East or West?

There has been a divide in the fleet with Pip heading East, as the conditions have eased  the tactical battle has begun!! She is due into Puerto Calero before midnight tonight, and as of 19.30 today she is currently in 24th place. Click on the pictures below to take you through to the race tracker so you can see her progress through the night and into port.

trace-transat-2013

 

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Gut Reaction

So this is it, after all this waiting the date has been set and we are finally going to start the Mini Transat 2013.

 

The build up to this race has been so strange; all the waiting has taken away the emotions I felt at the start of the race in 2011. I have felt none of the rushing, the nervousness, the overwhelming reality of putting together a project this big;  I have to admit for the last week or so I have not been feeling anything at all and struggling to see a time when the race would become reality.

 

Now with the start date and time set, I am sitting inside listening to the wind steadily increasing to a howl and the rain pounding against the windows. This thing has become a reality and I can’t help but imagine what it is like out there at the moment.

 

I am feeling a little sick. It’s not a scared sick but I know this first leg is going to be tough and my body and brain are letting me know that I know.

 

I have always considered that one of my strengths when offshore racing is my experience; I have sailed a lot of miles and experienced some incredible storms including once getting caught out in the Biscay on a night rather like we are going to see tonight. Although this experience gives you confidence I believe it also can bring on the nerves.

 

I can imagine the sea at its worst and although I know we will be leaving after tonight’s storm is long gone, the beating at the window is reminding me of what could be out there.

 

My boat is in great condition, it is a tough little thing and I trust it to keep me safe. I am well fed, rested and ready to sail. The race committee have found us a suitable length weather window to get south and away from the wrath of the Bay of Biscay and I trust their decision. This is my second mini transat, if I finish I will be the first British person ever to complete two.

 

But you will find no arrogance here; I will have my eyes open looking over my shoulder and never underestimating the power of nature. I love the sea but I respect it more.

Waiting

For a person that thrives on having too much to do the last week has been excruciating.

 

 

I am sitting in Douarnenez, my boat is tied up in port and I am not allowed out to sail. My van with all my tools and spares has gone back to the UK and I am left with the clothes I am standing in and one bag containing my running kit, a computer, printer and laminator to keep me occupied.

 

Believe me it has been hard.

 

Anyone who has been keeping an eye on the weather over the last couple of weeks could not deny that it has been hard; low after low jostles for position in the centre of the Atlantic and then set off like bowling balls straight for Finisterre and with out a doubt would have knocked down any mini’s that got in their way with regular seas of five metre waves coming ashore on the Spanish coast.

 

To follow it all the grandmother of all storms is on the starting blocks at the moment ready to come ashore in the UK and on the Brittany coast at the end of this weekend with winds over 40 knots and seas of 10 metres in it’s centre.

 

For the first week I was very chilled, reflective, using my time to do the final finessing jobs I had not had time to do at the start and to sleep and eat and get my head in the right place. But this week I am starting to fight against it.

 

When I came out to France before the start I rather optimistically packed my running kit – I am not sure how I thought I would have time to get in a quick run with all the preparation that was going on but it has saved my sanity now. It is the only thing that is giving me release at the moment as I rapidly run out of things to do.

 

My boat is spotlessly shining like a pin; I have packed, checked, repacked all of it’s contents and cleaned the inside over and again.

 

In the search for something meaningful to do I have organised all of the files on my four year old lap top, yesterday I deleted over 3000 emails from my hotmail account and defragmented my computer for the first time ever.

 

We are of course a the mercy of the weather and it would be foolish to do anything other than wait for safe conditions to leave but I had planned this race down to the day, my time off from work, stop over arrangements, shipping the boat back to France and none of these plans included sitting round in Douarnenez for over two weeks.

 

We are all hanging on the possibility we can leave on Tuesday, because if the delay carries on much later than that I am sure I am not the only one who is going to run into problems.

 

We have now had three sequential forecasts which have shown Tuesday to be a possibility; as soon as the swell from the monster storm on Monday has died down we will be out on the tail of it and heading South.

 

The race organisers have already announced they will change the sailing instruction for the first leg to allow only 48 and not 72hrs of technical stopover. This refers to unscheduled stops we make on the Spanish or Portuguese coasts to fix or replace broken kit during the first leg; and the underlying message is they want us in Lanzarote fast.

