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sea gipsy musing - Dan Lund

Posted by Earthrace Editor on 29/06/2010

sea gypsy musings

A volunteer’s blog written by Dan Lund

The Flying Dutchman
After braving the wilds of Scandinavia, Earthrace has descended upon the UK for the UK tour. Arriving at Brighton Marina, I saw Earthrace in the flesh for the first time. Two silver horns poked out above the yachts. The vessel bouncing gently on the tide, moored snuggly in the Premier harbour Marina, stuck out like a sore thumb. The marina’s clientele stared with a mixture of interest and suspicion at the strange craft. On the dock, members of the public, crew, and more than a few randoms coagulated around Earthrace. Introducing myself to Pete I was handed an electric drill and quickly put to work. Before I knew it, I was inside the ‘horns’ helping to install the Fusion sound system. With weight no longer an issue, Pete was keen to get some serious sound on board. Thanks to the generous sponsorship of Fusion, three amplifiers and twelve speakers, Earthrace was quickly being transformed into a massive sea going sound system. Within ten minutes of the system’s installation the Marina sent a member of staff down to inform Pete of various sound complaints that had been made. Pete smiled, taking this as confirmation that his new stereo was up to par.
The night before, a Dutch yacht plowed into Earthrace’s bow fracturing the carbon in multiple places. The less than aware captain of the Zebeer did not even have the courtesy to inform the crew of his blunder. Thankfully, a witness notified Pete and the relevant details we exchanged. George and Tino had pained looks on their faces has they stood on a small skiff repairing the bow with Splash Zone. Ironically, having circumnavigated the world twice, Earthrace sustained some of the worst body damage whilst docked securely in sunny old Brighton- sods law. The captain of the Zebeer even had the tenacity to complain about the music. It was with some frustration that the crisp sounds emanating from the new speakers were adjusted once again while the Dutchman sat gloating in the next birth.
Invited by Pete to jump aboard for a week or so, I made a quick call to the office. No, I didn’t think I was going to be in the office tomorrow.
The ‘office’ housed in a bleak 1970’s tower block on the edge of London outside Surrey where I had been working as a content writer for a website, writing repetitively generic descriptions of holiday destinations that I had neither visited nor wanted too, had seen the last of me. Taking a chance trip to Brighton to see the most impressive application and use of used chip fat I’d ever heard of and at the same time catering to my recent growing interest in sea travel, hanging out with Earthrace was well worth bunking off work for. A once in a lifetime opportunity seeing that, by the sounds of it, Earthrace wasn’t going to be back in this part of the world any time soon.
That night we headed over to George’s family home where more than a few carcasses of meat were ingested by a hungry crew. Over dinner, the record breakers reminisced over their round the world adventures.
Next stop Yarmouth.


Posted by on 13/06/2008

In Jack Bauer’s world of 24, the screen would now split, top left Jack would hop into his pimped out car with state of the art gadgets, support team would be hopping on computers and mobiles bottom right, swat teams waiting on the nod in the centre, all systems and resources go. Mission: save the world…

This is how the next 24 hrs pans out, Earthrace-style…

12pm: Fuel will be auctioned at 5pm if the import duty is not paid to release the container from customs. Jack (Ling not Bauer) is quietly negotiating with officials to waive the GST, but the container must be delivered to the consignee address on the Bill of Lading only – the marina. Customs can’t believe that ER holds such a quantity of fuel – surely we must be selling the stuff instead…? Alternative is to move it to the marina’s warehouse on the mainland in bond, un-stuff it there and load the totes onto a flatbed for transfer to Sentosa Island. But then we have to pay the GST…

1pm: I can’t wait any longer; I make Adrian call TT again… Our first piece of good news all week: Yes, he can make the drive shaft! He gives us a price, gulp, but Assetton have agreed to sponsor that, so OK, but it wont be ready until Monday, maybe Sunday night. He can guarantee the quality though. He’s been recommended to us, he has the 316 Stainless steel in stock and is prepared to drop everything, have his team work through the night. We don’t have a haul out till Tuesday. Adrian does some more calculations, Skypes Scott who confirms our thoughts that Tuesday is not actually a bad option and we can still beat the record even with this delay. Tino heads to the machine shop to talk through the plans in detail. Looks like the drive shaft could be a goer…

