The Select

Tomorrow at 1300h I will be on the start line of the 2011 Pornichet select, along with 70 other mini boats, and something rather curious has happened………

I’m ready!!

No, it’s true, I even caught myself singing this afternoon.

Though being ready does not mean that I am relaxed or calm.

This course is billed as the toughest on the mini circuit and I think I believe them; a 300 mile sprint up and down around the rocks and islands on the South Brittany coast. The course crossing over itself many boats going in different directions, not short enough not to sleep but too intense to sleep for a long time; we will be at close quarters with our neighbours through the whole 300 miles and the pressure will be full on.

Being a new comer has not been a problem, everyone is ready with advice, there was a special briefing for the ‘Bizuth’ (first time) sailors, where we were advised on sleeping and eating strategies, the importance of staying in contact with our neighbours and how is we need help we should look to each other before we call the coast guard.

Within minutes of arriving I felt welcome with the other sailors, and part of the community.

The Mediterranean circuit was warm and welcoming but the Atlantic has a different feel, we are part of a bigger family here; an instant way to make friends is to walk around with an open tube of white sikaflex; tools ebb and flood up and down the dock being borrowed between boats, everyone is working together to make the race start, all are welcome and all will help you get there; however I imagine once we get to the start the gloves will be off and it will be a different story.

Officials having been wandering the docks, spot checking series boats, measuring prototypes, sealing liferafts to the boats so we cannot stack them, checking our safety equipment; worried faces pass my bow, scurrying off to make last minute adjustments.

I am filled with nerves and excitement, my first Atlantic race, my first solo race in a mini, the biggest start line I have ever been on, tide, a variable and light forecast, competition!

I can’t write anymore, my mind is jumping all over the place, there are so many things to remember and at the moment I am struggling to visualise what it will be like tomorrow morning.

I know this is going to be one of the most amazing races I have ever taken part in.

Right now the Atlantic is an emerald green; the long sandy beaches stretch all around the bay to La Baule and another tranquil evening greets the French holiday makers.

Tomorrow will be an explosion, and there will be a little red boat with a very nervous girl somewhere in the middle of it. Follow me on my tracker here http://www.ecoledevoilecnbpp.fr/pornichet-select-650-course-en-direct

You’ve read the blog………. Now watch the film

Finally I think I caught up on sleep last night.

I have been walking around in an absolute daze for the last couple of days. When the adrenaline of finishing wore off my body decided to let me know exactly how it felt after the 1000 miles of abuse I had put it through.

Eyes weeping, back crying out, head full of cotton wool, but still smiling.

I complete my qualifier on 10th March 2011 at 1500 UT. This was a time of 8 days and 1 hr, which by all account is pretty fast.

I have now uploaded video footage to youtube on my channel pipoceanracing:-

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TsTVmyYYaoo&feature=mfu_in_order&list=UL

Here are some photos.

I am exhausted just watching!

Thank you all for your support and interest it has been a pleasure to have you all along.

Pip x

28 miles to go……

I have sailed through the night following the breeze where it took me, first under spinnaker then reaching with the solent, and now I am beating into a gentle northerly breeze back towards La Grande Motte.

This last leg of the qualifier has been a tough one, seemingly with the end so close, it is taking forever to get there and to avoid frustration I have just had to let go, and accept the fact that we will arrive when we are ready and not before.

This is sailing after all.

Now is a good time for me to reflect on the last week, to think about what has happened and what I have learned; as I know when I hit the shore more immediate and physical actions will take over and I will leave myself no proper time to think.

The boat is looking good, both on deck and down below, there are few leaks; all of which have been easy to identify and will be treated to some Sikaflex over the next couple of days.

Most of the water that came below was either on sails or on me and my system of keeping everything in dry bags and boxes seems to have looked after everything. The main lesson to learn here applies to every aspect of this boat; that is that laziness does not go unpunished.

I learned pretty quickly that when I have finished with an item, I have to meticulously put it back in the box or bag where it came from, and though this makes a 20 second job into a 5 minute one the consequences of not doing it are wet, broken or lost items that then cannot be used again.

My system of stacking below worked reasonably well, though I need to make up a series of short strops that I can tie across the ends of the bunks to stop boxes and bags from sliding their way forwards as the boat slams through waves.

