Development Training - An End Too Soon

Cambridge, 4th December 2002
Route map of this sail

The plan was to head west; through the Needles into the Channel, past Lands End into the Irish Sea, heading for the Fastnet Rock off the south coast of Ireland. This route is made famous by the Fastnet Race, which goes from Cowes, around the rock and then back to Plymouth. We set off around 1pm, after a 'volunteer' had been sent to the top of the mast to replace the wind instruments. We still didn't have an electrical wind indicators, which gives direction and speed, but at least now we had a visual indicator of the apparent wind direction. As we hoisted the main sail, one of the battens that holds the sail in the right shape had come out it's socket at the mast. This took some pushing back into place, and eventually took turning the boat around to take the wind out of the sail to fix. Problem solved, and we head to the Needles.

At the Needles you leave the shelter of the Isle of Wight, and into the Channel. It's typically fairly rough here, and on cue (and despite dosing up on stugeron over the previous couple of days) I lose my lunch over the transom of the boat. I'm a bit surprised, since it's fairly early in the trip, but seems to be inevitable at the start of the week. The difference is that we're not going back in after a few hours - time to see how fast I recover! I've been told by everyone that most people who are really sick take a day or two to recover, so we'll see what happens. At the time though, I was more concerned with trying to stay warm and hydrated. The first was challenged by the waves coming over the boat at intervals and the force 8 winds coming over the deck, the second was challenged by my stomach refusing to keep anything down for longer than about 20 minutes.

So I sit it out on deck until I realise that I'm no longer shivering and don't really care about getting warm again. Time to transfer to my bunk - I get Stu to give me a hand, before making my way to the back of the boat and my refuge. Thinking about it now, in warmth and comfort in front of my computer, I'm not sure whether the first 24 hours was the worst, or the second 24 hours. For the first 24 hours nothing would stay down, not even water, so I was getting progressively more and more worn down. Sleeping was sporadic with the boat crashing around, people talking and shouting below and above deck, diesel generators recharging batteries, and so on. You always want to be sleeping with your feet downhill - went the boat stops your feet hit the end of the bunk, not your head. With my bunk as it was I had to change which way around I was each time the boat tacked. Being so drained, I had strange dreams that I tried to forget as soon as I could after waking, and when I was awake I had time to think about what I was doing there. Perhaps I was one of the people that just don't recover? Did I want to race 5 weeks across to Boston being sick in my bunk before calling it quits?

My watch were still valiantly sailing on without me, eating and trying to sleep whilst the other watch took over. Your mind plays tricks - knowing that the wind hasn't changed, we're been on the same tack for ages; they're not doing too much on deck apart from trying to stay warm - I'd just be a burden to them. Still, it was my watch, I should be out there as well. One comfort was my new sleeping bag. I was sleeping in my thermal gear, and even if I was wet and freezing cold, after a hours I'd be warm and dry.

After the first 24 hours, we were perhaps 12 hours away from Fastnet Rock. I'd kept water down for a few hours; things were on the up again. Perhaps I'd got over the worst. I made it on deck during our watch to see the sunset - I even tempted fate by trying a third of a banana; I had to eat to be able to keep going. Bad move, but at least this time it tastes of banana, not bile. As night falls I just haven't got enough fuel inside me to keep warm; I admit defeat and head below once more. I'm feeling a little less ill than before, but that just means I can think clearer. We round the rock, and head up the coast of Ireland towards Kinsale. The end is in sight, and the conditions are better, but I'm not getting better. I'm sure a lot of it is mental, but I'm in no mood for self-help groups. My watch, getting some needed sleep, is called on deck to help out with the spinnaker - we've a quick chance to hoist if we head towards the coast line. By the sounds of it, it's a bit more interesting that planned. I later find out that a fishing trawler, who has right of way, moved in front of us, and with limited manoeuvrability and the rocky coast of Ireland getting ever closer, we had to do a near-emergency drop which is never easy or pretty.

We arrive in Kinsale mid afternoon, and I suppose the best I can say is that I'm still alive, and not thinking of immediately leaving the boat and flying back, despite the skippers worries. I recovered slowly but surely once we'd moored, and almost enjoyed the meal out - though my stomach had shrunk and I couldn't eat much. I'm fairly quiet over the course of the evening; partly already in anticipation of the journey back the next day, partly since I don't really feel that I'm a part of the crew - I haven't managed to complete a single watch duty, or be of much use whilst on watch. My thought are more turning towards drafting my letter of resignation for the race, and what I can spend the money on instead. Listening to the chat about the race, I feel quite removed, since in all probability I'm not going to be there.