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Challenger 1 – Deep sea adventure

By Tall Ships - August 14th, 2018 | Posted in Voyager blogs No comments

Day One

Day 1 in the Tall brother boat (Challenger 1), all contestants (Voyage Crew) arrived on time at Gun Wharf Quays and were quickly introduced to one another, a quick chat, stow the gear and the first challenge was underway, who is going to put the kettle on…I mean disembarkation from GWQ.

The first challenge complete, the contestants motored across the Cowes to top up on over $1000 of fuel. Some parallel parking followed, evening meal and then liquid nourishment.

The crew were up early for breakfast, the last possibility of a shower for 5 days, boat prep and then it was time for man over board training (on dry land!!!) At around 11.30 the Tall brother boat departed Cowes sailing around the needles and then heading South West under motor but with the main sheet (sail for you land lubbers) up.

Some lovely lunch was cooked on the go and wolfed down on deck whilst trying to avoid the dreaded lobster pots that are out to get all sailing vessels.

A few more rounds of tea and then we went to watch system (port and starboard watches). Starboard watch on duty til 22.00 and then back on again at 02.00, so excuse the spelling based on the little sleep. The contestants have spent their time watching for ships, star gazing and listening to the awful jokes of a few of the crew.

That’s my first blog done, I need to get back on to watch for a few hours before a quick rest and then up for mother duties (cooking for the crew for the day). [Although my team at work will not believe the amount of cups of tea I have actually made!!] Daniel (Starboard Watch)

Day Two

Day 2 at sea; our first night’s watch system under our belts and life is good. The Challenger’s reputation of good food and plenty of it has surpassed all expectations and friendships are being formed.

We are keeping 4hr watches overnight and 6hrs during the day which gives us a chance to sleep and some R&R; but even so I’ll be glad to reach 48 hours when (they say) the body adapts to this disrupted diurnal rhythm.

We saw the sun briefly yesterday and during the night the clouds cleared for a short spell to reveal a spectacular night sky and even 2 shooting stars. We had phosphorescence too; fairy dust sparkling in the sea, it was utterly magical.

Overnight we saw the Queen Mary on her way back to Southampton and Ventura, a cruise ship that 3 of our fellow shipmates had sailed on. We were bemused to see an unidentifiable vessel displaying not only steaming and nav lights but 2 red lights way up in the sky.  Anybody’s guess what that was. We expect to be off Ushant TSS by nightfall so are looking forward to another busy ship-spotting night, but for now there is just enough shipping to keep us interested.

We have had very little wind (7-10 knots) so are having to motor sail. The wind is directly behind us so it is not the most pleasant motion. But nobody’s been sick. Yet.

We all send our love and thoughts to those at home, and especially Anna, waiting for the arrival of her baby any day now.


Day Three

Early this morning we crossed the continental shelf. Our charted depth is 4000m so we are officially in the Bay of Biscay. Our heading is 210o, sea start is smooth (flat); still no wind (3 knots) still overcast, but with breaks in the cloud.

We had a quiet night without sighting other shipping, contrary to expectations. It feels very strange to be quite alone on this vast ocean.

Yesterday we had our first sightings of dolphins. We’ve all heard about dolphins playing with boats and seen pictures and footage of it too, but to actually witness them swimming in perfect synchrony a metre from the boat, leaping and dancing was simply a joy to behold.  Last night fish were jumping through the bio luminescence (as it is correctly termed) and the dolphins were chasing them. They appeared to be electrified.

We’ve just spotted a Minky whale, about 200m from the boat. And the sun’s shining. Absolutely perfect day.

Katie. Saturday (possibly)

Day Four

Overlying the 4hr and 6hr watches, we are running a mother watch system. One person from each watch volunteers to look after the whole crew for one day, by doing all the cooking and cleaning. Today it was the turn of Ross and Katie. And in reward they get the following night with no night watches. It was a tactical decision for us both, as it was forecast to be flat calm with no wind, so easier to do and we wouldn’t miss out on any sailing when the wind picks up. You snooze you lose!

At 6pm tonight we are level with La Rochelle, exactly half way across Biscay; sea state slight; still no wind; still motor sailing, still on a heading of 210o. Biscay really has not delivered the excitement (or was it trepidation) we were all anticipating. Yet. We had blue skies and were on deck in our t-shirts this afternoon, a far cry from the multi-layered thermals hats and gloves of only two days ago.

Whilst mother watch was slaving away below, the on watch guys spotted tuna, a Portuguese Man O’War and a cargo ship 9.6nm away. A busy day indeed.

