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Challenger 4 – Round Britain Adventure — Swansea to Whitehaven

By Kate Stewart - August 8th, 2022 | Posted in Voyager blogs No comments
Challenger 4 has set sail from Swansea for the third leg of our Round Britain Adventure!
The crew are a group from National School Sailing Association (NSSA). Their seven-day voyage will end in Whitehaven on Saturday (13th).
Read their blog to find out what they’ve been getting up to. ?

Day 1

Sunday 7

Our journey started with the music of an Ironman Triathlon event blasting across Swansea Marina, which not to anyone’s surprise didn’t achieve its motivational intent with the crew who were woken at 05:00.

Most of the crew having joined the boat the night before were still tired from the previous evening’s adventures, consisting of exploring the marina facilities and looking for somewhere to eat. After being turned away from three restaurants we were eventually welcomed in at an American fast food chain called Five Guys, where we had scran consisting of some burgers and fries.

The morning, going smoother than the restaurant shenanigans, swiftly passed with a few safety briefs and before we knew it the motor was engaged and headway was being made.

Once out of the harbour, the crew faced their first challenge- hosting the Main. Pre-warned that sweating was easier than the winch, the crew tackled this new obstacle. Succeeding in sweating the Main past the third set of spreaders, but still in need of the winch to finish the job and add much needed luff tension.

Now under sail, boat moral was high. Only increasing when dolphins appeared on Challenger 4’s bow, swimming on and off with the boat for the next hour.

Dinner of Shepherd’s Pie was served on the deck. The crew was split into watches and unsuccessful at coming up with something new, the extremely original names of Port and Starboard became the groups’ names.

Port watch punched the way through the start of the night being rewarded by a beautiful sunset and clear starry skies to accompany them. Later, switching with the napping Starboard watch to repeat the cycle on a three hour rota for the remaining hours of the night.

With the help of a few shooting stars, the first day came to a close.

By Tanya.​

Day 2

Monday 8

With the help of caffeinated hot chocolate, we awoke at 02:00 to take over the watch. We were greeted by a sky full of stars and a couple of dolphins.

To pass the time we solved all the world’s problems through time travel, we pretended we were pirates in the Pirates of the Caribbean (despite the untropical weather) and spotted various shapes in the water, which could have been dolphins, but probably weren’t! The chocolate cake carried us through until 05:00, when we attempted to wake the Starboard watch but despite shouting, shaking and prodding, it took some time (Rob!).

At 08:00, the smell of bacon woke us up, as Starboard watch had kindly cooked us breakfast. Before long, Ireland was in sight. A large pod of dolphins came to say “top o’ the morning to ya!” before heading off to have their breakfast (presumably at the local chippy).

Some of us had a midday nap, while others mistakenly offered to make lunch and ended up stuck with the washing up too!

After a hearty lunch, our main job was helping to navigate through a labyrinth of lobster pots, but we were distracted by dolphins, jellyfish and even a basking shark! We discovered the best spot on deck to sunbathe and continue the chats from the dawn watch.

Before reaching harbour at Dun Laoghaire, we lowered and flaked the Mainsail and continued to derig the vessel. As we moored up, a seal came to investigate its new neighbours. Dinner was a well-deserved chicken curry with naan bread and poppadums.

We’re now all looking forward to the 150 mile hike to the showers!

By Isobel, Matilda and Alex.

Day 3

Tuesday 9

To begin our third day aboard the Challenger, a breakfast of chocolate chip pancakes was served, casual debates over whether a topping of lemon juice with maple or golden syrup was superior filled the saloon and plans for the day ahead were discussed.

First on the itinerary, was climbing the mast for which most of the crew conquered easily. A few shaking legs were still spotted with the occasional nervous “can I come down now” being heard by the onlookers sailing, rowing and motoring past. In the parade of boats emerging from the local sailing club was a Quest sailing dinghy, which provided amusement for the crew of Challenger 4 as they had, unfortunately for them, forgotten their centreboard and were drifting blissfully towards the harbour walls.

Once mast climbing was complete, we descended into the kitchen to make packups for the day trip ahead. Sandwiches in tow, we caught a train to Tara Street in Dublin where Rob (the resident food disposal) made a beeline to Nando’s. Luckily, this time we weren’t turned from the door, but instead lead to a booth in a quiet corner upstairs.

The rest of the crew deciding to eat our premade lunch in a park not long after, to enjoy the sun.

We strategically sat on the grassy bank of a pond unsuccessfully escaping the risk of pigeons, gulls and the occasional loose child, who were all as wild as each other.

After, we meandered through the highstreets of Dublin, stopping in the occasional souvenir shop, towards a Costa for a much needed caffeine fix. The journey continued with intentions of exploring the castle. Upon arriving, we made the disappointing discovery that entry would cost us an arm and a leg. Unprepared to make this sacrifice, we did a 180 turn and ended up in a ceramics and photography exhibition across the road.

