I have just successfully completed the full course of the 270 mile, Solo Concarneau race without incident or collision of any kind.
And what a race it was, as Solo Normandy was wet, cold and windy, Solo Concarneau was warm sunny and dry. In fact we didn’t see a single cloud for the entire trip, ridiculous!
The forecast before the race put us right in the middle of a high pressure and thus we expected very little wind or weather of any kind.
The start was forecast for 3pm which left an agonising morning of waiting around. Everything that you are planning to take, wear, eat and use for the race has to be on the boat ready for potential weighing and jury scrutinising by the early morning so once that is done there is nothing left to do but mooch around, eating, wondering what you have forgotten and worrying about the race ahead. I found this agonising and was very glad to be finally off the dock and in the starting area.
The wind at the start was very light and the start line was very small for the 37 colourful and identical boats. I had a fantastic start lined up 3rd boat from the favoured pin end until about 13 seconds before the gun. The wind did an enormous shift to the left, which ruined my gap to leeward, and put me directly behind the Offshore master Yann Elies. Here I suffered in his dirty disturbed air until I could finally tack free. Sadly an enormous wind swing back to the right, put all of us from the left boats firmly into mid fleet position. Doh!
We continued on and slowly made our way around the French headlands attempting to get a hang of the crazy wind conditions and make little gains over the boats around. But it was sunny and warm and finally my pre-race demons had left me and I could enjoy getting stuck into the race.
Slowly the wind started to strengthen and so I went through the many changes to the rig and ballast and trim as we went up the wind range. Running around like a headless chicken trying to be faster than the other boats, whilst all the time tacking around the rocks, trying to find a little advantage to sniggle around the boats ahead.
Every tack involves moving all the ‘stack’ which is everything you have on the boat so every bit of safety equipment, the anchor, all my kit, all my food, two spinnakers and the heavy jib over to the windward side. Then you drop the ballast water to the leeward tank, secure it and then finally tack the boat and re trim onto the new side. Its a fairly sweaty process, and not to be undertaken lightly.
As we worked our way up the West coast we approached a nasty little section affectionally known as the Raz. Here some lumpy bits of France had many years ago become separated from the mainland and drifted away creating a tight little passage for us boats to play around on. There is always heaps and heaps of tide rushing through this narrow passage and then with some wind added into the equation, and in our case from the opposite direction made it extra fruity.
The wind forecast was not anything very much but with this tidal effect we felt a whopping 25 knots on the boat and with enormous big white standing up, splashy in your face, waves it was getting rather exciting, and of course it was dark by this point.
With the tide swooshing under us and travelling at a brilliant 11 knots upwind (normally about 6), it didn’t take long to be swept out through the waves and soon the sea started to calm down and wind dropped back down.
Although it was technically ‘dark’ this was one of the brightest night’s I have ever sailed through. The sky was completely clear and the moon and stars were out in full sparkly force, together with their reflection on the sea and twinkling lights on top of the boats around us, it was hard to tell where the sky ended.
Soon we rounded the most Northern point of the course and hoisted kites and headed off down south in the brightly lit night. I managed to put in a good little burst of speed here, nailing my boat handling and despite being at the horror hours of 2-4am, I drew strength from my power ballad play list and bag of peanut M&M’s and chipped away at the boats in front.
This long leg South stretched out in front of us and the fleet spread into the bay and soon night became day and the wind started to fade. We knew there was going to be a big shut down and I tried by best to position myself on the fleet and keep in the better wind.
Meanwhile it was very sunny and lovely and I was joined by many dolphins, splashing around me, many thousands of seabirds and a sunfish. Sunfish are possibly the oddest of sea creatures, how they have mysteriously survived evolution boggles the mind. My little mate had several seagulls trying to either sit on him, mistaking him for a handy island perhaps or they were trying to eat him, I’m not sure, but when I scared them off, he was still flapping away his little top fin so I hope he made it.
I was also absolutely bombarded by little birds. There I was happily drifting along in the last zephyrs of wind with my Brit pop tunes blaring, and I was suddenly inundated by dozens of little tiny birds. Parking themselves on sheets and winches they surrounded me and had a good little explore of their new surroundings. Hopping about on their tiny little stick legs, making little squeaking noises I noticed they had lots of different colourings and identified them as some kind of small tit variety. Several of them decided they would check out down below and flew downstairs, when I poked my head down they were perching along the top of my nav desk looking like they might settle down here for the night, so I tried to whisk them away but they scattered over the boat some into the bow and some down the sides of the boat by the engine.
I spent some time chasing around my newly acquired flock but not before they left me some nice sticky white presents all over my chart table. They were being very distracting so I decided to get back to the serious business of boat speed, but one little mate decided to sit on a block right in front of my instruments and go for a little snooze. Putting his wing over his head he nestled in and then every couple of seconds he would lift a little eye out of his wing and eye me suspiciously, then satisfied I wasn’t making a move in his direction, would slide his head back under for a few more seconds of snooze. I found this absolutely hilarious and the parallels to my sleeping patten over the last race were very apt.
Unfortunately the little flappers didn’t bring me any luck despite shitting all over the boat. I was becalmed and watched as the group of boats I had been battling with sail around me. Incredibly frustrating at the time but hopefully some long term lessons learnt.
We continued on through another beautifully lit night, hoisting and dropping and hoisting and dropping with some great miles of beautiful downwind sailing. Catching some micro naps, chomping some lovely freeze dried treats and despite making up some serious distance, no other places were lost or gained. Following the wind shut down the fleet was condensed together and all the boats were within eye sight at the finish. It was amazing to race in a fleet with everyone so close, match race style, cover tacking right until the end.
Hitting the dock sun kissed and exhausted this race was a very different experience to the race I had the year before my first Solo race. Happy with some race elements and frustrated with others it was difficult to put it into words.
Having suffered this race with a horrible cold throughout I was very happy at the thought of clean tissues and finally resting. I was certainly far more shattered during the race than ever before, all manoeuvres and movements were harder and napping I often felt I hadn’t slept when the alarm was ringing in my ears, normally I don’t even need an alarm, waking at my magic 13 minute mark knowing I needed to be up and at it. My face was in agony with all my skin red raw from the wind and sun and nose blowing. Despite it being a beautiful race I was very glad it was over.
Sadly whilst cleaning up the boat I found one little mate that didn’t quite make it out. Poor little birdie I hope he was feeling unwell before he came aboard and didn’t suffer from figaro related sickness.
After a good nap and lots of recovery snacks we made our way back home to England and now for a few days convalescence and some baking…..
Now I’m off to enjoy that beautiful spring sunshine, Happy Easter everybody.
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