We all send love and thoughts to family and friends at home and are looking forward to being able to make contact when we reach Cascais, probably on Tuesday. We’re also looking forward to doing some sailing!! Hopefully this will be sometime tomorrow, if the weather forecast can be believed.


Day Five

After 96 hours motor-sailing today the wind built sufficiently for us at last to turn the engine off at 11.30. We have a NE F4/5 and slight to moderate seas (although below on this angle of sailing it feels a lot more). We have one reef in the main and at 16.00 hoisted the No 2 Yankee and are making 8.9knts. We were about 50 miles NW of La Coruna.

We saw a Minky whale this morning; it broached about 7m off our port side, and others blowing and broaching further out on the starboard quarter. At lunchtime we passed a catamaran sailing north about 5 miles away to Port, and later as we neared the Finisterre TSS began to see tankers and container ships.

Morale on board is high. It should be noted that Starboard watch could do with more practice at the yes/no game and that their score for jokes is high for effort but content questionable. At one point we suspected we had a stowaway donkey, but then we realised it was only Daniel.

We are all quite excited to be getting closer to Cascais. Apparently the Irish Pub has to be visited, but probably after a much needed shower!


Day Six

This morning we woke to blue skies and sunshine, gentle waves and 14knots of wind, still from the NE and we are making 7 knots People are beginning to shed some of their multiple layers of thermals. We are now about 25 miles off the Portuguese coast, just north of Porto.

During the night the wind built. At about 22knots and around 17.00 Skipper decided to put in a second reef, as the forecast for the night was F5-6, gusting F7 (a yachtsman’s gale).  As Paul was putting in the reef he was hit by a large wave, straight down the back of his neck. He said something, and when Tom caught another one, he said the same thing so it must be a nautical expression.

The forecast lived up to expectations, and it was an interesting night. We all found that it’s difficult to sleep braced against the lee cloth, to move around the boat and even sit in one place. When Port Watch arrived on deck the golden moon was about to set, and in the darkness the stars came out. There was an occasional shooting star and it was so beautiful. We had white topped waves of 3m accompanied by gusts of 30+knots, and helming a 72ft Challenger yacht, navigating by the stars and surfing down the waves was the most incredible thing I’ve ever done.

James and Canadian Bob ran Mother Watch. The crew unanimously agreed that they produced the best food so far. And under very trying conditions; poor Bob was really suffering, but didn’t complain once. We just saw this pale manifestation appear on deck form time to time for a breath of fresh air before going below to finish cleaning the heads (loos) and cook. Jacket potatoes with tuna mayonnaise/baked beans and cheese for lunch; lamb stew and dumplings for dinner.


Day Seven

We had a fantastic day down-wind sailing down the Portuguese coast. We put in a couple of gybes to clear Farihao Berlinga, islets north of Lisbon, but kept a course of 220o/180o. We had wall to wall sunshine, winds of 18Knts and sea state slight.

By midnight the wind dropped, and as we were only making 4.2Knts on a reach we dropped No 2 Yankee and turned on the engine. We maintained a course of 180o, avoiding lobster pots around the islets.

It was a clear night with the meteorite shower clearly visible. There were several ships to starboard lining up for /coming out of Off Cape Roca TSS. We watched a beautiful sunrise, the sun appearing out of a rosy glow above the windmills on the mainland.

We motor sailed down the beautiful coast, and arrived safely at Cascais at 1400. By 17.30, the boat cleaned and we were off for a much needed shower and a beer. Or two…..

Canadian Bob has recovered from his sea-sickness. One of our fellow shipmates, has a medical condition and has been an inspiration to all of us. The key to not only him, but all of us staying well and healthy is regular food and meal times, regular amounts of exercise/activity and sleep. This can be tricky on a yacht, especially on passage but we have all managed. He has been a fine example of how by carefully managing a health condition, you can still live life to the full.

The two Rays were our galley slaves for the day and have done a sterling job keeping us fed and watered.


Day Nine

We slipped lines from Cascais at 1015. Sailing close hauled on a course of 190in a wind direction SSW with two reefs in the main, Yankee 2 and stay sail. Sea state is slight, but doesn’t feel it! We had to navigate carefully to dodge lobster pots leaving Cascais, resulting in a couple of wet look-outs on the bow, and Ross going just that bit further by inflating his lifejacket when swamped by a particularly large wave.  Anti-seasick meds are definitely the order of the day.

Our departure from Cascais was delayed by 24 hours as conditions were unfavourable on Thursday (wind dead on the nose) giving the crew a chance to relax and fully explore Cascais; whilst some of us caught the train to Lisbon, others hired bikes and cycled up the coast to the beach. It’s a lovely town and area and several of us have vowed to return with our partners.

