An incredible journey


I am sitting on the TGV on my way back to Lorient after quite a tour of Europe in the last couple of days and looking forward to home; in the back of my van parked next to the mini.

I left last Tuesday night from Lorient to take the pogo 2 of Geoff Duniam ‘Mad Spaniel’ to the Solent for training and to be made ready for the two UK races in May this year.

It was my first time afloat in a mini this year and so despite the long dark nights and the promise of a cold and wet crossing I was very much looking forward to getting back out there alone in a little boat. Remembering what it was all about.

The trip didn’t disappoint and in stages I was reminded of all things mini and my body still knows about it.

A little passage planning and a favourable wind up to Brest allowed me to hit the tidal gates through the Raz de Sein and Ushant just right; with flat seas, a fantastic speed over ground of 15 knots at times and even a visit from the dolphins in the early hours of Wednesday morning.

As I passed Ushant the cloud that had slowly been rolling in bought with it the wind that was promised and before too long I was screaming along with the code 5 (little spinnaker) doing a steady 14 knots.

This was the first time Mad Spaniel had been sailing for a while and so I was constantly checking running and standing rigging to make sure everything was as it should be and conscious that I should not push her too hard.

As the wind gusted up to 30 knots my decision to take the spinnaker down was prompted by the appearance of a cardinal marker I had not been expecting to see; I spotted it at two miles on the horizon, and expected it was a North Cardinal marking the shape of the coast to keep large vessels off the rocks.

At 14 knots two miles disappears quite quickly and before long I could tell this was no Northerly…. It was a westerly and I was heading East.

For the non-sailors reading my blog a West Cardinal indicates there is an obstruction to the East of the buoy and any boats should stay to the West. In short I was heading into danger at 14 knots.

My heart jumped inside the many jackets I was wearing and I was gripped by a searing panic…. I wasn’t sure I wanted to throw the boat into a gybe under spinnaker in that much wind and what ever was on the other side of that buoy was coming at me way to fast.

There followed the fastest spinnaker take down in history, all the more impressive due to the fact I was wrapped up like the Michelin Man so moving was quite and effort.

The sail came down; I gybed the main headed sharp north and dived below to check the chart.

Common sense had told me I was far enough from the coast not to worry about rocks and I was right. There was not danger and as suspected this was a cardinal designed to keep large ships from getting too close to the corner at Ushant, however instead of being north as I expected it was a Westerly to reflect the gentle curve of the coast to the South. I was not heading into danger; just a scare but with it a stark reminder that single handing through the British Channel and around the coast of France and the UK is a very different ball game from the open and empty Atlantic.

I wasn’t complacent before, but remained on high alert for the rest of the trip, edgy and on constant look out.

The rest of the trip passed by well, offering a dark wet and windy crossing of the shipping lanes with less than half a mile of visibility but made possible and safe with a great AIS.

On my boat currently I have an AIS transponder but do not have a screen to show positions of other vessels and this is something I will now be looking to change immediately; I would not have been able to cross those ships without it.

I remembered the feeling of the boat underneath me and fell straight back into a system of ten minute naps like I had been at sea forever.

The spinnaker went up again with the sun on Thursday morning and I enjoyed a very relaxed sail into Lymington for the rest of the day; I was tired, bruised completely full of tea and remembering what life is all about.

After a weekend working in the Solent my next trip was by plane to Valencia where I have been to test sail the new RG650. This is an Argentine designed boat which hopes to be the new series boat on the block by the end of this year………. It’s bold, it’s new and I’ll write more of that another time.

From Valencia to Montpellier by overnight bus a quick coffee in the square and now I am on the train heading back to Lorient.

I would say I’m looking forward to my own bed, but the place I sleep at the moment takes many forms, buses, trains, the back of a van and a wet cockpit; the comfort might not always be there but when I close my eyes sleep is never far away.


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