40 knots in the Bay of Biscay

Phil Sharp recounts his Route du Rhum qualifier last week

Wednesday October 4th 2006, Author: Phil Sharp, Location: France
The first night after leaving Jersey I was upwind in about 30 knots, tacking to get south around Ushant and into Biscay, followed by two days upwind to Spain, via a waypoint in East Biscay. This provided some really tough sailing where I had to make constant sail changes. There were thunderstorms everywhere and sea was very messy, with the wind up and down all the time. Between the squalls you’d have to have a lot of sail up to get the boat moving through the chop, but every now and again I would get hit by 40 knot gusts so you’d have to be on the ball to stay one step ahead an make sure you were well reefed by then. On a couple of occasions I got caught out and the boat got blown flat with the masthead in the water and leaving me dangling from the guardrails!

It didn’t help that it had been almost a year since the Mini Transat, the last time I had sailed singlehanded, and I was feeling very isolated. Being on my own is something that takes a bit of getting used to and until I settle into my stride I feel pretty depressed and de-motivated.

After rounding a waypoint just off the Spanish coast of Gijon in about F7, I started heading north, and it wasn’t until the night of the 5th day, off Ushant, that the wind filled in from the south and I got my first taste of solo-sailing this boat downwind under spinnaker. I started with the big spinnaker until that started getting too hairy in the increasing wind, so changed down to the smaller fractional spi. Everything was going really well until for no real reason the kite decided it had had enough and blew itself apart at the tapes in less than 25 knots of wind. This was a bit of a blow since somehow I’ve got to fork out for a new spinnaker, although it was better this happened now than in the Rhum. I hoisted the gennaker instead which was a good thing since the wind picked up to a constant F8 by morning and even then I was well overpowered, broaching a couple of times into a rapidly building sea. Although trying not to push the boat too hard I couldn’t resist heating the boat up and screaming down the odd big wave, reaching speeds nearing 20 knots, before ploughing into the one in front and burying the bow in a mass of white water. It definitely gets the adrenaline flowing!

We reached Wolf Rock off Lands End, my final mark, just 8 hours after passing Ushant, and then it was a beam back to Jersey in 35-40 knots of wind until it eased off the last 50 miles enabling me to catch some much needed sleep. Conditions were very wet with the odd wave breaking right over the boat, and by the time I had finished all my gear were completely drenched and covered in diesel due to a leak in the generator. I was obviously very pleased to finish the passage and am now fully qualified for the Rhum, although there’s lots of preparation and training to be done before the start in order to give me the best possible chance of a top result. In order that I can make full sail repairs to the boat get to the start line, I also urgently need to find further sponsorship, so am still actively looking for partners to come on board and help represent a competitive British entry in this very famous international race. With up to 1 million spectators expected in St Malo for the start, it gives potential partners an opportunity to be at the centre of one of Europe’s largest sporting events and help strive for victory in Class 40, the most recent and already the biggest class in offshore racing.

Visit Phil's website here: www.philsharpracing.com

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