Bermudes 1000 - To fly, or not to fly?

Yesterday was glorious sailing, uncomplicated steady breeze, bright sunshine and clear skies. It seemed there was little to report about the day; no dramas to recount, no hardships to bemoan. Then I kept catching myself looking up at the mainsail, still awestruck by how big it is and I realised just because there are no dramas does not make day un-noteworthy. I am sometimes guilty of only sharing the difficulties and the challenges believing a ripping yarn will be the only thing to grab peoples attention; but kick back for a minute, relax and take a breath to imagine the beauty of a perfect albeit event free day on the water. The horizon is 360 degrees, the sea is a deep blue scattered with whisps of white and the sky almost cloudless. Superbigou just glides along, in these conditions I am not needed, almost left out, the sails are well set, the autopilot driving an immaculate course, we smoothly cut through the waters ahead, leaving a stream of wake behind. On deck I make my rounds, checking for chafe, loose fittings, any sign this serenity may end with a bang but all is well so I am left just to drink in this beautiful day. In the back of my mind I am still nervous to completely kick back, I know too well how this serenity can change with one tiny occurrence to an unimaginable hell. But just for one moment I let my guard down, I lay on the back deck of the boat, feeling the sun on my skin and looking up at that enormous mainsail, wondering at the fact I am out here, doing this and still slightly surprised that I was able to make it all happen.

Cut to this morning and the mood has changed. With just over 500 miles to go I found myself almost paralysed by indecision. I'd had a busy night, the breeze was up and down and I took a reef in and out a couple of times which is an exhausting affair and on at least one of the occasions was so short lived I definitely need not have bothered. In the early hours of the morning, I went below to take a nap and was woken up to a flapping, creaking beeping cacophony as my main autopilot decided to very slowly tack the boat, at a tantalising speed which was almost enough to get the sleeping Pip out on deck to save the day but not quite enough.

If you ever want a laugh get a video of me trying to get off a slippery bean bag, which has slipped across the cabin to the downhill side, when gravity is pushing me down and every time I lean a foot or hand on the bean bag for support, the beans move and I fall back into it. It's not an elegant awakening and is only resulted by rolling onto my tummy and commando crawling away from the bag which appears desperately to suck me back in.

By the time I arrived in the cockpit the boat was lying on its side, jib backed, main pinned in by the backstay and the keel on the wrong side. We were just leaned right over, with the water lapping over the toe rail, going very slowly sideways towards America. Of all the tips I have received from experienced IMOCA sailors in the last couple of weeks, the best one is to take your time. Don't rush at a problem, the boats are strong, do things right and do them once. With this in mind I slowly set to swapping sails and ropes to the opposite side of the boat, leaving the keel where it was, then eventually tacking back onto the right course. Switching to the other pilot we were off again.

The morning bought with it clouds, cells of wind and rain, and a change in the stable conditions. For three hours we were sailing on the cusp of a spinnaker. I knew launching the sail would make a huge difference to performance but every time I made the decision to go with it, the wind conditions changed to make it a punchy call and even after getting the sail onto the foredeck at one stage I had to back away and think again.

I ended up in the cockpit, just staring at my instruments, gazing from one screen to the next, monitoring course, speed, wind – hoping for a sign I guess. There is no doubt that flying the kite is the right thing to do in context of a race, however with such few miles to run, our positions already pretty much set and a high price to pay should I not get to the finish line, my internal risk/reward battle raged on. Was the better decision to accept less speed for less risk – powering up may aggravate the gooseneck problem which touch wood has been pretty settled since my final jury rig in the wind hole.

But in the end I can never settle for pedestrian; the spinnaker is up and we are on the run, this is what me and my boat were made for. It's been a challenge writing this blog, every time the wind gets up, the humming inside goes up an octave and I leg it on deck to nervously hover around a winch or the pilot. But streaking along in this beautiful ocean makes my insides flutter in a way nothing else can. It's a different sort of bliss to yesterday, its intense, it feels super charged, it's nothing compared to the speeds of the new boats at the front of the fleet but it is still 100% addictive.

Pip Hare