So it’s all over and my parents are happy I’m sure after trapsing after me all over the British Isles. I been back for a week but have been busy sorting out Dad’s boat Santana for Cork Week, seeing Myles’s school play and taking him laser sailing. Last niht I was at a summer ball on HMS Chatham – Navy Balls are hard to beat – which went on till 3:45am.
Â The race was a challenge – physically and mentally. Our class was very competitive requiring us to push very hard throughout especially on the last leg where 3 minutes seperated us from the 3rd placed boat.
Â Leg one was characterized by close racing throughout the fleet with us finishing 5 minutes ahead of 4th placed Alice’s Mirror and 10 minutes before the end of Mary’s birthday. It was a stormy but exhilarating and fast sailing we got there in one day eleven hours and fifty minutes. 5th in class and 15th in fleet. Spending the first 100 miles beating then very very wet power reaching from Bishop’s Rock across the Irish Sea at 11 knots. Tacking on the boat takes 20 minutes as you are allowed to move gear in this race. First thing to be done is to put the boat on autopilot and goÂ below and move all our water, food, sails, emergency gearÂ fromÂ the weather side to the leeward side. Then dropÂ all the waterÂ ballast from the main tank to the leeward side. At this point the boat is heeled overÂ dramatically. They you get up top and tack the boat. Next thing to do isÂ turn on theÂ electricÂ pump toÂ get the water from the auxillary tank uphill to the new leeward side.Â The electricÂ pump despite rebuilding before the start was not capable andÂ needed help with the manualÂ pump – 400 pumps exactly to move all the water.Â An extremely wet and hungry crew arrived in Crosshaven late at night. I put in a call to my parents to bring the ski goggles. Somehow I unfortunately managed to contract the flu at the start so suffered throughout the leg making it extra tiring. I also damaged my leg while putting up the spinnaker at the end. My parents kindly took us down the coast to Kinsale the gourmet capital of Southern Ireland. 10 boats retired in Crosshaven. 48 hours later we left into a gale.
Leg twoÂ started withÂ gale force headwinds, short confused seas and then lightening as we went north. I rounded the Fastnet rock for the 3rd time but this time to starboard! Filming the dolphins was a challenge – I don’t know how nature photographers do it. The Irish coast is very barren, rugged and beautiful. We broached of the NW coast of Irealand staying sideways for quite a few minutes. Airlocks in the water ballast system again characterized this leg along with bad tactics and luck meant we didn’t catch up or extend our lead by much. As we worked up the coast of Barra we caught a fishermans crab pot on our keel which slowedÂ us dramatically. As we could see Alice’s Mirror in the distance we did not want to stop and back down so I took the spinnaker pole and attached the blade we had made to cut lines on to the end. I leaned off the back of the boat trying to hook the line. This was difficult as the boat was moving at 7 knots and it was necessary to keep the pole upright in the turbulent area at the stern. I finally manged to hook it and with lots of effort I pulled up the pot, line and float. I felt bad about ruining the fishermans gear and catch and threw it overboard. The fleet was split in two behind us when the wind dropped and the tide changed against them as they sailed up the coast of the Hebrides. We finished this leg in two days 21 hours and 57 minutes – 14th in fleet and 4th in class. A great stopover, with the sun shining and Caribbean type beaches Barra is really lovely. The race rules state you have to carry a dinghy to get you ashore on the boat however, we went with the lightest dinghy available. My parents brought up the Avon to make it easier to get ashore from our anchorage and enjoyed a great campfire right by the water with the sun sparkling on it. My mother had brought up a delicous meal for us which we ate late at night at the hotel. I rowed back to the boat to sleep onboard. Dad took my gear to the laundry – he said it was so expensive he could have bought me new kit! The image seared in my mind is my mother standing on the point at the start finish line waving her white scarf in the wind wishing us well for the next leg – I tried to stop myself crying!
Â Leg 3 – We started 25 minutes ahead of Alice’s Mirror with the spinnaker up steaming down the coast of Barra. We then had a very slow trip out to St Kilda including using the oar and sending Mary up the mast to sort out a halyard which had jammed in the sheave leaving the furled sail up. We did well on this part of the leg taking a lot out of Alice’s Mirror who crossed 100 yards behind us while we were dealing with the halyard but rounded St Kilda an hour behind. At one point we were wallowing in no wind. It this race you are allowed to row the boat – yes that was row! We had a carbon blade built to fit on the spinnaker pole end and a oarlock made that fitted on the outboard genoa track. With me sitting with my back against the cabin top I could brace my legs and pull the oar. I was able to get the boat to move at 1 knot however, as I was only ‘stroking’ on one side the autopilot would not work as it kept on ‘tripping’ off. Mary had to hand steer and we learnt that the helm needed to tell the rower when wind was coming otherwise you would get hit in the stomach by the oar! wind continued up to Muckle Flugga (the most northern point of the British Isles) where a wet sail change was necessary in the rough patch off the headland. Cutting off as much distance as possible we passed the point so close you could see the ‘whites’ of the crabs eyes! The wind got up and it was a quick trip down to Lerwick finishing only 1 1/2 hours behind Modi after 2 days 23 hours and 14 minutes – 13th in fleet and 4th overall. This far North it did not get dark at night and it wasn’t necessary to put the navigation lights one – this changed as we turned ‘downhill’. We had a very nice couple assigned to us in Lerwick who looked after us washing our laundry and treating us to a homemade dinner. My mother flew up and we stayed in the immaculate Youth Hostel. We took a day to see the Isle of Noss a nature reserve off the main island. The Puffins were really cool letting you get right up close, but we had an adventure with the Great Skews who dive bombed us, quite frightening.
