Well we ended up having a really great, longer then expected stop over in San Francisco as we were waiting for Team Finland to catch up with us. They had been diverted via Japan at the start of Leg 5 to fix their watermaker problem, and had sailed solo across the pacific a few weeks behind the rest of the fleet. A respectable achievement if you read my previous blog!
Anyway, when all nine boats assembled it was ready to head back out into the what was now regarded as the most fearsome of oceans, and the cloudy mood over Alcatraz Island set the mood perfectly. Sure enough, within 6 hours of leaving, when and shadow of the land was clearly well behind us, it was almost as though we'd never left. Waves threw the boat about violently and the wind reared its ugly head, but this time, it was a different mood on board. We knew whatever we would get thrown at us we could get through.
The usual pattern of getting into life on the boat quickly didn't quite materialise this leg for me. I think I had just had such a great stopover in San Francisco that the boat almost felt a little foreign. The conditions fortunately turned out to be no where near as bad as Leg 5, in fact it just turned out to be some really great quick sailing conditions. I hit the boats highest speed of the whole 8 months so far when I got up to just shy of 24 knots. Its hard to describe exactly what thats like but the video below might give you a little hint. This is me hitting about 19 knots so imagine faster than this again sustained over a couple of days - just brilliant fun!
We all knew secretly at the back of our minds though that it wouldn't last, a shame but some sunshine sailing was long overdue. Now a week in, we were heading down past Baja California with the chance of spotting some great wildlife, the sunshine soaring to the point of being unbearable and shorts and t-shirts out for the first time in literally months. It felt like a different trip and mood on-board soared.
In terms of the race we were doing well, holding a steady position at the top of the fleet, the usual 'sched fever' revealing whether we had lost or gained miles on the other boats. Each day that past it would become more and more tactical. A windhole could see you slip from a podium place to near the back of the fleet and vice versa. We became permanently accustomed to the 'low side' of the boat (aids in gaining boat speed in super light conditions) and were told to tiptoe around deck when we moved around.
Whilst it may sound ridiculous, the work in keeping the boat moving by the tiniest fraction paid off big time!!! Having continued for several days in the glorious sunshine the weather was getting so light it was going to impact our arrival date at the Panama Canal. The race we found out would be shortened by several hundred miles, meaning that we would have to fight to really keep our place on the podium for the last 72 hours.
At this point, we could see Finland off to our starboard side, and knew that Qingdao were not far away. The distance to finish given to us by Clippers was now innacurate though - that was to a specific point on the finish line, which was closer to Qingdao than it was to us. Obviously we could cross anywhere over the finish line and so hoisted the kite and made the most direct course we could. In the most dramatic finish of the race for us so far (literally we didn't know for hours afterwards whether we had managed to beat them or not), we eventually found out that after 2500 miles of ocean racing we had beaten Qingdao by a mere 12 minutes!!!!!!!!!!! Team finland were then only 8 minuted behind them!!
It was a really great race, another podium, and one which was especially valuable to us in securing our second position overall in the race. It was a semi-bitter pill to swallow losing out to Australia - the ribbing I got from my dad was of course no holds barred, but I was really pleased for them to get a great result (for those that don't know my dad is racing on board Spirit of Australia on Legs 6 & 7!!!).
Anyway, from there we motored down to the Panama Canal, which I had been looking forward too since Hull! It was a truly memorable experience crossing through, especially considering the locks were built nearly 100 years ago - an immense feat of engineering! It was also quite emotional for those of us that had done Leg 5 - we were closing the doors on the Pacific ocean when that first lock closed behind us, and opening up the doors to the Atlantic - homeward bound!!!!!!!!!!!! The photos do it more justice than I could describe so I'll let you enjoy.
Leaving Panama though was something we were all pleased to do. I've never been anywhere to humid and hot in my life and so staying on the boat was exceptionally uncomfortable. It was due to be a solid 3/4 days beating into the wind on the way up to our home port of Jamaica, although most of us didn't care by this point as the water was as warm as a bath! There were few tactics to decide upon as the trade winds were very steady all the way up to the Caribbean Islands. It was literally a case of get as good a start as possible and keep pushing. It was unfortunate that into our home port we could only manage a 5th place considering the run of podium places we'd had in the last few races.
It was a close finish with Singapore in the end as we managed to completely mess up a routine spinnaker gybe only about a mile from the finish with them gaining quickly. It was the quickest spinnaker drop and hoist any of us have done in the whole 8 months to make sure we didn't lose out on 5th.
Th reception into Jamaica was fantastic as expected and we have been treated like royalty since arriving. I miss my girlfriend, friends and family incredibly but I have to say it - "Its a hard life this sailing round the world lark......."