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My Dream Became Reality

There you go.

July 30, 2016, I put my bag down on a pontoon in St Katharine’s Dock almost one year (2 August 2015) after boarding CV24 – LMAX Exchange (Clipper 70).

A near 3-year project ends, and ends well, since signing the contract to participate in this adventure, the day after I was released from my professional obligations in early 2014.

The Preparation

That day, I started to prepare myself for round the world sailing, or more precisely, a sailing race around the world, which is in fact the reason why I committed to:

  • Intense physical training, more than was needed.
  • Studying of climate, winds, and currents in particular, for the whole route.
  • Reviewing my medical knowledge, nutrition, sleep management and other elements necessary for the ship’s doctor.
  • Learning seamanship of ropes in modern materials.
  • Training 1, 234.14.2 and deliveries (January ‑ August 2015) on the boats that we would use – a total of eight weeks, including the coxswain training.
  • Intensive navigation at sea, as skipper, with sailboats of the Cruising Club Switzerland.
  • Team building.
  • Preparing our boat, CV24 named LMAX Exchange, few days before the start of the race.

A nearly full time program even before starting the regatta – especially difficult since this preparation time was largely taken from my then current roles as:

  • race judge and race director,
  • the Central Committee of the Swiss Sailing Federation,
  • the head of the sub-committee « young competitors » of the Association of the sailing clubs of the Lake of Geneva,
  • the committee of the Geneva group of the Cruising Club Switzerland (CCS),
  • the coordination in the French part of Switzerland of theoretical examinations of the Swiss Certificate of Competence for Ocean Yachting.

The Regatta

It is impossible to summarize in a few lines one year of racing round the world, but I will highlight some parts that particularly made an impression on me.

The Start of the First Race

We left St Katherine’s Dock, situated close to Tower Bridge, the day before the start and spent our first night close to Southend Pier.

The start was at 1100 UTC August 31, 2015 in rain, in mist and with a westerly wind of around 15 knots. The spinnaker was hoisted 30 seconds before the start and we crossed the start line in first position, one minute later, the tack of the spinnaker blew and we had to hurriedly drop the sail ; we immediately hoisted a second spinnaker which blew sometime later. We dropped to 9th place. We had to wait for Cape Finisterre to regain first position.

The doldrums

The race committee had the crazy idea of defining a corridor (12°N to 2°N) for crossing the doldrums (ITCZ) and to allow the engine to be used during 6° of these latitudes.

We had decided to wait until 11°N before deciding whether to switch on the engine or not, but the skipper announced, before entering the corridor, his intention to use the engine upon entry into the corridor.

Terrible mistake, because we had already sailed through the intertropical convergence zone (ITCZ), without horizontal wind, between the northerly and southerly trade winds. That day, in our area, ITCZ was located between latitudes 14°N and 13°N.

In the beginning we did not start the engine, but instead put in a reef to slow down the boat and give the impression to the other competitors that we had no speed and that the engine’s use would be a good idea.

All the others used the engine and we kept the lead of the race, despite the engine use; we would have been faster under sail.

The grounding

A terrible adventure linked to the poor quality of the branding on the hull. Upon arrival in Rio, our advertising branding was completely destroyed. The organization decided to redo it and sent us to Verolme, the closest marina with a yard to lift a 23 meter boat out of the water to redo the branding.

We left Marina da Gloria at 1700 local time, it was nice, warm, no wind, we should have arrived at Verolme early the next morning. We had to follow the coast for about 70 nM. The engine noise helped the whole crew to fall asleep and we went aground on a long beach of white sand, Restinga da Marambaia, a desert, we were in military territory.

Fire for cooking and warming ourselves at night with the wood rejected by the sea, freshwater from the tanks of the boat, tins of fruit salad for breakfast, lunch and dinner. One morning fresh fish brought by two fishermen during the night.

A life of Robinson Crusoe; in a few days our space already looked like a campsite. We spent five days on this beach before a tug took us out of here.

The first Storm

We left Cape Town for Albany. Wind variable and very low during the first 12 hours.

Around 4 am, I heard Olivier – he wants me to be awake and in the « nav station ». The wind is very strong, blowing between 45 and 55 knots, with numerous gusts of over 70 knots. We are South of False Bay and the wind is pushing us towards the coast. We are under Yankee 2 alone, the mainsail and the staysail were dropped as it became impossible to drop the Yankee.