 

The stopover is going to be reduced and the restart has been nominally announced for the 11th October; after which Puerto Calero will not be able to host a fleet of 84 boats.

 

It certainly focuses the mind on the leg ahead.

 

There will still be a large swell, conditions will be lumpy and tricky and the stopover will be short; should the boat get damaged during this first leg there will be little time to fix it before the restart. This leg is going to be about getting there in one piece; looking after the boat, keeping a weather eye over my shoulder and recognising the waves that have teeth before they take a chunk out of me. It is not going to be easy.

 

That is if we go…..

Mini Safety

Blog to follow but here are the pictures of my safety kit

Through the Keyhole on a pogo 2

 

Life is pretty basic down below on a mini; luxuries are hard to come by, everything must be accounted for in relation to it’s weight and functionality.

 

Everything must be packed in totally waterproof packaging and easy to stack behind the stacking cloths on each side of the hull, fore and aft.

 

I keep soft items such as spare clothing in dry bags, items such as tools, repair materials and food are kept in old flare containers as they are rigid, will keep their contents safe from damage, they are totally waterproof and because they are square can be stacked really easily on top of each other at the side of the boat.

 

I write on the top of each container what is inside to keep confusion to a minimum when I am searching in the dark for a screw driver.

 

The rest of my things, navigation books, spare batteries etc are kept in plastic containers and then loaded into a stacking bag which allows me to transfer it all from one side of the boat to the other quickly.

 

I carry all the water for each leg in 10l jerry cans; the size is chosen specifically. 10kg of water is about the most you can comfortable transfer from one side of the boat to the other without a struggle. It is also a size which if a can was punctured or fell it would not be a disaster to lose all of that water.  Water is then transferred to smaller drinking bottles using a funnel or a siphon.

 

The boats electronics are run by two 12v batteries which are kept under the companionway; these are charged by an EFOY comfort 80 fuel cell and a 45 watt solar panel on the back of the boat.

 

Electronics are to a minimum on the mini and I have tried as hard as possible to keep connections to a minimum and well out of the way of any water finding it’s way down below.

 

All my electronics, pilots, wind, depth and speed are Raymarine and have already taken me through a transat and qualification process. With the exception of my GPS and AIS.

 

The reason for this is that classe mini does not allow any form of chart plotter onboard. Most AIS systems now are integrated with chart plotters and believe me it is pretty hard to find a ships GPS that is not a chart plotter as well. These two items are stand alone to the rest of the system and sit on a bracket which swivels out so I can see it in the cockpit but will also hide behind the bulkhead in poor weather and I can close the hatch to save it further.

 

When I am racing I sleep most of the time on deck particularly as the weather gets better. I have a small ¾ length sleeping mat which can either be thrown on top of a stack on the windward side if I am sleeping below in bad weather or out in the cockpit if I need a bit of luxury.

 

 

I also carry a couple of squares of closed cell foam which act as fenders in port and cushions to sit on at sea which hopefully should keep sores to a minimum.

 

Everyday living is done with a jet boil for cooking, which I hold in my hands, and two buckets – one for a toilet and the other for washing, bailing and everything else.

 

All in all it is functional and home to me, I have lived very comfortably onboard my mini for many thousands of miles and it is amazing how quickly you can adapt to being in a small environment.  One thing which is critical is to be organised and methodical about everything.

 

Imagine stacking 60 litres of water, all your food and safety kit onto one side of the boat and then realising the container with the lighter for the jet boil is underneath it all…

 

On my next blog I will look at the safety equipment onboard,

Still Here!

 

The weather situation is going from bad to worse.

 

In our weather briefing last night the course meteorologist showed us slide after slide of weather fronts, low pressure systems and never a sign of any let up from the winds that are going to ravage Cape Finisterre and the Portuguese.

 

The grib files are pretty; swathes of blue, and purple march their way across the screen as the forecast advances by each day but the reality is very ugly and tough news for minis.

 

At the latest estimation it is unlikely we will be leaving France before the 23rd October and even then we are not sure.

 

The fleet is flat; we all have issues and concerns arising from this delay. No one planned for this occurrence, though a large proportion of the fleet are local to Douarnenez and still living at home most of the fleet have travelled many miles to be here and the problems created by staying for an unscheduled 10 days are many.

