Off to a bit of a slow start

I normally try to avoid giving too much a of a blow by blow description of these races for fear of boring the few visitors this site gets away. Maybe because I can’t think of a catchy angle and also because I’ve spent all winter reading every word of every British ultra marathoners race blogs (and I’m not sure you’re allowed to enter those things without your own blog page) that’s what I’m going to do now. It also sort of doubles up as my debrief. So here goes:

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Start – sort of a disaster being over early. Having had four hours to kill on the water I dropped my anchor like everyone else, finished the latest Robert Harris novel I hadn’t manage to finish  but which was getting really good, had a little kip and then spent about 20 minutes longer pulling my anchor back up. I’d never actually anchored alone without the use of an engine before and made quite a mess of the process the first few times. Anyway I ended up feeling a bit rushed before the off and didn’t really get my pre race routine right. The mantra in my head was going ‘don’t be late, you don’t want to be late’. Unfortunately I took this a bit too far and had to go back along with three other keen beans including race favorite Ed Hill and fellow Brit Yann Ellies. Still, I really didn’t mind this mentally, normally I start well then get over taken, at least this way I got to sail past a load of boats for the first hour which is always a nice feeling.

The first bit across to England. This should have a been a simple, straight leg but as we were warned by our weather guru there were a few thunder storms about to watch out for. Unfortunately he didn’t give us any ideas on exactly what to watch out for, basically because there was nothing clever we could do. One minute you’d see the whole fleet’s tracks begin to curve over on the AIS, then we’d all tack, then we’d tack back again once the wind went back to normal. Sometimes different sails would be hoisted and sometimes some boats would stop and others would fly by. Conclusions from our group debrief a while ago were that apart from trying to bank some Karma by being nice to animals and not dropping litter etc there’s not a lot you can do here, sail fast, don’t stray too far from the fleet and roll with it.

IMGA0687The south coast. This was the bit I’d been looking forward to since the course was published ages ago, especially as there were options to go north of the Isle of Wight on a madcap flier through home waters. I’d spent a fair while working out exactly what conditions and states of the tide this might pay off in and just after we rounded Owers buoy it was still looking well on. Being towards the less sharp end of the fleet here I got a bit of perspective from the boats ahead and opted to sail a bit higher and fast than most on a course that left the inside route open for quite a while. In the end I wimped out and went to the left of Bembridge not right, still enjoying my leg up from behind and sneaking along the edge to the beach in Sandown bay out of the tide to make ground on the guys in the lead. Annoyingly whilst I felt like a hero at the time and I’m told gained the lead on the tracker however fleetingly this wasn’t really the best use of the view from the back and Henry and a couple of other wild card heros took an offshore route and smoked through in
to a more long lasting lead that did them a lot better. I still don’t know how the Solent route would have gone but you’d look a real tit doing it and losing hours on leg one…

At this point we were into some classic Figaro racing, tacking halfway up a rocky beach with 38 other boats all on top of each other in no wind nearly a day into the race. From here on in we left the island behind and sailed off towards the Portland, Start point and the Lizard, the holy trinity of south coast headlands. The wind was still buggering us around a bit but I was well into the offshore mindset, eating boil in the bag food with a batten end because I forgot my spork and enjoying a range of sea shanties on my newly installed stereo. Apart from an increased use of my outdoor lavatory facilities off the back of the boat (about ten times in less than four days, all paper and nearly all wet wipes gone) brought about by the careless choice of water with a load of minerals in allegedly designed to keep old french people regular everything was good.

Sure I could have been sailing faster and not made bungles of most minor tactical options available but I’ve been reading Bernard Moitissier’s book recently and making an effort to take pleasure in the small things like sea birds, the endless wake of the boat trailing behind etc etc. All very philosophical. With the early pioneers in mind I also enjoyed the hell out of my first jib peel in a year at start point. I probably spent about twenty minutes getting hosed on the bow trying to remember how to change sails and by the time I got things sorted I was still bone dry inside. I might have lost a solid mile on boats around me but I’m bloody grateful to the people at Musto for making sure I was at least dry even if I wasn’t fast.IMGA0676

Wolf Rock – I love light houses and Wolf Rock is as good as they come, it’s rocky, it’s old and if I remember righlyt from Coast on the telly it’s steeped in a load of history, AND we always have to turn around it which means its a bit of a game of nerves to see who can get closest. This time things were a little somber, I think everyone in the fleet was gutted to see Yann Ellies’ rig come down just after rounding in the lead. Sad for him and sad for the race to lose such a hero but well done to Charlie Dalin in 2nd for getting this video of the moment. Time to recheck all our rigging I think.

The last bit – Not much to say about the second channel crossing, I wasn’t fast or slow, I slept a lot as it didn’t seem to matter either way as long as I checked on her every now and again. Redshift seems to love it side on. The last roll of the dice came as we rounded the buoys of Roscoff and finally started pointing towards Plymouth. Things were a bit fickle a at first but the leg quickly turned into a long drag race of a reach. I frustratingly had to watch Irish Dave and Rookie Rich gradually inch through to leward of me over the last seventy miles. Like the rest of my race I think my rustiness from not training at all did me no favors here. I did however enjoying hoovering up the last of my food supplies, particularly the pork scratchings and two whole chicken breasts.

The sun shone and progress was made towards the finish, not as fast as I would have liked but I’m sure I’ll get better leg by leg in this race. The fleet isn’t as big as last year but it is still deep, there’s really no easy places. I’m not expecting fireworks this year but it feels really good to be back in the boat and I’m going to make the most of every minute of it. Leg two looks like a total reach around. The Fastnet and back with one gybe around the rock and maybe not even a spinnaker. I’ll have a range of bizarre snacks to mix things up and plenty of varied audio to keep me in the right place mentally.

Off to Rockfish now for what I’ve heard from Henry Bomby Sailing is the best fish and chips anywhere.

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2 Responses to Off to a bit of a slow start

  1. Ewan McEwan says:

    Keep the blog (debrief) coming Nick; great stuff!

  2. Anne Hinton says:

    Second Ewan on that!! Also, try reading Mich Desj’s autobiog (will help your French too) – and esp. how he helmed continuously to catch up a whole weather system after starting the 2008 Vendee Globe late (re-start) to win… GO 4 IT on the last leg! All the best, Nick!

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