On Friday 22nd March 2013 at 4:30pm I set off from Achab Yacht Club, Roma, in Artemis Mini 438, for the start of my 1000-mile solo qualification passage. The forecast was looking perfect and I had expected downwind sailing most the way around.
The first evening was very light and I spent the night battling the waves tacking towards my first mark, Elba, an island 110 miles North of Rome. I reached the island at 3 in the afternoon, after a morning of champagne sailing with the spinnaker in 20 knots. Once I’d reached the island I was required to take photo’s to identify that I had been there and to show my GPS coordinates. A task I under-estimated, the ability to get yourself and the island in a photo while bouncing around on the waves is almost impossible. Once passed Elba I carried on a further 45 miles North towards Gorgona the next island and passing mark for my course. I reached Gorgona in pitch black at around 9:30 in the evening, all set for my 2nd evening and 170 mile leg towards Porquerolles, France.
It was a miserable evening, pissing it down with rain and bitterly cold. Around 1-2 in the morning the wind picked up to 25 knots, and I decided to drop the spinnaker to avoid any risks and give myself the opportunity to get some sleep. I kept reminding myself, it’s not a race, and you just need to finish – take it easy and don’t take any risks! The wind gradually built, from 25 to 30, then 30 to 35 and by 9 in the morning I had a constant 35 knots, with gusts up to 47 knots – not what I was expecting at all.
As the wind increased I minimised my sail coverage and by 9 o’clock I was surfing down the waves with only my jib up, managing speeds up to 15 knots! Completely bonkers! The boat was incredible and so easy to manoeuvre around the waves; it felt just like a dinghy. I broke my all time speed record and reached 18.8 knots, quite impressive considering how much stuff I had on board – including the outboard on the back!
She would just take off on the waves, as the gusts picked us up, and it genuinely felt like we were flying. With the main up and 3 reefs she was still out of control trying to spin around into the wind and life wasn’t easy in the gusts. The waves were so unpredictable and confused, some would be amazing surfers and others would crash over the boat in the cockpit. One wave completely wiped me off the deck and flung me into the cockpit – my immediate thought was “between the boom and boat don’t fall into the main”! I was in dinghy mode as if I was trapeizing! I quickly reminded myself, no Nikki on the boat, no swimming today – you must stay on board!! It really did bring home to me just how much like a dinghy the boat is.
Once the main came down completely, she was then much more manageable. General clutter and cockpit space decreases dramatically without the main up it’s amazing. You don’t have to worry about crash gybes, there’s no boom or mainsheet in your way, and it made life very easy – exactly what I needed considering the conditions. We were still trucking along without the main, although it felt like we were in 3rd gear on a motorway. We no longer got picked up by the gusts and flew over the waves, in quite the same way but we were safe and it meant I could set the autopilot and hide below getting sleep and reserving my energy and attempting to stay dry.
The forecast was due to hold for the day, eventually dropping off at 1am, and then picking up again from the NW at 6am. I was expecting to arrive at my next passing mark, a cardinal Jeaune Garde off Porquerolles that evening. In order to get to the island and my passing mark I needed to sail through the passage between Toulon and the adjacent islands.
Approaching St. Tropez and Toulon the wind dropped in the shelter of the land and a pod of dolphins came out and guided me in. I made the most of the decreased wind for a couple of hours. Changing into some dry clothes, eating a big dinner, and generally sorting the boat out and preparing for the next leg and the next gale.
Almost like clockwork I passed my waypoint at 9:30pm, exactly 24 hours later than the previous mark. The wind had died to almost nothing and I drifted out of the bay heading south. It would have been a perfect time to catch up on sleep, but Toulon being a busy port I spent the evening and early hours dodging lots of ships and ferries.
As forecast the wind picked up in the early hours and I was soon screaming along in 35 knots again, with gusts up to 45. The wind was slightly tighter this time, which made life a bit more uncomfortable as I was sailing across the waves and not down them. With 3 reefs and a reefed jib I managed to balance the boat well and we were trucking along in bright sunshine. With the waves coming across the boat it was vital to keep the hatch closed as 1 in every 10 waves would end up in the cockpit, drenching anything in its way.
It was so wet on deck that my Dan Buoy light activated inside the canister and by night I had this yellow flashing beacon on the transom! I took the whole thing apart and tried to deactivate the light, as I didn’t want anyone thinking I was in danger and demanding to rescue me! Failing to turn it off I took the light off and kept it below, which continued to flash for two days!!
