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Hello from Cape Town!

Greetings from Cape Town, South Africa! In a few hours we begin Leg 3, the southern ocean race to Fremantle, Australia! Before leaving I’d like to dedicate this blog post to my good friends, the 4th and 5th grade classes at Deer Path Elementary School, in Cary, Illinois, where my sister-in-law, Ann Walsh is a teacher. The students sent me and the crew of Qingdao a set of letters with questions, so I thought I’d focus on answering a few of these questions. I also had a chance to do a Zoom call with the kids at Deer Path earlier this week from Cape Town, and it was great to share our experiences with the students!

I would also like to thank everyone who sent me cards and notes to be read along the journey…I’ve been reading them before/during/after various legs and they are just wonderful, the thoughts and wishes that you have sent me, in support of this adventure. Thank you!

So let’s get started on these questions!

From Rory, who is 9 years old: How do you sleep on the boat?

Rory, we each have a bunk bed on the boat that we share with other crew members. We sail the boat 24 hours a day, 7 days a week so we take turns sleeping. We usually sleep in 4 to 6 hour blocks of time, constantly rotating, so some times we are sleeping in the day time and other times sleeping at night. Because the boat is heeling over at an angle, we have this special fabric called a “lee cloth” that keeps us from falling out of our bunks.

From Maddy, who is 9 years old: Are you ever scared?

Maddy, I would say that I’m not usually scared, but when the weather is rough and stormy, it requires extra focus and attention, so my senses are very heightened and I am very aware of the actions that I take on the boat. When we are moving about the boat and it is heeled way over, we have to move slowly, and carefully, making sure we hang on so we don’t fall. Likewise when I’m on deck and the boat is moving through rough weather, we have to be very careful. We all wear life jackets whenever we are on the boat, during rough weather, and we have these long tethers that clip us onto the boat so that we are always attached to the boat.

From Jared, who is 9 years old: Do you think you will stay on the race for the entire year?

Hello Jared from Cape Town! Yes, I plan to stay on the boat and race the entire year! At times it does seem like a long time and I do have my “ups and down” times, but I try and take one day at a time and not think too far ahead. Whenever you are doing something challenging, try and break it down into smaller activities and focus on those.

From Molly who is in Ms. McDonnells’ 5th grade class: Do you get a prize if you win?

For each leg of the race, the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place finishers each get a flag, called a burgee. Each member of the crew gets a smaller version of this burgee. All of the boats get points for their placement during the various races and we add up all the points to determine an overall winner. It is possible to win the overall race by having the most points throughout the year. While the racing is a fun part of this journey, many of us are doing the trip to have a wonderful set of experiences…and if we win a race, that is great, but may not be the primary reason we are sailing. For me, the racing is fun and it keeps us motivated to do well, but just traveling across oceans in a variety of conditions is worth the effort too. Plus we are meeting very interesting people from all across the world. On my crew I have mates from South Africa, Spain, Britain, Italy, the US, France, and Germany for example.

From Olivia, who is in the 4th grade: Is it crowded on the boat?

We have about 20 people on our crew, sometimes more, sometimes less depending on the leg of the race. The boat is 70 feet long and is broken into 3 main sections: our sail locker where we keep the sails, our galley area where we cook, eat and socialize, and our sleeping quarters. It does get crowded a bit when we do a watch hand over as about half the team comes down to eat and sleep and the other half goes up to work on sailing the boat. We work hard to be clean, neat and tidy, and to be respectful when people are sleeping and tired. It is important to be kind and supportive to everyone as they may be wet, cold, and tired.

From Vivian who is in the 5th grade: Have you seen any sea life?

We have seen a variety of sea life on the ocean: dolphins, seals, whales, flying fish (!), squid, a variety sea birds, my favorite being the albatross. At times the dolphins will come in a group and race beside our boat, leaping in and out of the water. At night, the sea is full of phosphorescence, which are tiny animals that “light up” when disturbed by the boat or the dolphins and causes the water to glow. When this happens, the dolphins, streaking through the water just “glow” and it is very magical to see! My favorite is the albatross, which is a very large sea bird with a wing span over 6 feet long. They ride the air above the waves, gliding along magically without any effort of flapping their wings. They are hunting for fish. In the warmer parts of the ocean, we see many flying fish and they leap out of the water and flap their fins. They often land on our boat, sometimes hitting a member of the crew which makes us laugh. We just push them back into the sea so they can carry on.

From Giovanni: What happens if you get seriously sick or ill, or need surgery?

We try and take care of ourselves very carefully, as even a small cut can get infected. We do have a very comprehensive medical kit on board with a variety of medicines as well as people trained. In the event we are seriously injured we would stop racing and divert to the nearest port or meet up with a larger ship or the coast guard/military and evacuate the injured person from the boat. We try and be very careful on the boat, making sure we don’t fall, get burned, don’t have any illness etc.

Corbin, who is in the 5th grade asked: What is the fastest our boat has gone?

Our boat has gone 22.5 knots, which is around 25 miles per hour. For a sailboat that is fast and we did it while surfing down some waves with our spinnaker up. The spinnaker is a large sail that we use when sailing with the wind, pushing us from behind.

From Aubrey, who is in the 4th grade: Has anyone fallen off the boat?

No, not yet! We work very hard to stay on the boat, always wearing our life jackets and using our tethers to stay attached to the boat. We do practice our “man overboard” drill before every race, so in the event someone does fall or get washed overboard we know how to retrieve them safely and quickly. When we move around the boat we are always doing so carefully and holding on.

From Mila in the 5th grad: Do we have a shower on board and what do we eat?

We do not have a shower on board! We use baby wipes to keep our bodies clean and healthy. Making sure we use good hygiene is really important on a boat with 20 people, so we stay focused on making sure everything is clean, tidy, doesn’t smell etc.

For food, we do have a small refrigerator and oven…we make a lot of bread, eat fresh vegetables and pasta. We do have a special kind of milk that lasts a long time without being refrigerated. I personally like to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I would say my favorite food on board is pasta with sauce. Our food is pretty simple and when we get to shore, we all like to go out for a big meal and enjoy the foods that are our favorites, but we’ve been missing them for 3 weeks!

Well, all of these questions and more have been great! So many of the students asked similar questions so if I didn’t get to your specific question, note that I did read all the letters. Your wishes for our success, your thoughts for our safety are all very, very much appreciated.

I look forward to doing another Zoom call with you from Australia when we arrive in a few weeks!

Go Qingdao! Go Deer Path Elementary!

Thanks for reading!


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Michelle O'Dea
Michelle O'Dea
Nov 18, 2023

Stay safe - what a great experience.


Mary Markarian
Mary Markarian
Nov 18, 2023

Great blog theme this time around. I’m sure there are sailors in the making now at Deer Path! ⛵️ Be safe and prayers on leg 3.


Jane vdZT
Jane vdZT
Nov 18, 2023
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

Great questions, students!

Safe sailing on this next race Chris and Team Qingdao!

The Thompsons


Nov 18, 2023
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

Well that was fun! I pass that school all the time during my work travels. What a wonderful thing to share your adventures with them. best to you in the next leg! Jen Keeney

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