Position 42 degreee 50 N 009 degrees 42 E
Heading 125 degrees speed 5.2 knots
I have never, ever, ever, been so wet sailing for such a prolonged period.
I have six layers of clothing all totally soaked and my skin is so saturated that every time I touch the charger cables coming off my little generator, I get an electric shock.
Finally the dust has settled and my mad boat has calmed down enough for me to reflect on the first days of my qualifier; although I am slightly hesitant to get the computer out, just in case the ‘Potting Shed’ is just have a breather before going back to the same mad temper tantrum I have been putting up with for the last two days!
I decided to head off to the East first for my qualifier, I knew there would be a lot of wind between mainland France and Corsica, but later in the week it looked worse, so I decided to get this bit out of the way as early as possible.
Leaving La Grande Motte was slightly delayed due to some last minute communications problems, however after a brief trip to Montpellier on Wednesday morning I finally got a stamp in my log book from the Capitanerie then set off into a light wind, bright and sunny afternoon.
Fairly soon I was reaching with the small kite, thinking what a breeze this trip would be if it was all like this! Fool!
Evidently all the training of endless hoists, drops and gybes I have been doing alongside the Artemis Offshore Academy has paid off; as I pulled off my first night time solo gybe so well, I was left gawping in the cockpit at how effortlessly the spinnaker had gone over, forgot about the boom, and gave myself a good clunk on the head!
Similarly hoists and drops all went according to plan – so practice does make perfect.
My first night whistled by, I managed to snatch about 2 hrs of sleep in 15 minute bursts, lying in the cockpit, under a blanket.
There is so much to do on this boat, I am finding I have a permanent huge joblist, including the many controls for trimming the boat, stacking of equipment down below, constant bailing out, generation of power and more.
These jobs need to be prioritised into what is the most important to be done now, and which jobs can actually physically be done now? Sail trim and steering always coming top of that list; eating and sleeping struggling to get a look in.
I sailed under spinnaker along the French coast cutting through the Islands off Hyeres to meet with the edge of the mistral, and that’s when my world got a very hectic and wet.
It was like someone flicked a switch and all of a sudden all that had seemed manageable before leapt up and started throwing violent fits. The waves and wind built, the boat took on a violent bucking motion and the water appeared from every angle and direction, flying down the deck, through the air, up to topsides and off the sails, all aiming for one spot alone – me!
I had known before leaving that the mistral would be blowing hard between St Tropez and Corsica, 50 knots at times. So the plan had been to follow the coast up to the Italian boarder, skirting the worst of the wind, finding a better angle to drop down to Corsica and waiting until the wind died a little.
On paper this plan seems fine, and in practice it worked; but I was not prepared for the fierce little waves, and the sudden and aggressive changes in wind force and direction that occur around the coast there.
Acceleration zones around headlands, dead spots, where there is no wind but lots of swell, 180 changes in direction have had me on a never ending treadmill of reefing, changing sails, reefing the jib then letting it all go again.
It really is never ending, because one thing I am discovering about the mini is if the sail plan is not right, the boat will not go.
All the while, the lack of sleep was catching up with me; I always find the second night to be the worst, when adrenaline has worn out and you start to get really tired.
Around 3am I found I was in a zombie like state, where I did not trust myself to stand up. The boats violent motion was difficult to pre-empt on a moonless night, I was weak from endless sail changes and my body was just too tired to react to the bucking bronco.
I have dealt with these nights before and it is important to keep on; you must break through that barrier, to give in and have a deep sleep now would be counter productive; every sail change and task still has to be done I just made a mental check list in my head and did every manoeuvre on my knees, slowly and steadily, waiting until my fumbling hands had finished tying a knot and then dragging my heavy body back to the cockpit on hands and knees.
And it worked. I am now in a happy rhythm of napping and last night, was able to take 3-10 minute naps at quite regular intervals, I now have a spring back in my step (and very bruised knees).
I finally made a break for Corsica at 9am yesterday morning and came hooning over in at times 30 knot winds.
I locked up down below and sat in the cockpit steering for eight hours, taking bucket after bucket of water, in exchange for the fantastic feeling of getting the boat going.
Periodically I would dash below with a bucket and sponge and empty out some of the water. Grab a drink and a snack before braving another face full of Mediterranean.
I rounded Corsica at 3am and the wind has died away, so I am able to get out the generator, make a coffee and look over at a beautiful sunrise reflected on the snow capped Corsican Mountains.
The course today will take me past Elba then onto a tiny island called Giannutri Island which I will sail around before heading back the way I came then out to Barcelona.
I am learning so much; and though it is not always that nice, sailing in big winds and rough weather is worth every minute. Learning how to deal with the relentless demands of the boat in these conditions, and how the rest of life stops while you attend to the boat, can only help to gain a better result in future races.
We can all try and get the best out of our boats on a champagne day, with a nice following wind and blue skies, but it is how we deal with the bad stuff that will set us apart in the end; on days when nothing is going right, and the relentless sea and wind are making sailing at all a huge effort, having the experience of getting through it before will be a great reserve to draw on.