Solitaire Leg 1

There’s nothing like a full morning of drizzle to calm down the pre race nerves and by start time on Sunday morning I was feeling suitably damp and ready to race. I had a slightly surreal moment with about a minute to the start when I realised that all but two other boats at the port end where I was lining up were a good twenty seconds late for the start leaving things eerily quiet on the line when the gun went. I did my best to fumble things from then on doing a dodgy first tack (made harder by going from sheeting the jib on the windward winch for safety to the same winch, now to leward) and over standing the layline to round the first mark in fifth. I then had a pretty good tussle round the next few marks being in second for the briefest of periods before rounding the last mark of the inshore course in 8th and picking up three points in the Radio France classification, something like the green jersey in the Tour de France.

From here it was into the coastal passage, tacking very close into the rocks along most of the North coats to avoid the worst of the tide in light winds. I absolutely loved the intensity of this part of the race and the way you could constantly make small gains and losses from getting in stupidly close to some incredible rocky scenery. Things were going well for me and I even got a little bit of sleep but then we had to go out into the deep water and extra current to round a mark of the course. This caused a big compression in the fleet where I managed to go from feeling comfortable in about 8th to fighting for somewhere between 15th and 25th. Frustrating but it was cool to be racing bow to stern with most of the fleet after a full 24hours.

Things felt like they were going well until sometime towards the end of day three when after drifting around in the middle of Biscay in the centre of the high pressure all day the boats int he east and further forward just edged into the new breeze first and pulled away. This was the hardest part of the race for me being at the helm, reaching through thick fog for about 14 hours straight with 15 minutes sleep at most, excluding the accidental sleep done at the helm which I have no idea how long it lasted for!

In the end I disappointed to lose so much time of the majority of the fleet (especially the three rookies ahead of me) but also encouraged to know that I can mix it with most of the good guys for a decent part of the race. The big things for me to work on in the next leg are my sub five knot drifting technique and managing fatigue towards the finish. It will be hard psychologically in the next two legs knowing that even a good finish in both won’t move me up very far if the fleet is bunched up. The danger would be trying to take big risks for big time gains and getting it wrong and ending up off the back, not something I want to find out about!

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