Â Leg 4 – We started off the longest leg of 470 miles in very bad visibility, we couldn’t even see wither ends of the line and crossed under GPS. The wind was very light so we jumped from wind line to wind line. The radar watchman beeped constantly making the heart jump and increasing the heart rate a few levels. The fog and bad visibility continued for day and the oar was needed again. My sailmaking skills were needed on this leg with a two hour repair being necessary on the jib while bashing to weather. It lasted for the last 300 miles while we weaved through sand banks and oil rigs. The last 19 hours of this leg were tiring and I basically stayed on watch as it was necesary to full time navigate through the shallows. The finish was grustrating with us kedged 0.5 miles from the end of the lef and a warm hotel room. My father stood on the shore line willing us in to no avail. The wind dropped and the spring tide turned against us necessitating us to turn on the engine and engage so as not to go agrond on a sandbank while we got the anchor ready. We reported to the race committee and returned to the position where we had put the engine in gear. They decided not to penalise us as it was the seaman like thing to do and we gained no advantage. I woke at 4:45am to pull up 46 meteres of kedge line, hoist the jib and cross the line 3 minutes ahead of Modi after 3 days 8 hours and 6 minutes 12 overall andÂ 2nd inÂ class.Â My wrist was in a bad state and physically I was worn down. My father drove me back to London to the physio for some treatment and put me on the train back to Lowestoft 24 hours later ready for the start of the last leg.
Leg 5 – So the race was on for second place. The night of surviving began as dusk arrived and we closed the coast of the Isle Of Wight. The changing direction of the tide meant that the sea state fluctuated between very big waves with no backs and spray flying off the top and relatively flat water. The wind reached over 30 knots and we had three reefs in the main and three in the jib. Five miles away was the eastern side of the Isle of Wight. We had to pass St Catherine’s to starboard with a tidal race extending to the south despite the tide pushing us south around the point we decided it was more sensible to tack offshore gaining searoom as the wind rose, the waves grew and the sky became black. The motion of the boat was not comfortable it was almost impossible to steer around some of the waves. You found yourself bearing off and flinching in expectation of the water hitting you and stinging the eyes and indeed it did at almost every wave – always cold, wet and salty. I was fully kitted up with goggles, my foulies taped to my boots and diving gloves one. Early in the morning when I went off watch a pan of boiling water was flying off the stove and I tried to intervene by grabbin the handle. I ended up with a very scalded hand which was already sore with salt water rash. So there was this pitiful sight of me sitting in mid layers surrounded by water sloshign around my feet and my hand in a cup of cold water. This combined with the continued banging and juddering as we bucked over the waves was all too much and I disintagrated into a blithering mess crying in self pity and pain for a few minutes before pulling myself together. I also realized that I was wasting precious off watch period and should be sleeping. I covered my hand in burn cream and went to bed with a few aspirin for two hour. Now both my hands throbbed and I couldn’t even do up my harness and all I wanted to do was for the wind to ease and to go into Lymington which was only a few miles away. However, we had to continue to beat another 20 hours up the coast to Plymouth with the normal sail changes to do and my hands really didn’t want to co-operate. Putting in a reef required an enormous amoutn of effort there was no question of using the hard gearing so it was double the winching time while be exposed to the full force of the waves puring down the deck. Taking a deep breath and turning the winch 10 times then stopping panting for breath while holding on to the winch handle to stop being jerked off the boat. Then again and again. After the effort ut is a short but long stager back to the cockpit almost pulling yourself along the deck or timing things perfectly to stand up and run stumbling back with the harness line tripping you up before the boat fell off the next wave. Returning to the helm soaked to the skin, with a cool chill extending up your arms and pools of water forming at the elbows inside your foulies. Then sods law the wind would drop and you would have to shake out the reef, in fact it is difficult not to take wind shifts personally. After a watch you struggle out of the soaking gear and it drips to moderately dry while youa re trygin to sleep in a cold, wet salt stained sleeping bag. If you are lucky the termals that you have rung out and tried to dry by sleepoing in them are a least warm but still wet to put on after three hours down below. While off watch it is hard to stop flinching every time you hear the water flooding down the deck towards you, even though you are sheltering below. Then it’s time to return to the ‘war’ zone but it requires a lot of will to push your hands down the wet sleeves of your jacket especially with sore hands. This leg was memorable due to the monkey butt situaton – so bad it was hard to sit on my ass as it was soooo sore! The whole leg was one of surviving while still trying to push the boat when the wind moderated. I will say I was definantly on the best boat for the weather. I did not envy the Modi boys who actually sepnt the three days in their dry suits arriving with no electrics (no nav or lights) and a delaminated mainsail 3 hours behind us. We finished the leg in 2 days 15 hours and 26 minutes 12 overall and 2nd in class. Total elapsed time for the race was 13 days 8 hours and 35 minutes. 27 boats finished out of the 42 boats that started the race.
Â Boy was it good to get out of those clothes for the brief few hours in Plymouth and have a shower. By the time we left I had decided that I wouldÂ not put my mid layers back on and could just about put on the smelly salt stained thermals. Thankfully it was a very sunny days on the way back and I was able to change into trousers and a tshirt. It gets bad when you reel back from the smell of yourself.
So job done it was a challenge and we got second so came away relatively happy and rewarded for all that practicing and work in the gym. Would I do it again? I must have a short memory in four years if the right offer comes along I might do it again – am I mad?