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

Adventure or misadventure?

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!

Hot hot hot in Genova

The sun frying the heads and backs of mini sailors in Genoa as we prepare for the next mini event of the season; The Grand Prix d’Italie.

The entries in the event line a small dock outside the yacht club and nationalities include Polish, Spanish, Swiss, French, Italian and of course the British entries which are myself and Dan Dytch in his prototype.

Members come and go to the grand and neat yacht club building, arriving in their cars, wearing shirts and ties for an evening occasion, slightly oblivious to the scruffy bunch of vagabonds with little boats who are working away just below the level of their eyesight as they sip their drinks on the balcony of the club.

My co-skipper for this event is going to be Guilluame Rottee, who has been my coach at CEM for the past few months. I am really looking forward to the event, I think there will be a lot to learn over the 560 mile course and hope that I can make the most of having his expertise onboard.

The last few days have been spent in preparation for the event.

Bottom sanded, ropes replaced, a new system to trim the spinnaker pole is in place. I am now getting the stage on my boat where I am pretty happy with the basic systems and starting to fine tune things, customising it to suit me.

This is one of the really enjoyable things about owning a boat; developing systems that really work for you and owning them, making it truly yours – I am ‘pimping my boat’.

If you want to know about that ask anyone in the quarter ton fleet where ‘boat pimping’ is just as important as the sailing.

Food for this race is going to be important and liquid as well. It has been furiously hot over the last couple of days. The answer to this problem comes in packets from Crew Fuel.

I have a peculiar diet as I have an intolerance to wheat products and so eating calories while I am sailing can sometimes be difficult, as a result I tend to get strong drops and spikes in my energy levels, which has a knock on effect on my sleep patterns.

I am working with Phil Johnston from Crew Fuel to use their products to give me a more continuous energy level through out the day, using the carbohydrate drinks to maintain my fluids and energy levels and their instant meals to give me a quick boost when I can feel myself flagging.

I am eating rice or oat based freeze dried meals for my main meals.

This race will be my first long trial with this system and hopefully I will start to build a good idea of what the best nutrition plan will be for the transat itself.

The one big job still outstanding on the boat before the race start is to get the AIS up and running.

I took my Transponder off the Shed and am installing it on the mini for this season, it was done in the dark, last minute, crawling around dark lockers in the cold in the UK. Unfortunately I managed to forget a vital cable somewhere along the lines.

I have to admit to having had the unit out here for a couple of weeks now, I bought it out before my qualifier but have not had time to fit it and now – like quite a few other minis on the dock – I am rushing around with computers and cables and antennas, looking blank and helpless while the man who does our pre race safety control, rolls his eyes and sighs because we all knew it had to be installed for this race.

So top man of the day is James Woodward from Transas Marine who when I rang and told him of my error, went down to the engineers workshop and stole the cable I needed from them – it was the last one in the building and has posted it out to me in Genoa.

I hope it gets here………………………..

A life in bits

On a plane again……………

The joys of easyjet and Gatwick airport, overpriced water, endless seemingly pointless waiting, an oh so important day lost in travelling, buses, trains, planes; and there are only 171 precious days left to the start of the transat.

The last couple of weeks have been very tough for me; full; too full and lived at break neck speed trying to pull all the elements of my life together and just make it all work.

After finishing my qualifier I hopped straight on a plane and returned to England to work, no break, no extra sleep, and straight back into it. But it’s important to work and I am not in a position to make my Transat campaign the only focus in life.

I am self employed so not only is the money from working essential but maintaining my company, keeping my clients, making sure when I have finished the transat there will be something to come home to.

The net result of sailing 1000 miles alone and then going straight to work was that I became run down and then ill, developing a persistent and nasty infection which started in my chest with a painful and annoying cough, then moved to my sinus and my eyes before being caught by a French doctor, thoroughly beaten with three different types of medication and told not to return in a hurry.

It seems for the whole of March I was on the run, tired and unwell and I have a lot of people to thank for getting me through it all in staggering form.

I have had an almost impossible schedule of packing up the boat, towing it over 1000 kilometres, unpacking, racing, repacking, towing again, all before returning to work in the UK last week.

It would have been impossible for me to do all this alone, I was in poor health, and over tired so I owe a huge and very genuine amount of thanks to the guys who have gone out of their way to help me; packing up my boat in the rain when I was in a different country, driving with me and my boat through the night while I slept with my head at an impossible angle in the passenger seat, painting numbers on the deck, getting me through my first safety control check, racing with me, keeping me focussed and on the right path, dealing with my meltdowns at 2am towing a bright red boat through the centre of Genoa, subbing me money when my credit card reached its limit.

Sam ‘the Goodchild’ winner of the Artemis Acadmey Figaro Scholarship, Guillaume Rottee coach at CEM, Paul ‘trucking’ Peggs mini addict, the one and only great Flash Harris (requires no further introduction) and of course my Mum and Dad; Thank you is a pathetic word to cover just how grateful I am.

This week of work in the UK has been the last now until May.

I am much better and looking forward to getting back to Italy and being genuinely ready for the Italian Grand Prix which starts on April 17th.

It has been a strange week, trying to hold together all the strands of my life and stop it all unravelling.

My main focus is always on the mini; when I am not training I feel guilty, I feel the pressure and in my mind I can see the big clock ticking down.

I work as a sailing coach and yacht skipper so have been out sailing every day and trying to snatch five minutes at lunch time to organise the purchase and collection of equipment in France, logistical arrangements in Italy, and chasing along trying to grab at those elusive leads on finding a title sponsor for my campaign.

In the UK I live on my boat, ‘the Shed’, which I competed in the OSTAR and Round Britain and Ireland race; she is 21 years old and feeling very neglected. All boats of that age need love, they need attention and maintenance to keep them up to scratch and my sad boat is the bottom of the pile. So long as she is floating and my duvet is dry the job list grows and I am unable to do anything about it.

When I am abroad, training and working on the mini, evenings are spent on the internet, catching up on the tax return (I missed the deadline !), answering emails, chasing sponsorship, surfing money between credit cards and writing.

And so the racing is a pleasure.

The treadmill I have put myself on is running fast and I have to keep up or I will fall over.

To race is to get off; to step out into the fresh air and to run in the open.

My life is no longer in pieces spread around me; it is in one place; on the boat. All that matters is the race, the sea, the sails, the boat, the course. I relish the opportunity to take all that intensity and bring in into one focus. This is my prize and to compete in the transat in September will be the biggest rollover of them all.