Yachting: It's like trying to sleep inside a kettle drum

Gordon Maguire anticipates a damp, smelly, grindingly tough month aboard Silk Cut

As I write this we are in the final countdown to the 1997-98 Whitbread Round the World Yacht Race - we start at 2pm today. The 10 yachts have been docked in Southampton for the past week, and Silk Cut looks resplendent in her purple livery and open-mouthed shark logo.

There has been a palpable tension in the air during this last week, but we have tried to remain calm and focused as there was still a lot to be done. The job list covered all the final preparations such as loading food and diesel; race-packing the sails and finishing some minor repairs.

All the big decisions, such as which mast to use and which sails to take, have been made. The die has been cast. It's up to the crew now to sail the yacht to her full potential.

The yacht has been weighed and measured to ensure it complies with the rules. Our 17 sails have also been measured and stamped with an invisible marking. They will be rechecked this morning to ensure they have not been changed.

Whitbread have also been scrutineering this week, which includes checking the safety equipment and procedures. We carry life jackets: a life raft; an emergency radio beacon; harnesses for attaching ourselves to the rail in extreme conditions; and "grab bags", which contain emergency supplies for survival in a life raft - torch, knife, flares and a hand-held desalinator to make seawater drinkable.

We are also required to simulate a man-overboard incident. We had earlier practice at this when our navigator was flicked 15 feet into the air by the spinnaker and thrown into the North Atlantic. We were 400 miles west of Ireland at the time and it was blowing 20 knots. We managed a textbook rescue and had him back on board, albeit cold and wet, within five minutes.

I have been making the most of home comforts this week, as life will be spartan for the month it takes to complete the first leg to Cape Town. My warm and comfortable bed will be swapped for a cramped canvas bunk. We have sleeping bags for cold conditions and a sheet for warmer climates. When the weather is wet and windy these are impossible to keep dry, and you end up sleeping in clammy dampness. In the cold you sleep with your clothes on. These too can get sodden and, after a few days, are somewhat smelly and unpleasant.

So far as the hard work is concerned, we run six-hour watches to 6pm while at night we run a four-hourly shift change. Sleep is difficult when you are off-watch. You are only 18 inches beneath the crew working on deck, and their movements and voices resound loudly around the hollow interior. Added to this is the continuous creaking and groaning of the yacht as she is pushed to her limits in the pursuit of every last ounce of speed. It's a bit like trying to sleep inside a kettle drum. If we change direction - which can happen perhaps a dozen times during a watch - the sleeping crew have to wake up, and race to the bunks on the opposite side so that as much weight as possible is on the high side of the boat to keep it balanced and moving as fast as possible. They also have to hurl all the sails and any other portable equipment to the high side as fast as they can - speed differences of a fraction of a knot will be decisive.

We eat three times a day, at 6am, midday and 6pm. Breakfast is cereal or porridge with reconstituted powdered milk; lunch is a carbohydrate dish, usually pasta, with a bolognese or pesto sauce; and dinner is a rehydrated freeze-dried meal containing meat. We have snacks for the evening, such as a chocolate bar or a packet of Jelly Babies (chosen for their high carbohydrate content). The only drink we have is desalinated water. This contains no minerals so we add these in powdered form. Although the food is carefully chosen to provide an adequate diet we can lose up to 5kg on a leg.

In warm weather we wash as best we can using special salt-water soap and shampoo. You go to the back of the boat, scoop a bucket of water from the sea and empty it over your head. Towelling down quickly stops the salt from causing skin irritations. In cold weather we just make do with antiseptic wet wipes. And, with only one change of thermal underwear we become a pretty niffy bunch.

There's one toilet on board for 12 men. If you block it you have to unblock it yourself. This involves dismantling the pump, clearing it and putting it back together again. It can be a 30-minute procedure and is not pleasant. We tend to flush the toilet before using it to ensure it's not blocked and, if it is, the offending previous user is found and made to do his duty.

The inside of a Whitbread 60 is not a place where the off-duty crew sit and chat and socialise. You can't stand up straight and you have to crawl over sails and equipment. It's simply a place to eat your food quickly and get into your bunk. The only relaxing we get is to read a few chapters of the one paperback we are allowed to take before trying to get some sleep.

These will be my living conditions for the next 30 days. There will be times when I will question why I'm doing it. And then it will come back to me. To win.

Voices
Lucerne’s Hotel Château Gütsch, one of the lots in our Homeless Veterans appeal charity auction
charity appeal
Arts and Entertainment
Tony Hughes (James Nesbitt) after his son Olly disappeared on a family holiday in France
tv
News
people

Jo from Northern Ireland was less than impressed by Russell Brand's attempt to stage a publicity stunt

Sport
Scunthorpe goalkeeper Sam Slocombe (left) is congratulated by winning penalty taker Miguel Llera (right)
football
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The Apprentice candidates Roisin Hogan, Solomon Akhtar, Mark Wright, Bianca Miller, Daniel Lassman
tvReview: But which contestants got the boot?
Life and Style
A woman walks by a pandal art installation entitled 'Mars Mission' with the figure of an astronaut during the Durga Puja festival in Calcutta, India
techHow we’ll investigate the existence of, and maybe move in with, our alien neighbours
Arts and Entertainment
Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels ride again in Dumb and Dumber To
filmReview: Dumb And Dumber To was a really stupid idea
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Ian McKellen tempts the Cookie Monster
tvSir Ian McKellen joins the Cookie Monster for a lesson on temptation
News
i100
Travel
Tourists bask in the sun beneath the skyscrapers of Dubai
travelBritish embassy uses social media campaign to issue travel advice for festive holiday-makers in UAE
Arts and Entertainment
Jennifer Saunders stars as Miss Windsor, Dennis's hysterical French teacher
filmJennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress
Life and Style
tech
Sport
Nabil Bentaleb (centre) celebrates putting Tottenham ahead
footballTottenham 4 Newcastle 0: Spurs fans dreaming of Wembley final after dominant win
Voices
Jimmy Mubenga died after being restrained on an aircraft by G4S escorts
voicesJonathan Cox: Tragedy of Jimmy Mubenga highlights lack of dignity shown to migrants
Life and Style
Sebastian Siemiatkowski is the 33-year-old co-founder and CEO of Klarna, which provides a simple way for people to buy things online
tech
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established media firm based in Surrey is ...

Ashdown Group: Java Developer - Hertfordshire - £47,000 + bonus + benefits

£40000 - £470000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: Java Developer / J2EE Devel...

Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Director - London - £70,000

£70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive - Nationwide - OTE £65,000

£30000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small technology business ...

Day In a Page

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
10 best high-end laptops

10 best high-end laptops

From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

Homeless Veterans campaign

Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

Meet Racton Man

Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

Garden Bridge

St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

Joint Enterprise

The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

Freud and Eros

Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum