Apr 11

Back on the water

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Back at the dock

When the chance to get back on the water  came along at the last minute I jumped at the chance. The weekend before last I briefly met German skipper Lina who has just managed to launch her own mini campaign with a Pogo2 and was looking for a co-skipper for her first race in the boat. Sadly I was super busy with work last week so I didn’t get as much time as I would have liked to help her prepare. On Friday evening when we had the briefing we knew it was going to be windy….really windy (up to 35kts and the course was going to be basically upwind/ close reaching most the way). So there was no second thoughts as I jumped into my drysuit on Saturday morning as I knew it was going to be a wet and wild ride. As soon as we got to the race area squall came through which set the tune for the race. The start was ok for us (sadly there were some collisions in the 77 boat fleet) then we took a very cautious sail plan up to the windward mark and around the Iland of Groix before heading upwind to the Glenans where the wind backed off a bit before picking up again and shifting south (so it was upwind again) as we headed towards Belle Ile. As Lina was new to the boat and while it was a Pogo 2, it was not set up in the same way as 635 we has some very interesting moments. I feel a bit guilty for not having time last week to help prepare the boat more as I am sure I would have spotted some of the small but highly annoying issues that came up. Small issues and getting to know a slightly different set up would not normally be a problem but at times it was testing during the Saturday night. We had no wind data so not sure what the wind reached but enough that we had 2 reefs in the main and swapped to the storn jib. Other boats near us saw 39kts so it was safe to say it was windy! Again I feel a bit guilty about it suggesting it was a good learning opportunity for Lina to change to the storm jib…..when really I just didn’t want to get even wetter and colder!! Sadly on Sunday morning after it became apparent we could not make it course in the time period it was decided to turn around and go back to Lorient. I had though maybe a couple of other boats had made the same decision but when we got to the marina it was clear a lot of others did as well. In the end only 20 of the series boats made the time period….and basically only the newer/faster designs. So we did not finish but I hope that I was of some use of helping a new mini sailor get more confident in big conditions.

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Red eyed from the near constant spray in the face bashing upwind

The other negative point on the race was that I had a near constant ear ache which as one point on sat night was near unbearable due to the pressure in my ear. Lina is a medical student so at least I was in good hands if it got too bad! So this morning I went to the hospital and was sent to the Otolaryngologists also known as an ear, nose and throat specialist. It as kind of interesting trying to explain (in French) that even though I had a sore throat and a suspected broken nose (rugby training on Thursday night) I decided to go sailing instead of the hospital. Thankfully when I got to the specialist he was a sailor who seemed much more accepting of my choice! So after a very uncomfortable session on cameras and inspections I was sent away with a long list of pills/sprays etc and will go back next week for another appointment.

So while my weekend back on the water was tough it was still great fun. It also highlighted how much it was not just the sailing I miss…..but having an objective/project/goal to work on.

Mar 27

Full circle??

 

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The start of my adventures with 635

Easter this year has been a bit different for me. For the last few years it consisted of madly working to prepare for the first race of the season. This year it was time to say goodbye to 635. I have spent a lot of time thinking on what to do after the transat and I still have no idea of the answer but the sad reality is that 635 has now left Lorient for new adventures in Denmark with her new owner. A lot of people say your transat project only comes to a full circle/end once you have sold your boat. My circle began before 635 came into the picture but it is definitely a closure of some sort……but sadly I am not sure if it feels like a full circle or more like an empty hole. I try and focus on the positive side, that is I no longer have to pay insurance/marina fees etc.  But that does not seem to do much to distract me from the overwhelm12036821_934319009972320_5165750524396132820_ning sense of being lost. I have many things to do but without a bigger term goal I still feel lost. I do not feel productive (and I know I am not because I still have a massive to do list!) and feel like I am just walking on the spot rather than taking steps towards something…..but until I have a clearer vision of the direction, it is hard to move forward. I feel like by now I am meant to have some grand plan but I just feel lost and kinda like a failure when people ask what am I doing now? I want to have a grand plan ready to put into action but no single objective has stuck in my head the same way the transat was for all those years.

 

 

12715247_10153915376649889_305268056801796875_nWhile I try and work on a plan, even though I do not have a boat to work on I still have heaps to do. Currently the days I am not working as a English trainer I am working for Conrad Coleman (Kiwi aiming for the Vendee Globe) as a “préparateur” as they say here…..also known as a nipper (at 28 am I too old for that?) or for non-sailors the person who gets the jobs left on the job list when everyone else has had their pick! That might not sound very exciting but generally it is good fun and interesting. Thankfully the sanding phase is nearly finished (one of those jobs that never really finishes) so the jobs are getting more interesting every day. So instead of hunting for easter eggs this weekend I spend time crawling into small black spaces with my new best friend the vacuum cleaner and a grinder, cutting out parts/cleaning. It is also interesting to do more work with carbon as in the past I have never done much hands onstuff on the carbon boats I have worked on so this is cool to get my hands dirty so to say. It is also good to use my French a bit more with the boat captain…..even if I am sure he thinks I am stupid as I have to ask him to repeat a lot! It is very busy, often physical and long days but it is good to get a glimpse of a Vendee campaign. It is not just the massive task of finding the cash the amount of management (boat/people etc) is huge! It does make me think about wanting to go racing, and with the start of the season on the door step it is a bit stressful, but the weather right now (howling and raining) makes me quite happy to be inside for a bit!

 

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Thanks to everyone who helped me and 635 get to the finish!

Jan 21

The next waypoint??

At the moment I feel a bit like I am sailing without a waypoint. My life is going on as per normal with my job teaching English, going to the gym and swimming training with Lorient Grande Large and rugby training……but for the first time since I am not sure what I do (not everyday as still catching up on post-transat list, but I mean general direction in life) as I do not have an exact objective. It’s like I don’t know what the next mark is on the race track but am sailing around anyway. I know I want to do more solo racing but I wish it was just that simple.

I am sure I am not the only Transat skipper who is a bit lost at the moment. My life was completely dedicated to the Transat for so long that every day I always had something to do and govern my day. Now I just feel like my life is ticking over but I am not really getting anywhere. In the post transat high and at the Salon Nautic (Paris Boat Show) it is easy to say “Yes, I am going to go again!” or “Yes I am going to do XYZ!”. But when you sit down and calculate the task of getting there it is a different story. I want to do more solo stuff…..that is as black and white as ever. But if I do more mini want to do better which will require more training and better equipment sails etc (perfectly aware that I am the biggest factor to improve but still!)….which would require more money or I would want to take the challenge of another class…….which costs even more money. I’d like to think I am very good at managing money, but I cannot see how I can tighten my shoe strings any more so to say. I have the whole living in a van thing down pat but I have to say the temperature drop in the past week or so has make me think maybe time in the van full time will have to have an expiry date.

From the time in 2009 when I decided to pack up my life in Sydney and move to the UK I was motivated by the vision of the transat the dream. I need to get fixated on a new vision. Part of me thinks I already know what I want the vision to be……but maybe I am just too scared to dream it. Not that the dream itself is too scary but the amount of work to maybe have a shot at getting there or knowing the success rate for people like me is. I know they say if you aren’t scared of your dreams, they aren’t big enough……but I wonder whoever said that quote had dreams that the bigger they got the more money they required!!

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Where is the next sunset to chanse?

 

Jan 12

Better late than never……Lanzarote- Guadeloupe

I cannot believe how fast time has flown since returning to France. Having spent most of December with the flu after the Paris Salon Nautic, I spent the few days off at Christmas/New Year catching up on much needed sleep! But now it is 2016….a very scary thought indeed! At the moment I am full of ideas but it feels very strange (and not really in a good way) to not have a clear plan! But while I try and make one (any ideas?), I still have lots of things on my job list from the Transat! Including this blog… video to come….

Leg 2 Lanzarote-Guadeloupe

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The only way to describe the start: wet, wild and grey!

After a very challenging (especially with the sleep deprivation!) first leg, then waiting for what felt like forever in Lanzarote (as nice as the island is a month is a long time!) I was ready and excited to get going! The start to leg two was very different to leg 1. It was very wet and windy. I was one of the last boats to be towed from the marina, all set with 2 reefs in the main and 1 reef in the jib. After getting clear of the port there was a bit of time to kill…..but given it was blowing 25kts and very gusty it was not the time to test stuff. I did not hear the count down for the start so it was not my best start so to say but I was happy with that. It was a downwind start so it is mad. Class rules mean you cannot deploy the bowsprit (which means kite) before the gun. So as soon as it sounds everyone’s head is down in their boats hoisting…..which means the risk for crashes is high. So I waited then when I got into enough space I hoisted the medium spi (which I had pre-prepared with the reef in) and then it was a sleigh ride. I did not leave the helm as you had to be ready to anything from dealing with gusts and squalls to avoiding colliding with other boats as they broach around you. As it got darker and the wind increased I changed to the code 5. That night was full on….not much sleep. You could hear a pretty constant stream of conversations on the radio of people breaking stuff. But I had to admit I was glued to the radio for another reason…..I was dying to know the Rugby World Cup result (it was AUS vs NZ!) as the final match was just 2 hours after the start! No such luck that night!

