After 10 days at sea, I crossed the finish line of Leg 1 of the Les Sables - Azores - Les Sables race midnight on Tuesday.
I am very happy to be here; it has taken a couple of years work to get myself onto the Mini circuit, so to be here, moored up in Horta with a boat in great condition, is a real achievement for me. Sailing over a 1000 nm solo across the Atlantic is an adventure in itself; racing across solo is another level!
The final approach to the finish was magical. Ile de Pico appeared and disappeared under a think layer of cloud, while the setting sun cast the most beautiful light in the sky. There was a faint aroma of volcanic rock, trees and lightning in the air - and my feet started to itch with a need to be back on land. I hadn't had a hot meal, cup of tea or coffee for the past three days, thanks to taking the wrong type of gas canister with me, and I was salty, hot and bleary eyed.
Nearing the harbour entrance, a RIB appeared with my boyfriend and the photographer onboard, while on the dock the rest of the fleet were waiting for me with a cold beer, and open arms for the dock lines. What a fantastic welcome; and quite moving, considering I had not seen another boat nor had any VHF contact with anyone for the past 8 days.
It had been a fantastic blast downwind to the Azores since the Cape of Finisterre, with lots of sail changes between genneker all way through to my bright yellow 'grand spi'. I was doing a good 15 knots boat speed most of the time. It was a little surreal racing against a fleet of boats I could not see; you find yourself constantly questioning your boat speed, sail and choice of heading, desperate to be going as fast as possible.
With nobody to speak to, my only news from land was that received over an SSB radio, which is connected to the shrouds via an external antenna to pick up a signal. Everyday at 10 am I had to tune in to Monaco radio to try and hear the forecast from Denis Hughes, the race director. It was difficult to understand the crackly speech and near impossible to decipher any French!
Being the longest race I have done to date, I learnt a lot about routing and working with the weather systems. The signal was too poor most days to pick up a complete forecast and I could not decipher the positions of the high and low pressure, so it was difficult to know exactly which route to chose; I ended up sailing to far south which put me behind, but I learnt a lot during the navigation.
I now have a few days rest and some exploring to do; this evening the fleet are going out in some traditional whaling boats, while tomorrow all 33 of us are going on a bus tour of the Island. I've never met such a good group of people; bound together with a love for Mini sailing, a quest for adventure and the desire to race across the ocean waves, leg 2, the race back to Les Sables, is going to be epic... let's go!