For me stacking itself is better done with several smaller boxes rather than one large one, as when the boat is cranked right over and pounding through seas and I am tired and cold and wet, it is quite an effort to get a big box up to the high side and quite easy to get pinned underneath the same box as it comes crashing down towards you on the low side.

On deck I am pleased to report very little breakages. There is wear to some of the running rigging, which I will take photos of and send to English Braids who are supplying my campaign with cordage in return for a hard and unforgiving test bed.

My major loss this trip was the storm jib. Very silly really and cost me a Solent as well.

The storm jibs on mini’s are racing sails, and used rather as a number four than a storm jib. Quite early on in the qualifier, I went to change from a reefed solent to the storm jib. It was dark and there was a punchy aggressive sea off the French coast.

I took the sail up to the foredeck under my arm, unrolled it to clip on to the baby stay when a wave threw me up in the air.

I came crashing down onto the deck, landing on the jib, which is pretty new and still has it’s shiny coating. I then surfed the jib down the side deck to a point where I was stopped by the guard rails but the jib was not.

I just caught a glimpse of bright orange being carried off on another wave, and that was that!

I think my biggest lessons this week have been in just spending time on the boat, sailing it, pushing it, pushing myself and seeing how well we worked together.

I am really pleased with the ease at which I have slipped back into my single handed regime, napping is not a problem, and I quickly found the driven person that will not give up even when dog tired, and will not allow herself to rest until the boat is taken care of.

One useless piece of kit I bought with me was a sleeping bag! Quite when I imagined I would be snuggling up in that I cannot think!

There is a philosophy of looking after yourself first and the boat second in solo sailing, but I am not sure I subscribe to that. The fact is that the boat cannot look after itself and if there is a problem it must be dealt with, no matter how cold, tired, hungry you are.

Problems left unattended will grow to be bigger issues, and if you want the boat to look after you, you must look after it first.

A couple of areas I need to improve on are management of my eating and my general strength and fitness.

Eating has always been a problem for me as I lose my appetite when pumped full of adrenaline, so I need quick and simple ways to get calories in without having to pay too much attention. I am happy to say a possible solution is on the way in the form of Crew Fuel, who have offered to work with me for the season supplying hi energy drinks and snacks aimed at maintaining a constant level of energy and electrolytes and to stop the crashes.

As for fitness and strength, there is only one way to increase that.

No doubt about it the mini is a very physical boat to sail, the motion alone, requires your body to make constant muscular changes, just to stay standing or sitting in the same place.

The boat needs to be worked, it demands your attention every moment and for that you need to be fit.

I normally have a reasonable level of fitness and know I am off form at the moment, due to a bicycle accident I had in the New Year, which stopped me from weight training and any heavy exercise over the last two months. I have felt the price for that in my burn outs and recognise I have a lot of work to do before September, both cardiovascular and muscular.

The spinnaker work hoists, drops gybes have continued to progress, I am slowly finding where the limits are, how far I can push, what is too risky and what is worth the risk. All this experience needs to go in the memory bank to allow me to make the best tactical decisions while racing; as I can only know from having had the experience that 30 knots with the little red kite = wipe out!

The big breeze sailing was out of this world. I have never sailed a boat so alive and exciting, that feels so powerful yet has no weight. I have to say Big Monday was some of the most thrilling sailing I have ever done in my life and I cannot wait to get out there again.

Upwind in big breeze I have also learned a lot. I have learned I can more than just cope.

Time spent setting the boat up, making sure all lines are within reach, finding a comfortable steering position.

Mine is almost standing, with one foot against the moulding for the life raft hatch, and one on the foot stop in the cockpit, leaning back on the guard rail, with one arm hooked around it to stop the waves that pass through the boat taking me with them. When a wave jolts the boat, I stand up, taking the weight on my legs, absorbing the shock and saving my bum from a few bruises. I have managed 6 hours on the helm like this.

One problem I have yet to find a solution for is how to stop all the sheets disappearing out of the back of the boat in rough conditions. Both upwind and downwind, every wave that came through the cockpit took all the rope with it, and I was continually trailing halyards, sheets and backstays.

The list could go on, but the most important thing I have gained this week is a feeling for my boat.

There is no substitute for time spent on the water and to for me to be truly confident in what I am doing, I need to feel that I know the boat.