2pm: Tai suggests a salvage barge near the marina on Sentosa. Adrian follows up on this - they could haul us on Saturday and give us dry dock on the barge. But not interested in the PR, so the fee is not negotiable. It’s one crane only with a web-like hammocky sling. Can we raise the funds for this? Will it even work? Keep them warm for now…

3pm: Col Chopra calls. The Navy use a particular shipyard for their repairs – he’s calling his chum at the top to see if they can ‘move some boats’ to make room for us. The lift is still a problem though. Jack calls: Customs will waive the GST but the fuel must go to Sentosa. Just need to find a trucking company insured to do this… Tino calls: ‘You have to contact Hallmark Marine in Australia urgently, they made the original shaft. The plans spec different steal. We have to know which the right material is.’ I search the internet for a number, text Tino, email Scott and Ally searches through their files to see what she can find. John Allen emails from NZ with supportive wishes. We’d be lost without the extended family of Earthracers across the globe, helping us out over email, g-chat and Skype – someone, somewhere will always be up and on it. It’s become an essential part of our operation and helps keep us motivated, especially now.

4pm. Jack calls again. Customs have changed their mind about the GST. What?? Why?? Zubi, in trying to help, contacted a senior person at Customs about our plight, mentioning the extensive repairs needed in Singapore (to get support) but which they’ve now decided means we’ll be staying long enough to consume or sell the fuel. Disaster. Jack is trying to get it reversed before the 5pm deadline.

5pm. I call Tino: ‘Have you given the go for the shaft?’ Please, we need for one thing to be in place, please. ‘Not yet, on the way back to the shop now’. And we still have to clear the fuel. The shipping agent will only accept payment through a Singapore company, and not our credit card or bank transfer. Allan generously offers to make the payment through Alpha Biodiesel; I transfer the funds to them from my account. We have the princely sum of £110 left to play with now. We still have some sponsorship money owing, but cash flow is critical. Lack of funds is a constant niggle, and there’s no wriggle room for little things like P-bracket repairs and haul outs mid-race!

6pm. Tino calls. ‘The shaft is on the lathe.’ Huston, we have lift off! ‘I’m now at another shipyard’ he says. ‘They could haul us on Saturday too. Chatting with Capt David Betts. He’s from Yorkshire. He wants to help’. Tino was there at 9am this morning; he tells me there’s already a 24m x 8m mark out in black paint on the dry – they really do have space for Earthrace. ‘You have to call the director, Mr Peter Lee’, he says. ‘He’s the boss. Nothing happens without his say so. Oh, and you have to try and get it sponsored. Over to you now, Boss Lady!’ he drawls in his deliberately exaggerated Guyana accent. I glance at Fei Fei’s draft media invite I’m avoiding proofing – 4pm Monday 9th. Tino has done really well today, I just have to close the deal now...

I call Peter Lee, only wincing slightly as I sell him the ‘POSH Semco salvage company salvages Earthrace’s world record attempt’ line… He has the good grace to chuckle. I tell him about the very real huge value in media coverage, our impressive web stats, and long term benefits of Earthrace sponsorship beyond the race. He asks me outright, ‘you want this for free?’ I pause for just a second. ‘Yes, I’m not going to bullshit you. We really need your help. No one else can help us.’ It’s his turn to pause. ‘OK, we can definitely give you the dry dock, but the cranes belong to a sister company and they’re very busy.’ My heart sinks a little. ‘I’ll see what I can do – maybe for cost. Send me an email with the details and I’ll look at it tonight.’ I email Peter a proposal ASAP.

