The Shed is slipping across the Thames Estuary, dodging around the ships that appear from the gloom and making best speed possible to the Dover straits and the final run home.
Another stop over has rushed by in a blur, a chance to fix the boat – or in my case break more stuff – clean, organise, restock and then catch up with the other skippers over a cold beer in the evening.
The scene was rather more relaxed than Lerwick, the Royal Norfolk and Suffolk, provided an excellent welcome and a much need rest for us all. Last night we had supper in great company with our fellow competitors, swapping stories some livelier and more embellished than others and mostly lead by the king of story telling Tony from Comedy of Errors.
As we got the end of our meal, I became distracted by Elixir preparing to leave and restart the final leg; the flags were hanging limp from masts, there was not a breath on the water. I did not envy them going out into that, and feared for our own restart time and similar conditions.
Everyone is suffering from this high pressure. Boats are arriving in dribs and drabs, after frustrating hours spent tacking and tacking and making little or no ground to windward. Maarten and Harry from Home of Jazz, even managed to spend hours tacking in and out of Norfolk’s only nudist beach mysteriously not making much ground to the finish. Some crews have anchored and gone to sleep it off, others are battling on and the relief on faces as they arrive in port and head for the bar is easy to see.
Our restart was 03h 44m this morning and we had intended to get out there early and organised to leave the dock at 2am. However at this time there was no wind. What was the point?
The grib file had showed that around 4 in the morning there would be a breeze filling in from the North East, which would build during the day and we had pinned all our hopes on.
At 2am there was no sign of this breeze. We trudged around the boat, getting things in order and reluctant to leave into a foul tide and no wind.
About 2.15 I felt the hair move around my face. I looked up, the slightest zephyr was unfurling flags.
Amazed I watched as the breeze built, it was from the right direction and steadily over 10 minutes built to 4 knots, which by the standards of the last couple of days was a positive hurricane.
Immediately we were ready to go, The Shed swung into action, we legged it out of the harbour accompanied by the RN&S rib and made our way to the start.
With a couple of minutes to go we were the right side of the line and hoisting the spinnaker, praying there would be enough wind for us to make ground against the tide. And there was.
I consider we are lucky.
Elixir who started some four hours ahead of us had spent the night going nowhere fast against the tide and were only 5 miles ahead of us when we restarted. This is tough to deal with for them but there is an element of luck in yacht racing and I am a firm believer that good luck and bad luck are dealt out in equal portions and it is how you deal with this luck that is important.
The morning wind was patchy and we were only making one knot over the ground to start off with. We watched QII come out and start and could see them gaining on us straight away. The breeze tailed off and Phil suggested it was time to break out the oars; any speed was good speed and we really wanted to stay ahead of QII just for a psychological boost.
We lashed the oars to the toe rail, just aft of the shrouds with sail ties, and started to row. Initially the action was a struggle, due to the height of the topsides on The Shed and the length of the oars, it was tough not to get knees and knuckles bashed with each stroke, but after a while we managed to get The Shed up to a lightening speed of 0.8 knots over the ground, monitored from our rowing positions on a hand held gps. We kept up the rowing every time the sail collapsed over the next couple of hours and felt pretty good for it.
Our main concerns for this leg are to first stay ahead of our chasing pack of wolfish class 3 competitors, and secondly to try and reclaim our first position overall in IRC, for this we must maintain the best speed we can keep ahead of Elixir and Jbellino on time, and make up over 2 hrs on Ding Dong’s finishing time.
There is only one way we can achieve this – by lots and lots of effort. This is the final push and we are giving it all we have. If we don’t make it at least we will rest in the knowledge that we could not have tried any harder.
Luckily we are well fuelled for this leg of the race with cake; the last cake in the trail was a Parkin, which was waiting in the race office on our arrival, we had a piece immediately and it was amazing.
However, this parkin was not the only cake that has made its way to the Shed, and friends and family have managed to supply us with a date and walnut, chocolate brownie, rock cakes and a fruit loaf. We are caked up and ready to go.
What every serious sailor needs with a piece of cake is of course a nice cup of tea. We all know that offshore sailing is about drinking tea and napping down below!
I came down to make the second cup of the day this morning and to my horror discovered we are out of tea bags! Call the coast guard!!!
I had mistaken a packet of detox teabags as the real thing and so had over looked this vital element. There was a look of total disbelief on Phil’s face when I told him. ‘How did that happen?’
So now we have entered extreme conditions, to race, through shipping lanes, with little breeze and strong tides, promise of fog patches, inadequate sleeping times and with no tea! This will be a genuine test of our metal.
I have a good stock of detox teabags, rose tea and peppermint, but Phil cannot be persuaded, he is on the instant coffee and compensating with extra cake. I am calmly making my way through a hippy selection of herbal teas, and hoping they will not adjust my competitive spirit.
The Shed is making her way to the Goodwin sands, we have the A4 up and are roaring along in flat seas and a nice breeze, grateful of every extra tenth of a mile we can accumulate before the breeze dies again.
The forecast is for light and variable winds, it looks like there is another high around the corner waiting to swallow up the fleet.
There is a huge amount of shipping around and we are taking it in turns to be down below monitoring the radio and the AIS trying to figure what is what. Earlier when passing the sunk light vessel a huge container ship turned what appeared to be 140 degrees to end up pointing directly at us; I was convinced we were crossing it but wanted to make sure so called them up on the VHF.
Once contact was made I asked the radio operator if I was crossing ahead and he replied, ‘ Yes Ma’am, I have just turned my engines off for you, have a nice day.’ What a nice man! Phil has decided that it is my job to talk to all the ships; I am not sure however they will all be quite so obliging.
In truth this is fantastic sailing right now at this minute the Shed is slipping along under a watery sun, the water rushing past the hull, the luff of the spinnaker gently rolling as we work the sheet in and out. It is effortless, stimulating, peaceful and so unexpected from the sloppy horrors I had envisaged. I am going to try and engrain this to my memory to recall later down the track when the sails are slapping and the boat is rolling and my nerves are jangling.