So on the Friday13th March (what a date to start on!!!!!) with the got to be done section of the job list all ticked I hitched the car on to the boat and leave for France on the overnight ferry to St Malo, a hot tip on an email had said head for La Baule yacht club at La Pouligan and look for a guy called Loic which I duely did, bit of a bad start when I got there and found that ‘A’ there was no water under the crane and ‘B’ when I tried to phone Loic I discovered he was on a train near Paris!!! However whilst deciding whether to stay and wait or head the 5 or 6 miles down the coast road to Pornichet a nice French chappy turned up and explained that in another hour there would be plenty of water and that he was there to launch a load of J80’s and if I waited he would do me first. So 1 hour later on the dot, in went the boat and up went the mast, to cap it all I was then given the use a free pontoon berth to get the boat fully put back together and stay the night. Next morning rested and with the boat all put together I headed out of La Pouligan bound for the Pornichet marina a couple of miles across the bay. On the way spent an hour or so calibrating electronics, hoisted a kit did a couple of gybes before entering the marina, the intention was to go for a few more sails then start studying the weather and looking for opportunities to get out on the qualifying course. That night I headed for the local internet café with my laptop. It very quickly became apparent that I could not afford the luxury of practice sails, I had to get out there. So after a quick phone call to Geoff Duniam the guy who had volunteered to track and report my trip, I went back to the boat and started to prepare for a 9am morning departure. Faxing off all the forms, getting log books stamped and signed by Port officials filling up water cans etc.
Sunday 15th March
I managed to leave just about on time, with enough tide to get me easily out through the rocks and set off at a gentle pace with full main and big kite set, by lunch time the sun was getting hot and I sat in the cockpit with no shirt on doing my first celestial fix, seemed pretty weird only being a few miles offshore and a few hours out getting the sextant, tables and calculator out, but hey this was March I might not see the sun again for a while!!!!
It had been a slow start with only 4 or 5 knots but as the day got on so it slowly built and swung forward. By late afternoon I was hard on the wind and piling on the thermals as the weather reminded me firmly it was only march!! At this point I had my first minor problem the log started to play up, hardly a big issue!! It hadn’t been a bad day, I had only done 50 odd miles but it was a start, I was past Belle Isle and on my way to Penmarch.
Monday 16th March
The night had been bitterly cold and pitch black, no moon until a few hours before dawn. I rounded Penmarch in the small hours of the morning and headed towards the Ras, after a study of the tides and wind I eventually decided to head outside the il de sein and miss out on the Ras. By midday I was past Ushant and heading for Wolf rock, I was also rushing into my 2nd celestial fix, just incase the sun didn’t show again!! What a joke that was, the next time I saw a cloud was after I had finished!!! It was a good day, I was on a close fetch in flat seas making good comfortable progress, and to cap it all I was joined at sunset for about 15-20 minutes or so by 4 dolphins which was great.
Tuesday 17th March
Night times were bad, they were very dark, very cold and too long!! With an unheated stripped out boat with no proper bunk and no sleeping bag etc, nights were definitely a struggle and the only way to keep any form of sense of humour seemed to be lurch from 1 hot meal straight into another, interspersed only with a few hot drinks!! Why no sleeping bag I hear you say, its not racing the weight isn’t an issue etc, the problem is with having to be up every 15minuites or so to check for ships, fishing boats etc. It would be impossible to keep dry, and with foulies on I guess be of dubious worth anyway!!! As dawn came up I passed Lands end and headed out into the Irish sea. By this time all the forecasts were suggesting that by the time I got to Coninbeg the winds would have swung round and it was going to be absolutely on the nose all the way home. These boats might be ballistically quick downwind but upwind they are slow and it was quite a depressing thought to have the prospect of a 400mile beat ahead!! However it was currently very pleasant sailing a close reach in 10 knots of breeze with a flat sea and brilliant sunshine. Celestial 3, I know I only had to do 2 but if your going to have to do these things you might as well try and do them well, especially as I realised I had messed up the maths on the first 2 fixes, by the time I had crossed them out a few times and reworked them, my log book was beginning to look somewhat messy.
