" I love the South. I love the raw power of the waves, the sometimes terrifying fury of the wind... I am already restless to return, homesick for a place I have not yet left."
These words are taken from a blog post I wrote at sea while approaching Cape Horn nearly three years ago. Even as the waves crashed around me and my breath condensed in the cold air around me, I dreamed of coming back.
Today I am a lot closer to that dream as the Vendee Globe announced the sailors that have been accepted for 2020 and I'm on the list!
Getting here has been a real team effort and I have been supported by the incredible team at Ethical Power. There's a lot more work to do to get to the startline next year but we've got a great team, a good boat and a year to go!
My latest big scary challenge will start in a few days: la Solitaire du Figaro Urgo. This extremely competitive one-design solo class bills itself as the “birthplace of legends” (good to see they don’t take themselves too seriously!) as every winner in the modern era of the Vendée Globe has graduated from this class and current and former Figaro sailors dominate most other offshore classes. Out of the 47 boats participating, I'll be among the 12 rookies doing their first "Solitaire"!
The Figaro is a brutal series of short sprints in coastal waters where the ability to get a good start is essential, reading local effects takes precedence over big picture navigation and the boats are simple and bullet-proof and don't really reward mechanical knowledge on the part of the skipper. Basically, the toolbox that I have built up over the last 12 years and three races around world counts for little next to the Figaro specialists.
La Solitaire du Figaro will start in a few days and while...
The sun beats down unrepentantly, only this time I’m not flapping listlessly in the doldrums but ripping across the dry landscape of Spain towards my next challenge. I have traded the intense isolation and daily struggles of the Vendee Globe for new challenges, mainly lots of presentations and interviews to make up for those 110 solo days at sea.
Since running down the pontoon with a flag in my hand I have run all over the world; frequent meetings in Paris and London and side adventures to Plymouth, Glasgow, Geneva and Auckland mean that I have accumulated more miles since the race than during it! It has been a great opportunity to share my story, meet the people that followed my journey around the globe and meet new ones who are keen to embark on the next adventure.
Speaking of new adventures, I am starting a new job this week where I will be working for the race organizers of the Volvo Ocean Race in Alicante. My job will be to decipher the ocean racing strategies of some of the best...
Chaque jour je rêve à mon retour ... car j'ai souffert et eu un voyage laborieux sur les océans que j'ai parcouru. *
De la Grèce ancienne aux temps modernes, les paroles d'Homère sonnent vrai... les marins et les aventuriers souffrent sur les océans dès qu'ils quittent le confort de leur foyer mais dès qu'ils y reviennent ne rêvent que d'une chose: repartir!
Le vent a disparu. Ma fière grand-voile se traine d'un côté à l'autre du cockpit. Même le doux son des vagues le long de la coque n'est plus là pour me distraire et Foresight Natural Energy avance à une allure d'escargot vers l'horizon. Le tourmentin (voile tempête à l'avant) est la seule touche de couleur dans un paysage morose et silencieux, sous un ciel gris d'étain. Si la variété permet de pimenter son quotidien, ma journée était fort ennuyeuse comparée à celles passées dans les tempêtes à filer dans les vagues avec de l'écume plein le bateau!
Dans un tel environnement, difficile de ne pas être nostalgique en rep...
But I desire and I long every day to go home and to look upon the day of my return.... for already I have suffered and labored at so many things on the waves.
From ancient Greece through the entirety of man's history at sea to modern day, Homer's words ring with a timeless truth... sailors and adventurers suffer in their labours upon the seas and from the moment we depart the comforts of our lives on land we yearn for them again.
The wind has died. The one proud mainsail drags lazily back and forth across the cabin top. Even the rippling laughter of the wake down the side of the hull has dulled as Foresight Natural Energy lethargically crawls across the dark disk of the horizon. The bright orange jib is the only flash of colour in a quiet world where a dull lead coloured sea lolls under a pewter sky. If variety is the spice of life then today's sleepy progress is a stark contrast to the brightly lit days following the passage of a storm where we threw tons of spray into the ai...
