After the Select there was a day or so to dry and prepare the boat for the 100 or so mile delivery from Pornichet to La Rochelle.
The weather was looking good for the end of the week so a group of us decided we would all go together early Friday morning. But come Thursday evening it looked as though the weather system had arrived early, so we went to the restaurant had dinner and then went sailing, with just enough light left to sneak through the narrow unlit Troves channel, followed by a close reach to the end of Ile de Yeu. By now it was passed my bed time so I took a nice comfortable wide passage past the end of Yeu, put up the small spinnaker and settled into a 15 minute sleep, quick look out of the hatch and back to sleep routine, there was reasonable breeze all night and by early morning I had reached the end of Ile de Re and was able to cruise up the side of the island admiring all the sites I had missed in the dark on my qualifier, getting to the bridge by mid morning and the entrance to the huge Marina at La Rochelle just before lunch.
The next week was spent doing safety checks, working on the boat, studying the weather etc and generally preparing for my biggest race yet.
Start day and the first decision was sails, I have 10 sails and we are only allowed to carry 8 my best spinnaker is the big masthead kite and I wanted to preserve this for the transat, so I decided to christen the new Sanders main and leave the big kite and old main behind.
In virtually no wind we were towed out to the start area and after an hours postponement waiting for breeze we launched into the start sequence, I was feeling a bit more confident now and wanted to push a bit harder for this race so I managed to find a nice front row position for the start, unfortunately there were a couple of very quick proto’s which very quickly rolled me and left me buried back in the pack. I had no option but to tack off and go hunt for a clear lane, this took me further right than I really wanted but I felt reasonably happy there were other good guys out to the right as well. However in the lighter conditions with a very old and tatty genoa I was struggling for speed and by the time I had established clear air and got going in the right direction there were only 2 boats behind which was a bit depressing. However the wind was building and freeing, by dark I had the masthead reacher up and was cruising along at 10-12 knots and starting to reel in a few of the boats in front.
My game plan having studied the weather was always to try and stay on the west side of the fleet, this had the added advantage in the early hours of the race that I was also sailing a much hotter angle than those boats sailing the rhumb line in the small hours as I luffed slightly to cross behind one such boat I heard a cheery girlie “Hi Keith” it was Christa the dutch girl. This made me feel much better, I knew from the earlier radio sked she had a good start and was doing okay.
Morning came and the wind went!! The next day was pretty slow, there were some good dolphin moments and that was about it, progress was slow and I had pretty much lost sight of everybody, but I was sticking to my game plan about 10 miles west of track. Later that day the wild life took a distinct change and insects of various kinds descended on the boat, mainly Bees there big clumps of them on the main and loads buzzing around on deck, some how unlike a few of the other competitors I managed to escape without getting stung!!! By dark there was a tiny bit more breeze albeit not very stable in direction and we were making progress again. During the night the wind was generally all over the place meaning virtually no sleep, but apart from 1 hitch back a little way towards the rhumb line I was still largely able to make the course I wanted. By dawn I could see a good few Nav lights, but as the light came up most seemed to disappear, but I could see a couple of boats behind so at least I knew I wasn’t last. As the day went on I became more and more depressed about my speed I was on a close reach with a good kite and the new main, but the boats behind were catching fast and even though there wasn’t very far to go I knew that they were going to get me!! But as they got close I suddenly realised why, they were proto’s and good ones at that, they should have been way ahead, then I heard some of the other boats talking on the radio they were way behind and as we all converged on the finish I began to establish I was actually doing pretty well. By this time we were close reaching in towards Gijon with a big slow following swell. Time to start preparing my Nav for the entrance itself, I know from my prior preparation that it is very narrow with rocks both sides with a beach close behind, you cross the line and have to immediately turn hard left into the entrance. So out with the pilot book, and the first line for Gijon is “Do not attempt entrance in big swell”!!! I am now feeling very glad the proto’s have overtaken me, they will only be ¼ of a mile ahead when we finish and I should be able to see exactly where to go!! As I approached the line a RIB came virtually alongside and as I crossed the line, even before I had finished dropping the kite they were alongside and tied on!! A quick tow round the corner and I was able to count how many were in, I was 9th a result I was very happy with and was way beyond my expectations.
Gijon is a city I have never been to before and with only a couple of days stopover didn’t really get a chance to see, what I do know is it has a pretty lively night life!!! There was a party organised for the competitors by the locals which was great and then afterwards the whole fleet moved on to a night club, we arrived just after 11 and it was empty! By not long after midnight it was standing room only, and as I walked back to the hotel at 3:30 the whole city was heaving!! Matt (South African sailing the proto GBR419) who I was sharing a room with wanted to stay on so I had left saying just bang on the door when you get back!! Unfortunately when he got back to the hotel at 4:30 he couldn’t remember which room number he was in and I had the key, I wasn’t answering my phone, Matt had also booked Conrad and Ollie’s room so Sod’s law dictated that when he managed to get the receptionist to let him in, he got the wrong room first!!!