I have gained so much this week; learned how the boat feels when it is good, how it feels when it is bad, started to get develop a knowledge for relative wind angles and speeds on my own, rather than looking at someone else’s piece of paper; how to manage life in a tiny and bare environment below, what tools are important; the fact that if you do not pull the lazy back stay on it will hit you in the face over and over again and if you need a good instant ‘ pick me up’ try a Haribo crocodile!

I have learned that I love this boat and I love sailing it. I have enjoyed the experience and reaffirmed my passion for short handed racing.

I should get back into La Grande Motte this afternoon after having spent eight days sailing over 1000 miles; I cannot think of anywhere else I would rather have been in the last week.

Wallowing home

Last night, as I was powering down to the Barcelona turning mark under spinnaker, all was right with the world.

I had made a great time around the track to date, it was simply a question, of round the mark and home; I had already visualised my finish, sometime late today, and decided that though I was close to the fastest course time for a series boat (7 days and 6 hrs ish I believe) it was not quite in my grasp, but close enough to gain some satisfaction. Happy Days.

However; my stunning ability to visualise success did not quite match up with my total inability to tally up what was actually feasible with the current forecast and I have to admit this has lead to a foolish amount of disappointment today.

Key learning point – in order to sail fast, there must be wind!

The Barcelona turning mark is in the approach channel to the port, and I arrived there around midnight under spinnaker and pretty exhausted, having still not managed to catch up from Big Monday.

The return course was going to be upwind and I desperately needed some sleep so took an offshore tack to get away from the ships and the annoying beep beep of the radar target enhancer.

A couple of miles off the coast, I felt secure enough to put in a serious nap. The boat was going well and I knew from the way I was feeling a quick 10 minutes would not do the job so I set an alarm for a couple of hours.

I woke around 4 in the morning, from a very deep sleep, hearing the radar alarm. I ran up on deck; there were no ships around, but no land around either.

The wind had died a lot, and we were bobbing along at 3 or 4 knots, with an unpleasant swell knocking the breeze out of the sails and the boat of her course. Not my favourite conditions at the best of times.

I tried tacking for the shore, but the tacking angles in these conditions were huge.

A quick plot on the chart confirmed we had made hardly any ground up the coast and if current conditions stayed it would be a mammoth trip back to La Grande Motte and I would be lucky to get there by Friday morning.

I had totally underestimated this last leg of the qualifier, being so buoyed along by my great progress to date; to bump into these extra days on the water as a reality was quite a shock to the system.

When morale is that low, there is only one way to deal with it; tea and chocolate.

I must say that tea stocks on the potting shed have dwindled considerably during today, as ongoing therapy has been required, with every further hour the breeze did not fill in; but now having turned the corner into the golfe de lion and effectively on the home stretch to La Grande Motte, big spinnaker flying, morale recovered; I can confirm the great restorative qualities of tea!

I have a light wind night to get through, but it should all be downwind, with any luck I should be tied up and getting the Capitanerie to sign my logbook around lunch time.

The Artemis Offshore Academy are racing in the Figaro’s today; it will be one of the indicator races, to decide who eventually gets the Figaro scholarship this year.

They set off this morning into not much breeze and are heading down towards Marseille on a 180 mile course; I know we will all be working hard tonight trying to find that extra 0.1 knot of speed in what little breeze we have; them, trying to get to the start of the Solitaire, and me trying to get the finish of my qualifier.

This time, I think my visualisation is a little more realistic, less marching bands and civic receptions, more me nurturing every ounce of speed out of the spinnaker, right up until the finish, and quietly arriving, very tired but very content with the world.

Big Monday

I am just on the final approach to Barcelona; 40 miles to go, then I can turn around a buoy and finally head for home.

I have the spinnaker up so it’s not normally a great idea to have the laptop out at the same time..(what could possibly go wrong??) but I thought I would write a couple of words about big Monday, which ran on through into big Tuesday morning and left me a blubbering wreck by soggy Tuesday lunch time.

This was to be a great test for me, I was expecting 30-35 knots over a 24 hr period, and a chance to see how the boat handled in big winds and waves, with a defined end time, so I knew it would not go on forever.

