Leg one – that never was

It is often the way that the things we look forward to the most, the things we imagine, we plan for we place the most expectations on do not turn out the way we expected and the 2013 mini transat fits exactly into that catagory.

It was dark when we came down and rigged our boats on the morning of the 29th October which seems an age ago.
The port was active but hushed, with crackling sails being hanked on, rustling of fowl weather gear and people rushed past up and down the dock and a high nervous energy among the fleet; all of us glad to be going but fully understanding the weather we had ahead was not going to be easy.
I was happy to be leaving but very much knew that the first night would be unbeleivably hard; it was going to be a question of going steady, managing myself and my boat and just getting underway to find my rythm and start racing when i could.
When we left the dock we went straight out into gust of 25 knots, the boats were powered up, straining and charging down waves, I reefed down to be in control with the thought of 84 of us beating out of the bay and crossing tacks there would be no point in damaging the boat or risking collision within the first few hours of the race; this is the long game.
I had a great start and we were off, finally after all of the waiting. The wind in our faces, spray coming over the deck every couple of minutes, the boat bucking and me being thrown around trying to get used to the motion and get into some sort of groove again.
Once we were out of the bay de douarnenez the sea showed us it´s teeth. We were treated to massive rolling and sometimes breaking waves on the beam of the boat which was tossed from one wave to the next.
The breeze was still quite strong and those that dared hoisted there code zero´s and clung as they screeched off into the grey murk.
I had one of my angel and devil moments, with the two voices debating whether i should join the joy ride and put up the code zero, and for one rare moment in my life the angel won. I always knew the first night would be tough, I have not sailed the boat as much as i would have hoped this year and my own confidence in my ability to get myself out of tricky situations was not running high. I could all too well imagine the consequences of gtting it all wrong and so I decided to play it ultra safe and as it happened slow and to keep the boat and me in one place on the first night and just going.
This was a difficult decision and i have to say it made me feel miserable, I could imagine the miles in my head that i was not making but still in the black of the night I knew if I put up too much sail and got it wrong the cost could be high.
Late when arriving into Gijon I have learned of the seven boats that retrired or abandoned the race on that first night then I know that I made the best decision. If we ever get going this race is long and I know I can work my way forward through the fleet if I put my mind to it, but to break the boat and not have the opportunity to do this woud have been terrible.
As day two came on I started to find my rythm and become friends with the boat again, enjoying the sailing and remembering what it is to be at sea, I steered a lot, organised myself, had my first meal of lentils and quinoa and started to feel a whole lot better about the world. By this time there were very few other boats in sight, occasionally i would see the shpae of a sail appear out of the gloom, cross my bows or disappear back into a cloud but contact was limited to the radio chat that streamed out from the cabin.
It was at this point that the race became unusual.
On that first morning we were told in the daily SSB broadcast that due to the poor weather we were going to all put in to Sada which is a small port near Finisterre. This did not change the stratergy too much and the aim of the game was to go west.
I had sailed failry conservatively up to this point but the boat was going amazingly well and I knew I was starting to reel in some boats as we made our way to windward. I have not had much time to look at my new One Sails and the mainsail has been made slightly fuller and the jib slightly larger for this race. I played around with sheeting positions for the jib and tweaked and fiddled until the boat felt good sliding over the waves instead of banging into them and it really was a pleasure to sail and felt great. I was ready to go to the west for a fight.
At this point we started receiving messages over the radio from the accompanying boats who escort the fleet telling us that the race director has advised us all not to go to the west as the weather system that was approaching was going to be a lot worse than had been forecast and he wanted the fleet to all head south to try and find some shelter along the coast of Spain. They were forecasting 40 knots.
I thought about this hard. We were still racing and so technically i did not have to do as I was told; however I imagined that if the race director was telling us this then it was for a good reason and if I stayed out to the west and got a pasting or into conditions that i could not handle then how could I explain ignoring these instructions.
So I headed South imagining the worst – as did most of the fleet.
The next message over the radio told us to go to Gijon; the race was still on but the expected weather was so bad that we had to seek refuge, wait for it to blow over and then carry on racing to Sada.
I looked at this and thought it was not the best solution, there were other ports, Ria´s and natural harbours along that coast that were closer to Sada than Gijon, if I headed for the coast then it would be to a port as close the finish as I could get and I would throw out an anchor to ride out the worst if i had to but going and tying up in a marina was not my idea of racing.
The next announcement came later on saying that anyone who could not make Sada by 0900 on the morning of the 31st must go to Gijon. My ETA was 1400 at that point but I was still not happy about going to Gijon.
I was not alone in thinking this, the radio buzzed as sailors of different nationalities exchanged ideas and theories in different languages and did not really understand what was going on. Those that did as we were told all continued to head South not decided on where we were going and every mindful of the heck of a storm that must be coming to have warrented such unprecedented action.
next the race was abandoned.
Well what can i say? The race committee have acted in the interests of our safety we know that and it would be a foolish person that headed out into 40 knot winds when they knew they were coming and they did not have to go. But the advice and instructions we were given as a fleet during the first few days made it impossible for this leg to be considered as a race. I was not making racing decisions I was making decisions based on safety as were most of the fleet. We were not racing.
So now we are in a wierd limbo land here in Gijon.
We arrived yesterday to a Fiesta which sounds like a lot of fun but in reality it just means that everywhere was closed. I have no ´land clothes´to wear and have had to go and buy a pair of flip flops to avoid walking round town in may sailing wellies and gators. I have no phone, no computer, no towel to have a shower, no soap, no sleeping bag or pillow, I am walking round in my thermals as it is too cold to wear shorts.
The internet cafe i am is busy with mini sailors and last night an incredible woman at the local back packers put up with 24 smelly sailors decending on her for a bed for the night, the organisation was amusing, with only myself and one other person able to speak Spanish and having to translate into English and then French chaos reigned.
As every the mini spirit is soggy but overall insurpressable, we are making do and hoping for the best.
The latest plan is that we will sail in convoy to Sada to join the six boats who made it and then restart the race on the 5th from there.
One thing is for sure all of my plans have now completely gone up in smoke, the stopover in Lanzarote will be totally different dates from expected, I am not sure if my Mum and Dad will still be there, I will have to find somewhere else to stay, our finish in the caribbean will be delayed and so I have lost my return flight and will have to buy another – all of that planning up in smoke.
But despite all of that i have had the taster, my couple of days alone at sea have been great, it took me a while to get back into things but once i was there the boat felt great, I felt good and there is no where else i would rather have been. I spent hours just steering, watching every wave, reacting to every gust, willing the boat to go faster. I rarely look at my watch but when I do I discover that I have spent five hours at the helm in the blink of an eye, but still the ocean rolls on.
I won´t deny I am feeling a little jaded at this latest turn of events but I know it will be worth it in the end. I started badly but pulled up my socks quickly and after my ´warm up´I am feeling positive and the boat is great. I am mostly upset that having planned to spend a long and enjoyable stopover with my parents my Mum has been sitting out in Lanzarote on her own for the past two weeks and though if we do start on the 5th I should see her for a day before she flies home nothing is garunteed and there is a chance I will not see her at all.
I know we will eventually get back out there. I am trying not to let the waiting kill me in the meantime.

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