Development Training - Applying Balance to the Force

Cambridge, 4th December 2002
Route map of this sail

So the weather report comes in. Force 3-4, south to south west. Who could have hoped for more! Some of the rest of the crew, apparently, since we delayed departing until some fresh Cornish pasties are bought for lunch. We leave at about 1:30pm, and after a while we are to start 4 hour watches at 4pm. One member of our watch gets to decide who starts, and after a few hand signals from the rest of our watch, decided to start on watch. The wrong answer according to the skipper, but we all disagreed. The only delay to the start of the watch system was `high tea' of generous slices of saffron cake and clotted cream. This was more like it.

I think in the first watch the major change was dropping the No2 and bringing up the No1, since conditions was turning pretty light. I can't remember much more of that watch, but the conditions were pretty good and I was feeling fine. I did eat my dinner on deck that evening though (and avoided the McDougalls butterscotch pudding), just to make sure... Second watch was midnight until 4am. We were running with the No1 poled out on the spinnaker pole. After a while of sitting just getting cold we were spurred into action, and spent the rest of the watch putting in a couple of gybes, changing things around, and generally being busy. The conditions were still fairly calm, and now actually working together as a watch I felt much happier.

Waking up at 7.30am after two broken periods of sleep was a real struggle - until I smelt breakfast. The other watch had made up some pancakes which went down a treat. Yup - eating more food down in the saloon. Up on deck for 8am, we were now almost in sight of the Isle of Wight. The plan was to go around the south side, back in the Solent and Southampton that afternoon. It was time to get the kite back up - we were glad again that we'd chosen the first watch! For most of the jobs I buried myself in the snake pit, the central control area for the lines going up the mast. We gybed a few times, flying the spinnaker from both poles whilst the stern of the boat went through the wind. As we reached the east end of the island our watch came to a close with dropping the kite, and the other watch joined us on deck. No sleep for us, just packing the kite then back on deck.

The conditions in the Solent were quite different from anything that I've seen before - I tried to capture it on film, but only partially succeeded. The water was almost completely flat with a real sheen on the surface, the clouds all around were almost surreal, and there was almost no noise. With the wind low and on the nose it was time to get the genoa up for some tacking practise. We finally made it into Southampton, after doing almost everything possible on the boat before we moored to cut down on cleaning up. Our watch got to shower first, then a brief rest before we headed out for some serious drinking. As ever we ended in the Frog and Frigate for some inspired dancing on tables from our crew, before the night finally took it's toll and I retired to the boat.

So the verdict? Well, not quite a bleak as I thought in the middle of the week. It was almost cruel, how the last few days now hide the discomfort and depression of the first few - I didn't get the chance to call it a day, since there's still hope that I can get through it. In a perverse way I'm glad what happened, since I survived. One big effect is the change in perspective that it's given me. When we all met for the first evening, I said that I wanted to do whatever I could to make my crew do as well as possible. At the halfway point the logical conclusion was that I could best help my crew by not being on the boat - giving my space up for someone who could at least function at sea. I think now that I'll do the Round Britain Challenge - probably over two weeks of fairly nasty conditions - and see. If I make it to the Global Challenge, and if I make it round that will be the main accomplishment. For the sail back from Ireland to Falmouth I was only sick twice, able to eat even if I couldn't help much with the watches. Maybe there is hope for me, and with that glimmer of a hope I can't give up now, since I'd always regret not finding out.