7pm. I call Peter to make sure the email has been received. Yes, he will look at it later and call me in the morning. He reconfirms the dry dock and says ER can moor there tomorrow night. I offer to come and meet him in the morning; he says fine, he’s there from 8am. Adrian gets word: the fuel has cleared and will be moved to the warehouse tomorrow. I call Tino. He’s been ‘underground’ all day. Actually, I think we’re all underground crew now! ‘Lucy’s invited us out for dinner, bring David and meet us there, it’s definitely beer o’clock!’

We’ve cleared the fuel. We have a drive shaft being manufactured, and a sponsor to cover the cost. We have a shipyard for Saturday. Now we just need Peter to say yes to the haul out. And raise some money. Not bad for one day.

And for the first time this week I can email the boat some genuinely good news.

4am. The last email from the boat gave an ETA sometime between 2am and 5am, but we calculate from the tracker that it will be closer to 5am. They’ll head to the quarantine anchorage off Sentosa cove to clear customs and immigration before heading to the marina to dock. We have to pack up our stuff as the sponsored hotel has come to an end today. Not sure what we’ll do tonight; we really are gypsies now! I can’t sleep, my mind is racing. Need to get this haul out. Need to bring on more sponsors. Need to get out of Singapore as fast as possible. Need to get this record.

7am. Adam rings from the boat. They’ve cleared the arrival anchorage and are heading to the marina. Suddenly we’re all of a rush, tripping over suitcases, laptops, etc. Adrian and Tino rush to the marina to dock the boat. I head off in a taxi to Semco’s yard. I’m down to my last clean clothes; I made the mistake of allocating laundry duty to Tino! With his usual gusto he hatched a cunning plan to have it washed by the Bangladeshis near the workshop by the Cummins dealership. That was three days ago. He’s so far only returned with a bag of my knickers, like a dog delivering a bone, as he though they shouldn’t be left dangling in the yard over night!! We haven’t seen any of the other stuff, yet. At the bottom of my case I find hidden a linen skirt miraculously untouched since it was first packed weeks ago, plus my one pair of heels. Singapore women dress immaculately. Tino says Peter will only deal with the ‘boss’, so we’re banking on my nominal title of CEO to pass for authority.

8am. I am early (unusually!). The drive to the shipyard takes you through the industrial western part of Singapore. Shipyard Road is one long line of yards, refineries, factories and plants. One thing about Earthrace – no tourist attractions for us, you really get to see the guts of a city, where the hardcore real work takes place. Poor Peter is sandbagged; he barely has time to switch on his computer, order coffee and settle in before I’m chatting away about the boat just arriving. He only looked at the website last night and tells me straight off ‘That’s a really cool boat!’ It’s a good start.

We dance around the crane issue; they may not have straps for it, he doesn’t know yet when it will be available etc. Do we have a pilot to navigate the river? Has the port authority given us clearance? Hmmm, none of the above. He’s waiting for his team to arrive so we chat over coffee. Somehow over the course of the next hour, in between telling me I must try Singapore’s famous chilli and pepper crab, ‘which has to be washed down with a large jug of ice cold Tiger beer’, a cluster of little men are gathered and questioned and directed by Peter. He says ‘jump’, they say ‘how high’. The respect is palpable. David Betts is a no-nonsense Yorkshire man; Chris Richards, their H&S manager, smiles warmly. I know instantly that we are in very good hands here.

9am. Semco save the day. Peter makes it happen. Project manager Gilbert drives me back to the marina, with Haddy a licensed helmsman allocated to help guide Earthrace up the yard. The straps are sorted. The blocks are borrowed. A portacabin with air con and two bunks will be made available to the crew, as will the showers and canteen. Semco is 24/7; we can work round the clock, as long as I sign a letter of indemnity. This is unbelievable.

12pm. The boat leaves the marina, emptied of excess equipment to lighten the load in anticipation of tomorrow’s haul out. We get word that the shaft will be ready late Saturday, early Sunday – they even MMS Tino a photo of it on the lathe! Zubi’s wife has managed to get us a hire car so we can ferry people and shopping around. Somehow, Semco arrange for Earthrace to be hauled that afternoon, ahead of schedule!!

