Dear fantastic followers I am currently back at home in my nest, recovering from what has been an exhausting and epic few weeks racing out in France.
The last event named Solo Maitre Coq, was run out of La Sables L’Olone, the French epicenter for offshore sailing and the location of the start and finish of the Vendee Globe THE ultimate solo around the world race that Ellen MacArthur can claim her fame from.
This event was a bit different in that it comprised of two days of inshore racing before setting off on another epic 300 mile race around the rocks and islands of western France. The race is quite a big deal in France and so the opening ceremony required getting onto the stage and mustering up some French! I had two sentences written on my hand and semi memorized, however I delivered them all jumbled up and through snorts of laughter in true Bridget Jones style but the French seemed to love it! Dedicated fans you can watch the full hilarious cultural mess on twitter!
The first day of the inshore races were light, sunny and gorgeous, I finally managed to find the conditions that suit me! Sporting the ‘suns out guns out’ philosophy I managed to work on my tan and put in some strong results including a spectacular 4th place that was a 2nd for much of the race until we went on a damned reach (where you sail across the wind for non sailing sister Roz) and I still haven’t managed to crack the speed secrets of.
The second day of inshore racing wasn’t quite so good for me results wise, with the wind up to a casual 20 knots the conditions were hard core and the racing was exhausting, every mark rounding took serious withdrawals from the energy bank.
The first race started well by getting a stella start and going the right way up the first leg almost rounding in 5th place. I had a small coming together with Alan Roberts resulting in a rather bent pull pit (front metal framework) on my bow and a backwards trajectory in the order of things.
However it wasn’t quite as bad as it was for one poor French man. He had got the spinaker completely wrapped, which was easy to do in the rock and rolling conditions and was last seen, balancing on the end of his pole trying to unwrap the mess. At this point, he had fallen off and was attached to the boat by one foot twisted in the ropes on the bow; I could hear some screaming but it took a while to work out where it was coming from. It was quite a tough decision of whether or not to drop my spinnaker and go over and shout encouraging comments in English at him. Luckily Alan had already spotted him dangling off the bow and radio-ed the safety rib to go over to him, something we don’t have on our offshore races. Eventually the poor guy managed to drag himself back onto the boat, having had his life flash before his eyes and with a fairly sore ankle no doubt. A big reminder of when it all goes wrong there really is no one else to help you and on our big races there will be no safety boat to call up for help.
One area of particularly poor sailing over the two days was my leeward mark rounding. Always wanting to make a gain I tended to leave my dropping of the enormous spin to the last minute, and hence always being rushed and forgetting one or two or five of the stages and things that need to be done on rounding the mark.
The last drop of the day was particularly memorable. Having mentally psyched myself up to end this tough day with a well prepared drop, I went for the spinnaker grab, completely releasing it from one side which makes it flap and become very uncontrollable. Gazzer (my auto pilot) decided against this plan and span the boat around and off in a spin, I couldn’t hold onto the spinnaker which went flying around the bow and wrapped itself around the forestay. Meantime the boat was on its side going the wrong way away from the mark! I wrestled the boat back down to course, and using all the energy I had left, pulled the spinnaker out of the knots it had created and back into the boat, finally making it around the mark totally broken!
The picture below of us three rookies knackered and recounting tails of the day, falling on the food our kind shore team had prepared for us sums up pretty well how we felt following the racing.
We had one quick day off to rest, plan, and prepare for the epic 330 miler ahead, as our wonderful shore team worked non stop on fixing the substantial damage between the British team (only inter-GB crashes) that we had created with just two days of inshore racing.
This picture shows the boys enjoying their chill out time and my race food ready for the race.
The big race started off badly as I was over the line at the start gun so had to turn back and place myself behind everyone else in very little wind. As the leaders stretched out an enormous lead into the distance I battled quietly behind them; luckily there were lots of big wind shifts and I managed to make up a huge amount of distance and got around the first mark in 5th place!
I then found my own special wind hole! I performed the most perfect lee bow tack (difficult maneuver where you tack at the perfect time, slightly underneath approaching boat in perfect position so that when you pick up speed again you can force the other boat to tack off) under the French boat that then forced him out to where the wind filled in and he went on to win the race while I sat fuming in my wind avoidance zone.
