After 9 days and 13 hours (1250 nm) at sea, I have completed the first leg of the Mini Transat!
60 miles from the finish line, I was unsure how I would feel, and I how I would cope, with suddenly seeing so many people again after a completely isolated period at sea. My last two days of sailing had been perfect; bright sunshine, surfing in 10-15 knots of wind under my biggest spinnaker. I would have been perfectly happy to continue on to Guadeloupe - and had got quite used to a silent VHF for company!
Early on in the race I had fallen into a routine, the mantra 'eat, sleep, sail, repeat' dictating life onboard.
My thoughts didn't stray much beyond the present, focusing on trying to push the boat as much as possible while getting the balance right between sleeping and eating enough. Apart from stealing a few chocolate cakes from my supplies from leg 2, I enjoyed my meal packs which compromised of Sports Kitchen meals, Expedition Foods and Bounce Balls (protein packed energy snacks).
During the first two days of the race I was addicted to the AIS - we were sailing west to cross a cold front, trying to time the tack perfectly for a speedy crossing of Biscay. With the top series sailors and some fast proto sailors within sight, I was really pushing to keep my speed up and keep an eye on the fleet. Unfortunately, I fell asleep for 40 minutes (or perhaps longer?), waking up to find that the large group of navigation lights that had been very close now seemed to be on the opposite tack, some miles away...
The fight was on to get back on track!
By Day 5, things got difficult. My two MP3 players broke, I hadn't a book onboard, and the one magazine I had ('Psychology') fell in the bilges.
I panicked about how I would cope for the next 843 miles, with just my thoughts and a harmonica for company.
Soon enough though, I got used to the strange serenity of being completely alone, and really started to enjoy it. With no idea where I was placed in the fleet, and only a rough idea with regard to the weather systems (I had a very poor SSB reception and so couldn't transcribe any of the information), it was difficult to know if I was making the right decisions.
I really tried to push the boat all the time, reefing, stacking, changing sails as soon as was necessary - but sometimes I had to 'step off the gas' . You reach a point where you realize your tiredness is going to lead to a breakage or accident. I would try to hold the biggest sail possible under pilot when I needed to rest - but three broaches in a row would mean time to change to a smaller sail!
Seeing another boat really makes it much easier to judge your speed, course and decisions. I had a '100 mile war' to the finish with Sylvain on 641, which kept me on my toes. We would go from being 0.5 - 3nm apart to losing sight of each other. I got a boost on the afternoon of day 9 when he re-appeared on the horizon, behind me under full spinnaker. I was sure he had been leading into the night, so it was easy to stay on the helm to keep him behind!
Once Lanzarote came into view on day 10, 6 more boats appeared suddenly on my AIS. I had no idea they were so close, and this meant another battle to the finish. With the wind dropping and shifting as we approached and rounded the island I had to change sails three times to stay at optimum speed, leaving my boat in quite an embarrassing state for my arrival on the pontoon.
I Finished 35th out of 46th in the series class, with no breakages, illnesses or injuries. I know what my weaknesses are, and I'm fully motivated to get out there for Leg 2 to try and improve my position.
With 20 days of non-stop racing ahead of me, my biggest fear is to make poor strategic decisions with regards to positioning in the fleet and weather systems. Fingers crossed my new SSB antenna will work more efficiently - and I won't hit any whales during the crossing!
I would like to say a huge 'thank you' to every single person who has helped on this journey to the 2015 Mini Transat; my family, sponsors and supporters.
Without your help and encouragement I would never even have got the campaign off the ground, let alone to the start of the race!
I am learning so much and hope you continue to be inspired to tackle your own dreams and ambitions.
Hard work always pays off - never give up!