Start day for the second leg, an okay breeze and flat water and this time I managed to get the position on the line I wanted right by the committee boat with pace as the gun went, a great start. With a short beat followed by a fetch off towards a buoy SE of the Raz. The weather was looking really complex, with a very weak system which was going split in two over the fleet before pushing off east, the call was go east to get the last of the old breeze or go west for the new breeze. The race organisers had already slightly reduced the course and left opportunity to shorten because the new breeze was due to be big, so I decided to go big time west for the new breeze. At first this seemed badly wrong, but by the time you are 20 plus miles west of the rhumb line its too late to change!! The middle of Bicay was really very slow with periods of no wind at all, but loads of sun and very hot. As we approached the north side of Biscay so the wind started to build and the forecasts got bigger, and again I found myself preparing to approach a small cardinal mark in amongst the rocks in a gale, in the dark, as luck would have it the most scarry thing about the last night was the vast quanitity of fishing boats around and the breeze was good and from behind making for a good run in to the cardinal with a couple of boats behind and a couple in front just before dawn, then hard on the wind and head for the next cardinal a mile or so away. The wind had been building as I approached the mark and the forecast was bad so I had changed down to the solent and bundled the genoa down below. So I wasn’t particularly impressed when the wind headed and died completely almost immediately, I was even less impressed when I looked at the GPS track and realised that if there wasn’t any wind within 2 hours or so I was going up the rocks!! It didn’t really help much when I realised there were 2 others that would hit first!! Luckily there were a few odd puff’s which came through sufficient to keep us well away until the breeze did come in.
On the approach in to the cardinal, I had heard a lot of talk from the French about Birvideaux a light house on a rock close to the top of Belle Ille and also Lorient but had not been able to understand what was being said, so at last I got impatient and called Conrad on the VHF his French is good so thought he would know what was happening, no reply, but Craig the American called me with the same question, then Krista joined in, finally a French competitor also joined in and explained that the course was shortened we would finish at Birvideaux and that everybody was to go to Lorient.
Eventually as we drifted towards the rocks the breeze started to fill in, close hauled the remainder of the way to the next cardinal and then a reach to the final cardinal as I was about to hoist the mast head reacher I noticed the block at the bottom of the mast on the kite halyard was all twisted so quick change to fractional kite, change the block, then peel to masthead just as I got to the last cardinal, now a 30 mile run to Birvideaux and the finish, the breeze is building, the fleet has compressed in the light patch but I have to sleep!! I know there are a lot of boats behind and I am not sure how many in front. No sooner was I down and asleep when it all started to feel wrong, the spinnaker was big time wrapped around the forestay, I had no option but to gybe off and run deep downwind and let it slowly unwind itself, boats were piling past on the old gybe, but I was lucky by the time the wrap came out and I gybed back on course I had inadvertently got the right side of a shift and was sailing far deeper on a more direct course for the lighthouse and the wind was building and I had caught all via one of the boats that had overtaken me by the time we got to Birvideaux and the finish.
At the finish I discovered that I had got an eleventh on this leg which made me 8th overall a result which I am hugely happy with and never expected.
As soon as I knew we were going to Lorient and not La Rochelle I had a quick look at the charts and pilot books, I was happy with the Nav to get there, what I didn’t know was which marina everyone was going to. So as soon as I finished it was back on the radio again to Craig the American who had finished just in front of me. He didn’t know what any one else was doing, but his boat lived at the AOS yard in Lorient so that was where he was going, as soon as he explained the deal I also decided I would go to the same place. As it turned out that was where everyone was going. By the time we had got back to the entrance to Lorient the breeze was up, we were down to solent and two reefs (probably should have reefed the solent), and I was getting worried about the prospect of sailing into a strange marina in winds that were in the high 20’s with no engine and minimal fenders!!! However I needn’t have worried as Craig and myself approached the submarine pens several RIB’s came out and towed us in.
A quick fold of the sails, and into the bar for a much needed eat and a drink. We also needed to work out how we were going to get our cars, and kit from La Rochelle, a hire car seemed the best option.
The following morning 5 of us went into town to hire a car, this turned into quite a comical experience as we could only find small hatchbacks. We eventually managed the journey to La Rochelle and I was able to collect my car and trailer and drive back to La Rochelle, stopping for dinner in Pornichet and to help Conrad search for his passport.
The following morning I arrived down by the boat just as the crane driver was lifting another couple of mini’s out of the water, a quick bit of negotiation and I managed to join the queue and an hour or so later my boat was out of the water and on the trailer, luckily there was a pressure wash available as there was an embarrassing amount of weed on the bottom.
The rest of that day and the following day were spent tidying/drying the boat. Before heading back to La Rochelle for the prize giving and then a somewhat rapid drive back to Caen and finally England!!