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Bt Round The World Challenge - John Scott, at The Belfry, 5th March 99

By Anne Stevenson

John Scott, Rochdale dentist and member of Elton Sailing Club, sailed round the world the "wrong" "way from Sept. 96 to April 97 in this gruelling race, devised by Chay Blyth. Fourteen identical boats with identical sets of sails and amateur crews under an experienced skipper, sail against the prevailing winds down and round Cape Horn, plough their way across the terrifying Southern Ocean to New Zealand and Australia, across to Cape Town, and back up the Atlantic into Southampton Water.

John's laid back and matter of fact account, together with a set of personal and professional slides, was informative, amusing and dramatic.

What is "the wrong way"? The old clipper ships and the Whitbread Race, lightweight boats, streamlined and built for speed, sail with the winds, and fly! The BT boats are solidly constructed of steel to withstand the buffeting of waves and wind and are tough! They sail into the wind. Those who sail them have to be tough also, and after the initial training, the most important factor was the team building and team charter they devised as soon as the crew makeup was decided. They had to cover all the skills: sail making, food, navigation, meteorology, medical, engineer, radio operator, plumber, you name it, someone has to be the specialist!

The next task was to protect the boat from wear: every stitch on every sail had to be cold sealed; patches had to be put on every position the sail could be put in to prevent rubbing and all the ropes marked to determine these positions. John bemoaned their one major mistake - they bought in all their food in advance in the UK before departure: freeze dried, boil-in-the-bag, variously flavoured mush. They were all heartily sick of it in a very short time, but could not change the menu!

Departure date, 29th Sept. 96: After all the hype, the weather was awful and by the time they reached the Needles at the end of the Isle of Wight, they were all ready to give up and go home for a shower and a couple of pints! Especially John's boat; after a premature start they had to heave-to for 2 hours as a penalty and watch all the others go past them! By the Bay of Biscay, however, the sun had come out and things eased up.

Space prevents me including all the fascinating details John told us how to navigate past St Peter and St Paul; how they lost the bowman overboard and got him back with the spinnaker pole and a suspected skull fracture; how one of their crew had to be helicoptered off to hospital in the Falklands but later rejoined the race; the fact that far from land there are no birds nor insects and how you can smell land approaching; how depressed they all were when a crew member died of meningitis; how they led the fleet all the way to Cape Horn, but it may have been a costly mistake; the presence of albatrosses; what it is like to be becalmed, and then on the high seas in hurricane Fergus.

Have you ever experienced 5000 people partying? John has, in Wellington.

Let's jump to the Sydney to Cape Town leg. 500 miles south of Australia they experienced storm conditions for 24 days. Their compass was washed overboard, only two people could be allowed on deck at a time, and even with safety harnesses they had to crawl on all fours to move about; man made fabrics which wick the moisture from your skin are essential, but even with them everybody stank; and did you know it is possible to dry your socks in your crotch?

John reckons that Good Friday was the worst day of his life; 70 ft waves and 70 mph winds and the top batten was ripped out of the sail; this bit of the sail, being 9 layers thick, needed an awl and a hammer to "sew" ! I have omitted the problems with the forestay and the backstay and how to "juryrig" a boat.

[Author's note: the origin of the term "jury" rigging is unknown according to Brewers Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. It has been in use for more than 300 years]

Everybody lost weight on this leg, to such an extent that John's sister arrived on board at Cape Town and asked him where she could find John Scott!!! Cape Town to Boston, however, was a fly with the spinnaker up for 3700 miles; whales, dolphins, St Helena, the Ascension Islands and crossing the Equator. By the time they got to Boston, although they were having a great old time, all most could think about was, "Lets go home"!

Amazingly lots of boats finished within a few hours of each other, they cruised into Southampton Water in the company of 67 other boats, finishing 8th out of 14. An amazing adventure by anyone's standards. John says he still has to pinch himself to believe he has done it!