Wednesday 25 Nov So I arrived in Albany yesterday evening and it's really cold! A thick layer of cloud and a nasty biting wind. Not what I expected but we are a long way south and the mainland is very exposed to the Southern Ocean. There have been really bad bush fires along the coast caused by lightning strikes so they are glad of the cooler weather but the poor sailors who have been freezing on the boats were hoping for a bit of warmth. I have caught up with the crew on my boat. Everyone seems healthy and in good spirits although very tired and it is all a bit low key at the moment. All a bit thinner, particularly the skipper! A few moans and groans but there is probably more to come out of the woodwork yet. 5 boats are yet to finish. 2 will arrive in too late for the winners' presentations tomorrow and will only have 2 days to clean, repair and restock their boats before they are off again. It's no wonder that the lead boats are staying in the lead, they get so much more rest time. Some people have said that one of the most difficult things to deal with is the constant dampness of the boat and keeping clothes dry so I have some tips for dealing with that. There have been some horror stories about trying to go the loo heeled over at 45 degrees! On the last race our boat had some sort of diesel leak so there was a nasty smell of diesel to contend with too. Hope that's sorted. There was also quite extensive damage to one of the sails and a grinder, so that may cause us penalty points. The best conversations I have had have been with some of the locals. It's more like a big village than a town and everyone is very friendly and interested. Charles and Camilla visited last week so for a one horse town there seems to be a lot going on! I'm tucked up in bed as I write in my cosy studio apartment. Today I stocked up with cash, bought some food and did a load of washing. I have separated out some things that I don't really need now to post back to the UK, which I will do tomorrow. Then I have until Friday evening to see the sights of Albany. I am told there is some lovely coastline but you do need a car to get around so I won't get to see much. Then Saturday we have a day sail as a refresher for new crew. Sunday and Monday will be spent sorting the boat and doing final repairs and Tuesday will be all systems go. I was told yesterday that the race committee hasn't decided yet whether we will go south of Tasmania and back up to Sydney, the longer route, or through the Bass Straits, which hugs the Australian coast, the shorter but rougher route. It may well hinge on what the wind is doing.
I'm trying out a bottle of Margaret River wine, which is the local wine and is very palatable. It's said to be a lovely area, between Perth and Albany, to tour around. It's very odd but I haven't yet been away three weeks but it feels much longer already. It's because I've covered so much ground of course. I've still to sort out my pictures of Malaysia, of which there are loads. I had some more donations today on my Justgiving site from cousins Carole and Jill and aunt Win. It's nice to know they are following the race. I am now up to £580, just over halfway to my £1100 target.
Thursday 26 Nov
So it's Thursday and I've had a touristic day today so have seen a lot of the sights of Albany now. The couple, Jim and Heather, who manage the apartments I am staying in are very helpful and admit that they haven't really got enough to do so Jim took me out for a drive for an hour today and showed me all the sights and best views of the area and the harbours. Jim and Heather are very keen on bush walking so know all the good spots but don't do a lot this time of year because the snakes are waking out of winter hibernation. Some are poisonous and can kill a small child or animal.
Oyster Bay is nice and has oyster beds. There are some fishing boats there as well as a few yachts and it is mainly a holiday let area. I got some nice photos of Pelicans with their enormous bills which expand as they scoop up water.
Then I went to see two museums. One was about the natural history and geology of the area, and the aboriginal people, and how Albany was colonised and founded. There is a replica of the ship that brought the first British convicts and soldiers to Albany. They actually came from Sydney in a bit of a hurry because the French were eyeing up the area and the Brits wanted to make sure they got in and colonised it first. Ruined the lives of the local Minang people of course.
The other museum had a fascinating photographic exhibition about the Australia troops who fought at the front in France during WW1. They found all the photographic plates quite recently stashed away in barn in an old house belonging to the photographer in the village in France where the troops were stationed. Just in the nick of time too as the photographer's family who were still living there after nearly one hundred years were just about to sell the house and clear everything out. Most of the photos were portraits taken that the troops would have sent to their families but surprisingly a lot of them had not been identified.
