After a frustrating start to my season so far, having to retire from Leg one of the ICOM Cup Meditérranée and then putting in a less than average performance in the Solo Arrimer, the pressure was on to have a good race in the 340 mile Solo Concarneau.
The Solo Concarneau was our last race in preparation for the big one, La Solitaire du Figaro, starting June 2nd. As always the race threw up a lot of challenges and did not come easy. Despite this, I managed to bag myself a pretty pleasing result.
After a good start, I rounded the first windward mark in the top five boats and made the decision to head direct for our next mark of the course, rather than sailing a bit higher under kite and heading offshore in search of a bit more breeze. It was the wrong call, and I soon went from being top five to bottom five after getting rolled by pretty much the entire fleet in the space of two hours… Ouch!
My first onboard issue occurred on the way through the Raz de Sein. Just after passing through the main overfalls, my autopilot ram failed. It would engage, but not move after, locking itself in position. Having gone through all of my ‘what if’ electronic failures with roommate and fellow competitor Sam Goodchild just a few weeks before, I opened up the file on my computer desktop I had made, giving me a step by step run down of how to change over the ram to my spare. In the heat of the moment, it was really good to have this document, as it gave clear steps of what to do. I lashed the tiller, still with the kite up, turned the electronics off, pilot power off, crawled to the back of the boat, changed over plugs, demounted ram one and lashed it to the side out the way, unlashed ram two and mounted it to the rudder stock, crawled back forwards, pilot switch on, electronics back on and bingo! I had a functioning pilot once more.
I lost about 200 meters during the process, but at least I was back in the game after a fairly major problem. It is still unclear what exactly failed, but I demounted the pilot this morning and have handed it into the experts to take a look at. Their first thoughts were that something in the motor has failed, perhaps the cabling or fuse, but either way, she is getting a thorough service!
Back to the race… About an hour after I got going again, I started hearing the sounds of pins dropping on the deck – a scary sound! After a nervous few looks up at the rig to check she was still there, I managed to locate the bolts on the deck. I didn’t recognise them though and couldn’t think where they were coming from. I then saw that the gooseneck (the piece which connects the boom and the mast) was at an odd angle and realised quickly that they were unscrewing themselves and if I didn’t do something quickly, the whole gooseneck would rip itself off the mast. Another close shave.
Fabien Delahaye had the same problem in the Transat AG2R earlier this year. It seems to be a recurring problem with the new masts. I remember seeing the photo of how Fabien lashed his gooseneck after it fully ripped off, so got a sail tie and had a go at lashing it back in position. Luckily we only had 8 knots of wind at the time, which made the whole process much easier! I then re-screwed some of the bolts back in, albeit with an allen key that was too small! Doh!
I managed to get the bolts most of the way in, but not fully tight. After a bit more lashing and taping of the bolts to stop them falling out again and I was good to go. I spent the rest of the race in denial that that whole episode had even happened, especially when rounding Ile de Yeu in 25+ knots in big seas, going from upwind to power reaching. The consequences of the boom going then would have been catastrophic, potentially rig down type catastrophic, which would not only have crippled my season, and Solitaire entry, but also me financially knowing how much excess I have to pay should that happen! Post race I’ve been told that retiring then would probably have been the most prudent decision, knowing what could have gone wrong. But to be honest I am very glad I didn’t, as it all worked out alright in the end.
After a few more electrical annoyances, no AIS to view the other boats and my NKE GPS stopping working as well, I then had a smoother race after that. As light broke on the first morning, I made some good tactical choices and managed to just sail fast a lot of the time. I got back in with the leading pack and managed to hold my own with them, despite a lot of them all having their new Solitaire sails on for this race, which felt noticeable at times.
It was awesome to be trading places with Mich Desj and other top guys too throughout the race. It was the first time I have managed to stay with the front pack for the entirety of the race, which has given me a little breakthrough mentally knowing that if I sail well, I can stick with them for three days now. This is a big psychological boost with the Solitaire just around the corner. So all I have to do now then is sail well, right?!
In the end I came home 9th out of 30 boats, finishing top Brit for the third time in my Figaro career and 30 minutes behind the leader after 50 hours of racing. Right now the Solitaire du Figaro is just around the corner and my boat is coming out the water this afternoon for a repair to the prop skeg and also for a bit of branding to go on the hull next week too. A big welcome to my new Supporters Club members Kaywana Hall, it’s great to have you with us. More sponsorship announcements will be made soon!
Right now, the big focus of this week is making the boat as reliable as I can with the budget I have, prioritizing as always, will be key! A week tomorrow I will be looking to take my boat down to Bordeaux for the start of the Solitaire du Figaro 2013. The race is coming around fast, but mentally I am in great shape and can’t wait to get out there now. A small teaser video of what it is like can be watched here, I get excited about the race everytime I do! Click here.
I’ll be sure to keep you updated with all of my goings on in the coming weeks.