Its 3 am. The Shed is gliding over a ripple less sea, under an orange moon, with just the gentle sounds of ropes and sails moving in the swell to accompany our voyage.
Finally I am feeling calm enough to write without scorching the page; this last 24 hrs have been the toughest of the race yet.
We could not have had a more fortunate restart time. Friday, was a continual surprise, as with every corner we turned the breeze held, we flew along our rhumb line, while our competitors ahead, wallowed in the vacuum that is plaguing sailors along the South Coast.
Yesterday it was our turn to take the medicine.
The day started well, with Q II and Elixir both within a couple of miles of us. We were reaching along the coast together under spinnaker, all neck a neck, monitoring the others progress and trying to get ahead.
Eventually Elixir gybed off into the haze. We were left with Q II inshore, the wind slowly started to die away and before I knew it I was in my own personal wind hole, while Mary and Jerry gracefully slid on towards the west.
I could see the breeze they were in, ruffling the water, less than a quarter of a mile from where we were, I knew we had to get there, we could not just sit in the hole and watch them sail away.
The only answer was to row.
After the customary four attempts at waking Phil, a surly and silent man arrived on deck, picked up an oar and without a word started rowing in what was becoming the baking heat of the day.
It worked, after 15 minutes or so we arrived at the breeze the spinnaker filled and we were off in chase of the other boat.
Eventually Phil spoke his first words of the day (other than the URRGGHH on waking up),’ I think allowing rowing in this race is a really stupid idea!’
Evidently being wrenched from a deep and comfortable sleep by some manic woman who is insisting that you attempt to row a seven and a half ton sailing boat immediately is not a great way to start your day.
The heat increased and within an hour the breeze had died to nothing, the tide was against us and The Shed was wallowing and drifting, in water to deep to anchor and going back in the direction we had come.
This was the worst I have felt in the whole race.
The boat flopped and rolled, we seemed powerless to make it go. We rowed; we chased down every slight ripple on the water. Sails went up and down, changing every time we were fooled into thinking our luck was in and the breeze had arrived.
The excruciating thing was that the rest of our class were chasing from behind, as we had done the day before, at 7 knots, advancing on our position, ruthlessly chewing up the miles and in the end decreasing our 13 hr lead to less than 20 miles.
I remember saying before, how Elixir must have felt on restarting in Lowestoft 6 hrs before us, only to have travelled 5 miles by the time we got to the line. Now I knew. It was awful, and though deep down I know that this is the role of luck in this sport, I desperately sought for a reason or a solution to what had happened.
I down loaded grib after grib, listened to forecasts, plotted other competitors positions, the activity around the Shed was frantic, I could not relax, my mood became dark and I sought to blame myself for something that was out of my control.
Phil, as frustrated as I was, when not changing sails sat on the back and smoked, occasionally holding a cigarette out at arms length and watching the smoke curl up to the sky, confirming what we already new.
The wind instruments were playing cruel jokes, showing a filling breeze from one direction, then as soon as sails were hoisted changing 180 degrees ‘ only joking’. We had every sail on deck, with all associated poles, blocks and fixings. Hand held VHF, GPS, remote for the autopilot all lying in a snakes nest of ropes, with a pair of oars, lashed to the side of the boat, getting caught on external sheets and guys.
The Shed had lost it.
Meanwhile, less than a mile away, the voice of experience on QII was a lot calmer. Mary and Jerry had taken down their headsail and QII was sitting patiently, heading in the right direction, waiting for the new breeze. I imagine they were having a cup of tea and enjoying the show of a whirlwind of sails, arms, oars and rigging emanating from the Shed; all the while knowing the only tactic here is to sit it out.
Needless to say QII gained about half a mile on The Shed during this pointless session.
Finally, I got worn out. My spirit was broken, I was hot, cross dejected and recognised a losing battle.
We tidied the boat and I decided to do a couple of small jobs on the engine to take my mind off things. Even being below in the heat with a diesely rag was better than what had gone before.
The tide turned and we were off in the right direction again; then a light sea breeze filled in.
From nowhere several boats converged and we sailed in company code zero’s taking the strain towards the Isle of Wight; all the while behind us the pack of chasing dogs, were still charging at 7 knots, eating the difference in miles between us and them. The tension has been unbearable, put in simple terms, they have it all to gain and we have it all to lose.
Richard from Jangada said to me at the last stopover that this race was about the Hare and the tortoise. He said they were the tortoise and they would get me in the end. By the looks of their position reports, I would not describe his pace as that of a tortoise, he means business and I do not take his words lightly, so maybe not just a pack of chasing dogs but a tortoise with another gear as well.
And so the rest of the day carried on in such a way, we missed the first tidal gate around St Catherines, but by some miracle managed to keep the sails on The Shed drawing all night and around 12 midnight found our own personal band of breeze that was to carry us to our final Island rounding.
Passing St Cats was not for the faint hearted, it was in the middle of the night, with little wind, and I decided as it was the shortest route and there would be maximum gain from the tide I would take The Shed through the tidal overfalls.
These overfalls are like rapids in a river, they are caused by the water running at speed over an uneven bottom, throwing up waves, and whirl pools. In windy conditions they are highly dangerous, but I decided they would be no threat to us last night.
I entered the overfalls with a cat following close on my stern. Effectively The Shed was being swept sideways around the point, so I was steering the boat at the shore, looking like we were going to go up the beach, but this was the only way to keep steerage and control over where the boat was pushed by the tide.
As we neared the point, I could hear the worst of the turbulence approaching. It made me feel sick in my stomach, even though I knew it was safe, being in the dark, not able to see how close we were to the rocks, and hearing breaking boiling water approaching at 5 knots, make the brain scream danger.
‘Here we go’ I said aloud, though no one could hear it and we were sucked into the rapids, the rudder was pulled and The Shed tried to spin in a circle, I let out some sail and bore away to aim more at the shore get more power in the sails and gain steerage. This was totally counter intuitive, with breaking water all around, you would never chose to sail faster at a shore line you cannot see, but the GPS showed that I was not making any way towards the shore at all, but just being swept sideways around the headland and fast.
The Cat behind me had followed me in, I looked over to see it turn, green light to white and disappear in the other direction. Obviously this was too much for him and he had bailed out to take the wider and slower route in calmer waters.
The trick paid off and The Shed covered a couple of miles in extra quick time, and then was spat out the other side and on course to Start point.
The rest of the night I have spent eeking out the knots, just making way through the water and carrying the favourable tide.
The sun has now risen, opposite a huge white moon, the light changed and all around I can spot white sails in the distance, hovering above the ironed piece of silk that is the sea today.
The wind has gone now.
The Shed is drifting, the tide has turned and we are making ground back in the other direction. There is not a breath of wind. There is not forecast to be any wind until lunch time.
My heart is still in my mouth but this time I am taking a different approach, I have left Phil to sleep and will not be insisting on an early morning rowing exercise. I am trying to patiently wait; trying to believe the wind will come. It is hard.