We are all exhausted and the work is only just beginning. The best email of the week arrives: Justin Beaton, from J B Global, one of our Presenting Sponsors who is also joining as Guest Crew on the final race leg. I had been emailing him with updates. He confirms his sponsorship of the Australian Tour and Host Sponsor of Sydney in January 2009, providing funds up front to mitigate our extra costs and complete the race.

Pete prayed for a small miracle and I think we got a bloody great big basket of them! GC arrived in Singapore on Monday night with no drive shaft, no shipyard, no haul out and no money. The boat limped into port on one engine with an exhausted crew. A week later, as our flight to Cochin is called, the boat is repaired and already 24 hrs into the next leg, clawing back precious time at a robust 22nm pace, with a last minute Guest Crew member Paul Manifould on board. Job done!

Fiona Clark, GC 2008

Thursday 5th June: We need a plan…

Posted by on 13/06/2008

I wake up on Thursday morning with a tell-tale nervous pain in my gut. The temptation to hide beneath the sheets is strong. Where are we: ah yes, will TTT come back to us with a viable price and timeframe for getting this drive shaft made? Will we find somewhere, anywhere, to fix the repairs earlier than the one standing-offer of Tuesday? Last night we were even contemplating renting a crane, driving to the beach and working out some home-made plan to pluck Earthrace from the sea… They say that adversity is the mother of all invention, but this is too extreme, even for the boundless craziness of ‘Earthrace-style’…! 

All I really know is that the next 24 hours are critical. There are only two ways it can go: it will either our finest hour, or our final defeat. There’s nothing like holding a gun to your head to focus your mind. Maybe, just maybe, we’ll be lucky…

Adrian and I head for the marina and camp out again in a corner of the café, sharing the one power point available, hungrily stealing the adaptor before our laptops crash, like junkies sharing the last joint. Tino headed out early to recce more shipyards; today he’s attacking the commercial docks and oil refineries. He’s on a mission. Zubi has contacted Col. Chopra, a high ranking ex-Navy officer, to see if he can pull any strings. I’m on to the embassies and military attaches, pushing for sponsors, race leg sales and ‘nautical miles’ promotions. Adrian is juggling the three drive shaft leads, hustling for quotes, times, responses, whilst simultaneously plate spinning the accumulating complications of moving our fuel a few simple miles from A to B…

I have to commit to a media event for the marina; last night it seemed sensible to do it immediately on the boat’s arrival day, so later on Friday. Whilst this will provide an opportunity to canvass for further support, I now think it might be better to do it later on when we (hopefully) have something positive to say as encouragement for further support, rather than simply holding out the begging bowl… If the boat turns up with a depressed crew and GC have no fixed plan in place, it won’t help us win the media and public support. We need to portray confidence in overcoming this adversity, whilst being inviting and encouraging enough for people to help. The smart money will know that there’s an opportunity for fabulous ‘save the day’ PR here, if we pitch it right. But I also know that the unavoidable delays in Singapore will not incline Pete, or any of us for that matter, to hang around for an event if ER’s ready to go. 

I need to make a decision. Monday. If we end up waiting for the Tuesday haul out, the boat will definitely be available. If we have to make the repairs in the water, that will take time, assuming we get the shaft by, say, Saturday/Sunday, so Monday’s probably OK. If we get a quicker haul-out, (not likely at the moment), I’ll just have to hope that the boat is back in the water in time. Monday it is.

Vivien visibly relaxes on this news, and then quickly interrogates me to make sure that we really make this happen. They’ve changed the date for the media event covering ER’s arrival and she doesn’t want to do it again. I can imagine she’s under a lot of pressure from her directors although she would never say so. I have to make her a promise I’m not fully confident I can keep. I email Pete to warn him that without committing to a media/sponsors' event, we can’t get the help we need, just in case push comes to shove later on. He emails back that he’s cool with that, and it’s clear how worried he really is.

