Shetland Round Britain and Ireland Race Update
It is another typical June day in the St George’s Channel between Land’s End and Ireland. The sky is coming down to meet the sea in a seamless join of grey on grey.
It has been raining for five hours, a special kind of rain that is fine but persistent, working its way through layers of clothing, hair and skin to make damn sure you have a total understanding of the word saturated.
Visibility is poor and outside the grey there is really not a lot to see. But I know that somewhere in the gloom there are 112 total nutters trying to race their way around Britain and Ireland and two of them are on my boat [an Oyster Lightwave 395] The Shed, grinning like idiots, while we surf down the waves.
The start yesterday already feels like a million years ago. Phil [Stubbs] and I have had less than an hour sleep each since the start gun went at 1215 yesterday. Every second has been important. We have worked the Shed non-stop to try and achieve a winning position.
The days leading up to the start of the race have been fantastic. There was a great atmosphere between the race competitors, light-hearted banter, swapping of tools, help and advice and a party atmosphere not all that conducive to getting some much needed pre-race sleep.
I have really enjoyed getting to know my fellow competitors, some of whom I met during the OSTAR, some I have raced with on the Solent and some new faces altogether.
The Shed is racing in a class of 11 boats which looks like it could be the most competitive of the race. Several boats have jostled against each other before with similar ratings and competitive crews who race to win.
We have understood from the start that if we want to get a result for The Shed we must race from the word go, at all times concentrating on the job in hand and pushing as hard as we can.
So we have been true to our word. We crossed the start line in 5th position, sailing high to the committee boat and blocking out the band of last minute chancers who thought they could muscle their way onto the track.
Out to the Eddystone and we were working The Shed with both brains and muscle. Every time the boat felt different we changed the settings, adjusting mast and sails for the new conditions and maintaining a balance between power and speed.
The work paid off through a long night and by the time we arrived at the Scilly Isles we were just leading a pack of boats from our class, all within a mile of each other despite having been racing for 15hrs. This is going to be a close race.
At the Scillies it was time to hoist the spinnaker and so out came our biggest one, the A4, and at this point we split from the fleet.
The wind is expected to back through this afternoon and to then shift to the west in the evening.
Our plan appears to differ from the rest of our pack as we went hooning off downwind towards Ireland as fast as we could. The rest of the spinnakers disappeared into the murk leaving us alone to play in the surf.
It has been a bit of a trial by fire for Phil. We put up the big kite and then the wind increased to 25 knots but I was having fun surfing the waves, pulling at 12 and 13 knots regularly and grinning widely. There would be no persuading me to take it down.
When I handed to helm to Phil I gave him a loaded-up Shed and stayed on deck ready to assist should he need.
After a while tiredness crept in and I needed to close my eyes so I pulled up my collar and sat on the cockpit floor in the rain. Phil had the instruction to wake me by shouting ‘sheet’ or ‘guy’ so I could spring into action from the floor and know immediately which line to release to save us from our impending doom.
The boat settled down and so I put my head down to writing this blog at the computer.
Three lines down the page and I am being thrown across the cabin, just catching a mouse and a keyboard and knocking the contents of a coffee jar on the floor.
We had been overpowered by a wave and the spinnaker and the boat had broached and was patiently lying on its side, sails flapping, waiting for me to come on deck and let some ropes go.
All sorted, back upright and sailing today. I am into the second paragraph and again airborne.
This time as I came up through the hatch I said “Do you want me to drive for a bit?” To which the answer was a definite “yes” and I had to take over while we were still going sideways and flat.
Eventually even I had to concede we had too much sail up, so down came the big kite; up went the little one and we are only surfing at 10 knots now, but life seems to be a lot calmer.
The finish line [of the first leg to Crosshaven] is 60 miles away, and I have no idea where the rest of the fleet are. All we can do is push on. When the wind eases the A4 will go back up and neither of us will sleep now until we are across the line.
I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror just now. I am a drowned rat; my fingers are so wrinkled from the rain they feel like they belong to someone else. I am drenched through but the things that stands out are my eyes. All the lines have gone, they are bright and my face looks stress free.
It has been a mission getting everything in place to compete in this race, but now we are here I would rather be nowhere else. I may be soaked, sore, hungry and tired, but no face cream could transform me like this.
It is the competition, the love of sailing, travelling and adventures, using every resource available, brain, brawn, technology and some old fashioned seamanship, to get to that finish line ahead of the pack.