Les Sables to Azores ! Leg 1 Report

This summer saw my first major solo offshore race. Starting in Les Sables d’Olonne, sailing 1,270 miles to Horta in the Azores, with a short pit stop there before returning back to Les Sables. Thanks to a last minute sponsor it was possible for me to enter, racing under The Blue Project. A great foundation aiming encouraging everyone to love the sea, and in doing so look after it.

Starting in Les Sables all 33 boats line up on the iconic “Vendee Pontoon” where those competing in the Vendee globe start and finish. A truly amazing and breathtaking atmosphere! Not such a bad place to be finishing off my last minute preparations. My friend Matt joined me out in Les Sables and soon put his rope and rigging expertise to great use, pimping out my boat – Boreal was looking better than ever.

Somewhat unexpectedly I had a major problem with my AIS and with David’s technical and diagnostic help we worked through the problems. Eventually requiring to change the whole unit and set up of both the AIS and duplexer. I had great difficulty finding new parts with such short notice, so a big big thank you to Martin who very kindly leant me his for the race and David for all your help.

A couple days before the start we had a small prologue race in the bay, I was lucky enough to share the day with 13 year old Laure who lives and is learning to sail in Les Sables. We had a great day on the water, trading French for sailing lessons. I must admit she was a lot better at the sailing than I was French!

Packages of kit arriving every day, rope, electrics, food! A bit like the finish of a ground force episode, everything pulled together last minute. With my new Solent from One Sails and spare autopilot motors arriving the night before departure by special courier service of my Grandad and Dad who had both come out to support me and watch me off.

 

Leg 1
Come start day we sail out through the channel, friends, family and members of the public cheering as we go, even more surprising as by now it was chucking down with rain. I’m pretty sure they cheer for everyone but even so it’s an amazing place to start a race.

I had a shocking start but with 1270 miles to go I wasn’t fussed and kept pushing on with spirits high. The first night I was battling next to Damian (833) and Tanguy (835), the wind kept building. Now with my drysuit on, ballast in, a reef in my Solent and two in my main. The sea state was building and waves were throwing the boat around all over the place.

Venturing below I discovered my water ballast tube was spurting water EVERYWHERE!! The join between the tank and tube was leaking badly. I took another reef and quickly emptied the 200L tank to release the pressure and started brainstorming how I was going to fix it. With little sail up now in attempt to keep the boat under control, I was loosing ground quickly. Kitchen paper, acetone and sikaflex at the ready I started drying the tube and tank as much possible before resealing. Now to let it dry…an almost impossible task. NB: take underwater putty next time!

Typically as soon as I finished the job the wind had shifted and dropped and we were downwind and I didn’t need it! Kite up we’re surfing towards Finnistere, the wind increasing through the day. Midday came and it was time to test my SSB (world radio), everyday Denis the race director broadcasts across Monaco radio to give us an updated weather forecast and the ranking. With an arial taped to my rigging, I managed to pick up a perfect signal and heard everything very clearly – perfect! Vingt knots – Nord Ouest, Deux, Zero knots November Oscar!

By now I can’t see any other boats on the water or on AIS, as I approach the Spanish Coast and start preparing for the gybe out to the edge of the TSS. Then suddenly two white sails appear, MAX in 614! With no kite up he starts me doubting if I should be gybing with mine, but I continue and go for it! Woop adrenaline high, after a successful gybe. George the autopilot takes over so I can tidy up, sorting the pole, and finish stacking below. As I’m below the boat spins out and broaches, thanks George!!! I scramble back on deck, dumping the kite sheet, but there’s a big squall and she won’t come up, the leeward deck is practically in the water and George is beeping repeatedly. I dump the tack line and let the kite sky rocket and depower and we come flat. George is back in control and we’re on course, I bear her away and start grinding the tack line back in. Very conscience there is an overload of pressure on both the mast and the spinni pole. Pheeew all back in and we’re off again surfing down the waves.

Once past Finnistere and the TSS my next stop is Horta in the Azores in 900 miles, pretty much due West. For the rest of the race weather conditions were pretty consistent with the wind oscillating through the day. Generally I was upwind at night then as the sun came up and moved west the wind would swing left and by lunch I’d have the kite up.

Some of the best sailing I’ve done I was in my element, albeit going a little crazy talking to myself, but who doesn’t?

Approcahing the Azores was like something from Pirates of the Carribbean, volcanic mountain peeks peeping out the top of the mist. Then as the sun rose, just breathtaking.

I rounded the first island in 30 knots, 2 reefs in the main, 2 in the jib, screaming towards Horta and the Azores. With 6 miles to go I jumped below to prepare/find my fenders and mooring lines and get myself ready to meet land! As I came on deck, the wind had literally disappeared to absolutely nothing. I proceeded to then sit drifting for 6 hours before the afternoon breeze filled in and I crossed the line.