The wind continued to howl until I reached Menorca in the early hours, after 215 miles, where it dropped to absolutely nothing. The sun came out and I enjoyed a “day off” taking the opportunity to dry out the whole boat and all my clothes. I sat drifting all day under the cliffs of Menorca, much to the amusement of the locals in the caravan park. While sorting the boat I found a goldmine – a pack of 10 fresh eggs – and only one had cracked and thankfully was contained! I treated myself to a boiled egg for lunch with some Sicilian sausisson that I’d bought with me – perfect! I finally rounded the NW headland early evening and crept my way along the South coast towards my passing mark Cabo d’Artuxt that I rounded at 9pm.
The wind was due to pick up again and spin round to the W – NW so I could continue my downwind sail around the Med! I tacked out of Menorca for a few hours and sure enough by the early hours the wind filled in and I spent the next two days surfing along with the kite up in blissful sunshine and 20 knots. 230 miles went by quickly and in 36 hours I’d arrived at Isola del Toro my passing mark off the south coast of Sardinia. As standard the wind died to nothing in the early hours and I spent a day drifting off the coast. The scenery was spectacular very mountainous with turrets dotted along the coast. It looked like footage from Pirates of the Caribbean, especially as the coastline was coated in a layer of mist and hazy. I swear I even heard sounds of canons firing – although I’m sure that was probably my imagination.
A whole day went passed and I hardly moved an inch. Late in the evening a crazy cloud formation came rolling in, I came on deck to find what looked to be a huge cliff meters from me. I went down to double check the charts, as I genuinely thought it was land and got highly confused when it clearly wasn’t and had to be a cloud. Within the hour it magically disappeared as if it was never there, and dramatically highlighted to me that I have a lot still to learn about meteorology. By 4 am the wind filled in and I had 25 knots for a few hours before it dropped to nothing again by 8am. Getting increasingly frustrated with drifting and the main slamming around in the waves. It became very tempting to drop all the sails and enjoy the peace and quiet but I left them up in hope they’d catch any form of wind and power me forwards. And sure enough by 10 O’clock the wind filled in and I was storming along in 15-20 knots towards the Italian coast and my next passing mark, Zannone Island 260 miles away.
The sail down from Sardinia was probably my favourite part of the whole trip, it was absolute bliss, the sun was out and it was warm enough for shorts and t-shirt. I had 20 odd dolphins playing in my bow waves and we were screaming along eating up the miles. No one was in sight and I truly felt at home! It was a quick trip across to the Italian coast once I’d escaped the becalmed Sardiania – We arrived at Zanonne Island at midday, a day and a half later.
From Zanonne it was a mere 62 miles North up to Rome to cross my track where I had started my journey over a week ago. The wind was behind for the beginning, then half way through as forecast the wind spun round to the NE and we had to beat the rest of the way. The wind had dramatically picked up and I was to finish my 1000mile qualifier in my third gale of the trip with winds up to 30 knots. Just to remind me it wasn’t all sunshine sailing! I crossed my original track around 11 in the evening – job done!!
By midnight the wind dropped to nothing and once again I was drifting and banging around in the large rolling waves making no progress. The next 12 hours were the most frustrating of the trip. Although I’d finished my qualification passage I was now to sail an extra 225 miles North to Genova where my next race sets off. The wind was all over the place, from 0-30 knots, and from every direction it just wouldn’t settle. I’d completely lost all focus and had almost given up and made vague plans in my head to pull in and set off later in the week for Genova. I took some time out to think, realised I’d never celebrated my qualification and dug out a single bottle of beer which I’d bought with me for just the occasion. Pumped out some music and realised life wasn’t too bad and I was being stupid and wanted to carry on. Now much more positive and ready to tackle the final 200 miles I set off on a mission in high spirits.
It was a slow trip North, I reached Elba in the early hours a day later and finally got to Genova a day following at 4 in the morning. The final 225 miles taking around 30 hours, over twice a long as it had taken me to make the same trip at the beginning of my journey. Mini’s are definitely downwind boats!!!
Coming into Genova was certainly an experience, the wind was up to 25-30 knots and it was a full on beat for the last 30 miles, which seemed to take forever. Arriving into this massive port with stinkpots, cruise liner and containers everywhere. I zigzagged my way through what seemed to be a maze and found the yacht club tucked away, my mum and a couple other Mini’s there confirmed I’d definitely found it!
Adventure complete – bring on the Atlantic!!!
I now have just over a week before the start of my next race, a 540-mile double hander of which I’ll be sailing with Ollie Bond, the previous owner of my Mini and graduate from the Artemis Offshore Academy.
Total miles (rum line): 1,317 miles
Max Speed: 18.8 knots
Max Wind Speed: 47.2 knots
Total average speed: 5.2 knots
Breakages: 1 phone, 1 ipod, 1 pair of sunglasses
Lost: 1 pair of sunglasses, 1 Dan Buoy
Average sleep per day: 3/4 hours
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