The breeze kicked in like it had rehearsed it’s entrance from UGrib, with amazing accuracy, filling in from 5 knots to 20 knots in a matter of 10 minutes.

I started out in amazing flat water with a building breeze, full main and the little kite up. Great fun, playing with speed and angles, but in the end sailing lower and lower and the wind continued to build.

I had in my mind that I need a definite plan for taking the thing down. It is too easy to say ‘oh just a couple knots more,’ while everything is fine, so I defined my take down point would be either after my first wipe out or when the true wind hit 30 knots.

I was playing around at 29 knots for a long time, getting constant speeds of 14 and 15 knots out of the boat and having that little devil on my shoulder start with the ‘oh just ……’ When WHAM! I was over on my side, mast horizontal and main sail, kite and rig flogging around making a lot of noise.

As it happens, 30 knots = wipeout!

The kite came down disappointingly easily after I decided to let the knot out of the tackline and let the thing flag, to avoid trawling it in the water. Why disappointing? Because it always leaves you feeling you could have kept it up for a little while longer.

Next I went with full main and the solent, but this did not last for long, a sea was building and we were quickly up to 35 knots.

With each new broach another bit of sail came down, until I was left with 2 reefs and no headsail.

I am trying very hard to preserve the solent just a little bit so did not think wrapping the battens around the forestay as it gybed back and forth while surfing down a wave would do it any favours.

Lots of laughs, lots of clenched buttock moments and while with 3 reefs when the breeze got up to 40 knots.

The waves were quickly huge and surfing them was an absolute thrill.

With the timing of a wave and a gust just right, ‘The Potting Shed’ would leap forward so that from where I was sitting it looked like her bow would be peeking out over the edge of a breaking wave.

Underneath the bow – nothing; a huge drop.

Then a rush of water and we would either move forward with the wave, bow teetering on the edge of the break, or we would launch head first down into the abyss, hit the bottom and surf out from under the wall of white water that was following us.

Sometimes, we could pick up a second wave from the back of the first and surfs of 16 or 17 knots would just go on and on. Steering then becomes a bit tricky ever watchful for a gybe, the rudders feel like they are cutting through air and the whole boat gets the speed wabbles.

I have taken a few videos which I will put on my website when I get to the shore, I’d turn the sound down if you don’t want to hear me cackling like and old crone in the background.

And so we surfed on and on, into the night, which became more than a little crazy.

By about 10pm I was dog tired, I had been steering all day from around 6 am and the concentration had taken it’s toll.

I still had two reefs in the main and was averaging about 10 knots and surfing in the teens; there was no moon and I could not see if there was anything ahead of me at all. The boat would take off, with a shower of silver kicking up on each side of the bow and that same abyss as I had seen on the big waves, but this time a black hole.

It reminded me of sailing under spinnaker in thick thick fog on the way into the OSTAR finish in Newport. You just have to trust there is nothing there, don’t even think- literally blind faith.

A third reef came in when I caught myself nodding off mid 15 knot surf. Time to slow it down a bit; the only way I could keep myself awake was to make noise.

I started singing but was struggling to concentrate while surfing and remember the words, so instead I started to talk about the first things that came into my head, just let out a random stream of words, anything to make a noise.

It was truelly bizarre and I am sure the French authorities would have had a team of doctors out following me with a big net, if they had heard me as I went past, but I just needed to make some noise, and that simple function saved me from the torture of trying to force your eyes to stay open for hours on end.

Well, if I was after more stimulation to keep me awake, that is definitely what after rounding the golf of Lyon buoy.

All those waves and that wind I had been sailing away from all day, I now had to fetch across, in the total dark, with waves breaking over the boat, through the boat, around the boat, pushing me, slapping me, hitting me full in the face and finding their way down my back.

There was no way I would make it without the Jib, but that a big jib would have knocked the boat flat.

My storm jib went for a swim earlier in the week and did not come back, so I had no choice but to double reef the solent and in doing so signed it’s death warrant, this will be the final bit of abuse that ends it life as a racing sail.

And so the solent was henceforth taken to the foredeck where it was to end it’s racing life, by way of excessive flogging, reefing, dragging over guard rails, being pounded with salt water and then trailing unnecessarily over the side for hours while I don’t notice. Poor sail. Rest in pieces!