DSCF4060I made it through the unscathed and then the wind started to get lighter the next day. I was already to hear the meteo, and after spend a lot of time preparing antennas etc at the stopover after my first leg meteo issues I was confident it would work……but no luck….that was the first morning frustration…..which would be a daily struggle the entire trip! The second day was good….even though I was tired and not on the ball all the time. The third morning I was surrounded by dolphins in one of the most magical moments. I am not normally the type to get very excited about dolphins (they are much more common in Aus than in France!), but they were everywhere and jumping! That morning was also the first when I tried to re-solder the antennas……I am not the best at electrics but by the end I think I can say I am much better at it……definitely got enough practise….and have to say doing downwind in 25kts under kite with only 2 hands is an art!!

 

DSCF4079While the lack of meteo was starting to get to me I could hear other people talking in the radio which kept my spirits up. But sadly that night as I was swapping to the medium spi as the wind picked up to the low twenties, I had a bit of a “minor” issue….in that as I started to hoist the main body of the kite fell out of the bag and into the water. Before I knew it I was trawling it behind the boat. I could hear the strain on the bowsprit and the pressure of the halyard which had gone with the kite under the guard wires was bending the aft stantion. I opened the clutch to tackline the let the bowsprit collapse, thus releasing one corner of the triangle then the choice was let go of the sheet and try and haul it in by the halyard trying not to ripe out/rip the kite of the stantion or cut the halyard and then pull in by the sheet. Luckily as I still just able to reach the head I managed to cut the bowline (that’s the moment I wish I had clips!) so I did not lose the halyard through the mast, then finally got it back in. At that point I was exhausted so after a 15min powernap I put up the code 5…and set to work at what would be the task for the next few days…..patching the medium.

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The start of the battle with the Medium spi

I knew my medium would struggle to make it across but from that point on it was an endless battle to patch it. The next day the tack of the reef blew out with meant it was gone. I tried to patch it but within 15min of it rehoisting  the next square would go…..I tried it a few times over the course of the leg but it kept happening so in the end I was stuck with the code 5 a lot….which sadly is small and the same as my gennaker…..and as it was a windy race…. I really needed the medium. While this was frustrating, I know that it was not the biggest thing holding me back. For me the second leg was all about the mental challenge…..the battle against myself. This time is wasn’t the sleep deprivation that affected me the most it was the lack of any connection with the outside world.

 

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Not sure why I was smiling…..the most frustrating part of the day

The mental side of the race was by far the hardest. For the first few days it was all about the decision when to gybe……basically to go continue to gybe south along the African coast (and deal with the un-AISed fishing boats and nets) and go for more wind or go for a more direct route. As I had no idea of the meteo I kept to my plan from the start but by day 3-4 I was starting to get very paranoid. I could not hear people on VHF and could not see anyone on AIS. In my head I am thinking I am too far north…..then the next day/hour I am too far south. In my normal like I think I operate well in a solo way so to say, but the isolation of not talking to /hearing anything from the outside world was tough. It was not that I was panicking it was just playing with my head. How can I know if I am too north/south if I don’t know the meteo? Obviously (and even at the time I knew it wasn’t logical) I can’t, but it doesn’t make you feel any better about it. I would like to think I have a certain level of self-confidence….but it was definite put to the test. Every day at 0600UTC and 1800UTC I called on the VHF to do a radio call in….but I never got any response (I lie I did on the last night at sea!). The lack of meteo was not just frustrating from a strategic point of view but when it got really windy part of you wonders if there is a hurricane about…..it is still late season so could be possible. But as someone pointed out even if you knew one was coming it would probably be moving faster than you so you might/probably not be able to outrun it. But still I think it would be nice to know!

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Keeping track of the mental battle in my logbook

On day 5 I did get a response on the VHF from a fellow female anglo-phone in the form on Nikki. I have to say I was very glad to have a chat…and manage to get a bit of info on the fleet. She didn’t have much meteo info but could inform me of other people’s breakages and that is when I heard about the rescue of the Polish skipper. As much as there were times when my self-hatred was high I kept thinking that while I felt like an idiot (because I kept thinking I was miles behind/north/south from stupid moves etc) at least I was still out there….and even the darkest times were better than the feeling after the 2013 Transat! With every logbook entry there is me thinking I am in the wrong position. I would analyse every small windshift to try and guess what was going on with the meteo. But when I look at my track after considering I did not know the meteo I think I did ok. After driving myself slightly nuts overthinking it, I decided that I would head at 270 or as close as possible unless I heard any solid info.

