Where is Pip today? What grand adventure can I report to you in the great campaign to race in the mini transat this year?
Well I am currently in the waiting area of the accident and emergency rooms of a hospital in Montpellier, awaiting the eye specialist on a rainy and miserable Easter weekend.
I am supposed to be enroute with my little red boat and my big green van to Pornichet to compete in the last qualifying race for my transat, the single handed 300 mile ‘Select’.
I have just finished the Grand Premio d’Italie, a double handed race of 560 miles, which I finished in 11th placed series boat with my co-skipper and coach from CEM Guillaume Rottee.
The course was a whistle stop tour of Italian beauty spots, starting in Genoa, rounding Capraia, down to a buoy of Sardinia, up to round the island of Gianuttri (for the third time in the last 5 weeks) then back to Genoa via Elba.
The race was a real mix of conditions, we started with a poor forecast of light winds and the race committee telling us all to make sure that we recorded our times at the buoy at Sardinia as if we did not finish within the 7 day time limit, they would give us positions from that.
Happily this was not the case and we ended up with a light downwind start, all boats flying big spinnakers, competition close, working every wave and every puff trying to inch ahead and watching the prototypes of Andrea Carraci and the push me pull you of David Raison disappear over the horizon never to be seen again.
During the night at our approach to Elba the wind built to give us the best conditions of the race, gusting 25 knots, we hoisted the medium spinnaker and had 3 hrs of downwind blasting, playing the waves, sitting on top of each other at the back of the boat, not even daring to reach forward at the wrong time and cause the bow to nose dive into a trough. We walked past three boats like they were standing still.
I love these conditions. Who wouldn’t? Especially in the dark it has a crazy out of control feeling about it, you are never too sure if you can get out of jail if it all goes wrong, but the thrill greatly out ways the risk analysis.
After the race I asked Guilluame if he had any comments on areas which I should work on to improve my ability and skill.
One of his responses was,’ Pip, you need to remember that the downwind is not just for fun! You must not just make speed; you must make progress to the mark’
This I will guiltily acknowledge is a valid point, when the conditions are fun, I have a tendency to ‘arc’ the boat up, I will sail, too high for the course, ride the waves, get the boat going as fast as I can, totally absorbed in the fun of it, but missing the point that actually if I sailed lower and slower I would make better progress to the mark – a sad fact of sailing!
The race was close among the series boats, and though the only boat we had regular contact with was Susy Beyer, in her Pogo 2 Penelope an identical boat to mine and number 745 so only two numbers newer, we were in the top four boats all the way around the course, changing positions often, taking different strategies, but all in very close competition.
That is until we reached Liverno, less than 100 miles to the finish and my great capacity for going off script kicked in and a whole series of Pip style misadventures occurred, which have ended up with me in a hospital in Montpellier.
At Liverno there is a large commercial port, and half a fleet of 6.5m boats ended up drifting around the shipping lanes in no wind in the night, giving the Italian coastguard lots to stress about. They sent out boats and helicopters to deal with this little swarm of flies that had landed on their perfect garden.
We ended up right next to a shipping lane into the port; there was a lot of traffic and the sensible way to exit the area seemed to me to cross the shipping lane at right angles and head to the north; all traffic was arriving from the west and the south so to sail in those directions would surely put us further into the problem.
We waiting for a gust of wind, set the code zero and checked for traffic – there was none for miles, and crossed the lane promptly, swiftly and safely at right angles as is directed in the IRPCS.
There was no one around, we could see the coast guard helicopter further offshore (we did not know at the time but it was buzzing other minis, Giacomo Sabbitini got a hell of a shock while trying to hoist his code zero when a helicopter flood lit him from overhead).
Unfortunately we had our AIS turned on which seemed at the time a sensible thing to do for security reasons, however it meant that the Italian coastguard were able to track our movements from within the port and though we had not got in anybodies way and in my opinion had taken a safe and seamanlike passage, they came to get us.
We were followed by a boat with a flood light who demanded to see all of my documents.
I do not have any onboard.
