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Clipper Race: Success for Team Switzerland

Getting used to living at an angle Photo: Chris Paxton

My Clipper Race team have been quietly enjoying themselves after notching up our very first race win in the 13/14 Clipper Race. We set off from the Tasmanian capital Hobart towards Brisbane on January 2nd with a real feeling that we were finally ready to crack the top three and earn a place on the podium. But the route meant that we would once again have to cross the wild Bass Strait which separates Tasmania from the Australian mainland.

. Credit: Chris Paxton

And the strait didn't disappoint - our boat Switzerland did a lot of bouncing from wave to wave and getting a good rest between shifts was almost impossible. For someone who needs lots of sleep to function, it was pretty miserable.And there was a major disappointment. Many of the races in the Clipper Race have a scoring gate - a line on the map where teams can get extra points if they cross it first. We were in contention to be in the top three and pick up points - but we went outside the end of the line, had to turn to come back across it and were pipped by our rivals. We had thrown points away and my skipper Vicky admitted afterwards that after thanking the crew for our efforts, she found a quiet corner on her own and cried.However, once we got past the strait, a southerly wind blew us northwards and we also got a helpful current which pushed us along at speeds of around 15 knots and right back into contention. The sun came out and the crew changed out of our wet weather gear and started putting on suntan lotion. But then came the final few hours.Three boats were in contention for the podium places - Switzerland, Derry-Londonderry-Doire and OneDLL. At different times, we could see the other boats on the horizon - we saw OneDLL have a problem with one of their sails which dropped them back but then Derry seemed to surge away from us. For a time, we were able to monitor them on the AIS system which tracks nearby boats but then they disappeared.

. Credit: Chris Paxton

We were only a few hours from the finish line when an excited report came from the navigation station that Derry's signal had popped up again on the AIS and they were somehow half-an-hour behind. One of their spinnaker sails - which had been damaged and then repaired in a previous race - had split again. It meant we had taken the lead without realising it.The last few hours were manic as we headed towards the line in some very nasty seas. A handful of times we underwent a broach - when the boat is tilted at such an angle that the end of the boom (the long horizontal pole which holds down the mainsail) drops into the water. Down below, where I was, you have to brace yourself against a wall and wait for the boat to right itself again.Even when we finally crossed the finish line, there was little time for celebration - rocks lay ahead and the crew had to perform an emergency sail drop to slow us down.But we have our first victory of the Clipper Race and when we finally motored into the marina at Brisbane, several of our new crewmembers had got up early to welcome us in. There was even a bottle of champagne for Skipper Vicky to spray the crew with. You can follow me on Twitter () or read my previous blogs here. ()