"I'll hae nae hauf-way hoose but aye be whaur extremes meet..." Hugh McDiarmid

Sunday, 8 September 2013

leg 1 race 1: london, uk to brest, france

once we were over the start line, we did a course around a couple of fixed marks and headed into the channel. the marks were there to keep us off some sandbanks and also to get some good photos from the air as we raced as a fleet for the first time.

when we got to the gybe mark, we dropped the kite and hoisted the staysail and yankee 1. me and hannah were mothers for day 1 so we were making tea for folk, doing the meals, cleaning the heads and grab rails, and doing all the dishes. not the most glamorous start!

I'd had some very quick extra training on the media kit as we were supposed to be doing a live video interview from the boat that day. just as I was eating my dinner, we got a call from the office to say I had to set it up for 1230, only 15 minutes away. I inhaled my rice surprise and started setting up. as the marine camera solutions guys had not had much notice about this, I briefly had the admin passwords for the satellite link and could override a whole bunch of settings. which I didn't obviously, having been threatened very nicely by tony the previous day.

we are using a piece of software called live-x for this kind of thing, and on day 1 it wouldn't play ball. I placed a call to the livewire test server but didn't receive a test card and tone as I had during the training. after much phoning and texting tony at mcs and richard at live-x, we got the system working. and we were ready for the interview. just 3 hours late...

the office decided not to go ahead with it as we were so late, but it was good to get it all working. having spent all that time down below, and with the weather building, folk were starting to feel a bit ropey. by this time, we'd gone to one reef on the main and the yankee 2 and life on board was at around 30 degrees. me and hannah were struggling manfully to get the tea on but we ended up tag teaming between the galley and the back of the boat.

loads of us were ill that day, and for me it was bad as I hadn't suffered from sea sickness since level 1 briefly so was feeling pretty confident about it all. oh well. a few folk decided not to have their tea, so a lot went overboard out the pot. hannah even managed to make flapjacks!

the bonus about being mother is that you get a full night of sleep immediately after. we finished the dishes around 8pm - by then I was scrubbing pots with my head on the edge of the sink - and went straight to our bunks. luckily, my next watch was 1200-1800 so I got a ton of sleep. I woke up naturally around 9am which was luxury. when I got up I was absolutely starving from the sea sickness, so I had loads of breakfast to make up for it.

the wind on the second day was really light. we started the day with the main and the code 1 up and got loads of trimming practice in. the wind lightened around 11am so everyone who wasn't trimming was sent up to the foredeck to keep the bow in the water. I cracked out my little gel speaker and my ipod and stuck the garden state soundtrack on. the first song on that album is 'don't panic' by coldplay which was really apt. at that moment, we really did live in a beautiful world - the sun was out, the water was a deep blue, it was warm, but there just wasn't much wind.

we had our first boat meeting on the foredeck. this is really important for us as a crew because without it, we could go the whole leg without seeing the other watch. hopefully this will help keep us friendly and allow us to talk about any issues we have. it's also where matt talks about the route and tactics with us. he explained that we would hug the english coast then head south around brighton to get to france. from there we would head for the alderney race, a tidal system which would sweep us through the channel islands and closer to ouessant and brest.

I was off watch 1800-2200 but after my epic sleep of the previous night, I only got a couple of hours in so I started to keep my diary. I'm trying to keep this every day I'm away. mainly, it will help me write this blog as I'll be without internet access except when I'm in port.

when we got back on watch 2200-0200 the wind was light but workable. we trimmed hard but around midnight, the wind dropped to 0knots and the kit collapsed onto the shrouds. freezing fog set in as well, so everyone swapped out to add layers of clothes. I was absolutely frozen when I went to bed, as I've got used to great weather out in oman, but my ocean sleepwear bag is an amazing thing and even though I've taken one of the fleecy layers out, I was toasty as anything :)

we were back on watch 0600-1200 and the wind was still very light. I was driving which I find hard enough without having to drive to the kite and the wind. matt kept sticking his head out of the hatch and correcting my course for the full hour I was driving and when ed took over I was exhausted and my back hurt from standing tense for so long. by now we were heading to the cap de la hague and the race. matt had timed our arrival with the tide change and we were all a little tense to see if we'd make it.

