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Clipper Race: The toughest leg

Chris's boat is currently sailing from Australia to China via Singapore. Photo: Chris Paxton

When my boat was moored at the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia in Sydney last month, we received a visit from a couple of grizzled gentlemen who looked like they had seen a thing or two. They turned out to be former Clipper Race crew who had successfully circumnavigated the globe.

These men had battled their way through storms in the Southern Ocean and across the mighty Pacific. But when we asked what the worst part of their journey had been, they were very definite that Leg 5 from Australia to China via Singapore - the leg we are currently on - was it. And on board my boat Switzerland_, we are starting to find out why.

Luckily for us, the extreme heat which left us struggling to sleep when we left Australia has abated. So have the wild waves which mean we can now open the hatches and let some cooling air into the sleeping quarters. But what we can't stop are the squalls.

Some of the crew used one downpour as an opportunity to wash their hair in shampoo and fresh water. Credit: Chris Paxton

Though most of the sailing is quite pleasant in warm weather, we do have a team of navigators who are the harbingers of doom. One of their jobs is to keep an eye on the radar screen which, aside from picking up other ships, can also detect rain-bearing clouds. These clouds are often accompanied by high winds which make the boat very hard to steer and could even damage our sails. So if the navigators detect a squall coming, the on-deck watch have to leap into action to reduce the size of the mainsail or haul down one of the headsails. And on a busy night, that can happen two or three times.

It's a lot of work and once the squall hits, the resulting rain shower can be very intense. In fact, some of the crew used one downpour as an opportunity to wash their hair in shampoo and fresh water.

But at least, we are sailing past a group of islands off Papua New Guinea which gives us some sights to admire.

If a squall is detected, the on-deck watch have to leap into action to reduce the size of the mainsail or haul down one of the headsails. Credit: Chris Paxton

These islands do come with dangers though - tree logs which have fallen into rivers and washed out to sea are often seen floating past us. If they hit our hull, they could cause serious damage so we have mounted a log watch - a member of the crew who keeps an eye out for objects in the water. Not an easy job at night!

You can read my previous blogs here: http://www.itv.com/news/london/search/?q=clipper