I’m back at the tip of Corsica after a 24hr jaunt down to Giannutri Island and back again. What a wild ride that was.
The breeze filled in yesterday morning to a stunning NNEly, which allowed me to fly the spinnaker all the way down to the Island, bringing some hairy and interesting moments along the way.
I am at the moment seriously thinking about conserving my sails, as I have a couple of races to do with them at the end of this thousand miles, and the solent (jib) is already looking like it is not going to make it.
Due to this policy, even though it was only 15 knots yesterday morning I decided to make to with the little kite and not to give the big one too much of a beasting.
I launched just off the island of Elba and then spent a couple of hours skirting round it’s huge wind shadow which was lying directly across the track down to my turning island.
Again all that gybing practice seems to have been worthwhile as I worked my way around the outside of the wind shadow, sailing south away from my course, then gybing back until I fell into the edge of the shadow again and the sail collapsed.
I even started to practice gybing without the pilot at all, which I have discovered is easier in more breeze; however I could seriously do with growing another set of arms and need to slow myself down a little after the gybes, when a mad scramble to keep the spinnaker trimmed and pull on the back stay takes me in two different directions across the cockpit while leaving it to an outstretched foot to take care of the job of helming.
After working my round the tip of the very highest hill thrown down onto the water, I popped out of the shadow into a freshening breeze and a fantastic swell which really allowed me to have some fun.
For about 3 hours, I sailed, playing with the apparent wind and the waves to keep the boat at a fairly constant 11 knots, then picking up one of the approaching waves from the side and riding along the edge of the crest like a proper surfer, now allowing the bow to fall down the front of the wave and accelerate then as the boat started to slow, bringing it back up into the breeze, to build the apparent wind and get back on the wave.
Surfing speeds on average 14 – 16 knots.
Exciting or what! I have so much adrenaline when it is like that I feel like I am going to burst out of my own skin, I want to scream and laugh and it is hard to keep my head on my shoulders – so reminded of ‘The Stig’ I decided to sing some easy listening Art Garfunkel songs, to keep me calm and rooted in the real world, ‘Bright Eyes’ ‘In a little while’ and I even have a video of me surfing a wave while singing ‘Miss you nights’ in the back ground. (interestingly covered by Sir Cliff himself as well!)
Though everyone keeps telling me this qualifier is not a race, I am using it to learn about going fast and the big lesson of yesterday was how would my newly installed Raymarine Pilots be able to cope with sailing downwind that fast?
At some point I was going to have to be able to trust them as I cannot steer forever, so yesterday we started to build our relationship.
Step one, change the settings to steer to a True wind angle and not apparent, this stops the boat from making massive changes in direction as it takes off down a wave.
Step two, turn up the sail tune response and counter rudder (as we had a swell from the side, the counter rudder stops the pilot of over correcting in a cross swell).
Step 3 tune down the wind damping a little – this was probably not necessary but as we had a swell and the mast was accelerating one way with the rolling of the boat, I decided to just dampen down the rate of information being fed to the pilot, to rely on a more mean set of information.
Step 4 – let the pilot take control.
Steering for me was not easy yesterday as it is pretty hard to trim and steer, and as the boat was rolled by a wave, the spinnaker would fill and heel us over, the reaction to this is either to ease the sheet, allow the boat to come upright and then sheet back on, Or to apply lots of rudder and hope for the best – naturally this was the pilots tactic.
I spent a tense hour perched next to the helm, ready to grab anything at all as the boat teetered along on the bring of wiping out. Then was gripping the lifelines, with heart in mouth as the pilot bore us away down the face of a wave, ever accelerating (just as I would do) but wondering if it would carry on going straight into a gybe or come back up again when the surf stopped.
We had a couple of wipe outs, where a wave from the side rolled us and the rudders lost grip on the water, but the exercise was a complete success. As the afternoon wore on I gained more and more confidence in the machine and eventually we arrived at the ultimate test of trust.
I need to go to the loo!
Without going into too much detail, there are no plumbed in facilities on ‘The Potting Shed’. My toilet is a bright blue bucket and in this case I was certainly not going to use it down below.
Needless to say, accelerating up to 15 knots down a wave, with a computer driving the boat while sitting on a bucket with trousers round ankles can make one feel a little venerable!
So the pilot passed the test! However I am not quite ready to sleep on it yet.
I arrived at the Giannutri Island just at dusk, dropped the spinnaker and then sailed a pretty torturous route around it in total blackness not being able to see where the edges where.
As an apology for my pasting on the way to Corsica the wind gods allowed me a one tack beat back again; but I have spent a terrible night in the dark, over tired and not able to sleep for fear of hitting a fishing vessel or island.
Having not got any rest for close to 24 hrs, I spent a terrible time this morning trying to sail back out of the wind shadow of Elba in a channel between two islands.
I kept falling asleep at the helm, just for a minute, turning the boat around and then not knowing where I was. A frantic run down below and a plot on the chart, then back up on deck to aim at the same point as before.
I have looked at the chart this morning and it is scary the amount of inconsistent and inaccurate plots I put on last night. Tiredness is definitely my enemy and I will have to think of a way to deal with prolonged downwind spinnaker sailing, until I have the confidence to sleep with the pilot on.
I managed to escape the worst of the light wind this morning and am currently heading NW back towards France.
Tonight I expect a 6 hr calm, during which I will have a proper sleep then a roaring 30 knot Easterly wind should kick in and blow me back the way I came.
Next stop Golfe of Lyon bouy.