The big breeze eventually died around lunch time and I was left almost unable to do anything in the light wind and sloppy sea that remained.

I have hit the wall twice now on this trip, and I think it is mostly food related, though a culmination of a lot of things. I am struggling to get the right sort of calorific intake at the right time. If it is not easy I cannot be bothered and the net result of this I felt at lunch time today when a trip to the foredeck of a 6.5m boat felt like a five day expedition, my muscles ached and I did not feel I could physically lift my feet.

A bit of a sulk and a couple of dried apricots later and I realised that half of my problem was actually the weight of my clothes.

My foul weather gear though only two years old has definitely stopped being water repellent and now seems to absorb it. This water is then passed down through every layer I am wearing until even my underwear is wet; expanding the volume of all of the clothes so they are hanging off me like a very heavy clowns wardrobe.

I did a total change of clothes and broke out my emergency dry suit and reckon I may have been carrying an extra 10 kilos in soaking clothing.

I am on my last dry outfit now but feeling positively sprightly with the difference in weight.

Right we have started to surf with the kite, so it’s time for me to go on deck. Next stop La Grand Motte!!

A moment of Calm

All the stars are out; one hundred million from horizon to horizon filling a black, black sky with no interruption from clouds.

There is the tiniest slither of a yellow crescent moon, hanging in the sky over where I know there are mountains, miles to the North; the whole shape of the moon is visible but just the bottom portion painted bright by the sun and offering no useful light to me on another inky dark night, other than something beautiful to remember.

There is a ship on the horizon, I can just see it’s two white lights winking as the occasional crests of waves obscure them from view.

I am very content. I feel happy and feel like I belong here; this is my world and a quiet world at the moment.

I have taken a couple of hours off this evening, allowing the boat to pace along on it’s own, making steady miles, not rushing, just moving while I took some time to sleep and recharge ready for the madness that I know lies ahead.

I am sitting in the companionway, drinking tea and just enjoying.

This is a part of my world I do not normally share; the calmness, the beauty, this feeling of total ease and belonging.

Is it worthy of a blog?

Perhaps not action packed enough to keep your attention; but it has my attention; whole heartedly.

Issues of trust

I’m back at the tip of Corsica after a 24hr jaunt down to Giannutri Island and back again. What a wild ride that was.

The breeze filled in yesterday morning to a stunning NNEly, which allowed me to fly the spinnaker all the way down to the Island, bringing some hairy and interesting moments along the way.

I am at the moment seriously thinking about conserving my sails, as I have a couple of races to do with them at the end of this thousand miles, and the solent (jib) is already looking like it is not going to make it.

Due to this policy, even though it was only 15 knots yesterday morning I decided to make to with the little kite and not to give the big one too much of a beasting.

I launched just off the island of Elba and then spent a couple of hours skirting round it’s huge wind shadow which was lying directly across the track down to my turning island.

Again all that gybing practice seems to have been worthwhile as I worked my way around the outside of the wind shadow, sailing south away from my course, then gybing back until I fell into the edge of the shadow again and the sail collapsed.

I even started to practice gybing without the pilot at all, which I have discovered is easier in more breeze; however I could seriously do with growing another set of arms and need to slow myself down a little after the gybes, when a mad scramble to keep the spinnaker trimmed and pull on the back stay takes me in two different directions across the cockpit while leaving it to an outstretched foot to take care of the job of helming.

After working my round the tip of the very highest hill thrown down onto the water, I popped out of the shadow into a freshening breeze and a fantastic swell which really allowed me to have some fun.

For about 3 hours, I sailed, playing with the apparent wind and the waves to keep the boat at a fairly constant 11 knots, then picking up one of the approaching waves from the side and riding along the edge of the crest like a proper surfer, now allowing the bow to fall down the front of the wave and accelerate then as the boat started to slow, bringing it back up into the breeze, to build the apparent wind and get back on the wave.

Surfing speeds on average 14 – 16 knots.

Exciting or what! I have so much adrenaline when it is like that I feel like I am going to burst out of my own skin, I want to scream and laugh and it is hard to keep my head on my shoulders – so reminded of ‘The Stig’ I decided to sing some easy listening Art Garfunkel songs, to keep me calm and rooted in the real world, ‘Bright Eyes’ ‘In a little while’ and I even have a video of me surfing a wave while singing ‘Miss you nights’ in the back ground. (interestingly covered by Sir Cliff himself as well!)