Fiona Clark, GC 2008

Tuesday 10th June: Gypsies Again

Posted by on 13/06/2008

We’re sprawled out in a corner of the spanking new Bangalore Airport, laptops, cameras, phones all charging. There’s free wifi if you text a number for a code – not one of our global phones can manages a simple text so we befriend some fellow lap-toppers who kindly text and share the code with us. We repeat this every hour, every time we get kicked off the system. 

Every hour… Yes, all seven of them! Actually I am happy as, camped out here. It’s the one time when we are just core Ground Crew together and when I get a chance to do my blog. Tino’s got new Sennheiser noise cancellation earphones and despite not sleeping now for three days, he’s bopping around to Madonna in his own little world, having marathon'd past the ‘wall’ of tiredness. Adrian is busy emailing all our Indian contacts in advance of our delayed arrival; he’s normally pretty laid back but even he couldn’t retain any patience with Air India this morning. We left the marina at 5.15am for our 7.50 flight, only to be told it had been changed to 10.30. This means we will miss our connecting flight to Cochin. We battle for two hours to be rerouted but they really don’t give a shit. Eventually we check in, not knowing what, if any, flight we will get out of Bangalore. But we do get our first upgrade to Business Class!

So now I have five hours left to reflect on the past five days. There’s a cacophony of sounds - blaring tannoys, officials screaming, kids crying and many different languages jabbering away, so Tino kindly shares his precious toy with me and we submerge into our own comforting cocoon, temporarily suspended in time on this non-stop rollercoaster of a race, where time rules all.

Fiona Clark, GC 2008

Port Stop Nine: Singapore: Shafted

Posted by on 08/06/2008


Dermot and Sam have been generous and kind hosts. We leave Palau with heavy hearts; this is a place for diving and relaxing, not stressing about drive trains and P-brackets! We have a seven hour stop over in Manila and try to blag our way into the executive lounge. Tino’s charms fail him – unusual! - so we camp out in a corner of the airport, greedily using every power socket within reach, air gypsies again. The airline has given us a voucher for lunch – we can only manage to scrape together an egg sandwich, two min-me portions of ‘lasagne’ and a bottle of water between us with it. I’m actually looking forward to getting on a plane again!

Tino is on to the Cummins dealer in Singapore. Our main Cummins contact was there only a week ago and has emailed ahead with a request for help. I email our marine industry sponsors for assistance – ZF Marine, Germanischer Lloyd, PPG and let others know our situation. I want to remain positive – we have everything to play for here and it’s only day one of mission impossible.

Within a day, all have responded with contacts at their own offices or suggestions for us. We need a machine shop that can make the shaft, a shipyard with a big enough travel lift to haul out Earthrace and provide dry dock, a composites specialist to repair the P-bracket – and money or sponsorship to pay for all this.

Zubi meets us at the airport. We’re a subdued little posse and have to muster ourselves as we go to meet Vivien and Tai from One°15 Marina Club, our port stop hosts, and Lucy Ong, a local volunteer with One Singapore. There’s been much correspondence in the past weeks about the role of Biofuels in the food versus fuel debate. We are surprised by the level of misunderstanding about this and need to reassure our hosts that they are aligning themselves with a responsible project. 

Vivien, who is director of marketing, needs to know when the press conference will be. This is the one thing I have been unable to confirm in advance in any stop. The boat’s ETA can change any number of times, and as it’s a race, they can’t hang around for an event if they’re ready to go. It’s difficult, because Earthrace relies on sponsors and the media to fund and promote the project, so we have to find ways of accommodating these. One small positive from our current situation is that we know the boat will be in Singapore for some time, so we can schedule a press conference with confidence. Or so I thought.

The next three days are the most difficult and stressful I think I have ever encountered. All three of us feel the pressure; it’s a monumental task and we have to try and make it happen. We know the boat crew will be worrying away and we start to receive a rash of emails from them with more ideas on what we can do or try. Some are good, like contacting the military, others are quietly filed away! I decide we must give them regular updates even if we have no progress to communicate. The plan falls apart as we learn that they’re only receiving emails in batches once a day, and sometimes not at all. Eventually we resort to calling the sat phone but it devours the credit on our local mobiles almost immediately, cutting me off mid sentence. I call back from my other phone and the same thing happens.

