Bermudes 1000 - Race reflections
I hardly had time to gather my thoughts after finishing the Bermudes 1000 just 24 hours ago. I was welcomed to the shore by race committee and fellow skippers, went for a quick shower and meal then headed straight back out with my delivery crew to catch the last of the North going tide and bring Superbigou back to Poole.
When I step back ashore on the other side, the pace of life will go interstellar once again so I have just a few hours left to reflect on the last week of my life and my monumental first steps towards the Vendee Globe race in 2020.
Not only was the Bermudes 1000 race my first solo race in this 60ft beast but it was the first time I had been offshore alone with this boat for longer than one night. The race was a test for everything. It would be the first time Superbigou had done any serious prolonged sailing miles since the Vendee Globe finish in 2017 and though we had done as much checking and preparation as possible I was sure that the prolonged pressure of extended sailing would throw up issues previously undiscovered. The stress of just getting the boat to the start line was coupled with my unhelpful ability to vividly imagine all the things that could go wrong: I often had the mental image of an enormous spinnaker in the water, wrapped around my keel or a flailing jib on the foredeck, half unfurled and ripping itself to pieces. In these visualisations I was present, I was trying to fix the problems but I couldn’t see the end game.
Now I suspect the coaches out there will be horrified at this admission, visualisation of success is after all a corner stone of great performance. But I am a realist. I am a person that needs to prove to themselves step by step that they are competent, capable and strong. I ground my ambitions in the genuine knowledge that I can make them happen and part of the objective for this race was to learn how those scenarios would play out.
If I am honest I think mother nature gave me a pass for this race. I couldn’t have asked for kinder conditions. Yes we drifted a bit and that has it’s frustrations but I was not pounding into the teeth of a gale and physically conditions could have been a lot worse. But the race has hardly been a breeze. When I realised my goose neck pin had worked free I was approximately 250 miles from any land at all and over 300 miles from a port where I would be able to gain access and get help to solve the problem. This meant going for help was completely out of the question, I either had to solve the problem and carry on racing or it was game over in every way.
From that moment I started to earn my stripes as an IMOCA skipper. The solution to my problem was physical and mechanical, it required patience, timing, diligence and a bloody-minded refusal either to be scared of what might happen or admit I could not fix the problem. The worst possible outcome could have been losing the rig as my mast attempted to rotate. (For those scratching their heads at this statement, see social media post here which explains my mast design).
In working through this problem, I worked through any nagging doubts about my inability to handle this boat and all that it represents. I reached the end of the Bermudes 1000 a happy, proud and smelly skipper. I have loved every moment of this race and I have loved learning to sail this boat in the open ocean. I’ve been surprised at how normal barrelling along in a 60fter alone has started to feel. How I can casually sit and drink tea in the cockpit, while doing 17knots in the dark with nothing but spray in the view ahead. It has been hard. My body is aching, my knees are sore, it was cold and it was uncomfortable. But the experience of being in the ocean alone with this boat is an incredible privilege that I happily swap for hardship. To spend eight whole days locked into one task – physically, emotionally, mentally just ‘being’ one thing in one place is a release to some extent. It’s exhausting but liberating at the same time.
I have got to the end of this race feeling immense. I finished, I overcame adversity, I showed potential in my performance. I proved to myself I am an IMCOA skipper. So now – those images of flailing sails? I still have them; I’d be a fool not to. I believe you must be aware of how bad things could be in order to make good decisions. But these images do not worry me anymore. I know that at the end I will find a solution – because I have got this.
And yes…. I can do the good visualisation as well. I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t snuck up to the foredeck when no one has been around and held my hands aloft imagining those two red flares and my bursting heart as I cross the finish line of the Vendee Globe.
Before I sign off I need to say a huge thank you to everyone who has supported me over the last few days. My team is entirely made up of volunteers who by donating their time and skills are helping me create a strong investible campaign. So to Amelia, Charles, Phil, Paddy, Lucy, Paul, Isla, Paul, Lou, Sam and Chris – Thank you from the bottom of my heart. Also to the children of Fairlight Primary School who sent me such lovely messages of encouragement.
I also need to make a special mention for Mike who has been keeping my story alive while I have been at sea and has done an outstanding job. Mike and I spoke daily, I sent him my ramblings, my photos, my blogs and he has shared them with you all in a way that is genuinely me.