The last five days have gone past in a blur.
I know they have gone past; there are tell tale signs. Like the rough skin forming into wear pads on the palms of my hands, the marks in permanent pen all over my boat, a job list that nearly reaches my toes and a note book bulging with golden nuggets of information from the debriefs and my time on the water.
The training is intensive; our coach is Tanguy Leglatin, a well respected coach for many of the single handed disciplines in France, who has no off switch.
Turn up at 8 and get the boat ready (not such a big deal for me as I am sleeping in my van at the top of the ramp). Briefing on the dock, boat rigged at 9 am; this is just a run through of the days exercises and a presentation of rig settings.
Then off. If you are not ready you are not coming. There is no waiting and so from the moment we push off engineless from the dock we have to think about sailing fast, even to keep up with the pack to get to the area of the first start of the day. A couple of times now I have still had my spinnaker up when the first four minute warning has gone.
The days have been a mixture of speed testing; where the boats line up with the same sails, sailing in the same direction and we are able to try subtle differences in trim and tuning to see what effect this has on our boat speed and course in relation to the others.
Then practice starts, a small race of around two hours. Sail changing exercises, gybing, tacking, upwind settings, downwind settings. The day just disappears in a blur of manouvres, sails and endless coiling of ropes, which just seem to undo themselves and revert to the big pile of spaghetti that has become the trade mark of my cockpit.
It’s so bad the coach took a photo of my cockpit to show during the debrief as an example of a mess! Oh the shame!
Everything is done in French, which face to face is not a problem but I have been struggling to understand the scratchy and windblown language over the VHF, the radio takes away any intonation that would make the words understandable; we have come to a compromise where if I do not react to a command, it is reissued in English.
At the end of the day we sail our way back up past the ancient citadel often tacking against the furious tide around the viscous rocky outcrops and back into the Submarine Base.
The debrief is an hour and a half, and this is when we really understand the huge knowledge that is being passed on to us.
Using video footage from the day we dissect every aspect of every exercise; sail shape, boat on boat positioning, rig tuning, sail selection, stacking and angle of heel. Through the eyes of Tanguy from off the boat we can clearly see what we have done well or not. If only it was so easy to judge from onboard.
My brain and my body have been exhausted. It’s been a fulll immersion back into racing the mini, and also into the French language.
I started off staggering behind, trying to keep up both physically and mentally but fairly quickly it came back, and then some.
I have learned more in the last five days than I have learned in at least six months on the mini. I have sharpened up my techniques, started to calibrate and record settings and information and am keen to keep improving.
The standard of the group is high; including me there are four pogo 2’s a Nacira and a tip top, two women four men. These guys are good!
I have always been of the opinion that to improve you need to sail with people who are better than yourself, and this I am doing now. There is not one moment when I can give less than 100% or I will be spat out of the back of the pack. Thinking, doing, remembering and then writing it all down.
On top of all of this I have started to run again to keep my cardio vascular fitness in line with the rest of my training. This will be a slow progression back to my old form and is not always an easy thing to consider after a hard day on the water. But I am determined to get back to form and to run a half marathon before the year is out.
I’ve managed 25 miles this week and have gone from creaking and groaning to slightly stiff! This is not going to come back as easily as the sailing no matter how good the coach!