Development Training - Back To The Front

Cambridge, 4th December 2002
Route map of this sail

Although the previous night it looked like the copy of the Telegraph was our only weather information, with fax and radio reception on the boat proving patchy, we were able to get a full report from the local yacht club that morning. It showed that not much had changed, force 5-6, possibly 7-8, coming from the south east, possibly moving around to the south or south west. A fair slog back was in prospect, and as we motored out of the safety of the natural harbour it was solemn faces as standard issue. One crew suffered a sense of humour failure as a freak wave came over the foredeck whilst preparing sails, catching him without a waterproof top on, soaking his midlayer gear - a useful reminder that accidents happen when you're not expecting them.

The plan was to head towards Lands End - estimated as about 12 hours by the skipper, the conditions would improve once around the headland to the south cost of England. At midday, after the first hour, we split into watches, with my watch catching up on sleep first. After the first few hours it was clear from watching progress that we were headed away from Lands End, towards the north coast of Cornwall. I was determined to make our watch, which started at 6pm. I did, although a bit late, and joined the crew on the rail. For this trip I've put one of the prescription patches on, to see if that made a difference. As we bashed through the waves, I began to feel queasy, so moved to the low side in preparation. We were getting regular waves over the boat, soaking everything with doses of sea water, and where I was now sitting I also got some of the run off from the main sail.

At this point, I think I probably hit my mental low for the week. I was using this return journey to see whether I would recover, and here I was still feeling pretty sick. Had anything improved? Okay, so I wasn't actually being sick, but not much of an improvement. Thinking about the sail so far, I realised that I hadn't actually enjoyed any of it so far - apart from climbing to the end of the spinnaker pole whilst we were moored in Southampton. Still, what was the worst that could happen; I spend the next couple of days in my bunk, we head back to Southampton eventually, and that would be the last time on a Challenge boat. I remember vividly watching the water rush past the low side of the boat, churned up by the boat into streaks of foam visible from the dim lights of the boat. Flashes of fluorescence rushed past continuously.

Some time later I finally emptied my stomach and, perhaps slightly earlier than required by oncoming hypothermia, headed down below for a little more wallowing in self pity in my bunk. Despite feeling pretty queasy, I wasn't throwing up water, which at least meant that I could still keep hydrated. I think it was then that the other watch got a bit of a battering on deck. We were getting water leaking through in streams through the hatches (thankfully my sleeping bag had a good waterproof cover), but on deck they were feeling the full force - one wave (clearly over 60 foot, it came from nowhere, etc...) picked the crew up and throw them several feet along the deck. People landed on cleats, winches, each other, etc., and were sporting dents and black eyes the next morning. Our No3 headsail blew as well, probably due to old age rather than the conditions, and with the wind coming exactly from the wrong place were making very slow progress towards Lands End. More like 20 hours, not the original 12!

Still, with the No3 down, and no suitable replacement, we started to motorsail back. We came on watch again at midday, after a Cornish pasty lunch. This meal was the first I was able to eat below decks. Well I say eat, pick at a little. I was told later that the sight of me, pale and picking at my food almost set everyone else off... Still it was progress for me, and I made it on deck, actually feeling quite good. It was still very cold on deck, and before long I took temporary refuge at the bottom of the steps to get warm. I was just about coping when I had to go to the galley - when I started to throw up again. With urging from the skipper I made it to the top of the steps, and with urging from the rest of the crew not wishing to see me be ill, I made it to the edge of the boat.

The plan was to head into Falmouth, only a couple of hours past Lands End. I remember looking up from the boat and seeing the cliffs of Lands End, at least I knew where we were now. I didn't feel physically too bad now, although still fairly weak. We went back to bed for a short while, for the last section into Falmouth. Once docked my priority was to get some food, since I'd skipped dinner after going off watch. After a quick lemonade in a local pub, fish and chips filled that need, and a quick phone call home fulfilled another need. I was feeling pretty low still, but speaking to Caroline helped a lot - at least the end was in sight.