25 nM away from the coast, we jibe and manage to get away from the coast, while remaining more or less on our way, which is not the case of other competitors.

After 10 hours, little by little, gusts diminished; the storm lasted almost 18 hours. In 24 hours we won nearly 200 nM from our first pursuer !

We were far enough ahead, coming into Albany, to be able to cross the finish line under staysail only. The banners were already covering the mainsail on the boom.

Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race 2015

Since I am interested in sailing and racing, I wanted to participate in THE Sydney-Hobart, for me a mythical race alongside the Fastnet. The probability of me, ever, taking part in this race was very low, this race being on the other side of the planet. When Clipper announced that one of the races would be this one, my wish would come true. I was not going to only run “virtually” on the website of Virtual Loup de Mer, but live on a real boat.

Hobart, with Den Helder and London are the only cities that I had already visited before making this world tour. Hobart is the only Australian city that I had discovered in 1997 during the 8th international conference on the reduction of drug related harm that took place in casinos. I really liked Tasmania and was extremely happy to be back in this city.

Let’s talk about this race of 625 nM.

The start is in the Bay of Sydney. Impressive, ending up in the middle of a hundred competitors in a narrow space, with hundreds of spectator boats. The wind is relatively light and allows us, during the first hours, to sail with the spinnaker up. We know that a cold front is expected towards the middle of the first night with winds of about 40 knots on the nose and contrary to the current, thus generating a bad sea. We spent more than 12 hours upwind in strong winds before arriving in Bass Strait where the wind became particularly low, we will even fell into a windless zone and we lost our first place in the Clipper class.

Navigation in the Bass Strait is considered to be difficult ; we were mentally prepared to suffer in this crossing. We crossed 3 times (Albany – Sydney, Sydney – Hobart, Hobart – Airlie Beach) with conditions of idyllic sailing. Like what …

I spent nearly all my time in the Nav Station to ensure all the tasks of the navigator, especially routing and mandatory contacts on HF with the race committee, several times a day including those related to the transition of certain points. Four intense days.

We finish in 3rd place of Clipper70 class et 28th overall in real time.

The welcome in Hobart is extraordinary. Thousands of people on the docks applauding boats entering the harbour. The last boat arrived around 8 am, January 1; there were still people (less than the previous days) to applaud.

The stopover was short but I enjoyed spending January 1 listening to live local bands and had great fun ; this warmed me up.

42 seconds

We fight for 42 seconds, Great Britain (GB), in race 6 (Hobart – Airlie Beach). Nearly the entire race, we are in close contact. A match race for almost 10 days.

The last hours of the race, it’s dark, we are sailing between islands, there is no navigation assistance – no headlights. The match race is intense, we sail very close to the coast. I am, as usual, in the Nav Station giving instructions to the helmsman to tack, quite close to the shore. It’s very intense, because in addition to the proximity of land, the wind is variable and weak and there is some current.

Finally, covering GB up to the last second, we cut the finish line, difficult to spot, in front of the Port of Airlie Beach. The race committee ask by VHF our time of crossing the line. I pass the hours and minutes that I read on the GPS screen. The skipper is also requested to pass seconds. I say 18 seconds – an estimate with the Nav PC clock. The skipper of GB announces that he cannot provide seconds as GPS does not give seconds.

We win the race by 42 seconds.

The pirates

Race 7 was a strange race in many ways (see news item published Feb. 21, 2016).

Some lines on the « pirates » seen in the Solomon Sea. It was about 1600 local time, when we saw about 1 nM away, a boat with five men on board. We were sailing at more than 10 knots, their approach was rather slow, just a couple of knots more than us.

After ten minutes, they turned back. They were certainly were not professional pirates, rather curious and opportunistic men thinking they might be able to improve their somewhat ordinary existences.

We will never see pirates again.

The sailboat adrift

I want to clarify a few points concerning the yacht adrift that we met.

There was, aboard, the mummified body of Manfred Barjorat. Since Filipino fishermen discovered the boat February 25, 2016, several dozen articles have been published, sometimes with elements for the more fanciful, ie people were making up wrong interpretations of what actually happened)

We found the boat 31 January 2016 @ 0545 UTC in position 11° 38.265’N 137° 46.833’E, approximately 650 nM from the coast of Luzon (Philippines). The boat was drifting at a speed of about 1 knot at 290°-300° heading. The boat was found more than 600 nM from the position we discover it; which is perfectly compatible with the drift boat.