Though everyone keeps telling me this qualifier is not a race, I am using it to learn about going fast and the big lesson of yesterday was how would my newly installed Raymarine Pilots be able to cope with sailing downwind that fast?

At some point I was going to have to be able to trust them as I cannot steer forever, so yesterday we started to build our relationship.

Step one, change the settings to steer to a True wind angle and not apparent, this stops the boat from making massive changes in direction as it takes off down a wave.

Step two, turn up the sail tune response and counter rudder (as we had a swell from the side, the counter rudder stops the pilot of over correcting in a cross swell).

Step 3 tune down the wind damping a little – this was probably not necessary but as we had a swell and the mast was accelerating one way with the rolling of the boat, I decided to just dampen down the rate of information being fed to the pilot, to rely on a more mean set of information.

Step 4 – let the pilot take control.

Steering for me was not easy yesterday as it is pretty hard to trim and steer, and as the boat was rolled by a wave, the spinnaker would fill and heel us over, the reaction to this is either to ease the sheet, allow the boat to come upright and then sheet back on,  Or to apply lots of rudder and hope for the best – naturally this was the pilots tactic.

I spent a tense hour perched next to the helm, ready to grab anything at all as the boat teetered along on the bring of wiping out. Then was gripping the lifelines, with heart in mouth as the pilot bore us away down the face of a wave, ever accelerating (just as I would do) but wondering if it would carry on going straight into a gybe or come back up again when the surf stopped.

We had a couple of wipe outs, where a wave from the side rolled us and the rudders lost grip on the water, but the exercise was a complete success. As the afternoon wore on I gained more and more confidence in the machine and eventually we arrived at the ultimate test of trust.

I need to go to the loo!

Without going into too much detail, there are no plumbed in facilities on ‘The Potting Shed’. My toilet is a bright blue bucket and in this case I was certainly not going to use it down below.

Needless to say, accelerating up to 15 knots down a wave, with a computer driving the boat while sitting on a bucket with trousers round ankles can make one feel a little venerable!

So the pilot passed the test! However I am not quite ready to sleep on it yet.

I arrived at the Giannutri Island just at dusk, dropped the spinnaker and then sailed a pretty torturous route around it in total blackness not being able to see where the edges where.

As an apology for my pasting on the way to Corsica the wind gods allowed me a one tack beat back again; but I have spent a terrible night in the dark, over tired and not able to sleep for fear of hitting a fishing vessel or island.

Having not got any rest for close to 24 hrs, I spent a terrible time this morning trying to sail back out of the wind shadow of Elba in a channel between two islands.

I kept falling asleep at the helm, just for a minute, turning the boat around and then not knowing where I was. A frantic run down below and a plot on the chart, then back up on deck to aim at the same point as before.

I have looked at the chart this morning and it is scary the amount of inconsistent and inaccurate plots I put on last night. Tiredness is definitely my enemy and I will have to think of a way to deal with prolonged downwind spinnaker sailing, until I have the confidence to sleep with the pilot on.

I managed to escape the worst of the light wind this morning and am currently heading NW back towards France.

Tonight I expect a 6 hr calm, during which I will have a proper sleep then a roaring 30 knot Easterly wind should kick in and blow me back the way I came.

Next stop Golfe of Lyon bouy.

Wow what a couple of days!

Position 42 degreee 50 N 009 degrees 42 E

Heading 125 degrees speed 5.2 knots

I have never, ever, ever, been so wet sailing for such a prolonged period.

I have six layers of clothing all totally soaked and my skin is so saturated that every time I touch the charger cables coming off my little generator, I get an electric shock.

Finally the dust has settled and my mad boat has calmed down enough for me to reflect on the first days of my qualifier; although I am slightly hesitant to get the computer out, just in case the ‘Potting Shed’ is just have a breather before going back to the same mad temper tantrum I have been putting up with for the last two days!

I decided to head off to the East first for my qualifier, I knew there would be a lot of wind between mainland France and Corsica, but later in the week it looked worse, so I decided to get this bit out of the way as early as possible.

