TRANSGLOBE: The Army on board Challenger are blogging for Britain!

The ARMY – Challenger’s Blog covering Thu 26 – Tue 1 Dec 2009

The Crew:

No change – but a few more feeling a little more human…..but only a little more and only a few.

“Message in a Bottle” – The Police

Apologies for the late arrival of our ‘in voyage’ blog.  Our modem has not been talking to our sat phone, but in true Apollo 13 style, with an egg cup and some sticky back plastic and string, we have (well Steve has) managed to get our IT talking to satellites and are now back in comms – no more Message in a Bottle moments for now.

“Make way while the wind blows” – one I made up!

Challenger has been making the most of the strong winds over the past 4 – 5 days and has averaged some 200 miles per day – not bad at all for a boat built like a tank, named after a tank , weighing in at 45t of pure British Steel and with a planning range, or should I say distance, of 160 miles per day.  The sea has been a maelstrom of confused waves, making for a roller coaster ride – but Challenger is extremely robust and in her element, she happily rides the waves any way they come at her.  Those crew members affected by our motion mayhem are gradually starting to come around and some are even opening their eyes more often, which is good news.  Life on board is kind of settling down and things are getting just a little more comfortable .  We had identified a period of high pressure which should have been over us for the weekend, but it hasn’t arrived yet so still, for now, there is no respite.  We keep talking of calmer seas on board and the opportunity to sort some of the gear out, but it just doesn’t seem to be coming.  So we are making as much headway as possible while the wind blows.   We are in good company.  Dolphins have been swimming just metres from the boat; there are a number of Frigate birds flying off the stern as well as a number of albatross’s, and Polly somehow managed to see a small shark just off the cockpit of the boat.  There might be some linkage to the amount of partially digested food that has been projected overboard which is attracting these creatures, but their presence is spectacular.  The skipper is enforcing a weetabix, milk and sugar diet for those in need of some energy and the Doc is threatening to deploy some of his saline drips for those who need a top up of fluids.

Leg 5 in Context

The  sea here is a vast desert of water with the swell forming magnificent peaks, deep troughs and wild spray blown off the waves by the howling winds.  As we monitor our progress on the electronic chart, the size of Australia and the distances involved are put into stark context.  It seems to have taken an age to round the South West land mass of Australia, but we have clearly made way and have transitioned from the Indian Ocean to the Southern Ocean in a matter of days.  We are currently 8 hours ahead of GMT and the UK, but by the time we reach Sydney, we will have crossed 3 time zones and be 11 hours ahead of you; the additional 3 hours will have wreaked havoc with our Watch system timings.  Undoubtedly there will be winners and losers.

As I write, Buzz is back in the Galley as the only unaffected member of Harry Watch.  He happily helms, crews and makes food and brews with a smile on his cheery face.  Rations are stretching much further than anticipated.  The Curry lasted 48 hours and the Pasta Carbonnara did the same.  We could have saved a small fortune on rations had we known!  At times, a small glass of red wine would have been most welcome, but Challenger is dry……well alcohol free but not exactly dry when it comes to sail changes.

Sunday 29 Nov – A day of rest……..

We talked of calmer weather and flatter waters and this morning our prayers were answered.  The wind abated from 35 Knots of down to below 10.  Sunday has already proven to be a day of rest and administration.  We have managed to clear all of the water from the bilges, have a morning sing-song on deck, a shower, fix the sink pump (Roddy!) , fix the email problem and dry clothes and towels out.  We even managed to have bacon for brunch as opposed to the usual diet of cereal and toast – very very refreshing after a 5 day battering.  Furthermore, 13 of the 14 crew look 90% or more human, with only one exception – Phil.  He’s still below par, but on his way back to life.  Murray has his array of cameras back in action, so we know he is feeling much better.  Morale today has been exceedingly high, but the winds light and progress slow.  We know we have a pretty horrid low pressure system chasing us and it may well be upon us when we enter the Bass Strait, the much shallower stretch of water between SE Australia and Tasmania that acts as a reef (the depth drops from over 1000M to well below 100M) and throws the seas into turmoil.  But we are well prepared and everyone has now experienced extreme sailing.

We hope everyone back home is well and we look forward to making communication with you once we get to Sydney.


1. Dick watch were feeling disgruntled that there were only 3 of them and Tom and Harry had 4 apiece. Then as if by magic, some bloke called Phil appeared. We think he might be a stowaway! But at least he isn’t a drain on food!

2. Buzz has had the brunt of the dampness in his berth. He is hoping it is sea water and not one of the sickies not wanting to get up to go to the heads!

3. Roddy may need to see a snoring counsellor as soon as he gets back to the UK otherwise Windy may have to impress on him the urgency of this matter.  With a Lemar winch handle.