When she demasted, the skipper was certainly alive, the rigs had obviously been cut to prevent the mast piercing the hull. Also, if death had occurred before the storm, it is hardly likely that the body would remain lying on the chart table.

We have not mentioned all the details concerning the discovery of the boat, to give the time necessary for authorities to trace the family of the deceased and to inform them of the sad news.

Complementing, I suggest you watch the video taken by the crew that boarded, a report on the case and an article about the natural mummification of the deceased, a rare phenomenon.

South China Sea

The South China Sea has no more secrets or almost no more for us. After the Luzon Strait north of the Philippines, the race committee sent us to the south of Vietnam as we could not enter Danang before 17 February, under the pretext of the Tet holiday and some other arguments.

We knew, before leaving Airlie Beach, the race with the original course would end between 10 and 13 February (I even told the crew that if we could finish before February 13, my birthday, and it was highly probable, I would make a party), but the announcement of the extension of 2000 nM came when we found the boat adrift.

We sailed to the south thinking that at least there will be a bit of strategy and tactics to go up north to Danang, along the Vietnamese coast. Bing, a new change ordering a new course even more lengthening of 500 nM race is announced. The aim was to put all the boats about the same distance from the home harbour in case they wanted to shorten the race, when it became obvious they wantd us to arrive on February 17, the date originally scheduled. This new change completely neutralized the race and brought all the crews to simply expect, and hope, that the organizers would stop this masquerade.

We had plenty of time to look at South China Sea, crossing and re-crossing the especially crowded cargo routes, many fleets of fishing boats, large engine junks, fishing by trolling or sometimes trawling and much rubbish waste, including large enough stuff to damage the hulls discarded by Vietnamese, Chinese and Philippine rivers.

East China Sea and Yellow Sea

We discovered the East China Sea during the race Danang – Qingdao. Reached after the third passage of the Strait of Luzon and by passing the east of the island of Tawan, she greeted us with strong wind and many fishermen with boats of all sizes.

The temperature of the air and water had dropped, we had to add layers one by one to counteract the cold. Nothing to do with southern part of South China Sea.

The arrival in the Yellow Sea was particularly hot, although the water was freezing cold and it was very cold.

First a quite strong storm, the second real one since the start of the regatta and fishing nets covering a huge area of the water body – they exceeded 1m to 1.5m out of the water. At night, the ends of the nets had a light (not always), that does not necessarily indicate us where to pass. By gray day and foggy weather, it was not easy to slalom between the threads without hanging.

We had no trouble, but many of our competitors found themselves stopped by the nets.

The North Pacific

A month in the North Pacific undermines boats and crews. The first three days of the race, to the south of Japan, took place in race mode – though avoiding the fishing nets was time-consuming and sometimes forced to long detours. For the next 25 days we were almost all the time in survival mode to avoid material and human damage.

When Sarah Young, teammate of CV21 was ejected from the boat by two successive waves, I had written: « Magnifique, infernal, splendide, angoissant, féérique, grandiose, démoniaque… tel est le l’océan Pacifique nord » (see news : Dernière demeure).

Three weeks in 30 to 40 knot winds, choppy, chaotic sea with cross but not very big waves, waves coming out of nowhere breaking and crashing into the boat.

Our boat suffered: the port bow gardrail damaged by a Yankee that we had just dropped and not yet poperly tied, nearly all sails needed to be repaired on arriving in Seattle, several ball bearings pulleys were broken or had dislocations, all halyards survived, but all were reversed after the crossing.

Compared to many other competitors, we had very few problems.

Wet and cold were our daily lives, but no injuries. The crew after these three weeks was exhausted. All just waiting for it to stop.

Later, before arriving in Seattle, I wrote that the conditions were particularly difficult, that I will never return to North Pacific, because it is dangerous navigation with no lull, but it has in no way altered my passion for ocean navigation.

Central America

The two races that took us from Seattle to Panama and from Panama to New York are completely different.

Weather conditions are much more reasonable : like on a lake or even worse with no wind at all.

