Highs followed by lows

It was quiet a momentous occasion when all five boats racked up on the dock in Les Sables D’Olonne to race together for the first time and not without a huge logistical operation in the background. At the peak there were 12 people at the venue in Artemis colours and that doesn’t include the people back in Cowes! There’s no doubt that without all the hard work from the shore side team we sailors wouldn’t be anywhere near a racecourse.

The main focus of our week before the race was to get all five boats operational and in full measurement trim before the army of ‘jaugers’ (measurers in English) descended on us like the overspill from a retirement village, armed with clipboards and lead seals to make sure we were all class legal and safe. These checks can be time consuming and stressful and by the end of it I had almost forgotten about the sailing and got stuck in my own little rut of check lists and boat jobs.

We were lucky at this event to be joined by Marcus Hutchinson who came in as event coach as a trial run for the solitaire. Marcus did the race a while ago in the old Figaro one boats and had a healthy stock of stories from back in the day when men were men and electric bilge pumps, computer navigation and two rudders hadn’t even been imagined. He also did the job of running morning meetings, translating important French and generally making us look and feel like a team.

Les Sable D’Olonne is an iconic venue in the world of solo sailing with the crowds lining the river on the way to the start of the Vendee globe every four years something of a legend. For us it was a slightly more low-key affair as we headed out to the start on Thursday. An old bloke with a camera and an excitable group of school children were the best the town could do and even they must have had a hard time spotting us in the fog. Even harder to do in the fog was starting a race. In the five hours we spent waiting around at no point did the mist clear enough that the race committee could see both ends of the line to get a start off. After a good hour asleep at anchor I got the message that racing was canned for the day and we’d try again tomorrow. Here’s a little video of the scene.

In only slightly better conditions we set off on a much shorter course in light winds on the Friday and after a slightly dodgy start I quite quickly found myself up with some guys I’d heard were quite good. In the fog and without my AIS picking up the other boats positions I assumed that there must be a load of boats on the other side of the course who were way ahead so it was a nice surprise to find myself at the first mark, a quarter of the way into the race, in fifth position. This warm fuzzy feeling lasted approximately one hour as I sailed into a patch of light wind in the dark and in no time at boats were flying past me on all sides. For some reason I couldn’t get my groove on and within about two hours I was counting lights behind me a lot more easily than ahead. Darkness dragged on during the second half of the race and I struggled to find any passing lanes to dig myself out of the hole I had gotten into. With the wind building for the 20 mile run into the finish I had Aaron Cooper, by now without a functioning pilot in my sights. Unfortunately for me he dealt with his handicap too easily and wouldn’t let me pass leaving me in a slightly disappointing 23rd place out of 29 finishers. I have got a few positives and  a long list of learning points to take away from this race. Now I just can’t wait to get back out there to do it again. Next stop the Transat AG2r with Sam.

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