4. Windy sends a big shout out to Lou, X, Heiford,Minger,Mike,Liz, and my two gold fish, thats if my old cats have not eaten them.

5. Murray sends his shout-outs to the Posse in Bristol, all the family, big grins to all in the REYC and any of the RFOM crowd who are checking in.  Better a bad day on the water than a good day in the office and we’ve had precious few bad ones!

6. Big shouts to Bridge, Woodsy, Hels, Claire, Lisa, Caroline, Bob, Fraser and all the REYC associate members – sorry you can’t be here! Rob Moy – Gutted mate!

7. Ryan, Hi to Karen, dad and the boys, mum Charlie and everyone in Ireland, Knocker Midders and Pops, Ben and the lads hard at work  and Rachel hope you’r not missing me to much i will not lie im missing  ya lol x x Ps cant wait for Sydney. As for the sailing lets just say its an experience!!

8. Nols, Rose, Holly and James, love and miss you, see you in a couple of weeks. 6 months in Afghan and not even close to being sunburnt – 3 days in the Southern Ocean and my nose is ready to fall off!!! There is no justice. I hope all is well on the home front, I’m not missing the weather you are having. Hello to everyone else checking how we are getting on; let’s just say the only thing missing from the back of our boat is “Follow the Sapper”J

9. Polly, (AkA Terry) Hi to all watching at home, it is a real eye opener, some of you who sail would love it, however most of you I think would have been pretty ill by now. Love as always to Sally, see you soon with tales from the high seas.

10. Stevie, Hey shout out to my darling wife, this trip is worth it!! LWMU.  Hi to my kids, missing you and hope you all still behaving.  Again thanks to mum and dad, hope you got home safely.  Hello to brothers, especially to Jar Head.   Of course to Chaz and the lads, really not missing you all, this place rocks.  Mel and steve sorry didn’t get to see you, any chance you can visit Sidney around the 8th or 9th.  Finally a big shout out to the girls at autonomy especially Anita, Paula and Tash.  Hope you’re enjoying ‘miserys’ company!

11. Great stuff!

12. Hi to Manisha – hope you get this blog message and that all is well. To Rob Moy – hope your course is worth it and as fun as this expedition – see you when I get back! Chris.

Sun 29th/Monday 30th November (St Andrew’s day for the four ethnic minorities on the boat)

While this is, technically, an arduous sailing expedition (and let there be no doubt about the arduous bit people) today and much of yesterday has been spent motoring.  While this may sound like a bit of a cop-out bear with us for a couple of minutes while we state our case to the jury.  There is, no wind.  In fact there is a little. About 5 knots in fact, from directly where we are trying to go.  There is also a happy current pushing us backwards at about a Knot.  This means that if we could sail directly into the wind we would be making 4 Knots (or just more than 4 Mph) towards Sydeny.  Which is still two time-zones away.  We hope, dear reader, that you’ll bear with all three yachts as they attempt to fast-forward into the next low pressure system.  For those of you who missed ‘Southern Hemisphere Weather 101’ in essence High Pressure = Flat, windless, slow.  Low Pressure = bouncy, windy, fast).  Much of the crew spent most of the first few days praying for a high but now we have our sea-legs the High sitting above us is simply, slow and boring.  We are also wary of asking for too much in case we get it…..

So if we can’t spin tales of derring do on the foredeck, awash with foam and flailing sails what shall we talk about today?  One thing that occurred to Harry Watch (Murray, Buzz, Lee and Caesar) at about ‘dark o’clock’ this morning is that while some of our audience will be old sea-dogs themselves and some may even have been following Challenger and Co around the globe for a while equally a number of you may be friends and family with no idea what we are actually up to.  Equally some of you (I know I was one) may be crew due to join the race, ahem, exercise later on and you may be trying to get a feel for what life is like.  We’re pretty sure you’ve got the idea that we all sit on deck all day, pulling ropes, gently turning the steering wheel ducking the occasional wave.  For the length of a continent.  Um, sort of.  Challenger is in actual fact a hive of activity the whole time, a yacht of this size is in reality a small ship, village, machine, racing car and elderly relative all rolled into one and as such needs constant attention – as does the crew!

The crew splits down into it’s three watches (named after those famous tunnels – this is our ‘great escape’ after all!).  The first – and using today as our ready example – Watch are the ‘on-watch’ they’ll be doing 4-hours on deck before being relieved by what is currently the ‘off-watch’.  Essentially they will do turn-and-turn-about alternating between working on-deck and eating, sleeping and fixing the boat and most of the other niff-naff and trivia that keeps the boat ticking along.  ‘Mothering’ the crew is left, strangely enough – to ‘Mother-Watch’ their job, for a 24 hour period is to feed and water the crew and keep the inside of the boat clean and hygienic (easy sometimes, other times less so…..).  What this all leads to is a three day rotation which, when you add in a two-hour dog watch to off-set watches doing the same times each day AND changing time zones, means that we are constantly busy, often blurry and usually utterly confused as to either/or the date/time.  Add in rough weather, sea-sickness, darkness, comedy bunks etc and you may start to notice a little degradation in our ability to spill, punctate and use grameeeer.  If you see what we mean (Roddy never could anyway…).