One of the things that struck me was the lovely, ornate, carved and decorated wooden crosses that the troops made for the graves of their fallen colleagues, now replaced in the memorial cemeteries with simple stone ones that can be easily maintained.
There is a lot of stuff about WW1 in Albany because for a small town there was a lot of involvement and sacrifice. Not so much for WW2 as the bombings then were focused in the north around Darwin but there were mortar guns and ammunition stocks manned and at the ready on the cliff tops in case the Japanese decided to move further south.
Whaling used to be big in the area but is, of course, now illegal. The old whaling centre across the harbour is now a museum too.
I discovered today that there are no traffic lights in the town. A joke is that the directions to Perth are: "Go straight out of town on Albany Highway and turn left at the first set of traffic lights ....... 400km away."
Saturday 28 Nov
We had a day sail today for a refresher. For once the sun came out and it was really hot on the boat in the afternoon. It was a long day, about 9 hours in total with the safety briefing first and then about 7 hours on the water. I got a bit exhausted and overheated as I had dressed for a chilly sail and I felt a bit queasy as the day went on, but that's to be expected as I haven't sailed for a while.
It was a useful day overall as I had not been on the boat for nearly 5 months. However, I had an advantage over crew who had trained in the Sydney training base as it was the first opportunity they have had to sail on the 70ft boats because all the training boats in Sydney are the old 68ft yachts.
I need to get more familiar with how the spinnaker is set up and also the preventer, which has been changed since the fatality in the Atlantic. I think I tend to hang back from the foredeck work too because it requires a lot of balance and I'm not sure if I have enough strength but I guess I will just get on with it when I have to. You can go over the side or get injured from any position on the boat so although the foredeck is a wet place and hard work, it's not really a more hazardous place to be than elsewhere on the boat.
I was knackered when I got back to my room and had a red face from the sun and a headache from dehydration. I must watch all that once the race is underway.
Sunday 29 Nov
Got stuck into working on the boat today. The code 3 spinnaker, the lightest one, is in a mess. The head and top part of the sail virtually got ripped off in the winds on the last race. Ken, who is one of the sail maintenance leads, Charlotte, who is experienced sewer and has used the boat's sewing machine before, Mark and myself went up to the 'sail locker' which is a kind of storage warehouse on the site of a sports stadium. Several of the boats had their spinnakers laid out on the floor and we were all sticking tape on the tears and sewing them on with our sewing machines. It appears that most of the sail damage has been to spinnaker sails, as they are very light, but some damage has occurred to the heavier yanky and staysails too.
Our machine seemed a bit temperamental but fortunately Martin from Hyde Sails was there to trouble shoot and sort out a few problems, which seemed mainly to do with the bobbin and getting that in place and threaded properly. Also the needle gets adhesive stuck on it from the patches which clogs it up and you have to clean it off with an acetate solution.
On our machine, the attachment that should hold the reel of thread is missing so I spent a long time acting as the part by holding the thread in the air (ridiculous) and working the forward and reverse lever. We definitely needed 4 pairs of hands: there is a technique for folding and then rolling the sail and feeding it through the machine so you can get to the middle areas because the sails are huge. The spinnakers do roll up very small as they need to for us to 'wool' and pack them but you need multiple hands to hold it secure and feed it through the machine.
We got a good system going and managed to finish most of it so there are just a few bits to finish tomorrow. Ken was noticeably relieved. I think he had been getting frustrated by it all the last few days and perhaps not as much progress had been made as could have been.
The advantage of doing your own sail repairs is that you do not incur penalty points. I heard that the Telemed boat, that came in only yesterday, has extensive sail damage but will not have the time to do it themselves so their sails have been sent to Perth for professional repair, so they will incur penalty points if it comes to more than £500's worth of repairs. That's all for now - more news when I arrive in Sydney.