The highlight of this display was a little white pot with holes in it, at first seeming quite boring and out of place among the intricate jars and statues, but with further investigation, proved to be quaint and cute. Little yellow chairs were hidden inside the shell, forming the scene of a dinner table.

The soothing gallery music and dim lighting induced the decision to head back to the docks. During our journey back to the train station, we gained a free Pepsi. We then learnt how to stand on a moving train (common knowledge to most, but apparently not all) and became inspired by people on the beach swimming.

Now back on home territory, we ate bangers n’ mash before impulsively walking to the beach.

Knowledge of the Irish Sea’s freezing reputation didn’t stop the crew as they ventured into the deep. A mixture of swimming, splashes and squeaks followed in the coming minutes, gradually leading to biscuits on the beach.

The sun set and the trek back to the boat for showers and sleep started.

A mixture of exhaustion and excitement fell like fog as we prepared for the early start of the shortly arriving morning.

By Tanya and Emily.​

Day 4

Wednesday 10

Early start for day four of our voyage. We slipped lines at 07.30am, the crew a little sleepier than usual. However, we quickly energized ourselves with a round of fresh coffees and managed to hoist the Main in a record 11 minutes 30.

And so the long journey to Holyhead began. With very little wind, we motored at around seven knots across the Irish Sea, the Mainsail hardly filling. In fact, the breeze was so light the sea turned into a glossy mirror with hardly a wave to swill your tea. This provided some surreal and eerie scenery for the day’s voyage.

Around an hour into the trip, a careless buoy named Rob wandered too close to the edge and took an accidental dive off Starboard deck. Fortunately, Rob the Buoy’s crew was very astute and instantly took up the call of ‘man overboard’, followed by a rapid response at the helm. With very little help from the virtually non-existent wind, the recovery was perhaps a little more challenging than usual, but we reassured the poor buoy as we changed course to rescue him. Before long, Rob was safely back on board, sleeping bags and hot drink waiting for him. The buoy didn’t appreciate these as much as we thought he would.

Even with the rather unexciting conditions, this crew can always find entertainment. First on the day’s activity schedule was officially commencing the game of Boat Murder. Each crewmate was assigned a name, murder weapon and location on the boat. They then must hand the weapon to their unsuspecting target in the correct location to ‘murder’ them. Barely a minute passed before the first death on the boat – a fatal altercation in the galley involving some kitchen roll – RIP John!

With suspicions and speculation developing, we ate our lunchtime chicken wraps and took in the golden rays on the foredeck. Several porpoises and dolphins pottered around in our wake, the only substantial waves on the water for miles around.

The Skipper noted his crew lazing around on deck and promptly decided some exercise was in order. The challenge: hoist the Staysail as fast as possible. With one person sweating the halyard and their partner winching in the slack, the crew paired up and took turns shooting the sail up the mast. The mate recorded some impressive times, right down to 13 seconds! Paired with the successful Mainsail hoist in the morning, the Skipper’s faith in his crew was restored.

Land in sight, it was time to drop the Main (which had had an easy day flapping around while the motor whirred). On such flat seas, we expected the task of climbing the mast and guiding the sail to be easy. However, just as the trickiest part of the drop began, a giant tanker’s tsunami-sized wave struck the side and nearly caused an embarrassing tumble!

After coming alongside the pontoon in Holyhead, the crew finished their jobs onboard and prepared the evening meal of spaghetti and meatballs. Despite an action-packed day on Challenger 4, we’re already plotting further adventures for tonight. Maybe a dip in the Irish Sea, a trek to the castle ruins by the harbour, or a quiet evening of card games, all with the unnerving chance of further (boat) murders…

By Isobel.

Day 5

Thursday 11

Another early start onboard Challenger 4. Woken at 06:30 in the morning ready to slip lines at 07:00, we motored out of Holyhead with more than a few yawns and the smell of strong coffee wafting from below deck.

After yesterday’s 11-and-a-half-minute Mainsail hoist, the crew set themselves a daunting challenge: half their previous time. After stretching, donning gloves and hyping each other up, the clock started and the sail began its 95ft journey to the top of the mast. Having climbed up to these heights ourselves on Day 2, we are beginning to fully appreciate the ‘tall’ part of ‘Tall Ships Youth Trust’.

With changeovers, which would have impressed F1 pit teams and each crewmate taking their turn sweating (in both meanings of the word) at the halyard, the head of the sail took up its station in an impressive (insert drumroll please) six minutes and 14 seconds! It will be a challenge indeed to top this time tomorrow.

Once the Mainsail was up, we noted that for the first time on this journey so far, the leeward heel of the boat was substantial enough to discern which tack we were on from below deck. The breeze had filled in around Holyhead, a modest 10 knots. This powered us through the gap between the Skerries, tacking between the rocks as we went.

