Header image: Henri Lloyd in St Katharine Docks before the race start

Something’s Wrong

You get to a point where you think you can sleep through anything – the noise of the winches as sheets are being tightened or slackened, or halyards raised or being released, the noise of the on watch as they move sails around the deck.

You can even identify some of the tasks being performed – we’re tacking, putting in or shaking out a reef, trimming a spinnaker.

Though all these noises are loud, they are also completely normal and you can, and do, sleep through them. It’s when something is out of the ordinary that you awaken.

One morning I awoke. Did not know what time it was, just that it wasn’t time for wake-up yet. There was a strange noise, and motion of the boat. It was kind of juddering, rather than the normal flowing sensation you have when under sail. Something was wrong. We are going to be asked to help. Soon enough, the skipper came down to talk to our watch leader, who was also awake and was in the bunk above me. We had been sailing with the yankee one, the wind had suddenly increased, and was now too much for the sail. Both watches were going to be needed to help wrestle with it to get it down. Could we get up a bit early to help?

The next morning a similar thing happened, only this time we were the watch on duty, not the one in our sleeping bags. They came up to help. The sail was mostly on the foredeck but partly over the guardrail. I was sitting on the foredeck trying to untie the bowlines attaching the sheets to the sail when I heard the words.

The words you never want to hear for real. The words we have drilled for, over and over again. At infant school I thought that if we had a drill it was going to happen. At least I did till the day I got home and announced we were going to have a fire at school. We really did not want this to happen. But still, the words were screamed, “Man overboard!”

He was tethered onto the boat thankfully, but that is not the point. Someone (not on Clipper) died from going overboard while attached to the boat and not being treated as a man overboard. Everything that we had drilled for was put into practice, he was recovered, shaken and surprised, and allowed to rest on the sail for a few seconds before we continued with the sail change.

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