Races require strategy and tactics. One can fully immerse in the race, must be in the right place to sail the boat faster than the others in light conditions. Sometimes significant differences happen in minutes or hours; sometimes it’s a fight for several days, the differences in speed being about 0.1 knot.

The race is shortened when entering the doldrums. We win this race, a cloud allowing us to hoist a spinnaker for ten minutes and allowing to pass the boat in front of us. We were 500 meters behind, we end 500 meters ahead. However, we do learn six hours later that the race has been shortened.

Before joining the Panama Canal, we stopped at Bay Golfito in Costa Rica. A place where I would gladly drop anchor and spend 3 months. We set off again 6 hours later.

Cuba

We have seen the island of Cuba from far away. We sailed south of Gantuanamo before taking the « Windward Passage » located between Cuba and Haiti.

Two dream islands, but whose people have suffered and still suffer. We also suffer, although this is not comparable, falling into a windhole for several hours, that put us in last place of this race.

By taking the boats one by one we finally finish in 5th position, ranking 6th after a penalty received for having sailed a few hundred meters within the territorial waters of Haiti, without a formal protest launched and no formal hearing conducted.

South of the Florida we passed south of the center of the Tropical Storm Colin, several hours with 40 to 50 knots of wind gusts up to 100 knots and a tough sea. Fortunately nothing broken on board.

The night of arrival in New York by boat is magical.

Rockall

After the discovery of New York – for once I had a bit of time. We had done the deep clean on arrival (after the welcome beer before sunrise) and a lot of maintenance pending service personnel immigration. We started our last ocean crossing to return to Europe.

Before departure, we were quite happy because this would be very quick and that we would have more time in Northern Ireland.

That was without counting a new race of overtime to avoid arriving before the scheduled date, the town of Derry-Londonderry was not ready. Sir Robin, the boss of the organization, had told us at the briefing in Qingdao « never again ».

We were in 3rd position, felt that we could finish in 2nd place, we were pissed off” – and reading the Henry’s open letter (CV30 – UNICEF), I think all were.

The extension was 560 nM asking us to go around Rockall, a small rock 200 nM north west of Ireland and St Kilda, one of the Hebrides. The course was then modified again to avoid sailing cross a military zone running shooting excercises (!). We shall sail, instead, around Rathlin Island, north-east of Ireland.

With this change, the game of the race, without major options from the start, changes completely. The new triangle becomes the playground of the first three boats, which, although Derry-Londonderry Doire (DLD) have a lead of almost 30 nM, reopens the game: the ranking could change.

The fight is tough. At the passage of the Rockall the 3 boats came together and our hope to finish top again clearly surface. We are neck and neck till arriving at the Irish coast, DLD even having a slight advantage. Around 4 am, the wind picks up a bit and in less than a quarter of an hour we find ourselves a good mile ahead – from 1.5 nM behind. We finally win the race. They were not happy at all (see their faces on the end of Richard Edwards’ videos).

Pentland Firth

It is the passage between the north of Scotland and Orkney Islands. Currents up to 10 knots in some corners. In the right direction, it’s cool, against us not great at all, especially if the boat speed is lower than the current.

According to a well-known principle, we will combine all: no wind and current in the nose. A night that will see the fleet sailing forward and backward. In the morning, when the current finally changed to the right direction, the ranking order had completely change, that morning on the way down the North Sea along the Scottish coast positions changed all the time.

Beautiful place that I enjoy seeing from the sea, the last time, a long time ago, it was from the land(I sailed more west of Scotland).

A very technical race in a beautiful environment for the first part; the North Sea is primarily a field of oil and gas platforms, wind farms and traffic separation system, there is a lot of cargo.

Maintenance and Repairs

An oceanic round the world race is an endurance race. The preservation of equipment is the main key to success. One look at the results shows that the crews that pushed their boats less at the beginning kept their sails in better shape, and with less waste were taking podium places in the final races races. In pure speed, the boats in the overall lead could no longer systematically prevent others from passing.

Maintenance of the boat between races was the essential key. Everything was scrutinized, the hull, rigging, halyards, sheets, winches, pulleys, chains, sails … any doubt on strength and it was fixed or changed, making sure to limit expenses because every time £ 500 was spent for equipment 1 penalty point and for repairing sails 2 penalty points were incurred.

