When we talked about finding a boat to sail in the Caribbean 600 at the solitaire in June I was instantly excited. Having done the race twice before it was hard to put thoughts of sunny islands and warm water out of my mind and get on with racing. After six months of scouring the globe for the right boat and crew we found the perfect boat in “Yolo” (yes, as in you only live once) a very sorted, new Jeanneau Sunfast 3600 that had just raced across the Atlantic. Unfortunately the perfect crew were unavailable due to current ethical issues with using human cloning to create four more versions of myself and we had to make do with a bunch of model yachting lads from Southampton.
After a delightful plane journey we got to Antigua, checked out the boat briefly, checked into our Hostel (where I think all the lads were secretly pleased we had a five man dorm room, complete with poorly curtained shower in the corner) and got straight into the Caribbean way of life. Luckily jetlag and rummy hangovers did nothing to put us off a hard days training in our new toy the next day. Matty even managed to tear himself away from looking really sea sick and grumpy to use his 40-40 vision to spot us a lovely, shiny, black whale that gave us a massive wave with it’s tail before disappearing into the deep, no doubt to wrestle with giant squid as the do. After this we embraced jetlag a bit late, had all sorts of issues for Tom to sort out with the boat computer, did safety stuff and received a very illuminating lecture from Jamie about hygiene on the race, namely the application of talc and sudocreme to ones crease between watches.
Into the race. We did a nice start and used our superiorlength on the rest of IRC 3 to get off to an early lead on the first beat before putting our girth to devastating effect on the long reach to Barbuda. At some point we noticed a vibration under the hull and decided the propeller must be having troubles folding. The standard play here is to get in and put an elastic band round her to keep her shut but still allow her to open up when needed. After a bit of rummaging we realised we had no suitable stationary with which to pull of this simple feat. It was at this point that I had to sheepishly admit that they were probably some rather old, unused condoms in the side of my sailing bag. I’d like to point out I hadn’t actually brought them along on a boat full of lads on purpose, they’d been there for ages. Wishing I’d brought they head attachment for my gopro I dived off the bow at the first turning mark as the guys dropped one kite, tacked round and hoisted the other one. The water was absolutely lovely and I felt like a bit of a hero for climbing straight back on board and bouncing the halyard at the rig. We were still in the lead and all was good.
The next leg was fairly chilled and as the sun was going down we ate Lancashire Hotpot from a bag and listened to Pink Floyd on a tiny speaker. Mixing the excitement of heading into the first night of an offshore race and being in the Caribbean with a group of excellent mates was really great. What was also great was the number of stars, absolutely loads. Less great was the amount of weed around and having two rudders we picked up a fair chuck of it. Matty and I quickly became lead de-weeders, a process that involved a lot of scrabbling around with your arm, face and chest in the sea at very regular intervals. Necessity forced practical Matty into action and he somehow conjured up a serviceable weed stick by destroying half my tool box and all the spare battens. Great job mate but I wish you’d though to put as much effort in tying it on as you did making it.
Without too much more blow by blow accounting of what when on at sea highlights included:
- The moment we stopped being stuck in the wind shadow of Saba after cutting it too fine on the first night. Any amount of wind from one direction feels incredible after an hour trapped in the vortex behind that island.
- Rounding St Baths. A) it looks lovely and B) Tom appeared to know all the scary rocks really well which made things a lot less stressful.
- Getting hooted by the French Police around the back of St Martin (being in a French boat I think they thought we were one of them). If the class win hadn’t been within reach we had all agreed to use this cunning deception in an Aubrey style attack thereby boarding and taking the much more heavily armed vessel as a lawful prize.
- The 160 mile reach to Guadeloupe. We all thought it might be a bit dull but actually we got quite into trying to sail fast etc. Nice surprise.
- The opposite of a highlight. Misuse of common folklore, over reliance on technology and general idiocy led us to take a course a bit too far away from land leaving us becalmed and sailed extra distance on our competitors. We did see a pod of whales though…
- Seeing a shooting star come so close we heard it and loads of people thought it was a flare and starting spooking each other with distress messages. All good practice and that. I’m just sad I forgot to make an extra good wish.
- At one point we did just over 20 knots with the reaching kite up down a big wave in a big squall. Even better ‘Spring watch’ as they liked to call themselves (consisting of Matty and Tom) were downstairs and they missed it.
Leaving aside the bullet point format for a bit an instantly forgettable lowlight for most of the crew would have to be the 35 miles beat to finish back in Antigua in the dark. It’s not that fast and it really wasn’t that cold but after three and a half days with a wet arse the thought of a beer, a burger and then a dry bed can be torture. Luckily all these things did come to us in the end much helped along by our super shore crew in the form of Leila and Lex. Overall this counts as about as much fun as I’ve ever had on a boat and all the sitting around with the Redshifters afterwards, debriefing over much wine and rum didn’t hurt either. I really hope I get to do this race again loads and to sail with this team again.
Now I’m back in Lorient with the real Redshift getting ready for three intense weeks of long training races and the first proper test or the season, the Solo Basse Normandie which starts on the 26th of March and you should be able to follow here.