I might not be going very fast but I'm certainly keeping busy here on Foresight Natural Energy. Indeed, never have I worked so hard to go so slowly! The problem is that I am sailing upwind in light winds which is never a recipe for breathless speed and certainly not now! Going downwind on a slow boat, the wind pushes against the windward side of the sail and the sails could just as easily be a barn door or my grandmother's sheets.... anything to catch the wind.
Going upwind however it’s all about flow, flow over both sides of the sail. With sails of the correct shape the wind accelerates more on the outside of the sail than the inside and the resulting pressure differential sucks the boat along. Ideally the jib also pre-accelerates the wind for the mainsail so the their combined thrust is greater than the sum of their individual contributions. To this end I have been stringing up bits of rope all over the boat to alter the direction of pull in the sheets for both sails to try to create...
The miles to go are counting down (1662 as I write this), the latitude of Madiera is behind and I'm now even with Gibraltar so I'm back in Europe everybody!
Far from sitting back and watch the miles unfurl behind me I am very busy checking all the boat's systems and making little repairs so I hope I can avoid problems in the last blow. I have been repairing the covers on the reefing lines so they will run smoothly and hold fast when I reduce sail. I was surprised the other day by an intense hissing noise and was alarmed to find the cockpit filling with a mist of oil as the keel fell from its canted position. A high pressure hose in the hydraulic system had failed after the hundreds of thousands of pressure cycles as the keel pulsed on every wave encountered in the previous 25,000 miles. Fortunately I had a spare and was back in action soon afterwards but it serves to illustrate that the machine is tired.
The man too, as I am massaging painfully sore muscles in my shoulder and neck in...
When we think about island archipelagos in the Atlantic the first vision that springs to mind is probably the white sands of the Windward Islands that demarcate the Caribbean. In fact the islands of rum punch and reggae music are accompanied on the eastern edge of the Atlantic by the Cape Verdes, Canaries, Madiera and finally the Azores.
These island chains marked, and sometimes stalled, my progress southwards in November (remember the wind hole around Madiera!). Now I'm excitedly checking them off my route as I head the other way. The latitude of the Cape Verde is in my wake, I should cross the level of the Canaries tonight and I may well pass between the islands of the Azores on the 8th of February as I meet up with a big depression that will carry me back to Europe. In the meantime I am skirting the edge of the Azores high pressure cell and am appreciating a brief respite from the constant banging and deluge on deck as the wind reduces and the skies return to blue after a few days...
It's hard to type because my fingers keep flying off the keyboard. I am still close reaching my way up the Atlantic and am making great progress, even out performing (my admittedly reduced) performance polars and routing.
With sometimes 30 knots last night I touched 18 knots of boatspeed but for the most part bounced my way northwards with sickening bangs at 15-16kts. I enjoyed even less sleep than usual.
One exciting moment occured when the autopilot short circuited when I was in the middle of an intimate moment with my bucket! The pilot pushed the helm all the way over and the boat bore away from the wind until it crash gybed, all while I had my trousers around my ankles and I was hanging on hoping for the best. I managed to keep the bucket upright, dress quickly, unplug the faulty wind instruments and get outside to sort the boat out in record time.
Only 10 days or so left and I'm really looking forward to getting in and being reunited with friends and family. A stable toilet tha...
Finally the winds have turned and strengthened so that my problematically unballanced sail setup of the small jib (I had to furl the Code 0 but it will reappear shortly) and full main can be used to full effect. Since yesterday I have been charging up the coast with great speed and as such the milestones of Salvador de Bahia and Recife (the corner of Brazil) have fallen in my wake.
I refer to Salvador as a milestone because when I started solo sailing in 2009 I capped the season with a participation in the Mini Transat, a sprint in two legs from France to Salvador in 21 foot versions of the IMOCA 60 I am now piloting. Back then it was with some trepidation that I embarked on a solo transatlantic crossing and it took me months to prepare. Now these four thousand remaining miles feel like a jaunt across the pond rather after the rigours of the south. How a little experience changes one's perspective!
Speaking of experience, I am proud too to have crossed my outward track and thus compl...