The mini is a huge leaking bath tub, you do not take with you what you do not need so it is not my habit to carry with me when racing my insurance documents, passport, ownership documents, radio license etc. and I am not the only one.
This upset the Italians a bit and I was taken off the boat for 3 hrs to explain myself, leaving Guillaume to drift around in the dark, wondering what was going on and watching me and the coastguard disappear off in the other direction.
Eventually though the three coastguards in the boat were sympathetic the man on the end of the radio demanded that they impound the boat, take it in tow back to Liverno where I would stay until I could produce documents.
This was BIG. If I went into Liverno I would be disqualified from the race, I would not get to complete the important miles for qualifying and the trasat would be slipping from my reach. I HAD to finish the race.
Now any self respecting female mini sailor will know the way to get yourself out of a fix with the Italian coastguard is to cry. Operation girly trauma began and I burst into tears, explained the whole transat story and was successfully backed up by a huge angry French man on my boat, waving his bright yellow arms around and looking like trouble.
I say this tongue firmly in cheek; I can assure you the tears were genuine.
This all proved too much for the Italians and they agreed to let me go as long as I sent them my documents on immediate return to Genoa.
We continued the race, a bit shaken and having lost three hours, but still in the top six.
Very light winds and a bad strategic decision gave us an excruciating finish, where the last 6 miles took 6 hours and we dropped down to 11th position for the series boats.
Though naturally disappointed with the result I am just happy to have finished the race, I am one step closer to qualifying for the transat and disaster was averted by a good bit of girlie behaviour.
The adventures did not stop there as when we got into the club after midnight, I went to go and get my van from the parking facility just down the road, so we could shower and go to sleep.
The gate I normally used to exit the club compound was locked and it was a long walk around to the other gate so in my wisdom, I climbed over the gate, only to be met on the other side by an Italian security guard with a gun!
Further discussion about missing documents, which I told him were in my van, he decided to come to my van to look at them, I made a vague suggestion that he drive us there in his car, which did not go down well; so we trudged together to the top of the multi-storey, he checked my documents and then gave me a complete dressing down in Italian and made pretty sure I knew I would not get away with any more gate climbing on his watch.
I am afraid it did not end there, the next day I prepared my boat for the road and through tiredness and stupidity narrowly missed trashing it completely when the trailer tipped up while I was strapping down the mast, as I had not blocked it off, and the boat slid backwards rapidly towards the ground.
Luckily there were plenty of fast thinking mini sailors around, and a couple jumped onto the front of the trailer, then a noise like a stampede of elephants could be heard from behind me and at least 16 sailors appeared out of nowhere, running from all directions to save my little boat. Unbelievably they managed to get it back on the trailer then using only human power pick it up and push it back into the correct position.
I was shaking like a leaf and did not say Thank you enough to everyone who rescued me there.
Thanks guys, if you are reading this, there are a lot of people who joined my hero list in the last week.
All the while through the last week, my eyes have been getting redder and redder; they are weeping and have been more and more swollen.
Eventually this morning when I am supposed to be on the road to Pornichet to get ready for the next race, I woke with a face from a horror film. Crusty red swollen eyes, my vision was blurred and I was scaring small children.
So no driving today, a trip to French A&E, the first doctor is not sure so we have called in the specialist from his Easter holidays.
What is the difference between Adventure and misadventure?
I guess an adventure is something that you have not done before, whether planned or unplanned. I have sailed and raced a lot before, I have rounded several of these Italian islands before and raced against the same people so there should not have been anything too adventurous about this last race. But maybe that is one of the great things about sailing; it will always be an adventure as you can never guarantee things will go exactly as you have planned them.
When does an adventure become a misadventure? Perhaps when it goes wrong? In which case I have many misadventures, but managed to pull them back from the brink at the last minute to a good result and back to being just plain adventures; All a bit deep for A&E.
Yesterday, Guillaume was asked if he had enjoyed being my co-skipper and he answered, ‘I can tell you one thing about sailing with Pip, there is always an adventure!’
I think I might try for boring on the next race!