DSCF4115By the end of the first week , I was very glad that the weather changed from the wet and windy to surfing in the sun. Getting out of the wet weather kit and into short/shirt was life changing….especially for my backside! All I am going to say is that the tube of stuff I was told by a pharmacist as the equivalent of Sudocream was not up to scratch! The days started to roll by. I had my pattern. The days seemed to go quite similar for my moods. They would start with me getting excited as I got motivated to the meteo broadcast which would crash to the daily low of the frustration of not getting anything on the SSB/BLU which would fester for the middle of the day where I usually tried to sleep inside to escape the heat of the sun on deck. Then my mood would come to life as the cool of the evening and the beautiful sunsets then the nights would be the highlight. Most nights would be clear and full of stars, just like in a planetarium.

Snapshot 18 (09-12-2015 22-07)The wind generally stayed in the 18-22kts range (hence medium spi could have been nice!!) but then on the 11th day it dropped to 10kts. 10kts is normally fine and for the first 6hrs a nice break to sleep, but after surfing for so long it quickly felt slow, frustrating and started doing my head in. I thinking I was too far north and everyone else was further south in the good wind….so the self-hatred started to build again. I tried to go south but the wind was coming from the ESE which basically put me on 270 for a heading anyway.  The wind stayed light for a couple of days before picking up to a nice 12-15kts for a bit before dropping to 5kts on day 14. The wind was a lot more from the south than I had expected so that also was playing on my mind. I really would like to  know what the race would be like with meteo information. For me I think it would not just help me from a strategic point of view but more from trying to keep me on track and not thinking about the endless what-ifs as much.

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Trying to decided which way to go west

Luckily the wind picked up on day 15 and it was time to get going! It was time to start counting down the miles! It was also when the weed started to appear and when the weather became more unstable. There were a lot more squalls and the changes in the wind with the clouds was more pronounced. So while I stuck to my closest tack rule (which took some old school nav as the variation that is the difference between true and magnetic north, in that part of the world get to 13 degrees!) I ended up doing lots of short gybes to try and avoid wind shadows/squalls. Luckily by now I did not really care if it rained or not…..in fact it was like a nice shower! Having not gybed much (or at all!) for a week at first they were a bit slow. Getting rid of the solar panels, the helming seat, moving the vang/ kicker back to the base of the mast from the side of the boat where it was stopping the boom moving around on top of the normal stacking (moving stuff around inside the boat) routine took time. So planning some level of planning was needed…..or you ended up with a big mess!!

DSCF4183Day 16 was another big day as I finally heard another mini sailor which I managed to get hold of but due to bad reception could not really speak to. So still no meteo or info but still I was so excited to know  I was not the only who was still out there! The nights were getting fun to say the least. It was often harder to read the clouds at night so you would get caught out and then I would end up changing to the code 5 and sometimes the gennaker when it got really windy. That is what happened in the early hours of the 18th day which was by far the worst night meteo wise and for me personally. With the wind at a very gusty mid-high twenties I chose to go to the gennaker as the idea that if I got stuck in a bad squall it is the easiest to furl then unfurl rather than hoist and drop the code 5 every 20min as the worst of the squalls pass, and as they are the same size there is not really any difference in speed. So at one moment I think it looks all clear I decide to go down for a nap, but then I am woken up at the sound of the wind and the pilot straining. I look at the wind and it says 37kts…so I jump on deck. I always sleep in my lifejacket/harness and like always clip on to my Wichard teacher before I even step on deck.  I immediately go to grab the furling line which is hooked to the windward guard rail as I feel the boat wiping out under the increasing wind. By now I am well accustomed to wipe-outs in squalls so no need to panic. But what I was not ready for was my handhold to break.

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Hoisting the gennaker/code 0

Normally I can hold on the furling line no problem but the line connecting the snaphook and the block on the furling line gave way and I went straight between the boom and the boar into the water and next thing I know I am swimming in the mainsheet. Luckily the boat was still at 90 degrees so I managed to drag myself back on board using my Wichard teather, just in time before the boat righted it-self. If it had been a moment earlier I might have been hanging over the side like I was in 2013…..very glad for that!! Do the boat was up right again and I got everything under controls to say but the furling line as gone….which meant no way to furl the gennaker. I decide to go to the front of the boat to investigate and in the end mange to lean over the bow (which is diving underwater at this stage) and grab the furling line and then lead it back to the cockpit where I furl it, then leave it furled for the rest of the night and way too long into the next day. I am very annoyed that I wanted to long to get more sail area up the next day but the vision of me hanging over the side of the boat in a similar fashion to 2013 was not what I needed. I was only wearing short and shirt when it happened and while I was not cold etc, it was fair to say I was a bit shaken. In my head I was thinking I had come too far to mess it all up doing something stupid now. I think I am very safety conscious. I am always in my lifejacket and am always clipped onto the boat. While I do not intend to ever change that part of me wishes I have a bit less of a safety first approach ….it might help me keep more sail area up longer or give me more confidence to put more sail up sooner. It is a juggling act.Snapshot 17 (09-12-2015 22-06)

