Leg one of this years Charente Maritime, mini transat race was complicated to say the least.
What we all signed up for was a bit of a beat out of the Golf of Gascogne, then turning the corner an into the influences of the Azores high, to set the big spinnaker and surf those waves to the finish.
Such was our luck that the Azores high was missing this year and instead had been replaced by an ever changing system of lows, high’s, ridges and troughs.
The weather reports given daily over the SSB radio by class mini always started with ‘the general situation is very complicated’ and would follow over the crackling reception with a string of number corresponding to pressures, longitudes and latitudes of various systems and times they were expected were.
We had the full range of conditions and every sail in my wardrobe got to play a part, except the storm jib, which happily remained in it’s bag; sliding around at the front of the boat.
We started with light airs, and downwind sailing. Two days of willing the boat forward; coaxing every ounce of speed out of it.
The nights were black with only a slither of moon; but sail trim in these conditions has been made a lot easier for me by the use of luminous draft stripes on the main and the jib from Glowfast.
These are something I have not ever used before and only applied to the sails just before the start; previously I had always used a torch to periodically check sail shape.
Now at night time my sails take on the appearance of a computer 3d model with some lines blanked out. I can see the shape of the sail always with no need of a torch, which benefits in two ways, one so I can trim the sail without the aid of a torch and secondly to remind me to trim the sail, as I can always see it.
I believe that night time is one of the key times to gain an advantage on your opponents so this has undoubtedly been a useful tool.
After Finnisterre and some thick fog banks, we turned south and into head winds.
Beating in a mini is just not fun. It is brutal; like riding a bucking bronco endlessly, all day and all night.
The boat must be well stacked with all of your kit and water on the high side of the boat, giving you maximum righting moment. This is a back breaking job and one I particularly hate.
With little moonlight to show us the path, night time in breeze was violent, the boat seemed to be careering through waves at breakneck speed, then suddenly halted with a shuddering explosion as it crashed into an unseen wave.
Every forecast I hung on for news of a north wind, but not until the last three days of the course did this happen.
I felt greatly relieved and justified in my decision of a smaller headsail as these conditions were exactly why I had made that decision.
Eventually when the following winds came, I got a taste of the leg to come.
Beautiful, brilliant down wind sailing, surfing waves, changing between kites in squalls; dolphins along side the boat and the absolute joy and pleasure of steering and trimming to gain every ounce of speed in these conditions.
If this is the second leg then Bring it on!