Leg 3 – Fighting past Finisterre

| Hugh Brayshaw

 After the frighteningly fast Biscay crossing in Leg 2 our trip back to France was frustratingly slow, testing my mental toughness over four days and 440 miles. The forecast for this leg was to be entirely into a very light wind with a huge high pressure dominating the race course. Another leg that would deny any possibility of sleep and throw in the element of chance and luck.

                                      Trip to the Cathedral to finish our holy pilgrimage.

Our stopover in Spain was beautiful and relaxing, my parents had come out to visit which was also took some stress away. Come the start day for leg 3 I was pumped to gain some places on the overall leaderboard. I was one of the few skippers to visit Santiago de Compostela which I thought might give me some good grace with the lord almighty, perhaps I could convert this into some good luck on the race course.

                                               Saying goodbye to the parents.

We waited for some wind, so we could start our race which eventually came in to produce some 14 knots with beautiful sunshine. The wind, however, was a bit crazy in the bay, I enjoyed this and sailed fast up at the front of the fleet. As we rounded the headland exiting the bay the wind just stopped and being in 3rd place meant nothing as the entire fleet bunched together. The following 20 hours were tricky and unpredictable as forecasted. The wind direction was doing loops underneath the huge mountains of Finisterre and the strength was rarely above 2 knots. I drifted along staying awake and focused to catch every change.

                           Creating my gap in the middle of a busy start line.

Watching the GPS race tracker again is a depressing experience, you can see boats on top of each other and then suddenly become miles apart. During the night I would be within talking distance of a competitor directly in front of me and then have to watch their lights disappear into the night as they get a gust of wind that I didn’t. It is one of the most infuriating things in offshore sailing and dealing with it calmly is a real skill.

                          Sailing up to the Finisterre lighthouse, The end of land!

The make or break moment was off the coast of A Coruna, I was following the inshore boats but I could see on the computer boats offshore sailing a little faster. Another 50/50 question came up, do I sail a more direct course and expect the wind to get to our pack? Or do I cut my losses and sail the longer distance towards the wind? Like a classic gambler, I waited for the hot streak, not to walk away from the table until I had made back some money. Eventually, I saw the prospect of bankruptcy, the possibility to be left behind and so along with other inshore boats, I tacked to get into the wind. It wasn’t till after the race I saw the boats that stuck inshore eventually found the wind and didn’t loose nearly as much as the rest of us.

                              Absolute concentration in the endless light conditions.

We followed the peaking mountains of the Spanish coast for a while longer before heading offshore, finally, the wind had increased for some more consistent sailing and allowed me to sleep. I could only see the few boats around me on my computer, most of them were tiny specks on the horizon. The splits in the fleet were big and the position reports that came in twice a day confirmed my fears, some 40 miles behind the leader. I was a long way behind and I couldn’t see anyway back into the race, all I could do was sail as fast as possible and hope for the best.

      Another stunning shot along the Spanish coast from Alexis the race photographer.

The wind was patchy with small regular shifts, but we had a hundred miles on starboard tack to do, sleeping wasn’t particular fast so I spent hours and hours sitting at the helm, steering and watching the sails. The big shame for this leg was I found my Ipad on the floor of the boat with water sloshing over it, it must have bounced off the nav table during a gust. It is used for on deck navigation but most importantly playing music, a vital motivator in solo offshore sailing. My back up was an Ipad previously used by Mary Rook, there was only audio books on here. Audio books like Davina McCall’s ‘Lessons I’ve learnt’ and a whole list from Miranda Hart, no historical war stories unfortunately. I couldn’t sail in silence any longer, I settled for Jennifer Saunders book ‘Bonkers: My life in laughs’. This was an excellent decision and a highlight of this leg, for the next 8 hours I giggled my way upwind towards the finish line.

                                               One of many beautiful sunsets.

As I got about 50 miles from the finish I started seeing more boats on the computer, eventually, I had the entire fleet inside the 8 mile radius of my AIS. I was very thankful that I hadn’t taken my foot off the gas and it looked like I wouldn’t lose too much time after all. The fleet finished quickly with spinnakers up in the early hours of the morning under another beautiful sunrise. Overall I didn’t loose any positions staying in 19th place but with a bit of a time gap to 18th. It also meant the three big monster legs were over with just the 150 mile ‘Sprint’ leg to go.

                                      Our finishing boat out in the early morning.


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