On arrival in Cowes there was just time for a shower, breakfast and quick nap before heading back out into Solent for a day sail with my sponsors (Pol Roger and Kilchoman Whisky) in relatively fine sailing conditions. Engaging with Sponsors is probably the most important part of the sport as without them there is no racing so I was not going to miss this.
The close battle in leg 1 between Pierre and me for first Rookie (beginner) became a big story for the French and English media in Cowes. As we prepared for the start of the second leg, I was constantly asked what I thought my chances were against Pierre. At one point I was asked to go to a media interview only to find it was a live radio interview – in French! I quickly had to scrabble together my small repertoire of French words. As we had only finished one leg I knew I had to keep in my mind that anything can still happen and not to focus just on beating Pierre as I wanted a good result in the overall ranking and amongst the other British sailors too.
A day at each stopover generally consisted of a big breakfast around ten followed by a weather briefing from Christian Dumard, our meteorologist. I would then go to any media appointments I had before going for lunch and an afternoon nap. The rest of the day was spent studying weather or preparing our food and clothes before heading to bed for a solid 11 hours of sleep every night. The second leg was only 40 miles shorter than the first, taking us to Wolf Rock off Lands End then across the English Channel to the treacherous Chenal Du Four off of Brest before heading back east along the Brittany coastline to Paimpol.
Being in Cowes was a slightly different stopover as many of my friends and family came to visit. It was great to actually have a chance to show them what the race is about, round the boat and the other sailors that take part in the race.
The start of the second leg took place from the prestigious Cowes Yacht Squadron line. A gusty 22 knots funnelling straight up the Solent channel met us as we left the shelter of Cowes meaning we would be tacking our way out past the needles with our smaller headsails. Although the starting line was particularly long, there was an obvious tidal advantage close to the island shoreline and the 39 boats all bunched up round here. After a few minutes of furious tacking, I heard the first collision of 2 boats in front of me followed by a lot of shouting.
I decided along with a few other boats to tack across to the mainland shore to the north and split away from the main fleet who were tacking up the southern side of the channel. This proved to be a lot safer with less boats around and when we converged again with the main fleet a few miles later, I was sat in 15th.
We carried on out past the needles, shooting forward with the strong tidal currents here and I began to get settled into my first night back at sea. Through the night the breeze was constantly dropping and I had to change back to my bigger headsail.
By the next morning we had reached start point and the breeze had dropped to around 10 knots. The next big decision to make was to either head south, where a new breeze was forecast to fill in, or head west towards Lizard Point a much more direct route to Wolf Rock. I was torn with this decision for a long time. Most of the fleet was aiming towards Lizard Point but I knew from looking at the weather forecast the breeze was better in the south. In the end I decided to head just south of the fleet.
As we went into the second night the breeze became very light and swung to the south, allowing me to tack and point directly towards Wolf Rock. Boats began popping up on my computer and I soon realised I had made a good decision and gained 2 miles on the boats to the north of me. We drifted past Wolf Rock and turned south towards the tip of Brittany across the wind, a great opportunity to get some decent sleep.
A front was due to pass over the following day bringing with it rain and 30 knots of wind. I had to change back to my smaller headsail for a few hours as the front passed over us quickly. I held my position through these maneuvers.
We arrived at the Chenal Du Four, a difficult area to navigate with lots of rocks submerged just below the surface. I was close to 5 other boats as we clung to one side of the channel to avoid the tide pushing us back. We rounded the turning mark set at the southern end of the channel and made our way back up the channel in the dark. It was definatly a relief when I exited the Chenal Du Four for the second time. I was also able to see my position in relation to the rest of the fleet as I retraced my steps and saw Pierre was well behind me.
It was a final 70 mile stretch along the French coastline to Paimpol. I was in a good position at 16th and I knew I just had to hold onto this. The breeze increased and I was soon blasting along with the Spinnaker dodging the rocks and small islands of the Brittany coast. I was pretty tired by this point, I hadn’t found much time to sleep passing through Le Four as I was nervous of the rocks and with the increasing breeze I knew I wouldn’t find a chance to sleep before the finish.
I made myself a final meal and hot chocolate and steered the whole way to the finish. I managed to hold on to my 16th place and win my first ever rookie leg. We pulled into the nearby port of Lezardrieux as the tide was not high enough for us to enter Paimpol. It was amazing to motor up the beautiful natural harbour to the dock where everyone was waiting for our arrival. A quick meal and some excited discussions about the race (Including finding out about Robin Elsey’s fight with a rock in Chenal Du Four) and it was straight to bed to begin the recovery process.