 

Further on we are starting to wonder about the stopover, will the restart be postponed and therefore our arrival in the Caribbean; are our return flights at risk, what about the shipping?

 

In short there is not point in thinking about this other than to sort out problems as they present; we must take every day as it comes.

 

The fleet has been put on standby with a series of codes which will be notified at the race office.

 

Code Red – the fleet will not leave within the next 36hrs

Code Orange – there is a chance we may leave within 36hrs

Code Green – there is a chance we may leave within the next 24 hrs

 

This at least will allow those that live close enough to go home, perhaps to work and to travel away from Douarnenez. The rest of us must stay put.

 

Today the fleet will move back into the river in Douarnenez, locked in again so sailing will be difficult.

 

I have decided to use my time as pragmatically as I can, running, sleeping, eating well and I will be blogging everyday ‘Pip’s guide to the mini transat’.

 

This will be a good chance for me to share with you all every aspect of my boat and my preparations, my choice of sails, my rescue and emergency procedures and equipment, clothing, navigation, food and everything.  I’ll have a chance to take photos of each part of my boat, explain the choices I have made and give you all a bit more of an idea of what I expect to encounter when eventually we do go sailing.

 

 

 

The longest goodbye

 

In all sport, and particularly in endurance events visualisation is important; when you are in a bad storm, being able to visualise coming out the other end, being able to think through and manage manoeuvres in the dark is also an important skill as well as preparing yourself for the ocean by imagining what it will be like on your own out there.

 

My visualisation of the start day on Sunday had been keeping me going for a long time. All through the incredible battle to get to the start I had in my mind the picture of leaving Douarnenez, with my friends on the shore cheering and waving and sailing off towards the horizon.

 

I was way off the mark.

 

After all this waiting and preparing the weekend has been a bit surreal and yesterday morning I was left with a whole heap more logistical problems from my well planned starting preparations and really not sure when we will leave.

 

The problem is not the wind next to the French coast which would be fine to leave but the weather we would expect to meet off Cape Finisterre.

 

Finisterre is renowned among offshore sailors as a place which can punish in the extreme. Here wind acceleration zones caused by the mountains on the corner of Spain combine with the proximity of the continental shelf to the land to make viscous breaking seas which would challenge the most experience sailors no matter how large their boats.

 

Had we left on Sunday we would have reached Finisterre at the same time as a large depression swept buy offering us 4 metre seas and 40 knots of wind.

 

Quite sensibly the race committee decided not to send us out to meet this so the start was postponed.

 

The start of the min transat in France is a big deal. People travel from miles around to come down and watch and of course all of the supporters, friends and families of the sailors turn up as well.

 

The postponement was signalled quite early on and so a lot of people did not show up, however to keep the spirit alive and put on a show for all the people (including my own rent a crowd) all the boats left on Sunday and sailed around the bay in light breeze in front of a large crowd that had assembled on the harbour wall.

 

Due to an early start I had not managed to say goodbye to many of my friends and was towed out to sail thinking I would not see them again until December, however after a trip around the bay in the sunshine when I got back to the shore I was delighted to find they had changed travel plans and were all still there in Treboul (the port opposite Douarnenez which is now our home).

 

We had time for a quick drink together and then bizarrely, one by one I hugged them, they wished me luck and said goodbye and they left.

 

That is just not how it was supposed to happen; I am the one that is supposed to leave.

 

Finally I was left in limbo, wondering what is going to happen for the next few days.

 

Thankfully Ash has changed his plans and is staying out until Wednesday; I sent my van back to the UK as planned but in the meantime with no accommodation – except a race ready mini with no cushions or sleeping bags, no transport – except a race ready mini which is not going to get Ash to Paris, and no way of getting my printer, computer, my remaining non race items back to the UK when I eventually do leave we are left with some more of those crazy logistical problems.

 

The fleet is currently on very real standby in the port of Treboul.

 

We had a weather briefing last night which showed a difficult set of conditions for at least the next week as low after low will be pummelling Finisterre and not allowing any time for small mini’s to slip past.