For me it meant a year of seamanship, both at sea and in port. A heavy responsibility to avoid losing a spinnaker for example by breaking a halyard, a sheet, a pulley, a metal or textile shackle, carabiner. A heavy responsibility if one of the elements of the runners or the pulley of the mainsheet unleash and a teammate is beaten severely by the suddenly « free” element.

The health of the crew

Not only responsible seamanship, I am also the ship’s doctor. This implies responsibility for the health of the crew. On a boat, there is something to offend just about anywhere, even while lying in his bunk.

Awareness of the various risks was my main priority to prvent problems. Dehydration, sunstroke and injuries were the 3 main problems it was imperative to avoid. It worked. Bobologie (Minor injuries) was my main specialty: face bruises, some cuts in the kitchen, or on the deck beaten by a sheet and some loss of balance generated more unpleasant and painful bruises; treatment painkillers and patience.

A couple of issues took a little more time, but were resolved on board, without the need for outside help.

The Victory

« Only victory is beautiful, » said Michel Malinovski arriving 2nd in the Route du Rhum in 1978 on Kriter V, 98 seconds behind https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mike_Birch on Olympus.

Well, it could not be truer. I went to sail round the world on a racing boat participating in a race around the world in crew and legs. My goal was to be with my team on the podium and if possible the top step.

This result was achieved by the hard work of the whole team both at sea and ashore starting the day, the team was announced in April 2015. To this is added the physical preparation, mental, sometimes also technical of the majority of the team from the day they signed up for this great adventure.

We won and that’s good.

Regatta Management

Although the race committee is paid, it is not « professional ».

I participated in the tenth edition (a race every 2 years for 20 years). The 9th edition had three boats racing and fighting for first place overall.

This latest edition had four boats compete during the 11 month of the regatta; their goal was clear a place on the podium and, if possible, on the top step. The others, being competitive in one or sometimes several races, aimed for a place on the podium at the end of a race.

This is the first time that most of the estimates of arrival times in the next port were false. All the boats sailed much faster because the crews pushed their boats. We were always overpowered, at the limit of capacity of the boat and the crew.

The mood was generally different and even if the race committee noticed it did not follow this trend. It had not realised during the year that it had to adapt to this new situation.

The race committee appeared clearly linked to the constraints of the organization whose requirements are primarily economic, considerations that bind them primarily to contracts with sponsors and especially the host ports of this regatta.

Added to this, there were numerous violations Racing Rules of Sailing (RRS). The main one being an offense RRS85: « The organizing authority, race committee and protest committee shall be governed by the rules in the conduct and judging of races. »

Without going into details, I can transmit details, with pleasure, to the organization if it is their wish. I underline the main problems.

  • The two boats that grounded raced in Race 2 against time, rather than just cross the start line a few days later and finish when they finished (unequal treatment to the detriment of 10 other competitors, namely the 2 competitors classified behind the two boats.
  • Changes courses were conducted in violation of RRS33 during the Airlie Beach Race – Danang.
  • The race was shortened to a gate after the first 3 boats passed the mark in breach of RRS32.2.
  • The race committee penalized boats beyond their competence, ie without a formal protest (RRS61) and without a protest hearing (RRS63.1).
  • The repairs were carried out without any respect RRS62 and RRS64.
  • General sailing instructions and the instructions for each race contained errors, especially in regards as to the position of the rounding marks; we even saw the position of the same mark in the correct initial document move in amendments, in at least one case to potentially endanger boats.

An evolution is essential for future editions.

The minimum is to clearly separate the roles of the organizing committee (event management as a whole), the race committee (management of the regatta as RRS) and the protest committee, which shall include fully independent members of the first two committees. All major ocean races do.

Team LMAX Exchange

Not easy to be in a team of over 50 people, with a very experienced skipper and full knowledge of the tricks of the regatta, but that communication and group management is not its primary quality.

And yet it happened without a hitch. A little bit of face from time to time, usually due to fatigue and the harsh conditions encountered, nothing more.

Success linked to the ability to integrate very quickly the newcomers.

Success linked to the will of each of wet shirt to secure the victory.

A successful team’s ability to organize work and ensure the boat is moving, but also its maintenance and maintenance during « stopover », without the need for the skipper to systematically check the work.

Concluding Remarks

I realized my dream. It’s just awesome.

