I have had a weekends rest before the final and perhaps most grueling leg of the Solitaire 2017, however after the first 3 legs it will be tough to manage another. This weekend was a time to reflect and analyse but also sleep, eat, wash, talk to people and do everything else we take for granted on dry land.
Leg 1 – Pauillac to Gijon
After an intense fight upwind out of the Bordeaux river the main story from leg one was the fleets passage through a heavy cold front in the evening of the second day. It brought gusts of up to 50knots and painful rain that pounded the side of my foulies with an intent to hurt. The combination of powerful winds and huge waves caused damage on most of the boats, some so serious the sailors had to retire from the leg and make for the safety of the closest harbour for immediate repairs. I remember seriously thinking that the mast would fall down as the boat launched itself off waves and then slammed back down with a huge thud and a shudder. My hand was cramping up after Apparently I wasn’t the only sailor shouting and cursing at the wind telling it I had had enough of the 30knots, that stuck around long after the rain was gone, and that was preventing me from switching the auto pilot on and getting the sleep I desperately needed.
After a rusty first 24 hours to the leg I managed to gain some places in the storm and right at the end as the wind died away to nothing which put me in a respectable 24th place and reflectively little damage.
Leg 2 – Gijon to Concarneau
Leg 2 had been daunting me for a while, the first 260 miles were to cross the bay of Biscay and we would be out of sight of land for at least 36 hours, the longest time for me. It turned out that a successful first night would be the base for a successful crossing, I worked all night to get my boat positioned correctly and by morning I was extremally happy with my top 20 position. It was tactically very unpredictable and so my effort to stay safe and boring within the middle of the fleet paid off.
There were plenty more big decisions to make around the race course that make you second guess everything, my moods fluctuated greatly through the stress of it. After 3 days of racing I felt very content with how the race had panned out, if anything I just wanted the race to be over and for me to lock the result up. However the fleet compacted for the last 10 hours and the huge lead I had worked so hard to create was slashed thanks to the dying wind. The last 5 minutes of the race where devastating as the pack of boats I was drifting away from in the last moments caught the new wind before me and could only sit and watch as 4 boats passed me with ease. 27th place was not how I had hoped things would turn out, I was gutted and exhausted.
Leg 3 – Concarneau to Concarneau
Little over 24 hours later and I was back on the boat for the sprint leg, motivated for a good race. The first five minutes where fantastic, it was a reaching start and I had found a gap to punch through the starting line looking like an absolute hero. It was inevitably short lived as the boat behind was very fast and determined for me to get out of his way. In hind sight, I should have protested Sebastien Simon for unsportsmanlike conduct as he hailed a torrent of abuse to go down and essentially get out his way. I wouldn’t let him pass and was telling him to shut up as his rage fit was putting me off. As I aimed for the mark watching boats beneath take the shorter route Seb took his chance to roll me and I in turn lost many places.
I felt very angry as I slipped to the back of the fleet, my boat was going slowly compared to everyone and I searched frantically for the solution, checking for weed, the sails, everything. The 50 miles down was very enjoyably anyway, travelling at good speed in the warm with the sun setting behind the fleet was special. I did what I could to get back into the race but it was to be the very last 5 minutes that would rescue me from heart break. It was my turn to pass 4 boats in the dying wind as I headed for a small patch of breeze that would push me over the finish line.
Overall the solitaire has been full of success and hardship in what seems like equal measure. I am coming in 25th overall which is a result I would be very happy to finish the event with; however this final leg will determine it all and I will take every opportunity to finish on a high. I am excited to be sailing along the south coast England if only for a short while, hoping for some home water advantage.
Follow Hugh at: www.hughbrayshaw.com