Big Monday

I am just on the final approach to Barcelona; 40 miles to go, then I can turn around a buoy and finally head for home.

I have the spinnaker up so it’s not normally a great idea to have the laptop out at the same time..(what could possibly go wrong??) but I thought I would write a couple of words about big Monday, which ran on through into big Tuesday morning and left me a blubbering wreck by soggy Tuesday lunch time.

This was to be a great test for me, I was expecting 30-35 knots over a 24 hr period, and a chance to see how the boat handled in big winds and waves, with a defined end time, so I knew it would not go on forever.

The breeze kicked in like it had rehearsed it’s entrance from UGrib, with amazing accuracy, filling in from 5 knots to 20 knots in a matter of 10 minutes.

I started out in amazing flat water with a building breeze, full main and the little kite up. Great fun, playing with speed and angles, but in the end sailing lower and lower and the wind continued to build.

I had in my mind that I need a definite plan for taking the thing down. It is too easy to say ‘oh just a couple knots more,’ while everything is fine, so I defined my take down point would be either after my first wipe out or when the true wind hit 30 knots.

I was playing around at 29 knots for a long time, getting constant speeds of 14 and 15 knots out of the boat and having that little devil on my shoulder start with the ‘oh just ……’ When WHAM! I was over on my side, mast horizontal and main sail, kite and rig flogging around making a lot of noise.

As it happens, 30 knots = wipeout!

The kite came down disappointingly easily after I decided to let the knot out of the tackline and let the thing flag, to avoid trawling it in the water. Why disappointing? Because it always leaves you feeling you could have kept it up for a little while longer.

Next I went with full main and the solent, but this did not last for long, a sea was building and we were quickly up to 35 knots.

With each new broach another bit of sail came down, until I was left with 2 reefs and no headsail.

I am trying very hard to preserve the solent just a little bit so did not think wrapping the battens around the forestay as it gybed back and forth while surfing down a wave would do it any favours.

Lots of laughs, lots of clenched buttock moments and while with 3 reefs when the breeze got up to 40 knots.

The waves were quickly huge and surfing them was an absolute thrill.

With the timing of a wave and a gust just right, ‘The Potting Shed’ would leap forward so that from where I was sitting it looked like her bow would be peeking out over the edge of a breaking wave.

Underneath the bow – nothing; a huge drop.

Then a rush of water and we would either move forward with the wave, bow teetering on the edge of the break, or we would launch head first down into the abyss, hit the bottom and surf out from under the wall of white water that was following us.

Sometimes, we could pick up a second wave from the back of the first and surfs of 16 or 17 knots would just go on and on. Steering then becomes a bit tricky ever watchful for a gybe, the rudders feel like they are cutting through air and the whole boat gets the speed wabbles.

I have taken a few videos which I will put on my website when I get to the shore, I’d turn the sound down if you don’t want to hear me cackling like and old crone in the background.

And so we surfed on and on, into the night, which became more than a little crazy.

By about 10pm I was dog tired, I had been steering all day from around 6 am and the concentration had taken it’s toll.

I still had two reefs in the main and was averaging about 10 knots and surfing in the teens; there was no moon and I could not see if there was anything ahead of me at all. The boat would take off, with a shower of silver kicking up on each side of the bow and that same abyss as I had seen on the big waves, but this time a black hole.

It reminded me of sailing under spinnaker in thick thick fog on the way into the OSTAR finish in Newport. You just have to trust there is nothing there, don’t even think- literally blind faith.

A third reef came in when I caught myself nodding off mid 15 knot surf. Time to slow it down a bit; the only way I could keep myself awake was to make noise.

I started singing but was struggling to concentrate while surfing and remember the words, so instead I started to talk about the first things that came into my head, just let out a random stream of words, anything to make a noise.

It was truelly bizarre and I am sure the French authorities would have had a team of doctors out following me with a big net, if they had heard me as I went past, but I just needed to make some noise, and that simple function saved me from the torture of trying to force your eyes to stay open for hours on end.

Well, if I was after more stimulation to keep me awake, that is definitely what after rounding the golf of Lyon buoy.

All those waves and that wind I had been sailing away from all day, I now had to fetch across, in the total dark, with waves breaking over the boat, through the boat, around the boat, pushing me, slapping me, hitting me full in the face and finding their way down my back.

There was no way I would make it without the Jib, but that a big jib would have knocked the boat flat.

My storm jib went for a swim earlier in the week and did not come back, so I had no choice but to double reef the solent and in doing so signed it’s death warrant, this will be the final bit of abuse that ends it life as a racing sail.

And so the solent was henceforth taken to the foredeck where it was to end it’s racing life, by way of excessive flogging, reefing, dragging over guard rails, being pounded with salt water and then trailing unnecessarily over the side for hours while I don’t notice. Poor sail. Rest in pieces!

The big breeze eventually died around lunch time and I was left almost unable to do anything in the light wind and sloppy sea that remained.

I have hit the wall twice now on this trip, and I think it is mostly food related, though a culmination of a lot of things. I am struggling to get the right sort of calorific intake at the right time. If it is not easy I cannot be bothered and the net result of this I felt at lunch time today when a trip to the foredeck of a 6.5m boat felt like a five day expedition, my muscles ached and I did not feel I could physically lift my feet.

A bit of a sulk and a couple of dried apricots later and I realised that half of my problem was actually the weight of my clothes.

My foul weather gear though only two years old has definitely stopped being water repellent and now seems to absorb it. This water is then passed down through every layer I am wearing until even my underwear is wet; expanding the volume of all of the clothes so they are hanging off me like a very heavy clowns wardrobe.

I did a total change of clothes and broke out my emergency dry suit and reckon I may have been carrying an extra 10 kilos in soaking clothing.

I am on my last dry outfit now but feeling positively sprightly with the difference in weight.

Right we have started to surf with the kite, so it’s time for me to go on deck. Next stop La Grand Motte!!

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