David Goh from Brunswick, the Cummins dealer, is Tino’s new best friend. They scour the Singapore docks for shipyard space; no-one can take us, everywhere is full, or they don’t have a lift or cranes. By Wednesday we have one offer only, for a Tuesday haul out, at a cost of $12k, which would mean Earthrace sitting in the marina twiddling her sponsons for four days – disastrous. Plan B from the boat: pull the shaft underwater and test how much the P-bracket flexes; if it’s OK, put a new shaft in, replace the prop and head off to India. Hmm, still need a shaft though…

My mantra since Palau has been 'drive shaft, drive shaft, drive shaft'. Everything hinges on this. Tino says the P-bracket is equally important; I’m sure he’s right, but we can at least patch that up if necessary for a quick fix solution. No drive shaft, no race. I remember Bill Clinton saying that once he became President there were so many calls on his time that the biggest danger was losing focus. With him, it was 'economy, economy, economy'; similarly Tony Blair's mantra was 'education, education, education'. Whatever you might think of their policies, they were effective leaders of sorts. So I stick to my mantra of 'drive shaft, drive shaft, drive shaft'!

Adam emails me from the boat with a contact of his in Norway who is a composite specialist. He’s suggesting maybe he could fly out and help us!! I nearly don’t follow up on this immediately because it’s not a priority and we don’t have enough money to pay another flight, but with the time difference, I get it out of the way, wing him an email and move on. Allan and Jack from Alpha Synovate biofuels, who emailed me a few weeks ago, expressing an interest in sponsoring us with fuel, are now our fantastic fix it guys on the ground. We have the fuel from SGC – ironically in this stop it’s been sitting in port for so long that it’s about to be auctioned off…!

Somehow, Jack manages to retrieve it – the original consignee was Vivien but she’s been away on holiday which is why it wasn’t delivered. They want to charge us GST – 7% of the commercial invoice. We haven’t had to pay tax in any other country as we’re ‘Yacht in Transit’ and not burning the fuel in situ. Then there is the further issue that the Marina is on Sentosa Island and no trucking company appears to be licensed to drive fuel there… We explain that it’s not hazardous etc but no one wants to do it because it hasn’t been done before.

We are trawling machine shops to make this drive shaft. Tino finds one, Allan an other. It takes two days to get a quote out of them; then one has to check with the boss who’s abroad, and the other isn’t sure they can guarantee the quality in the timeframe...

By the end of Wednesday we have got no-where. No drive shaft being made, no shipyard. We have pulled one sponsor, though, through Zubi’s contacts – Mohan from Assetton an investment company commits and this will help pay for the shaft, which is a huge relief. We just need someone capable and free to make it…

BJ, Adam’s friend, replies to my email, saying he can recommend a composite guy – and also possibly help with the shaft! We eagerly wait for Norway to wake up and Adrian calls him. Scott in New Zealand and Anthony in Alaska have emailed us the technical drawings and Tino has been in touch with Craig Looms who designed the boat, who is in China. We send everything to BJ; he sends it to someone else, who puts us in touch with Terje Torvik, of TT Technical Services. He is in Indonesia but is returning to Singapore the next day. He will look at everything and get back to us in the morning… 

I email the boat; ‘possibility of a shaft, still working on the shipyard’. I reckon less is more - neither positive nor negative, just neutral. Pete sees through it and emails me back that he feels out of the loop, are we having problems, can he help with suggestions etc. I just don’t know what to say, other than assure him we’re exploring every avenue possible but be prepared for potential delays. If we have to wait until Tuesday to haul out, we can still beat the record, just.

The boat is making fast time and will be here Thursday night/Friday morning. We are all really worried. We have only one day left to try and set everything up. I don’t really get to sleep until the early hours and then as the alarm goes off I feel heavy and reluctant to get up and face the day. This really is make or break…

Fiona Clark, GC 2008