In some ways the early part of the voyage was pretty simple as the boat was in tip-top condition, food was plentiful and the conditions meant that your time-spending choices were

1. a. Sail – as hard and fast as you could “sail it like you stole it!”(if already a sailor).

1.b. Sail – Lean.  Quickly (if not already a sailor).

2. Sleep – “ahh blessed sleeeep” – Homer Simpson, repeatedly (also (Ph)ill)

3. Work out how to feed 14 hungry (sometimes…) people when your ‘kitchen’ is at 30 degrees, your ‘cooker’ is at 10 degrees (and is swinging randomly) and handling anything vaguely sharp has potential to be ‘interesting….’.

At first anything else was pretty much beyond us. Now however our boat needs more work, as fresh stores dwindle we need to start being more creative with our food and frankly we’re used, believe it or not, to our watch routine we have time for a few other pursuits.  For half the crew the first option is easy – smoke. For the non-addicts amongst us books are being read, new skills learnt (sewing!), all the old jokes and stories are being dragged out and we’ve even had a few sing songs using Dave’s ever-ready song books (Flower of Scotland being Murray, Steve, Eddie and Roddy’s song of the day).  All very domestic but wait until you hear about our bread-making, with fresh supplies exhausted it looks like the next mother watch could be in for some fun……

Before Harry Watch sign-off we’d just like to add a few notes for those back home.

1.            We are NOT in Australia.  Australia is merely the closest land-mass.  The next closest land-mass is Antarctica…  While we are sure you all have images of us on a sun-drenched deck, in shorts and sunnies with ever-deepening tans you could not be much further from the truth if you tried.  ‘Day wear’ on deck is a minimum of a thermal base-layer, trousers a soft-shell jacket and a hat.  Usually this will have a full-on ocean spec’ Gore-Tex suit over the top of it.  ‘Evening wear’ is similar but you can add in thick fleece salopettes and a fleece jacket to the tally.  The only bit of us getting ‘tanned’ is a narrow strip between face-mask and hat – and that’s wind burn not sun burn!.

2.            The second point is a word to one of our sponsors (they all deserve a cheer – without them we wouldn’t be here, but this is quite a specific one).  We had quite a long chat about this one on Harry Watch last night.  Sponsors, we suspect, get all kinds of thank-yous.  Some of those will be formal letters or the implicit type that comes from enormous transfers on the side of the boats but there is another type.  This is the muffled thank-you of a fore-deck crew, doing a sail-change in the Southern Ocean.  This is when they realise that the incoming wave is coming over them, not past them and that because they’re wearing good gear that wave is going to keep going with a minimum of its tonnes of water ending up down neck or in boots.  So just a short muffled cheer of thanks to Gill.  Good kit boys.

Highlight of the Day

On Monday afternoon, at about 1610 hrs, Tom Watch were in the driving seat when the helm (Dave) saw a seal (not an Otter, as Chris called it) jumping frantically out of the water just metres off the stern.  All hand were on deck before too long to see this spectacle, but the real event was to follow as a pod of over a dozen Minkie Whales swam just metres from the yacht, like a true RAF flypast showing off their frames.  Suffice it to say, we never saw them or the seal again.

What, if anything, are we starting to miss………………………..?

The UK weather…………………..hmm, no

Phone calls …………………………no, not really

Texts…………………………………..not really

E mails (from Jason)………………NO

TV ………………………………………no……………….no, especially reality TV

The News…………………………….no, but intrigued by what we ‘could’ be missing

A change of scenery………………sometimes, but only sometimes

Regular showers……………………yes

A comfortable bed…………………yes, definitely

A good night’s sleep……………….yes

Pukka Pies……………………………..yes, ‘……..don’t compromise’

Families and loved ones…………yes, of course

The Navy and RAF boats…………yes and no……………………alright, no

A meal in a level dining room….yes

A glass of wine with a meal……would be nice occasionally

High winds and rough seas…….no…..and yes, for the speed, adrenalin and exhilaration they bring

Great Stuff!  Thank you for reading and we’ll continue to keep you informed of our voyage as we transit through the notorious Bass Strait between Tasmania and Australia, and then on our final stretch of 400 or so miles up to Sydney from the SE corner.


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