It is always good to get the first race of the season out the way to know where you are within the fleet and what you need to work on before the start of the big one, La Solitaire du Figaro. Unfortunately for me the Solo Maitre Coq 2014 proved an uphill struggle from the start. Less than a minute after leaving the dock I went to put the autopilot on to hoist the main, and all of a sudden the electronics started beeping away at me. Having never had a problem with my electronics all winter training with this boat I suddenly had no pilot, the computer crashed, GPS lost connection to the computer and different error functions appeared on each different display. I was gutted, my heart sank. This wasn’t the first time this had happened and I couldn’t believe it had happened again.
I quickly turned round and returned to the dock. After calling TEEM (a company with very specific Figaro electronics know-how) to see if there could be a quick solution. It was soon apparent there wasn’t and so with help from Marcus and Phil from Artemis we decided it would be best for me to return out to the race course to not miss the start, now under the full knowledge that this race had just got a whole lot harder!
We rely on the pilot massively, sailing a 32ft boat without one for two days is near impossible, but luckily the forecast for the first 24 hours was very very light so for the start at least, it would be manageable. Luckily while out in the start area, I plugged in the second computer or ‘brain’ for the boat and found that this was working so along with the emergency tiller pilot I was able to start the race with some instruments and no constant bleeping. My head however was not in the right place, and for the first 6 hours I sailed dreadfully, not seemingly able to make a good decision but also just worrying about how I was going to complete the race and if I was going to be able to do it!
Luck was on my side however, and during the first night there was a park up of the whole fleet at Ile de Yeu. I was now back in the pack and by now I had gotten over the disappointment of before and so was just keen to attack for as long as I could, to see how well I could do and to use the race as the best training I could.
Over the next 24 hours I probably sailed the best I have ever done in the Figaro. I was able to pass boats throughout the day and kept working my way up the fleet to just outside the top 10, and at my peak, just inside it. As night fell on the second night however I was starting to get really tired, as we rounded the most southern mark and started to head north the wind also started to fill in which I knew wasn’t good for me! By now I had been driving for 30 hours and knew the inevitable was about to happen soon, and that it was going to be enjoyable when it did!
After going under the bridge at Ile de Re in 12th we beat our way 30 nautical miles back to Les Sables d’Olonne. The first few hours went well, but as night descending the job got a whole lot harder. Fog descended too which hid the lights of the boats in front of me, which with no GPS was very disorientating to say the least! The emergency pilot was no use at all either as upwind in the short waves we had it just couldn’t do the job required. I used it initially but gave up after the 2nd crash tack and the first 90 degree bear away and almost gybe! So stacking all the equipment from side to side took considerably longer with lots of running back on deck to steer and slowly but surely I started losing touch with the main pack, which after all the work of the past 24 hours was very depressing and a killer for the motivation knowing that it was only going to get worse. The inevitable was happening and I was crashing out hard!
I lost around a net of 5 places up the beat after taking back a few from guys who went the wrong way, rounding bow to stern with 4 boats so was definitely still in touch on the last lap round Ile de Yeu from Les Sables entrance. I was completely exhausted though, and I found it impossible to concentrate while driving anymore. I started to loose all motivation for the race. With no GPS or AIS either I just tried to follow lights and not loose too much ground. Boats were just sailing passed me however, and the worst thing was I no longer cared. Mentally I had given up on the race and it was just all about finishing from here on in. The night of the 14th March 2014 will always be a very dark memory for me!
As we approached Ile de Yeu I worked hard to stay in touch with the pack of boats which had just sailed past me as rounding an Island in the middle of the night is a pretty scary experience not knowing where you are! I was most kicking myself for not having invested in a new iPad after my old iPad 1 became out dated with the new chart technology, GRR! I was plotting my position using my handheld GPS into Adrena though and after managing to get my kite on the bow and hoisted I set about following the other lights back to Les Sables and the finish. I put the emergency pilot on quickly to just do one last check of my position. As the waypoint appeared on Adrena showing exactly where I was my heart stopped. It was showing me literally 100m off the rocks off the southern most tip of Ile de Yeu. I sprinted on deck, threw the pilot off the tiller and gybed the boat as fast as I could. I could now hear the waves crashing on the rocks and the thought of how close I came to totaling the boat is a scary one.
So the race wasn’t the result that I was looking for, but it was a productive training race and there are lots of positives to take from it. I did some good sailing against some of the best Figaroists for over 24 hours and also managed to get around the course when it seemed everything was against me so I am pretty happy on reflection. Now I just want to get the boat as reliable as possible, I most definitely don’t want the same to be happening during the Solitaire this year.
Thanks for all your messages of support.