Jack Bouttell: Top Solitaire rookie

Jack Bouttell: Top Solitaire rookie

Saturday June 8 2013 Author: Jack Bouttell Location: none selected

Leaving Bordeaux for the prologue race to Pauillac was as exciting as coming into the city with thousands of people lined along the shore. Unfortunately due to the amount of rainfall, they had opened up a dam somewhere up river which had caused half a forest of floating trees to drift down the river and onto the course. With the safety of the boats in mind the race organisers deciding to change the prologue from a race to a parade of sail which meant everyone was left to sail their own time, being cautious of the debris. Still managed to bang into a few logs on the way out though…

The next day we headed to the boats for the start of Leg 1 of the Solitaire from Pauillac to Porto. This is the longest leg of the course and the weather looked fairly stable until after Cape Finisterre, but after that it looked a little bit light along the Spanish and Portuguese coast. It was an intense start as we were in a narrow river with a lot of tide and 41 singlehanded boats trying to push their way into a good position. Once away cleanly, it was a long six hours out of the river, to stay in the strongest tide meant we had to tack every couple of minutes, which is a hard way to start a four day offshore race.

Finally out into the Bay of Biscay we could all settle into our places and go. It was pretty stable wind across Biscay and all under spinnaker. For me I knew the hardest part of the race would be the finish off the Portuguese coast, so I made a real effort to sleep as much as possible the first couple of days, even though I was sacrificing a little bit of boat speed, but this helped me a lot later on. A real highlight across the bay was the amount of dolphins in the area. There were loads the whole way, which was fantastic and a great morale booster.

Coming into Cape Finisterre we had been told that whatever wind speed you had before the Cape would double and they weren’t lying! I knew the breeze would build to over 30 knots, so I had a really safe plan to drop my big spinnaker as soon as I saw a 30 knot gust of wind and hoist my small one. With everything really well prepared,  saw 30 knots and got ready for the drop. I am not exactly sure how it happened, as it was night, but during the drop I managed to rip my big kite in half from top to bottom.

“AAAARRRGHHGHHHHHH” - I was screaming at myself when I pulled in the all the pieces of the mangled kite. I really needed a big kite later on when the breeze dropped off and at the time I thought this is leg one over for me in terms of a good result.

I managed to keep the kite pretty dry for the drop which was key to start a repair, but to add insult to injury, as I was putting the kite inside the boat a big wave came over the boat and straight into the hatch drenching the kite and everything else. I think I was a little bit over sailing at that point. I hung the kite up as best I could to dry and got back to sailing the boat fast with the little kite and the breeze still building. We had a solid 30-40 knots of breeze rounding the Cape, the boat was absolutely smashing along sitting in the high teens of speed screaming off the big waves we had. Just before dawn I had an interesting moment with a fishing boat coming straight at me. In the end I had to do a mega spin out to avoid him, there was me in total chaos with the boat on its side and everything flapping as he happily motored past me slowly around 50 meters away. Thanks!!!

The rest of this period was spent holding on for dear life and pushing the boat in wind speeds that most people would call survival conditions, praying that the boat wouldn’t break. I managed to get a new top speed for the boat of 22.1 knots in a 40 knot gust and a good wave. As the breeze started to drop off again I let the pilot do some steering and went to have a go at repairing my totaled spinnaker. It was a big job and one I didn’t think I would finish, but pulling the torn sections together wiping them with acetone and putting a patch down the rip one foot at a time in between sailing the boat and everything else - a few hours later the kite was one again. That really was one of the best feelings, being able to hoist it again and finding that the repair was strong and holding well.

The remainder of the course was littered with no wind areas and the leader board was changing every few hours depending on who had found some wind at the time. I found this part of the race pretty frustrating and very difficult, I’m not the best at tactics and making big decision like this is really tricky. With just 30 miles to go, I managed to head west quickly, skirting around one the biggest no wind areas and pulled forward a lot and actually found myself in the top 10. Due to the way the wind filled in again, the boats slightly further to the east had a better angle to the finish and slightly quicker. The final five miles was incredibly frustrating with big wind shifts and very light breeze, gybing all the time to get down to the finish.

It was a hard way to finish, but the relief of getting over the line was fantastic. We only have a short break in Porto, which is flying by and then we are off to Gijon today. The weather for Leg 2 looks pretty light and fluky, so it is going to be another tough leg I think.

See you in Gijon

Jack

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