The start, well, we've got that bit sussed. Every major race I've done I've got away almost perfectly and the TJV was to prove no exception. We led off the line and were only just passed by Telecom Italia (a sign of things to come) as we approached the first mark. With spectator boats all over the water and helicopters up in the air, it was a great few moments. With the adrenalin ebbing away we headed west and slipped into a slightly inshore lane just to leeward of the fleet. This tactic would see us sailing a slightly lower angle to the wind and consequently a little slower but should bring benefits as the tide turned in our favour at Cherbourg. This all went to plan and having slipped to 13th on Saturday evening, we were back up to 2nd in the early hours of Sunday morning just a mile astern of Giovanni and Pietro on Telecom Italia. This joy was to be short lived though, as having seen several boats gybe and head for the French coast (the wind was in the east now) we elected to gybe south to cover them, however we obviously missed them going north again, amazing how people seem to suffer electrical problems with their masthead lights at crucial times, and so early in the race........anyway, whatever, our mistake and boy did we pay. 26th at the next update and then 28th with two boats not located so effectively last!!
While reflecting on what a cruel game offshore racing can be, we started to work our way north a little in the approach to the Ushant and actually sailed past two Open 60s who were struggling in the light airs to get their big backsides moving. We had heard the Doldrums were pretty far north but this was ridiculous, we fought the tide at Ushant before setting of at around 2 knots across Biscay! All the time the leaders were easing away from us as the rich got richer. At one point we were nearly 250 miles behind and we'd only sailed about 800 odd miles. Our frustration was tempered though by the promise of 35 knots off Cape Finisterre and we ensured we were ready for it. As the breeze built we changed down through the sail combinations pushing each one to the limit before we settled on two reefs in the mainsail and our reefed fractional spinnaker. With the wind fairly steady at around 30 to 35 knots, it was the waves causing the problems. In the pitch black, we were getting swamped by breaking waves one minute and then sending it down what felt like vertical drops the next. All good fun and despite the odd technical hitch, kite un-reefing itself etc...... we hit over 23 knots as the wind rose up to around 40 knots. As daylight broke and the wind died, we knew we'd done good work and the update had us in 8th from the mid 20s the day before impressive stuff and we were back in the game.
The next phase of the race was very tricky with a lot of tough navigational calls to make as we approached the Canary Islands. While not getting it 100% correct, we did a great job I believe and made an early call to head east. We stuck to our guns despite it looking bad after a few days and were rewarded with constant gains as we headed south. Passing just east of all but two of the islands, we then gybed down the African coast getting within 15 miles at times. This tactic saw us benefit from a slightly stronger breeze to those in the west and as we passed east of the Cape Verde's we finally began the 'trans' Atlantic part of the race and headed west for the waypoint we'd chosen as a crossing point for the Doldrums. Here we made some more gains and as we entered the Doldrums, we were up in 6th and within touching distance of 4th and 5th. If things worked out and we got a bit lucky, a podium was still on. The leaders were also only just over 100 miles ahead!!
If only.........for my part some more work is still required to build a greater understanding of the Doldrums. We got passed by boats to both the east and the west and dropped back to 8th. Incredibly frustrating. In the Doldrums especially, it is fairly legitimate to blame bad luck but I believe on reflection, that we could have done a little better and maybe made more use of the satellite images available on the internet. Next time!!
Anyway we recovered from the disappointment and held off the guys chasing us hard down the Brazilian coast and closed right up on 6th and 7th by the finish but it was not quite enough. 8th is still a great result though in an incredibly competitive fleet and without exception, all the teams ahead of us were more experienced and all but two had significantly more time on their boats prior to the race. An added bonus for me though was to be the first British skipper home out of the 8 competing. As I remarked to Tanguy as we crossed the finish line, satisfying but leaves a little room for ambition!
Thanks for all the support during the race and to all the guys who put this project together. Thanks to Tanguy and his sponsors for asking me to race with him and thanks to Rogers Yacht Deisgn who once again have produced a quick boat and Pom Green and his team at CMI in Thailand, who built an absolutely immaculate boat, great job guys!! Finally a big thanks to my long term sponsors GILL who kept both of us dry and warm/cool as required!
I hope you all enjoyed following the race, from a tactical point of view they don't get much better. Next season the class will be racing The Transat in May, solo from Plymouth to Marblehead and then the Quebec-St Malo in July, which is with a crew of 3 or 4. I'm not sure of my plans as yet but you can be sure I will doing some ocean racing in 2008!
Happy Christmas to you all.
More photos on page 2...