By Katie

Day Ten

We’ve had an interesting night. Sea state moderate to rough, Wind F6 gusting F7, making 8-10Knts upwind. We were hit by several squalls, and thunder and lightning. During the night the wind moved round and by watch change at 0700hrs it was on the beam when they shook out the 3rd reef. We expect it to swing round so we can get some downwind sailing later on. Moving around the boat has been challenging and several of us have succumbed to the dreaded mal de mer, but are now beginning to recover and enjoy life on board again.

We exited the Cabo de Sao Vicente TSS (pointy bit of Portugal) around 0600hrs and are on course for Lanzarote.

It’s been difficult to eat and drink –as co-coordinating hand/mouth/cup has been tricky. We have survived mostly on the occasional cuppa and a varied diet of Twix, chocolate digestives and gingernuts! Yummy! Mother watch somehow managed to rustle up sweet and sour chicken; goodness knows how, and that was one of the best!

I was delighted to hear late last night that after many long hours of labour Anna had her baby girl, called Luna weighing in at 9lbs 5oz. We are all delighted and I was treated to a rendition of happy birthday dear granny… 3 cheers, and numerous granny jokes!

By Katie

Day Eleven

A much quieter day followed. The wind speed reducing to 15 Kts from the NW, sea state to moderate, and we continued to make 7Kts. The crew have all recovered, their appetites returned and enjoyed watches in the sunshine. As we sailed into the night the wind veered to N, then dropped so on went the engine.

The only wildlife seen so far on this leg were dolphins dancing alongside for a while on the previous night. Last night was mild, moonlit with fluffy clouds.

We would all agree we have been exceedingly fortunate with our fellow shipmates. Perhaps there’s a sense of comradeship in extremis! Tom and Steve have produced a delicious meal – pork chops, apple sauce, mustard, veg and potatoes as well as cleaning the boat in not the easiest conditions.

On the premise that W/L Ash doesn’t read this it’s safe to say that his new bean bag has been much appreciated by Port Watch. He did mention some kind of beer payment, but what the heart doesn’t know, etc etc.

We are all looking forward to reaching Lanzarote and making contact with loved ones. The winds look good for the rest of the voyage, too.


Day Twelve

The benign weather continues. Wind light and variable from NNE and motor sailing with the main out, making helming tricky with a following sea and an occasional big wave. We are making about 8 Kts. Mid-morning we were about 30 Nm north and about 240 Nm west of Casablanca.

The wind built to 30+Knts later and overnight. Flying the No. 1 Yankee, poled out with 2 reefs in the main we were making 11.6 Kts at times. Aweshome.

W/L Mike made excellent porridge this morning, which was a most welcome change from coco pops and cornflakes. Looks like he’s got himself a job. Linda discovered a most unpleasant smell in the aft cabin. We eliminated the possibility of dirty socks/underwear as nobody’s changed since leaving Cascais (apart from Ross who puts us all to shame) and we are all wearing our boots. Exploring further, she found a bag of mince had escaped the confines of the cool box and had started to ooze.

On a happier note a dolphin was spotted off the Port bow leaping several feet in the air. Mike suggested that it was ‘ball baiting’ i.e. dispersing a shoal of fish that had been rounded up by the pod. We spotted our 2nd ship in 36 hours. Weird but very special to be so isolated.

Gordon and Dave’s turn for Mother Watch; heroically producing a delicious lunch and barbecue chicken for dinner under very trying conditions.


Day Thirteen

Winds continue to be north easterly F4/5 reducing overnight to 3, sea state moderate, reducing to slight, making around 7Kts boat speed, on course of 210o downwind sailing with the pole out. Overnight the decision was taken not to call at Port Rubicon (Lanzarote) as timings and tides were not conducive to a restful break. So change of course to 245o, down the west coast of Lanzarote, engine on and straight towards Las Palmas, anticipated arrival late this evening.

We are all enjoying relaxing on deck in the sun and thermal layers have evolved into shorts and T-shirts. Gannets glide gracefully alongside and Skipper has taken advantage of his position of authority by claiming Ash’s throne (a very smart Helly Henson ship’s bean bag acquired in Cascais).

At midnight the whole crew marked Paul’s birthday with a fine rendition of ‘Happy Birthday to you’, cake and candles. Further celebrations are planned…..

We have had an eclectic mix of music on board and Starboard Watch have set Port Watch a challenge. We are to compose 8 verses of ‘the twelve days of Christmas’ to the phrase ‘My skipper said to me’ performed at the crew meal on Thursday. Much consternation in the watch, but it promises to be an interesting evening.


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