the fog was still very heavy, but the sun burned through around 1030 and we were treated to the sight of rocks very close on our port side. on the vhf we heard a rescue/salvage operation unfolding. a light plane had ditched nearby and the RNLI were searching for wreckage. it was an awful thing to hear, but the professionalism of the coastguard and the searchers was amazing to hear.

we hit a windhole around the same time, and watched in horror as 3 other boats crept into sight before slowing and stopping as they hit the windhole too. we tried everything to get back into the wind we could see on the water and eventually started up again. we slept 1300-1730, had tea at 1730 and were back on watch 1800-2200. this watch was split watch again, as the race course had been shortened because of the light winds. the office had to get the fleet to brest as one of the sponsors had organised an 8-boat regatta for friday, and unless we motored there now, we wouldn't make it.

the course had been time limited to 1500 UTC, 1600 boat time and we were anxious to see if the race had worked. we'd had some pretty quick times through it, as the favourable tide and boat speed added to give us almost double. we found out that we had been 2nd closest to ouessant at 1500 and that rich on invest africa had beaten us by only 2 miles. we were really pleased, but we knew that while crossing the channel we had inadvertently strayed briefly into the TSS (traffic separation scheme) which was forbidden territory for the race, carrying a 6-hour time penalty.

meanwhile, the office were working out how to apply the penalty to such a short race. old pulteney had also gone into the TSS and had been 3rd, so we were really anxious waiting to find out what would happen. when the news came through it wasn't good. pulteney had received a 7h20m penalty, while we'd been hit with 9h. ouch. the results changed. pulteney were now 11th and we were 12th. last. there were a lot of glum faces when matt told us the news.

at first we complained to matt that it wasn't fair. the office knew our nav computer was unreliable. seapro had frozen repeatedly and needed to be restarted several times, and it was during one of these moments we had strayed into the TSS. matt pointed out that we had other methods of tracking our position and it was a good lesson not to rely on the software on board. grudgingly we accepted that he was right and with heavy hearts we motored towards brest.

that night we were on watch from 0200-0600 and the fog was mental. we rigged the foghorn onto the front centre cleat and stood watches on the bow and at the mast, although we couldn't see anything at all except the reflection of the steaming light on the fog. me and sophie were on the bow and chatting about how if you stared at the fog for long enough you could see stuff that wasn't actually there. at that point a bloody seagull hurled itself into the water right next to us and we both got the fright of our lives.

bloody seagulls.

we slept 0600-1200 and were on watch 1200-1800 as we came into brest. I had just woken up and was sitting in the saloon when matt appeared and said 'ah just the woman' uh-oh. up the mast again to rig a running line for the flags we have to fly when entering port. we flew the french flag, with the Q flag below it. the Q flag means 'we have not cleared customs' and when we arrived to the fuel berth, murali gave the race officer the grab bag which has all our passports and papers in it.

they also gave us our welcome beers, and a wee hamper from the city of brest with some local delicacies in it. we also got our brief on the city, along with details on when and where the prize giving was to be held.

just after arrival in brest. this was taken while we were refuelling. I'm front row, far right

race start!

well we had the briefing (I was late...) and an early night (kind of) and suddenly the last 20 months of my life came sharply into focus. this was the day I'd been counting down to, paying off, training for and dreaming about. finally!

mum, dad and leigh came down for the last few days and the start, and loads of my friends turned up to weep gently into other people and wave like lunatics. 
we'd been herded onto the boats by 8am having been warned that if we were late it would leave without us. the fleet was blessed by a man who used the handheld radio microphone as a talking stick so we didn't hear much but it seemed quite serious so we paid attention and looked serious anyway.

me and matt before going on stage
after that, each team was announced onto the floating show pontoon. they played the boat song and interviewed some unlucky folk on each boat then we were cheered off to leave. we were leaving in rafts of four through the lock and out onto the thames, so there were some pauses while boats were moved and locked. 

