for anyone but especially useful for one with sparrow arms like me.

This morning we were preparing to drop the kite in anticipation of an approaching squall and were all taking up our positions: me on the coach roof, Mike at the end of the pole, Zoe on the clutches and calling for help from mother watch.

But even with the skipper on the helm, the boat broached and with the spinnaker flying, she would not come back up. The spinnaker was spiked without warning and this left myself (sparrow arms, remember) and H, a diminutive but gutsy Liverpool primary school teacher, trying to pull the kite in through the letter box.

It’s at times like these we call on our secret weapon. Thomas Elmer (or Trouble) has just turned 18, weighs in at 20 stones, plays rubgy for Rossendale and Lancashire and is currently cultivating a Mohican hairstyle for his arrival, as Travis Bickle it seems, in New York. You get the picture!

In no time the heavyweight spinnaker was down below and the ‘whites’ hoisted and we were left licking our wounds. Tom is a delight to have on board – not least as he bears the brunt of James’ and Toby’s humour on Doughnut watch – but he’s as strong as an ox and gets called upon for more than his fair share of heavy lifting. I want to hang one of those signs on him saying Heavy Plant Crossing.

With less than 1,300 miles to go there isn’t anyone on board who isn’t counting the days and the miles to the finish of this leg. We have just crossed Liverpool Clipper’s outward track which makes Rod, Mike, Heather, Zoe, Dom, Toby and James official circumnavigators, joining an elite of only 2,000 or so sailors to raced round the world.

For me, as the sun sinks low, I still have four more hours in my bunk before going on watch in which to ponder their achievements and try to understand the motivation; hours in which I will chant my mantra – ‘Sweat is my friend’ as the hatches remain closed against the spray.