After 19 days and the weather systems from hell, finally the finish line seemed tangibly close.
174 miles to go and over the last four days I had been battling with Hugo and Ysbrand a race within a race, I gained some miles then they did; it was intense.
According to the text books the final approach to Salvador is cool sailing with the big kite; surfing those beautiful blue waves, dreaming of the finish line, a shower, a beer.
When I received the weather bulletin forecasting a cold front for our approach; gusts of 40 knots, violent seas, lightening, it was a slap in the face. Nature flexing it’s muscles a final time, showing me who is boss.
‘I know!’ – I know already that the sea is mightier than I am, I really felt that this was not deserved and unnecassary. I was tired, the boat was tired it felt like luck had run out.
The last 24hrs of the mini transat were hard; the front gave us everything it promised, the sea was messy and aggressive; in the squalls visibility was down to one boat length; My gasket for the pilot arm which reaches from the rudder to the inside of the boat, lost it’s water tight seal and litres and litres of water arrived in the boat, I was having to bail out a bucket full every half hour, worried all the time the water would reach the level of my fuel cell and kill it.
Hugo dropped behind, Ysbrand was hot on my heels and gaining. That 15th place that I coveted so much was sometimes within grasp, sometimes it seemed to be falling to Ysbrand.
I hand steered for ten hours, only leaving the helm to empty water from the boat, navigate and give my position to the accompanying boat.
Tensions were high as Renaud that morning had ended up on the beach and I was warned again and again to stay away from the shore.
The final approach to the harbour was the most nerve racking i have ever made in my life.
In the dark – 28 knots from behind, surfing the waves to a lee shore – focussing on a waypoint in the gps, unable to leave the helm, looking for a buoy I never saw and to be honest terrified and just hoping it would all come together.
I found my way through the inshore passage of the sandbank – I rounded into the harbour. My eyes were blinded by lights, I was searching for the finish line – the wind was blowing hard and my boat was still going too fast into the black.
I found the line and there was a committee boat too.
They started to take photos and i was ashamed as I knew that the boat was a mess – ropes everywhere, backstay flapping in the breeze – I had too much on to be tidy.
Then I crossed the line.
I was collected and towed into the dock – they let off fireworks when I arrived, the music was blaring – on the balcony of the club mini sailors were waving and cheering. I couldn’t stop smiling and laughing.
Kisses and hugs, fresh fruit, caiparhina, so many arms and voices and hugs.
I have finsihed the mini transat.
This race has been the most challenging of my life. The conditions have been hard, the boat is hard, the competition is never ending and fierce.
To arrive at the shore and hear all the other stories – we really had no idea what was happening, two boats lost, dismastings, boats on the beach, countless rudders broken or damaged, medical emergencies. This is testament to how tough it was.
I have had to draw on every skill I have, the sailing has been technically difficult and physically hard. The mental challenges have been immense. The physical discomfort has at times been close to unbareable but one thing is for sure………… there were a couple of moments when I struggled to find the pleasure in what I was doing; nature had me on my knees.
But with my hand on my heart I can honestly say that I enjoyed this race – I always wanted to be out there, competing sailing, night and day; I was completely where I wanted to be.
This has been without doubt the most positive experience of my life to date.
Thank you just does not cover how grateful I am to my sponsors and supporters; you all gave me the opportunity to do something amazing and that is a unique gift, I sincerely hope that I can give back to you some of the value that i have earned through my experience.
Before I finished this race I had already decided that I will compete again in 2013.
I will search for sponsorship to cover a full time campaign and I will compete again in series class, this time aiming for a podium position.
Over the next few days, when my laptop arrives from England I am going to sort all my videos and photos, and I will be writing a proper account of the race once my head has cleared which will be a available to download from my website maybe in a couple of weeks.
Now I must sign off, Bruce Gailey is about to cross the finish line and it is his turn to be hugged.