Wednesday 18th March
I rounded Coninbeg at 4:25 in the morning, pitch black and true to form in the last couple of miles the wind shifted round to the southeast, it was going to be a long beat, with a waterline length of 21foot and a tacking angle of just over a 100 degrees, the next leg was going to be a long one. It was also going to be stressful, we don’t carry radar and the forecast was for Fog. But it wasn’t all bad as the sun came up the dolphins were back. By midday things were looking up, contary to the forecast the wind had gone more easterly and I was occasionally laying the course. The fog also wasn’t that bad, it was very low lying with viz about half a mile and directly up it was still a sunny but slightly hazy day. Mid afternoon saw a major problem, I managed to sit on the tiller linkage bar and break it. Whilst not being a show stopper not having both rudders linked together would have made it incredibly hard to steer in any breeze if the twin rudders weren’t both pointing in the same direction. Luckily I had a spare sail batten, and a reel of insulation tape, by creating a good business partner ship between these two, a good solution to the problem was found.
Thursday 19th March
The forecast was still saying S-SE and I was firmly stonking along in an easterly, I came past lands end at dawn, and 12hours later I was off Ushant, the wind was upto 25 knots the seas were getting big enough to throw me around a bit but that wasn’t the problem. The problem was I appeared to be sinking!!!! I went from having the odd dribble of water down below, to suddenly finding I was getting rid of several buckets of water every half hour or so and I didn’t quite know where it was coming from. This became even more concerning when I discovered that my leeward buoyancy tank was completely full of water, however it did give me a clew which lead me to discover the problem, there is a slot in the transom which a bar passes through to enable certain type of hydraulic autopilots and rudder reference units to be used. The gator that waterproofs this had come off completely effectively leaving me a 1 inch by 3 inch hole in the transom, which in the current wind and sea state was underwater most of the time. After spending half an hour or so under the cockpit I had it all back together again and we were watertight, although it would be a couple of days before I managed to get the boat completely dry again.
Friday 20th March
I rounded Il de Sein and started the 150 mile treck down towards Rochebonne around midnight, as I came round the wind eased to a nice comfy 10 – 12 knots and I cruised on down towards Rochebonne. By a couple of hours after dark though it was getting pretty horrible, the sea built very quickly it was confused, there were a lot of fishing boats around and it was bitterly cold, however it only lasted 3 or 4 hours.
Saturday 21st March
Rounded Rochebonne about midday and headed for the south side of Il de Re getting to the Bridge just after midnight, must admit I was quite glad I had seen the place in daylight a few weeks earlier it made the Nav a lot easier, should have added earlier the class do not permit computers or chart plotters in any form. So all Nav has to be on paper charts.
Sunday 22nd March
Immediately after the bridge was littered with fishing pots, which wasn’t much fun dodging through them. Only managed to get 1 caught round the keel and rudders, but managed to back off it okay. Mid morning saw me chugging up the coast at good speed with an outside chance of a late lunch back in Pornichet. However as I approached the bay the wind died and it took me nearly 8 hours to do the last 15 miles. Finally arrived back in my berth at Pornichet at 8:30pm. To be met by my shore contact Geoff who dragged me straight of to a restaurant where there was a surprise gathering of other mini sailors, this was something I never expected and must confess that after even such a short length of time as this, was almost overwhelming.
The boat will now remain in Pornichet until the Select after which its base will move to La Rochelle until the Transat.
I did say earlier that I had to take photos of myself and my GPS at each corner, however due to the fact that there may be people of a sensitive disposition reading this I have decided to leave out the piccies of me at two in the morning freezing cold a weeks worth of stubble and a distinct lack of sleep.
A huge dept of thanks goes out to my shore contact Geoff Duniam who helped me prepare and complete this task, Geoff is also entered for the coming Transat, and I look forward to seeing who gets there first!! Also my various corporate supporters, IT Computers, Henri Lloyd, Harken, Satcom Group, Stream Networks, Sanders Sails.