 

We currently have two options- firstly we may start at 1300 tomorrow on Wednesday and sail a short leg to Gijon in Spain just to get us across the Biscay which the wind might allow us to do, but not around Finisterre. We would then hold up in Gijon until there is a clear window to creep around Finisterre and south – this would be the first time the mini transat had been sailed in three legs but at least it gets us out of here.

 

If the weather will not allow us to do even this then we will be here for up to another week.

 

It is a waiting game.

 

Everyone is asking me how I feel but in truth I do not feel too different. Yes I want to go and the extra stress of having to spend money on accommodation and sort out the logistics which I thought I had organised so well at the start is a pain.

 

However in terms of the actual race I am a little numb. I cannot do anything about the weather or the wind. I respect 100% the difficult decisions that the race committee are having to make and so there is no point in wasting emotion on something that you can’t change.

 

My task for today is to make my new roadbook for the trip to Gijon, which of course I am not prepared for and is a port I have never been to before. I will go down and check my boat, drink tea and try to work out what to do with my bags at very short notice if we get sent off tomorrow.

 

 

 

3 days to ago and it’s all about the Black Bag

I’ve been through every emotion under the sun in the last day; nervousness, stress, frustration, hope, blind optimism, the depths of despair, immense gratitude, relief and finally deep joy – and all because of a VHF aerial.

 

For those that aren’t familiar with offshore racing and may be wondering what the contrôles are I keep misspelling here is a brief outline of the what happens before the mini transat.

 

Once you arrive in the race village you are at the mercy of La Comité du Course and le jury and must prove to them that your boat is within classe, has complied with all the safety rules and measures and that you are ready to race via a series of inspections.

 

You are issued with a piece of paper on which to gain six stamps from each of the different officials; most of which I breezed through.

 

Firstly with Classe Mini, all your membership must be up to date, they must have pictures of your boat from sea level and from the mast head for rescue purposes. This is also the time you must show your insurance ( thank you Pantaenius) and for those that have not chosen to insure their boats you must buy an extension to the FFV license which will cover your rescue (but not the boat) up to 200 miles offshore by the French rescue services –  the lifeboat is not free in France.

 

Next a check in with the race organisers to make sure you are displaying the race sponsors flags, my information board is hanging on the back of the boat and to present for the official portraits – three of which were taken one is called ‘Young and cool’  – err, no comment!

 

Next I took my sails to be checked over – as they are all new they needed to be looked at twice, once to comply with Classe mini rules and to pay the new sail tax; and another to check them in for the transat.

 

Each sail is checked for correct sail numbers, and then is stamped and numbered with the number recorded so at the end of each leg a race official can get onboard the boat and make sure I have the same seven sails as I started with.

 

Then to Denis Hughes who is our race director and must check over our charts and books for the race not only to sail the course but also to make emergency stop- overs along the way which includes the coasts of Spain, Portugal, Gibraltar and also a lot of Africa.

The inspection with the doctor was disappointingly quick. In anticipation of the palaver I had trying to pass my medical kit with British drugs during the last race I was looking forward to the battle and had with me my amazing looking kit put together by Dr Richard Power and the Spire Hospital Leicester and I was ready to fight my corner.

 

The race doctor was so impressed with the organisation and quality of my kit he hardly wanted to ruffle it up. He ran his fingers over my alphabetically organised row of medicines and their laminated card explaining which one goes with which ailment and wanted to know who put the kit together, where did they get the boxes and oddly enough after seeing the Lifeboats logo on my sweatshirt, asked if I had heard of Professor Mike Tipton – who is a world expert on cold water shock and who we work quite extensively with at the RNLI.

 

Finally the biggy; contrôle sécurité.  This is when all of the safety equipment on the boat is checked and not just to see if it is there but to make sure it is working and located in a suitable position so easy to find in an emergency.

 

My inspector Michel was thorough to say the least and I think he would be pretty awesome in one of our RNLI lifejacket clinics.

 

During the safety inspection we must demonstrate we are able to launch our life rafts in 15 seconds and show all of their up to date service records. We must demonstrate our EPIRB is within arms reach from outside the boat, all dates on flares are checked, I had to blow my fog horn to prove it made a sound, the gas bottle in my inflatable Dan buoy was checked (and found to be rusty so had to be replaced), wooden bungs must be tied close to any through hull fittings and I was required to prove that both of my bilge pumps actually were able to empty a bucket of water (I’ve never had to do this before and this test caught a few people out and you could see them wandering up the dock looking slightly shocked carrying bilge pumps with perished rubber seals).

