I hope you have all been busy my friendly followers, we have been spending our last few weeks before the start of the BIG race, sailing around the course and familiarising ourselves with the locations that we will be racing too.
With a good night sleep under our belts, along with some good steak and fresh vegetables, we set off from La Harve where we had just finished the last ‘pre-race’ of the season. On route to lovely Cowes and the whole team was really looking forward to some quality time on home soil; the land where breakfast isn’t just a pastry and tea making is a national past time.
One of my favourite things to eat is a good salad, but on a Figaro this is a particularly hazardous experience, with most forkfuls having blown off before they have reached your lips and flapping away, decorating the leeward side of the boat with leafy greens. This is bad enough when your eating porridge but with lettuce the slightest breeze is enough to whisk the contents away and leave you with a very unsatisfactory slightly balsamic tasting, empty fork.
Here I am below happily enjoying my salad, taking shelter behind the spinnaker on route to blighty!
For this little practice trip we decided to start each leg with a bit of tuning (sail tweeking) and trying things out with our sails and our auto pilot’s, we all lined up next to each other so we could tell if we made or lost any distance on each other.
Then as we got to the point where we were all as fast as we could be, we would start a little race and the end point for this leg was to be the Royal Yacht Squadron finish line in front of Cowes harbour. We had a long, two sail reach in front of us for most of the night and crossing the shipping lanes we took it in turns to play ‘guess the boat object i’m holding’ for a bit of midnight banter.
But as the sun rose and we approached the English coast the course became upwind and the tactical options opened out. I opted for a course along the mainland shore tacking up between the rocks and into the bays I had sailed in various dinghies for many years. The boys however all decided to go towards the island shore and chase the last bit of positive tide. Once we had got a few miles separated my AIS (boat on boat positioning softwear) and radio signal failed and so for many hours we had no idea who was ahead of who.
Finally we came back together at the Forts, just off Portsmouth where the wind was dying and the tide was strengthening against us. To my delight in the distance I could make out the tiny shapes of the other boats and they were behind me! It was then a tough tacking duel between myself and Hammy all the way along Ryde sands and into Osbourne bay, with every tack pushing it as far as we could into the shallower water and out of the tide.
Finally I hit the finish line and victory was mine! Then very soon after we were into Cowes Coast restaurant, and stuck into the best breakfast we had tasted for a very very long time! Complete with smelly thermals and salty but contented faces.
In Cowes we spent our time wisely, seeing lots of great specialists including our nutritionist, psychologist, physiologist and the solent tide guru Graham Sunderland, who told us all the secrets of the solent and how to smash the Frenchies!
Then we were off again, starting on the squadron line, at the same state of tide as the start for the Solitaire race will be in.
The wind was running along the south coast and so we sailed along on one tack, all the way to a buoy near Salcombe, where we then turned and headed out into the channel. The wind had picked up at this point with some lovely big waves and rain and where we all did a synchronised peel (change the big front sail to a smaller one to be faster!). Despite being very close together at this point we couldn’t see each other but stayed in touch on the radio reporting back that we hadn’t been washed over board in process.
The next night was pretty grim, 30 knots and upwind. Here I am looking tired and damp tucking into a Sports Kitchen, yummy chocolate porridge!
Eventually we reached the French coast it looked frightening grey and rocky with tides whipping around the rocks. We successfully navigated into the port of Lezardieu and went straight to bed with thoughts of never going sailing again.
Luckily the next day the sunshine came out and now dried out, we motored around to beautiful Paimpol and we changed our minds about sailing as a profession.
After some lovely French cuisine and plenty more snoozing, we brought in some reinforcements for the final leg back to La Harve. I had the lovely Pierre who fresh back from a transatlantic was a very hunky french Figaro expert and highly distracting though out the journey.
Starting off in bright sunshine and 5 knots, lulled us into a false sense of security. The wind obviously changed and was now upwind AGAIN for our final leg towards the finish! It built and built and as we nipped between the channel islands the wind was up to 30 knots with waves and damp conditions, we did several sail changes.
During the middle of the night as we tacked around the rocks trying to avoid the tide we finally passed the final headland and with Hugh and Nico within half a mile we were battling hard and just like in Game of Thrones a wall of white walkers suddenly appeared in the darkness! There was this wall of white that was moving really quickly and alone on deck I had no time to do anything apart from shout ‘Pierre BIG wave’ and hold on as hard as I could.
The first wave was enormous and I was sure we were going to flip the boat, as the wave broke the last thing I saw was white water up to the boom and the feeling of water going over my head and completely submerging me, pulling me off the side. Amazingly it past and I was still clinging to the side and everything was still in tact. Pierre was now well and truly awake and trying to come through the hatch as I screamed ‘Noooooo’ the next wave hit and wiped him off the stairs! The next wave went straight through the jib ripping it in half and leaving it flapping like a flag. The problem was you couldn’t really bear away from these waves, fearing the boat would roll or end up on its nose, so we just braced and held on and eventually the waves became a bit smaller and I steered the boat off the wind and away from the ferocity of the frothed up ocean. We quickly changed sails and now absolutely soaked right down to wet bra and pants we zipped along towards Deauville, for the remaining 10 or so hours!! Finally around lunchtime we finished and on arriving in port we had the joy of landing after french lunchtime so no food could be had for any money until at least 8pm.
All 435 miles of upwind sailing done, having totally forgotten what the spinnaker looks like we pulled out the boats in La Harve. The Almer Cup was happening at the time and we spent a good day watching the fleet and gleaning as much information out of watching them as possible.
In the boats final resting place we gave them a bit of a polish and a clean up and left, this time on the ferry and headed home for a welcome week of rest and relaxation!