we were in the middle block, and finally we were announced. we went onto the stage and tried not to look too terrified. matt was interviewed, along with I think 3 other folk (not me thankfully!) and then we were onto the boat, leaving the pontoon and heading into the lock. 

it was a really tight manoeuvre and it looked at one point like we might be starting the race without the bowsprit, but matt can drive and with the rib in the water, we locked complete with bowsprit... being trapped in a small lock with 3 other boats while surrounded by folk was a little odd. loads of folk were shouting and waving, and at one point I thought my arm may actually fall off. I don't wave that much normally...

my mate lorna was there with my fairy goddaughter, annika was there with carrie (not sure if stephen made it or not), my parents were in there somewhere. some really good photos were taken. of me. that doesn't really happen.

thanks lorna! a good photo of me!!
bowsprit still in place :)

us leaving st kats on the 1st of september

once we were out the lock, we had to line up on the port side of the boat, having taken in lines and fenders as the official photographer was there. I think we look pretty smart, in our dark shorts and mission performance drill tops. we were the only crew to keep our lifejackets on, and someone from the RNLI complimented us on it. sweet :)

then it was back down the river thames and away to moor up overnight at queensborough. mum, dad and leigh had booked onto a spectator boat, but I didn't know which one. there were loads of them. the mission guys were on a really posh looking one near tower bridge. they did a great job of yelling their heads off and waving. it was a bit of a competition to be honest ;)

I spot leigh on the boat and nearly knock kate overboard...
eventually, I managed to spot leigh on one of the boats. the waving went a bit mental at that point! 

it was a long day, but what a great send off. I am really looking forward to coming back into london now. there were crowds all the way along the thames. my mates sas and paul were texting me their location and instructions to 'turn around NOW' so I got to wave manically at them too :)

so many people. awesome. we were totally knackered by the time we got to the mooring and ready for bed.

overnight, we kept a half watch. I did 2200 to midnight which was good as I was scheduled to be on mother watch the next day with hannah. neil showed us how to make bread that night, and a few of us decided to lighten the mood by hiding bob, our man overboard drill dummy, in the yankee 1 sail bag which was up on deck ready to be hanked on the next morning... I'm not sure what the other crews thought as they saw us drag him from the stern to the bow, but they all looked very serious and we were having fun :)

so. the next morning we were slipped around 0700 and headed back towards southend pier. everyone was up and ready, all the boats were charging around checking the line out. there was a helicopter and a few photographers boats out, as well as a thames barge who was firing her water cannons and generally looking pretty awesome.

matt had decided to hoist the main and get the code 2 ready to go a minute before the start. the code 2 is branded so looks pretty cool :) the hoist went really smoothly and the kite popped. then it was the start. not many boats had decided to use the kite, and we ploughed through the fleet.

around a minute before the start - we have hoisted the code 2 and it is just filling
now the code 2 is filled and we are storming through the fleet!
we were almost level with the leaders when the tack blew. now the kite was not connected to the bowsprit, we lost a lot of speed and direction. the guys on the foredeck managed to get the tack in and reconnected. but shortly after, it blew again. with a huge effort, the tack was remade and this time it held. we got rid of the bullet which we'd preset in the snapshackle to make taking it down easier. matt suggested throwing it in the sea, but then changed his mind and it's now in a box in the tool area below decks...

that was that. we'd started the race! race 1 was a short hop to brest in north west france, and we reckoned it would take around 2 days to complete, before a 5 day layover to finish the boat.

London race village

arriving into london was pretty sweet. I popped up to the top of the mast and stuck my go pro up there to record :) unfortunately, the footage isn't that great because of the weird angle it ended up at, and I missed matt's sweet parking in st katharine's dock...

once we'd arrived and berthed up, the race manager came round and issued us with our crew wristbands and the usual information about showers and everything. I nipped back up the rig to retrieve the camera and I reckon there will be loads of photos and video of that ;)

we had a really busy week working on the boat, and everyone had loads of visitors wanting a look round so it passed pretty quickly.

we also met our sponsors, mission performance, properly. we went for beer and out for a meal after they gave a presentation about what they do and what they hope to get out of the race. they are a really interesting bunch of folk and I think the best sponsors to give us practical and emotional support on the race.