However, the breeze was not to last. Before long, the sea state returned to smooth, the hull casting its reflection into the glossy water. Even with both the Main and Yankee sails hoisted, the ever-reliable motor did most of the work, generating just enough apparent wind to fill the sails and keep them at least looking useful.

Today’s exercise: climbing the Spinnaker pole. Finally, we discovered the purpose of the mysterious, log-like, trip hazards either side of the deck. Held out at 90 degrees over the side, about 10 feet in the air, the pole must’ve been confused. In a force one going upwind, this was not its usual application.

Before long, each of the crew took their turn dangling from the pole fore guy, shimmying up to the end. In such conditions, this was a relatively easy feat, but in the mid-Atlantic, with big swells and a powerful Spinnaker hooked to the end, our version was a far cry from the task of some professional racing crews.

After a lunch of jacket potatoes and multiple helpings from the heavenly biscuit tin, we refuelled after pole climbing and resumed our game of Boat Murder. In what appears to be the deadliest ship currently cruising the Irish Sea, several more deaths must be reported. Alex had a fatal run-in with a speaker by the bunks, Emily perished at the navigation station with a sail tie found conspicuously close by, and the mug tray delivered the final blow to Rob while he was at the helm. (Hello to Rob’s Grandad – don’t worry, the only part of Rob injured is his pride)!

The Isle of Man inched closer into view throughout the afternoon. Once the harbour was in sight, we busied around the deck in the heat, dropping the Main and Yankee sails, retrieving the fenders from below deck, and tidying the halyards in the snake pit. The Skipper skilfully manoeuvred us alongside the harbour wall. At the time, it wasn’t much of a jump from deck onto the stairs leading to the top of the wall. Now at low tide, it might be time to dust off our mast and pole climbing skills!

With a beach to take a dip in the sea and the town of Douglas to explore, we left the boat. Before we knew it, it was time to head back to the boat to cook our evening meal of sweet and sour chicken and noodles, with a side of prawn crackers. This was a great success and was devoured in no time at all. After the washing up was done, it was time to head ashore again for a well-deserved ice cream and showers.

By Isobel.

Day 6

Friday 12

The final day began at 06:30 in Douglas on the Isle of Man. We woke to a piece of good news, after five days of light winds and gentle seas, the forecast for Day 6 was actually looking promising. Could this be the day we get some peace and quiet from the omnipresent whir of the engine?

Leaving behind the marina, we warmed up and stretched for our final Mainsail hoist. The target: sub-six minutes. We didn’t know if it was even possible.

Teams in place, the stopwatch began. Everyone on deck gave their all, whether that be sweating the halyard, grinding at the winches, or the all-important job of cheerleading the rest of the crew. The head of the sail touched the top of the mast in an astonishing five minutes and seventeen seconds! If anyone wants to hire us as professional sail-hoisters, give us a ring. We charge a reasonable rate of 35 biscuits an hour, or nearest offer (Rob would prefer cash).

Almost as soon as the Mainsail filled, a new challenge presented itself. After days of flat seas and little breeze, suddenly life as we knew it tilted 45 degrees, as the boat heeled to leeward. Cups slid off tables, water spurted from taps at an angle, and we climbed and slipped from one side of the deck to the other. The breakfast team had the unenviable task of cooking bacon as we tacked upwind around the island, frantically securing pots and pans as everything in the galley exchanged positions. They invented several methods of adapting, including using the sizzling bacon as a horizon line and an energy-efficient way of moving from the high side to the low side involving a pillow and imagining the deck as a slide.

As small dinghy sailors, the chance to try our skills on a big boat, without the engine, excited everyone. We trimmed the Main, Yankee and Stay sails. We adjusted our steering to the most effective upwind course. We even asked if we could move all our kit and the crew to the windward side to flatten off the boat balance. However, to move 57 tonnes of boat you’d need more than some kitbags and the vast amount of food we’ve eaten this week.

Then the wind died and we collectively entered a state of mourning and grief. In our desperation, we floated the idea of fanning some air from the bow. However, the Skipper, Paul, was not optimistic about this method’s chances of success.

Arriving in Whitehaven, we found a larger population of jellyfish than people and a sacred Tesco that is open past 22:00, unlike at Dun Laoghaire. Fish and chips on the menu tonight has meant the crew have risen out of their grief stricken state. Maybe the chips will mean we may actually get up on time tomorrow. We still don’t hold much hope.

All the visiting crew would like to thank the Watch Leaders, Sharon and Anna, the Mate, Luiz, the NSSA volunteers, Jon and Jan, and our Skipper, Paul for making the trip so enjoyable and memorable, even with an unparalleled lack of wind. As instructors ourselves, we know how difficult it can be working against the elements and we are thankful for all of their efforts and enthusiasm. We wish you the best of luck for the remainder of your Round Britain Adventure. Remember the three golden rules: don’t fall off the boat, watch your head, and DO NOT contaminate the Skipper’s fig rolls with ginger biscuits.

By Isobel.​

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