I knew it would be close but I never let myself believe that I would be the one to miss out!
It’s been a year since I joined Artemis Academy taking over their Mini and a very busy one at that. I knew it was going to be full on and I was ready for the challenge.
In order to enter for the Mini Transat you need to have completed 1,000 race miles, one of which has to be over 500 miles and another solo. As well as race miles you must also complete a 1,000-mile solo passage. Once you’ve completed both you can join the entry list. Your miles are linked to you and the boat, so those who have raced the previous season are already qualified. Having only just started sailing the Mini I started with a grand total of 0 miles – while others were already qualified!
I looked through the calendar and made a plan to finish my qualification process in the quickest possible way. This meant a trip to Italy and the Mediterranean (such a shame!). If I had chosen the Atlantic version I would have qualified 1 month later and risk being even further down the list.
It was a busy calendar, a winter in Cowes with boat work and training, 6 weeks in Lorient for more boat work and an electric refit, then straight down to Italy for 2 races and my 1300 mile non stop solo. No time for any solid training, and definitely no time for mistakes. On 7th May I finished the Solent UK, and in doing so completed my 1000 race miles required to qualify.
2000 miles in 2 months – qualification complete
Having completed my qualification miles I joined the entry list, 13th on the waiting list, and the waiting game begun.
Having qualified I was keen to increase my practise miles and time on the water, competing in the UK Fastnet and the Trophee Marie Agnes Peron. Due to budget I was unable to compete in the French Mini Fastnet on my boat. As I was already in France after the MAP I decided to jump ship and I sailed with French skipper Tom Guilbaud with him on his proto.
Returning from France I went into full Artemis Figaro mode for the summer with lots of corporate sailing, while working on the mini in my spare time, with a mix of boat work and sponsorship hunting. The beginning of August saw the start of the RORC Rolex Fastnet, double handed on the Figaro with Charlie Dalin. A tough race, with a mix of conditions and tactical decisions taking into account the new rules on the traffic separation schemes. It was a very competitive race; we were never more than 2 miles from another competitor. Charlie and I fought hard to stay at the front and come away with the Figaro bullet.
With the Fastnet over and under 2 months to the start of the Transat I went into full Mini mode. Finishing off all boat work and preparing to leave for France, while still looking for that magic sponsor. I wanted to get out to Douarnenez as soon as possible and get in as much practise against the other Minis and in the starting bay.
At the end of August, DMS – Pack It In agreed to support my Mini Campaign and became title sponsor for the Mini Transat 2013. A huge thank you to DMS, with budget worries now behind me I could now focus entirely on preparing for the big race.
September 12th – now 2nd on the waiting list, I set off for Plymouth and the official naming ceremony for PACK IT IN! with DMS and legendary sailor Pete Goss.
September 13th was the day I’d been looking forward too since qualifying back in May. The last day you can drop out and still get your entry fees back. For me this day was the day I would gain my place – lucky 13. The Transat was to start on 13th October, at 13:13, I started at 13th on the waiting list and 13th September was the drop out day. The day came and went and I was still 2nd on the list – absolutely gutted. My ambitions and dreams were so close but so far at the same time.
Regardless of still being on the waiting list I left for France and prepared the boat and myself for the start. It was a tough time for me, being at the start ready to go and being around everyone else who was so hyped up for leaving – yet I still didn’t have my place. The day before lock in arrived and there were still 15 odd boats not in Douarnenez, things were looking up. If they missed the lock in, perhaps I would gain a place? All 84 boats arrived in the nick of time and that was it, every day it was looking less likely that I’d get a place. By now all competing boats had moved into the race marina and I was on my lonesome with the 3 other waiting list boats on the other side of the river, completely excluded from the race village.
Everyday was an emotional rollercoaster I could wake up in the morning thinking there was no chance of a place, dealing with it and getting on. I’d hear rumours of boats dropping out and the chance of me moving up, my hope would be restored, then only a few hours later realising that I still wasn’t going. Motivation and moral was at an all time low, but I stayed waiting in hope that maybe my time would come.
I had spectators come up to my boat wishing me good luck for the race, others asking why I wasn’t with the other boats. Some making jokes at my expense. One of the tow boats even came over and told me it was my turn to get towed over to the other marina, after explaining I wasn’t allowed, he exclaimed he knew and he was only joking! Perhaps I don’t understand French humour yet?
I attended all the briefings although not invited, and made sure my boat was ready to go – just in case I got the go ahead. Having not been through security and safety checks, measurement or medical tests it was becoming clear that there was no chance of a place for me. As the start got closer, the forecast was looking horrendous with a massive low-pressure system rolling into the Bay of Biscay. At this point, even if someone did drop out the organisation wouldn’t fill spaces with the waiting list, fewer boats meant less risk and was a bonus.
Although I’d lived the year knowing I might not get a place, learning it was a devastating blow. Everything I’d worked for all year, I’d managed to qualify to schedule, the boat was ready to go, I was ready to go, I’d found my magic sponsor. Everything was set – I’d done everything I needed to do to make it, but now it was out of my control.
It’s been an amazing year – I’ve pushed the boat and I to our limits, spending 10 1/2 days at sea by myself, taking on 45 knots for two days, living in a van and the mini for months on end, sleeping to the smells of petrol and resin. While I’ve been through tough conditions, the hardest part of the year was only last week, when I had to leave France the day before the Transat start to bring the boat back and return her to Artemis. Peeling off every piece of DMS branding and all the names of the people who helped me get this far. Not only was I devastated not to be on the line, I felt disappointed for those who were looking forward to following my race.
Regardless of not getting a place I’ve had an unbelievable year and have learnt a lot that will help me moving forward. I’m now back in the UK on the job hunt, while looking at logistics and plans for a successful 2015 campaign.
Unfinished business – I will be back, fighting, stronger than I was before, it’s not over yet.