February Newsletter – Mission Accomplished
I can't get rid of the knot in my stomach. It's been nearly two weeks since I first sailed the boat I will be racing around the world, and the enormity of what I have set out to achieve really settled on me for the first time.
We sailed from Lorient to Port La Foret, just over a week ago. It was the first time Superbigou had left the dock under my ownership, and together with my technical manager Paul we cast off in gusty conditions to make the 20 mile trip up the coast. Sailing out of the river felt monumental - some how more real than the weeks before on the dock. Finally I could start to imagine what sailing this boat around the world would feel like and really face up to the challenge I have undertaken.
Hoisting the mainsail was a physical feat; even with two reefs in place the sail seemed to go up and up. With every foot I pulled it up the mast I could feel the hull of Superbigou power up. The northerly wind was bitter, freezing every piece of exposed skin in its path, the waves breaking over the deck showered me in icy cold water. But standing by the mast and winding the mainsail winch, I was boiling in all of my layers. There are no coffee grinders on Superbigou and most of the winches are powerful but slow. The main halyard is also on a 3:1 purchase so for every metre I pull the sail up the mast I must pull 3 metres of rope. Superbigou's mast is 25m high - It all takes time.
Despite opting for a conservative sail plan - Superbigou crashed through the waves at an impressive 10 knots with little input from me. Despite both of the autopilots being functional I sat in the cockpit steering for the whole journey; taking every wave on the chin and learning my first lessons about how this boat handles and what it feels like to be in control of such a monster amount of sail. I thought about how many hours I will spend in that cockpit, how many miles I will be sailing that boat and like a bolt from the blue, it hit me. Since then my stomach has been in knots, I've been struggling to eat and despite our immensely productive week; at times I have felt utterly overwhelmed.
Jargon Buster: Reef - a way of making the sail area smaller to keep control in strong winds. Normally the mainsail has four possible sizes - full main being the largest and reef 3 being the smallest.
Coffee grinder: A high powered way of winding winches. Conventional winches are powered with a handle in the top, coffee grinders stand independent of the winches, with two handles on a pedestal which are powered like a hand bicycle.
It's not the size of the boat that gets me (though I can't say watching my mast being craned in and out has been a stress free experience), it's not even the thought of sailing around the world. It's the huge journey that I know I must make to get me and that boat to the starting line.
I've got so used to reeling off the Vendee stats in the last month of practice pitches that I became immune to the significance of the numbers. Only 157 people in the whole world have ever started a Vendee Globe race - this will not be a walk in the park and though my resolve to drive this project to success is as strong as ever. I must admit at times to feeling small and alone when I consider the task in hand - which is weird because these are never feelings I have while sailing solo across an ocean.
And so, I live with my angst, while changing the sail drive, or servicing the mast. I guess it's a sign that I know what I am doing - not foolish enough to thing this is all going to be a breeze. Every step we take towards the start line of the Vendee Globe race will be a tough one. My stomach hurts because I have invested my all into making this happen and I am, after all, human.
This week we lifted Superbigou ashore, the mast came out for survey and we replaced the lower sail drive leg. I spent the first part of the week, alone in the engine room, separating the engine from gearbox, and the gear box from the sail drive leg. Using block and tackle suspended from the roof, I was able to lift and move the engine entirely alone - then removed the sail drive leaving a whole in the boat. Later in the week my good friend and 3 peaks co-skipper Charles came out to do the tricky work of replacing the sail drive leg. While Paul and I serviced the rig, then replaced fairing plates around the new propulsion unit and filled the hull to a fast shape again.
On time and with few hiccups, Superbigou returned to the water yesterday afternoon. The mast went back in and today we have been working hard to put everything back the way it was - reattaching sails, wiring in electronics and winding the rig down.
On Monday afternoon I will set off on my first solo voyage - some 250 miles back to Poole Harbour - and I can't wait to make this milestone voyage.
Once home I will be able to balance training with working hard to find our perfect sponsor, something that has been quite hard to do during this first month in France.
In the meantime the crowdfund has breached £11,000. Once again a massive thank you to everyone who has donated. This funding is keeping us on track to deliver a great race, covering our day to day expenses in the short term and allowing us to focus on getting the big things ticked off.
Keep watching for social media updates and please share my posts and this newsletter with any of your own network who might be interested in joining our journey.
All the very best