Leaving La Grande Motte was slightly delayed due to some last minute communications problems, however after a brief trip to Montpellier on Wednesday morning I finally got a stamp in my log book from the Capitanerie then set off into a light wind, bright and sunny afternoon.

Fairly soon I was reaching with the small kite, thinking what a breeze this trip would be if it was all like this! Fool!

Evidently all the training of endless hoists, drops and gybes I have been doing alongside the Artemis Offshore Academy has paid off; as I pulled off my first night time solo gybe so well, I was left gawping in the cockpit at how effortlessly the spinnaker had gone over, forgot about the boom, and gave myself a good clunk on the head!

Similarly hoists and drops all went according to plan – so practice does make perfect.

My first night whistled by, I managed to snatch about 2 hrs of sleep in 15 minute bursts, lying in the cockpit, under a blanket.

There is so much to do on this boat, I am finding I have a permanent huge joblist, including the many controls for trimming the boat, stacking of equipment down below, constant bailing out, generation of power and more.

These jobs need to be prioritised into what is the most important to be done now, and which jobs can actually physically be done now? Sail trim and steering always coming top of that list; eating and sleeping struggling to get a look in.

I sailed under spinnaker along the French coast cutting through the Islands off Hyeres to meet with the edge of the mistral, and that’s when my world got a very hectic and wet.

It was like someone flicked a switch and all of a sudden all that had seemed manageable before leapt up and started throwing violent fits. The waves and wind built, the boat took on a violent bucking motion and the water appeared from every angle and direction, flying down the deck, through the air, up to topsides and off the sails, all aiming for one spot alone – me!

I had known before leaving that the mistral would be blowing hard between St Tropez and Corsica, 50 knots at times. So the plan had been to follow the coast up to the Italian boarder, skirting the worst of the wind, finding a better angle to drop down to Corsica and waiting until the wind died a little.

On paper this plan seems fine, and in practice it worked; but I was not prepared for the fierce little waves, and the sudden and aggressive changes in wind force and direction that occur around the coast there.

Acceleration zones around headlands, dead spots, where there is no wind but lots of swell, 180 changes in direction have had me on a never ending treadmill of reefing, changing sails, reefing the jib then letting it all go again.

It really is never ending, because one thing I am discovering about the mini is if the sail plan is not right, the boat will not go.

All the while, the lack of sleep was catching up with me; I always find the second night to be the worst, when adrenaline has worn out and you start to get really tired.

Around 3am I found I was in a zombie like state, where I did not trust myself to stand up. The boats violent motion was difficult to pre-empt on a moonless night, I was weak from endless sail changes and my body was just too tired to react to the bucking bronco.

I have dealt with these nights before and it is important to keep on; you must break through that barrier, to give in and have a deep sleep now would be counter productive; every sail change and task still has to be done I just made a mental check list in my head and did every manoeuvre on my knees, slowly and steadily, waiting until my fumbling hands had finished tying a knot and then dragging my heavy body back to the cockpit on hands and knees.

And it worked. I am now in a happy rhythm of napping and last night, was able to take 3-10 minute naps at quite regular intervals, I now have a spring back in my step (and very bruised knees).

I finally made a break for Corsica at 9am yesterday morning and came hooning over in at times 30 knot winds.

I locked up down below and sat in the cockpit steering for eight hours, taking bucket after bucket of water, in exchange for the fantastic feeling of getting the boat going.

Periodically I would dash below with a bucket and sponge and empty out some of the water. Grab a drink and a snack before braving another face full of Mediterranean.

I rounded Corsica at 3am and the wind has died away, so I am able to get out the generator, make a coffee and look over at a beautiful sunrise reflected on the snow capped Corsican Mountains.

The course today will take me past Elba then onto a tiny island called Giannutri Island which I will sail around before heading back the way I came then out to Barcelona.

I am learning so much; and though it is not always that nice, sailing in big winds and rough weather is worth every minute. Learning how to deal with the relentless demands of the boat in these conditions, and how the rest of life stops while you attend to the boat, can only help to gain a better result in future races.

We can all try and get the best out of our boats on a champagne day, with a nice following wind and blue skies, but it is how we deal with the bad stuff that will set us apart in the end; on days when nothing is going right, and the relentless sea and wind are making sailing at all a huge effort, having the experience of getting through it before will be a great reserve to draw on.