The last days build up to the Solo Massif Marine was a tense few days for me. I was experiencing a totally different start to anything I had done before, it was so cool to be a part of the race, my first solo race, in a port as prestigious as Les Sables d’Olonne, against such big names, guys I have read about for years and followed. Daunting, but hugely exciting in many ways.
As we sat in the briefing before the start and I looked around the room, it certainly felt like the first day at school to me. The class is so cool to be a part of, it is my hope to compete on the circuit for quite a few years and so hopefully one day I will feel more comfortable to be a part of the fleet than I do right now, but everyone is so welcoming and the French guys love a more international fleet and so do what they can to make us feel at home in their hunting ground.
The torture pre race was drawn out even further with delays due to fog, we were made to sit out all day before being sent back in. While the decision was understandable, we all just wanted to get out there and get sailing. Sailing is my comfort zone, waiting around and thinking about the possible unknowns I will face not so much!
Come start time early morning on the 16th the breeze was light, with a minute to go, I suddenly found myself with Yann Elies and Fabien Delahaye either side of me, possibly the two race favourites! Doh! I got off to a bad start, a very bad start! I struggled to find any clear wind, 30 mins into the race and I found myself dead last. I did finally settle down enough to just concentrate on sailing fast and after 4 hours of racing I found myself working through the pack on the right hand side of the course. I went for the most inshore route, sailing low and fast, with the lifting breeze I managed to work it in my favour and pulled ahead of Paul Meilhat and Nicolas Lunven which was a huge confidence boost for me. It gave me confidence that I can play this game, if not consistently over 48 hours yet, for 6 hours at least I can stick with the good guys.
I managed to sail from 15th to 5th in our little group, but our eastern route up the French coast was to be second best as the guys on the Ile de Yeu side came down with kites just in front of our pack. I rounded the first mark in 17th with some good guys just in front of me, and also behind me, still in touch and ready for the night ahead to continue with the fight.
However the 11 mile leg back to Ile de Yeu proved to be the most frustrating 3 hours of sailing I have ever experienced I think. I got stuck in no wind in the lee of the island, and found myself tacking in very light winds to make the rounding on Yeu while a train of red lights flooded past me, further to windward. The rate at which I lost miles, time and places in such a short leg was crazy, both Aaron and Nick had similar misfortune, Nick falling back from 5th to 23rd. I think I also had some weed on my keel as well as I was well below my targets, and spent ages trying to get rid of it, with my weed stick and lines over the bow, I never saw it go but just as I rounded Yeu I was over a mile behind the back markers with a lot of work to do, but finally up to speed once more.
I was devastated but was determined not to finish last. It was my only goal from here on in to salvage something from the race. I worked hard during the night to claw back some time, as the sun rose I had 2 or 3 boats on the horizon who I felt I could get on the last leg back to Les Sables. It was a kite run, I got a good hoist, gybed early and gave chase, about half way down the run I managed to pick off the one double handed entry, finishing a sobering 28th of 29.
I have a lot to work on for the next races on the calendar, we now have a month and a half to work and train until our next race and I am more determined more than ever to do a good race and show what I can do. I know I can, and feel I have a lot to prove now. As friends have told me, you can only get better from here!
Throughout the race the whole squad got so much support on facebook, twitter and lots of personal messages too so thank you to everyone, means a lot.