Close your eyes for a moment at your peril!

Close your eyes for a moment at your peril!

Friday August 19 2011 Author: conrad Location: United Kingdom

As I left the pontoon in Dun Laoghaire, I felt very confident that this was going to be a good leg. My start was good and I rounded the first mark in 10th place. The wind was very unstable on the short harbour course, but I managed to stay with the lead pack as we exited Dublin Bay. The wind shut down close inshore to Muglins Island, so I headed further out and sailed around the main bunch. It was clear in my mind that as we reached down the coast of Ireland, there would be areas of calm inshore, so I decided to push a little further off the coast. Big mistake!

I was in great company when the wind shut down off Wicklow Head. The group consisted of about 15 boats, many from the top of the leaderboard and we sat becalmed whilst the boats inshore sailed past. In desperation Eric Drouglazet tacked back towards the coast to recover the lost ground. In the space of just one hour we lost over 7 miles to the lead!

In my mind, I had Jérémie Beyou’s mantra, reminding me about how to recover from a setback, so I tried to put it out of my mind and set about stopping the rot. As we left Ireland and headed across the Irish Sea I pushed hard with the spinnaker to make up some ground. I also used the constant wind to get lots of rest when under Genoa.

At Lands End, the fleet converged and I was not too far from the lead group, just 5.5 miles. I felt really good, I’d recovered 2 miles in 150 miles of sailing, which sounds like nothing, but in this fleet 2 miles can take a day to recover when the wind is constant....such are the margins. I passed through the gate at Wolf Rock just behind Jeanne Gregoire (Banque Populaire) and Charlie Dalin (Keopsys). We crossed the channel just east of the Ouessant Traffic Separation Zone as a group and whilst a lot of the tankers altered course, there was one ship that bore down on Sam Goodchild and myself. I held my course, not wanting to give ground on the leaders and checked the AIS which at 1 mile still said that we would collide. I watched the lights on the ship and the bearing remained constant, it was now too late to change course, so I held my breath. Finally the Ship relented and swung 50 metres from my stern. I will not forget the rumble of the engine or the spotlight that beamed down as the ship passed by.

My best moment of the race came as we closed in on Chanel du Four. The leaders had just missed the tidal gate, so there was some convergence. I’d had dinner with Jérémie the night before we left Dun Laoghaire and had asked him about tactics for passing this tidal area. He told me to stay close to the rocks offshore and not to cross to the mainland. He was right. The tide was starting to turn on the island and it was painless passing close to the rocks. Those who crossed to the mainland made huge losses. As the tide swept me passed Raz de Sein, I was up to 25th and just 6 miles from the lead in between Jeanne Gregoire and Gildas Morvan... a nice sandwich to be in!

As the wind veered, I hoisted the spinnaker just off Penmarch. The wind was very light and as we ghosted down the course in the sunshine, the tactic was to sail as low as possible whilst making best VMG. I was so tired that I put the pilot on and went to sleep for 5 mins. When I woke, I was .5mile further offshore than the group. It was a tiny margin but enough to lose some ground. From now on I will not sleep if the conditions are unstable. Gildas Morvan and Fred Rivet where the first to gybe inshore, believing their only chance of success was to hit the mainland coast and pick up any land breeze in the night. I gybed and then gybed back as the course looked awful. The weather grib forecast had predicted that the wind would start to veer late afternoon and if the gradient remained, inshore was not a good option. The forecast was good and the wind started to veer quickly from north west through to north east. My choice of tactic was good.
Ill de Yeu now blocked my path to Les Sables and I couldn’t decide whether to pass east or west of the small island. The main fleet had chosen to pass inside and I thought that this was also the best option. I noticed that a few boats close to the island had slowed, indicating some lighter winds so I headed up higher, but still I was too close and the wind started to drop. I thought I’d cleared the worst of the wind cushion effect and bore away back towards course. The wind quickly shut down and I started drifting towards the beach. A massive thunder storm was overhead and I passed straight through its centre. The lightning and thunder was overhead and it was like sailing inside a flickering lightbulb. A loud crack of thunder accompanied a volt of lightening which hit the water 50 metres from the DMS. It made me jump. The down draft from the cloud backed the jib and tacked the boat. For a crazy moment, I had 15 knots from the west and torrential rain, no time to get my foulies so I was soaked to the skin. The cloud pushed me away from the beach and once it passed by the wind returned to the east.

The final 20miles to Les Sables were difficult, I was desperate to sleep, but the wind was very unstable. I lay down on the deck and drifted off, waking sharply as I clipped a lobster pot which rattled down the side of DMS. The wind had backed and I was closing in on the coast too early.
I heard that Jérémie has crossed the finish line on the radio, I was 8 miles behind, with a last final push I arrived into Les Sables and crossed the finish line two hours behind. The arrival was very special. Lots of people had gathered on the canal to wave and clap. It was a lovely gesture for a group of very tired Figaro sailors!

The final Leg 4 starts on Sunday 21st August to Dieppe.

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