That night/day cost me a lot of ground. I also thought I had another (and some could argue even bigger) issue that night as after the knockdown I could not find my camera. I started to think it had been on deck in the normal pocket but that pocket had been on the low side in the water….so I started to panic it was gone….along with all the pics on the SD card in it. After about an hour I managed to find it and immediately changed the card so that if I lost the camera at least I would keep some photos. If I had lost that all the leg 2 photos would be gone. Camera management…one of the important yet often overlooked skills required of a mini sailor!

DSCF3362The next day when trying to do my night call in on the VHF I got a response! It was Lizzy. It was great to chat to her as she had kites issues so we were both stuck with our gennakers! She had heard some meteo but it looked all good what we hoped would be a final day into Guadeloupe. Sadly the wind started to get lighter and lighter. Like there had been for the past week or so there was a lot of weed. By the early afternoon the boat felt slow but I check the rudder and put a camera over the side and the keel looked clean. Even with hand steering the speed was just not normal. Finally after trying everything else I could think of I took down the spi and turned the boat into the wind to try and see if I was stuck on anything. Nothing….so I get ready to hoist again and try again another couple of times and finally a massive lot of weed comes free. Afterwards the boat felt amazing…..I don’t want to think how long it had been stuck there!! Just before sunset I could see land. Then as sunset arrived I was a bit overwhelmed with emotion. The joy of seeing land and thinking that I will make it to the finish, the sadness that it is nearly over, the nervousness of a night approach close alone the shoreline and the excitement of being reconnected to the world. Have to say I have never felt anything like it before.

12272533_10153894892647847_1173676791_nSadly the night arrival was not to be as the wind was very shifty and kept getting lighter and lighter till there was nothing by the early hours of the morning…..leaving me to drift along the coastline of Guadeloupe. While the buzz started to wear off, there was no time to sleep as well had set marks to pass that were very close to shore along with lots of shipping. That night felt like it would never end. Finally as light began to appear I saw a flash. Then another….i had got close enough to the finish that the rib to welcome me had arrived. Sadly they didn’t bring any wind with them so it was a very, very slow upwind (the only upwind of the entire leg!!) to the finish line. Having spent to long trying to drift to the line it was a great relief to finally get over it! It was then the tow to the marina, followed by the traditional ti’ punch (rum) and non-optional swim! The next few days were then full of celebrations, eating, packing up the boat and sleeping!! While I was lucky enough to get see some other parts of the island, my time in Guadeloupe was way to short…..so might just have to find a reason to go back!12285900_10153894892672847_1275273557_n

Dec 08

Paris

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24hrs later I was freezing in Paris!

I am starting to think I had more time to rest during the race than I have had since the finish….especially since I returned to France! It was a shock to the system to go from a nice sunny beach one day to freezing cold (sadly by French standards it is not very cold but it feels like it!). I arrived back in Lorient and after one day to try and catch up on sleep (didn’t get any on the plane thanks to the passengers behind me!) it was back to work. It was/still is a bit strange to get back into the swing of life in France but I think it is important to get back into a pattern. At the moment I have an endless list of things to do (blogs and video included-sorry for the wait) and a very long list of people to email (sorry but I promise I will get back to everyone….and thanks for the kind messages) but I hope by getting back into my life here I might ward off the post-transat blues. It just means I am constantly on the run at the moment.

LIMG_1857[1]ast Friday I got the first train to Paris. Before I even got on the train, then even walking around Paris I kept seeing mini sailors! Then at the boat show itself it was great to catch up with some of my sponsors and supporters. Saturday was a big day. After the Classe Mini AGM all the skippers made their way to the boat show for the last event of the 2015 Mini Transat, the last prize giving. Then it was show time…..for my French anyway, at the stand of Lorient Grande Large where there was a discussion with some other mini skippers. I am proud to say everyone says they understood me!! Then it was off the famous party on a barge on the river. Needless to day that Sunday was not very productive then Monday was lunch with the other female transat skipper and a token French skipper, then it was back to Lorient, and today back to work. I have to admit I am looking forward to the weekend…..Saturday is dedicated to sleeping and email/blog/video…..Sunday is rugby……given it  has been a long time since I I have done much running so I am sure Monday is going to be painful!

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