In fact, I do not know what I bring to my daily life. I look forward to seeing all my friends. I am delighted to resume some of the activities that I have set aside for a year.

I bring a lot of images, full of stories to share.

I realized a very old dream. Over 40 years of patience. Tenacity has « paid ».

A shared year of life with fantastic people I look forward to seeing and others that I shall never see.

A victory won by a team that worked together. A team victory, not the one’s victory.

Passion, patience, tenacity, generosity are words that have their meaning and this world tour I was confirmed once again.

Crew

  • Adrian Gunn (L7)
  • Adrian Roberts (RTW, watch leader)
  • Albert Lagneaux (L3)
  • Ana Maria Estruch (RTW, sailmaker)
  • Andy Bishop (L7, L8)
  • Anthony Clifford (L1, L2, L3, L4)
  • Axel Budde (L5, L6, L8)
  • Benjamin Simatos (L2, L3)
  • Boris Dosseh (L1)
  • Brigitte San Quirce (L5)
  • Bruno Roussennac (L6, L7, L8, watch leader)
  • Carlos Arimón (L2)
  • Cathy Lorho (L1, L2, L3, L4)
  • Chris Miles (L1, L7)
  • Christian Sager (L6)
  • Chris Talago (L3)
  • Clare Macadam (L7, L8)
  • David Mercer (R5)
  • Dominique Hausser (RTW, medical doctor, navigator)
  • Elizabeth Mercer (L7, L8)
  • Esha Mehta (RTW)
  • François Raux (L3)
  • Fred Dankers (L1, L2, L3, L4, L8)
  • Gabrielle Barthélémy (L3, L4)
  • Gary Colt (L1)
  • Glenys Plant (L4, L5)
  • Haude Morel (L1, L4)
  • Helen Appelboam (L5, L6)
  • Iain Grist (L8)
  • Isabelle Cornet (L5, L6)
  • Jean-Maurice Favre (L8)
  • Jens Peters L1, L2, L3, L4, watch leader)
  • Jonathan Byfield (L1, L2)
  • Judy Hilton (L3)
  • Juliana Ericson (L1)
  • Junior Hoorelbeke (RTW, watch leader)
  • Karen Weston (L7, L8)
  • Kristof Bostoen (L1. L6)
  • Leo Meijaard (L5, L6, L7, L8)
  • Marc Geffrault (L7)
  • Marine Prat (L5, L6, L7, L8, watch leader)
  • Mark Tunney (L6)
  • Nigel Cook (RTW, bosun)
  • Olivier Cardin (RTW, skipper)
  • Olivier Thomas (L6)
  • Pascal Caussil (L5, L6)
  • Paul Lee (L1, L2, L8)
  • Peter Watson (L1, L7)
  • Philippe Mazon (L1)
  • Robert Tschiemer (L2)
  • Sarah Down (L8)
  • Stephanie Ockenden (L5, L6)
  • Stephen O’Connor (RTW, engineer)
  • Steven McDowall (L4, L7)
  • Thomas Beattie (L4)
  • Thomas Loffet (L1)
  • Valérie Phakeovilay (L1)
  • Vanessa Jubenot (RTW, victualler)
  • Vaughan Tansley (L3)

Thanks

A big thank you to all those who have supported me this world tour :

  • My family and especially Lydia, who agreed to let me go a whole year
  • My friends that participated in the acquisition of my personal equipment
    Yacht Club de Genève, my favorite club
  • Cruising Club Switzeland and the Geneva group of CCS
  • Swiss Sailing, the Swiss Sailing Federation
  • H2O Sensations with JR – Jean-Richard Minardi
  • SUI 4616 with Nico – Nicolas Rossier for teaching me how to work the modern ropes
  • Gréement courant with Bill – Hugues Leclerc for giving me stuff to work the modern ropes
  • Skippers Magazine, with Brice Lechevalier and Quentin Mayerat for the provision of space on their site to my world tour blog
  • Vincent Gillioz and Armelle Hausser for ensuring the web publication (with careful rereading) of the news that I sent from CV24 during races
  • Patricia and Jaap for manual sewing machine, useful for repairing sails
  • Lili and Jean-Luc of Galicia for their logistical support before my departure
  • SIG (Geneva) for the supply of thermal water bottles for the crew
  • Sarah for reviewing the english version