So while I was stuck in my own personal wind hole, I had the pleasure of watching six boats sail around me which I can tell you is incredibly difficult to deal with when you are a highly competitive person and generally involves swearing, stomping and loud declarations that I will never go sailing again!
Finally the wind came back to me and I regained my composure and fought to keep the approaching group of boats behind me, whilst tacking up the coast trying to avoid the tide and get into the best zone of wind.
As the first night progressed we were spinnakers up already around our first island and out into the wider ocean. It was at a tricky angle where you had to steer and trim the spinnaker constantly to stay at the best angle and fast enough speed. As the darkness fell and sleeppyness took hold I decided to play my audio book on max volume on my boat speakers! This was great as it kept me awake and thinking and I could sail at the same time in true muti tasking girl mode.
However somewhere along in the inky black darkness one of the faster French old boys of the fleet who shall remain nameness but is basically a big bully and always starts badly and then comes up behind me and starts shouting. He has incredible speed in certain angles of sailing probably from sailing Figaros for many thousands of years, and gets very uppity with rookies especially me blocking his path. At this point I had the audiobook at max volume and so his bullying words were muffled out by the animated voices from below deck! Annoyingly he did enevitably get past but it was quite funny hearing him fruitlessly shouting into the night.
The night then threw up several more surprises with the wind changing angle and causing me to drop, rehoist and then drop several times in the cold, dark witching hours of the night. Eventually as the sun rose the wind got up and a big steep and choppy sea developed and I realized I had sadly lost several more boats in the night and they had managed to sail around me in the darkness. By the afternoon we approached the large forboding lighthouse of Biverdeau, this was to be our top mark, and after tacking around it we soon hoisted our spinnakers again. We had the absolute pleasure of surfing down the waves for several hours in 25knots of wind, which in a Figaro feels powered up and fabulous.
Around 3am I made it back to the mark where we started and they took this fabulous picture below. I soon rehoisted my spin and sailed back off into the night and around the last island on our route. At about dawn of the second day I had reached the most southern point of our race and had established my position in the fleet, neither gaining or loosing against the boats around me. Sadly as we had gone downwind in such glorious conditions, we now had to make our way back up wind to the finish line. Due to the wind direction this was going to take some serious time, and due to the tiredness and poor attention to my nutrition everything got really hard and the last few miles were really painful and felt so so so long.
On finishing I really wasnt a happy bunny, utterly exhausted and emotionally broken it felt like the end of the world. It felt like I could never get clean, warm, dry or feel rested again. I hibernated in my apartment room with the heating on full blast covered in blankets for a good 15 hours.
As everything started to get back to normal we then had to plan for another 400 plus mile trip around to our next port for racing on the North coast – Grandville. The idea was we would take lots of films on our computers, some good snacks and generally chill out on board whilst we guided the boats effortlesslessly to their new destination.
However Mother Nature had other ideas and kicked up a nice 28 knots, upwind, exceptionally wet, and ridiculously bumpy, rollor coaster of a delivery.
Life on board involved always having full coverage over all skin as at that moment when you take your hood down the boat will slam into a wave and shower you in cold water. You must always have one hand on something firm that you can hold your weight on when your legs go our from under you.
Hiding downstairs away from the freezing spray to look at the navigation screen involved bracing your legs against the lower side of the boat and an arm bracing forwards so at any time you are not ejected from your seat and land in the paddling pool of cold water that is covering the cockpit floor.
In the picture below I am trying not to spill my porridge soup that was the result of adding too much water to freeze dried porridge, grim. Inevitably I did and as with every meal on board, the majority ends up over your clothes and the boat, being washed or whisked from your spork before you can get it into your mouth!
I luckily had a wonderful co-pilot, Dave Kenefick who came with me which at least gave us a little rest between shifts and ensured that by the end I still knew my own name,unlike the boys who when being driven to the ferry home one of them asked ‘where are we going?’.
So finally back in lovely mother England, never have I appreciated Tesco, milk, real tea bags and my own bed so much. Recuperating has involved seeing lots of friends and family, sleeping, gardening and taking the opportunity to cook up lots of lovely treats!
Back to France on Sunday and straight back into race mode we have the next event Solo Normandy to look forward to, this time with much more tide to play with! Eek!