 

This is the time as well that the items which are under specific rules on the boat are sealed; the liferaft and batteries are sealed in place to prevent them being stacked while racing and the emergency survival pack and survival water are sealed to ensure we do not use them in every day but only in case of emergency.

 

If any of these seals are found to be broken at the end of the race we will have to go up in front of a Jury to explain why and they will give the appropriate time penalty.

 

Then of course there is the VHF. We must call and make a radio check with Semaphore La Chevre, which is some 10 miles away.

 

Those who watch my facebook page may remember I replaced my VHF aerial only a couple of weeks ago to have a brand spanking new one ready for the race.

 

This has caused me nothing but heart ache.

 

After whistling through the rest of the safety check I have been stuck without the final stamp to my sheet for three days.

 

While I climbed up and down the mast many times each day, entirely replaced the coax cable, changed my twist on fittings to soldered ones and endlessly called the French light house, Michel my inspector kept wandering past the back of the boat looking hopeful and being turned away over and again.  I just could not get a response and had no idea what the problem was.

 

Eventually having been up the mast four times yesterday morning and while I was sitting in bottom of my cockpit feeling utter despair at what to do next, the wonderful Lucas walked past with his clever machine.

 

He stood next to the boat, typically French he took a final pull on his cigarette and said very quietly ‘ I think you have some problems with your VHF, may I come aboard?’

 

My face said it all and Lucas did the race in 2011 so he knows how it feels in the final preparations when something goes wrong. ‘T’enquête pas’ he said – Don’t worry.

 

Then in 20 minutes his machine had diagnosed the problem was aerial and not radio, had a look at my connections, sighed, asked to remake them, tried with my soldering iron, sighed, went off to get his own tools, asked to cut my connections off, and made super duper new ones; including climbing to the top of the mast with a gas soldering iron and doing the one up there.

 

It turns out I am proficient at many things but making a good connection to coax cable is not one of them; but it take me three days of trying to find this out.

 

Erica (my wonderful shore crew for the last couple of days) and I waited with hopes held high in the cockpit while he called the semaphore and I have to say hearing the response ‘forte et clair’ back on the radio was the best moment in the last few days.

 

Lucas smiled, packed his tools and machine back into his shopping bag and wandered off down the pontoon lighting a cigarette on the way. What a legend.

 

And now with fully stamped up paper in hand I went and retrieved my black bag. This is our ticket to race, the sailing instructions. We are good to go!

 

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Race Week – Wednesday – Meet the class

 

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I’m trying to appear cool. Sometimes I feel ready sometimes I don’t.

 

The only thing which is stopping me racing at the moment is my flipping VHF aerial which is leading me a merry dance and had me late night soldering.

 

I think I have cracked it; one more trip up the mast and then I will call ‘semaphore La Chevre’ for the millionth time and if they respond you might here me woop.

 

Amongst all of the preparations I had one of my favourite transat visits yesterday – from the class that will be following me through the race CM2.

 

Sailing is a national sport in France, a lot of children learn sailing in school and my round the world heroes are also the heroes of many a French schoolchild, and are household names.

 

I had my moment of fame yesterday when 20 children came down to meet me on my boat in the race village. I was overwhelmed at how pleased and excited they were to meet me and see my boat. They all came onboard to look down below, went and tried the cabin out for size and asked me questions about where I slept and was it going to be hard. I autographed many little pieces of paper and a poster for their teacher.

 

They have made me a picture which I will stick on my mainsail and take across the Atlantic to Guadeloupe – I will put a photo of this up tomorrow.

 

At the end of the visit we had a group photo together, and I said some of the children could come and stand on my boat with me for the photo.

 

It is a good job Pogo 2s are built like tanks as the whole class ran towards the boat and children were scrambling to get over the guard rails and into the cockpit. Eventually the teacher called a halt as the boat was listing over to one side which the weight of me and CM2.

 

What a fantastic experience I am so pleased to share my race with this class and to meet them all and be their hero for the day.