Dear Darling followers, I’m writing from Le Havre, cosily tucked up in my hotel room having successfully completed the Solo Normandy race. We left Granville and did a loop to Saint Malo and Guernsey, back around to Jersey and then over the top of Cherbourg across the bay to lovely Le Havre.
We started in a rather horrible wet and foggy Granville; on starting you couldn’t even see the windward mark that was a mere 400 metres away, but soon we were on our way across the bay on a fetch towards the first mark near St Malo. I had quite a good start at the biased pin end, and set myself up above the fleet for the first long leg which played to my advantage, arriving at the mark in 8th. The forecast previously suggested a right shift in the wind as we were on the long upwind towards Guernsey, so positioning myself on the right side of the fleet was exactly the wrong position to be when a massive left shift came through the fleet.
I managed to keep battling and at 2am I finally rounded the windward mark literally metres away from the other boats. I thought how cool it was after sailing for so long we were still so close, and how everyone else was tucked up in bed and we were manoevering our boats for a better mark rounding and the hoisting spinnakers and off into the night.
I had some good speed on this leg and managed to actually overtake a boat! Oh yes!! With all the concentrating and working hard to keep the boat sailing fast and as high as possible with the spinnaker, there was no time to sleep and as dawn approached I found I had had barely 10 minutes of actual sleep.
This probably didn’t help me when we approached the mark on the edge of our left hand bending course around the Minkies rock and we had to put in a gybe: at this point there was about 20-22 knots of wind and a big sea state! I put in a lovely gybe on a big wave, and it was all going so well until it wasn’t. The spinnaker wrapped itself in record time about 50 times around the forestay resulting in an absolute knotted mess at the front of my boat. At this point I did something I have never done and clipped onto the boat (don’t tell my Mum). I felt particularly wobbly in my no sleep state, and as the boat jumped up and down I was like a baby giraffe skidding around tugging on the spinnaker praying it would somehow release. Eventually it came loose and I managed to pull it into the boat and then back up and untainted. This however then put me too high for the next mark, so I had to coax the boat back down to the approaching mark for the next hour or so working the boat over every wave and trying not to lose too much on the boats around. The mark eventually came but sadly I had lost quite a bit of distance on the boats ahead.
We then did a bit more up wind all around pretty idyllic looking Jersey, and around some rocks, another few marks and a rehoist of the flappy sail. As the day was really heating up, the wind started dying and changing direction and I was in an intense battle with two other boats, all trying to flap our spins less and get an advantage over the other boat. I was sweltering still in all my night time thermals and fleeces and mid layers and then at this point the biggest dolphin like creatures appeared all around my boat. Slowly they circled me and came up and breathed really loudly and looked at me with their big side eyeballs; following post race confirmation we concluded these were actually pilot whales!! Highly exciting as despite sailing all around Oman for several years, where the waters are meant to be teaming with whales, I had never seen one until now!
And this is what they looked like! well almost haha!
As the wind went back to an upwind direction, after many hours of sailing really well and making little gains with the gentle oscillating shifts, there was an enormous shift to the left which I was unfortunately completely unprepared for and the boats that were 200m in front and 100m behind were now tiny spec’s on the horizon. Truly spectacular how much distance I lost and levels of despair rocketed! It was at this point as the evening approached I started to feel quite ill, headachy and feverish.
Gazzer (autopilot) and I kept going and plodded on as we approached Alderney and the rocks that surround it. This we knew was to be an interesting spot due to the huge tides that rush around it. Gradually the boats that were ahead started to appear out of the haze and I could start to see that they were stuck in no wind and tide rushing against them.
Reader warning here this next bit is particularly unpleasant and not for the faint hearted!
Hugh and I were approaching from the east hoping to get behind Alderney and get into some tidal relief which initially helped and Hugh managed to do much better than me and sailed around me. We then sailed into what felt like treacle, and the boat stopped going forward and just went at the mercy of the tide sometimes sideways and at one point uncontrollably backwards at 3 knots!
Here I sat with the sun setting, watching the other boats sailing away towards the finish and feeling worse and worse eventually submitting to my lovely food poisoning bug and vomiting hard all on my own in the twilight.
Eventually I got around the light house and was pointing towards Cherbourg. Now out of the tide, the wind trebled and with it the sea state and with the sails roughly trimmed and boat slamming into every wave and the inky black black night I was sitting at the back holding on hard, emptying everything I had in my stomach followed by other deposits in the bucket and sat shivering and feeling generally like the world was actually ending.
One slightly amusing incident in all this, was the moment I was just putting my big waterproof top back on, which is like a hoodie so has to be put on over your head. It kept getting stuck on my head torch so I tried to take it off but realised I had tied it into my hair so it was painfully half hanging off and both arms were in my smock and with my trousers still around my knees. The boat then decided to completely loose control and go into a tack, with all the ballast and stack on the wrong side and the jib backed this is quite alarming, not to mention fishing boats and rocks. There was nothing I could do but laugh at my predicament as I scrambled to get myself off the soaking floor and rectify the situation!
Somehow I navigated around all the rocks and inside Cherbourg harbour to the scoring gate where the nice race organisers awaited my arrival and gave me encouraging comments. There were then a few more rocks and light houses to navigate before finally reaching the bay where it was straight line reaching to the finish and finally I could actually sleep without immediate rock – and agrounding worries. The only problem was the angle I needed to go was not an angle the boat agreed with, as it was too high to go down the waves and too low to depower enough, so Gazzer kept losing control and the sails required constant updating for their best position. Additionally the boat was jumping and slamming and thrashing and rolling around, constantly emptying wave after wave over the boat and down the hatch, so the best sleep it was not. Finally dawn came, the last few miles passed and the land appeared on the horizon; sadly breakfast didn’t stay down very long but finally I reached lovely Le Havre 2 hours and 38 mins after the first boat and was greeted by all of our lovely team in a similar confused, incomprehensible state and it was all over!
Definitely the hardest race so far and slightly happier with some improvements still racing hard into the second day with boats all around me, but overwhelmed with the amount I need to learn and improve. Worth it though to win a lovely woolly hat, though another bucket might be more useful!!
Now we are straight off so sail to Cowes and imitate the Solitaire visiting the ports we will in the race and doing some practice racing along the way. I will be avoiding any dodgy looking meals and my parents have be lined up to provide me with sterilized meals to Deauville for the big start!!