November 25th, 2010
The final push...
It is dawn, I am sitting in bed and for the first time since crossing the finish line I have some time to myself. The room is lovely and as I look beyond the balcony the view is breathtaking for below me lays Falmouth Harbor, Antigua. I have read so much about this place in both novels and historical books but none of them have been able to convey the beauty and easygoing atmosphere of the place. I have a free day today and Tony Lawson who knows the Island like the back of his hand has kindly offered to show me round.
Given its history and stunning beauty the only way to arrive here is by sea and we could not have asked for a better voyage. Yesterday was my last day on the 'Good Ship DMS' and she was determined that it would be a day to remember. We left very early for a twenty-mile plug to windward that opened up the end of Guadeloupe and a left turn for Antigua. The wind was now on our starboard quarter and fresh with lots of big clouds marching over the horizon and off into the distance. Up went the Code0 and DMS just took off with speeds of up to seventeen knots. Spray was everywhere and it was a thrilling run that required continual attention on the tiller and sheets to keep her under control. Added to this I had the company of Tom and Tony to enjoy the day with, it was perfect.
Its amazing to think that not a few days ago I was sailing this same piece of water under very different circumstances. The race was on for the finish..............
"It's a dark night and its obviously going to be a handful as the wind that chose to desert us during the day has returned and I need to push hard to make up those lost miles of frustration. I know that there are two boats ahead and although they were gifted an advantage I am going to fight them all the way for you never know what anomalies rounding Guadeloupe might throw up. I can sense the islands presence in the agitated sea state that comes from shallower water. Every now and then the bottom of a big passing cloud glows with the loom of distant city lights and it's exciting. It's been twenty days of effort to get here and the final chapter is about to unfold.
The masthead spinnaker is straining as I push DMS to the limit, sleep has been lacking but adrenaline and anticipation seems to be keeping it at bay. The ride is amazing with sustained surfing and it's hard to concentrate on navigation below for it's going to be a train wreck if she spins out. This is the hardest I have pushed her and DMS can't manage on her own. I have to continually work the main to retain control and at times come off the wind ten degrees to run with the gusts in a burst of spray. Its thrilling and my face is starting to ache from maintaining a sustained grin - this is why we do this sport.
As we rise to the top of waves they starting to reveal lights ashore which become permanent reference points as our progress chases them above the horizon, I get a real sense of our speed as they rush past. It's taken about three hours to clear the top of the Island and a gybe is imminent. Suddenly, without warning, the wind is up to twenty-eight then thirty knots and I realize that it is accelerating as it bends round the island. We are in trouble, I come off another twenty degrees to follow the wind shift and we are now deep reaching square to the waves that have humped up a bit and we are off. DMS is planing permanently now, she is never below sixteen knots and is often pushing through twenty and above. Spray is everywhere and things are pinging and popping under the immense strains that are dissipating through the structure until finding their ultimate place of resistance. DMS is literally humming with energy as she rattles and bounces across the water in sharp jerky movements. It is so agitated that the instruments are hard to read, I look up and out from this ball of frenzied energy and can see that there is going to be no let up and that if I don't get some power off immediately something bad is going to happen.
I nip to the foredeck and its even more impressive up there for it feels like riding a tin try down a steep hill. One minute I am ankle deep in rushing water as the bow scoops up a lump and the next I must be ten feet up as we barrel up and over a wave and off into the night. If I were a surfer this would be the time to hang ten. Despite the potential for disaster I am loving it and find myself scampering about the boat as happy as a bean and it suddenly strikes me that I am now ready to start the Route du Rhum. DMS and myself have become one, we are on top of things, completely in control and very competitive.
I glance to my right and am momentarily captured by the full moon that has taken a peep though a rent in the clouds and the extra light seems to speed things up. To my left there is the soft outline of the Island and suddenly I can smell it. A rich, slightly burnt and evocative smell - the Caribbean as I have always imagined it to be. After twenty days devoid of scent it is intoxicating.
The spinnaker drop is a fight on one hand but text book on the other. As soon as the hatch has closed I rush back to the cockpit, unfurl the Solent and come up to run parallel with the coast at what feels like a sedate twelve to fourteen knots. Quick cuppa, stuff down an energy bar, wool and pack the spinnaker and its back up on deck to work some extra speed out of the boat. In my absence the dawn has sharpened the outline of this extraordinary Island to reveal that it is incredibly green. With its rounded edges, meandering valleys and complex curves the Island looks as if it were formed by dripping wax.
We have to round a race marker at the bottom of the island and as I start to search for it the sun rises over the island drawing back its shadow to reveal two sails about three miles ahead. I grab the Binoculars with a thrill of excitement and the distinct flat-topped mainsails tell me it's the competition. I have kept further offshore and this has provided the wind to catch them. The problem is that the race marker is right up close to the beach and in the world's biggest wind hole and as I grind to a halt so they break free from its clutches and are away. No matter, good on them and thanks for making my finish such an exciting one. Twenty days at sea and I have competition in sight. The Class40's have it as far as I am concerned.
The race marker is a huge bottle of Rum and I just can't find it and am starting to thrash about. I go in closer to the beach and its suddenly right there in front of me. Its translucent and as I have been looking into the sun its been virtually invisible. A fisherman shouts, waves and gives me a big thumbs up, my first human contact has been made and it heightens my anticipation. At the end of the Island another turn heralds thirty knots on the nose and a long slog ensues for the final leg to the finish. It feels odd to be going to windward and it suddenly strikes me that I have only tacked twice since St Malo.
The rest of the sail is just lovely for it gives me some time to reflect on this voyage, have a quick shower and prepare for the arrival. I have given the good ship DMS a spring clean yesterday and she is ready for the Ball. The only fright is when I nip below to check the chart and the boat stops dead. We have sailed over a Lobster Pot and visions of having to drop the sails and dive on it pass through my thoughts. I furl the Solent and use the main to weather cock her out of it and we are away again. My final task is to climb on to the boom and put my lucky St Pirans flag on the back of the mainsail. We are ready and I am very satisfied with our efforts.
My plan was to have fun, be fast, be safe, come in the top third of the fleet and reacquaint myself with single-handed sailing. At the start I had had four days of single-handing in 14 years and I have to say that I didn't realize how much I have missed it. DMS has been pushed hard but it has been with a caring hand and I am delighted that the only damage is a broken mug handle. I feel fitter, healthier and happier and as ever humbled by the help and support that has made this happen. Single-handed sailing is the ultimate team effort and it has become a big team that ranges from the boat team to sponsors, family and supporters. The approaching line sets off a swell of emotion on everyone's behalf."
Thanks, you are all very special to me and may we do something again soon.
November 22nd, 2010
Hi All, I guess this is a bit of an apology and a holding blog for I feel a bit remiss in not giving you an update since the finish, which I have to tell you was just brilliant. It felt so good to cross that line having had a fantastic race - from the line it was alongside the VIP pontoon where I was welcomed with a rum, which was followed by a beer and some food.
Tony Lawson and Tom Gall were there for what was a pretty special moment. We then moved DMS to the marina, checked into a hotel and went for a slap up meal, which lasted until I fell asleep. I don't remember putting my head on the pillow but I do remember waking up at five feeling refreshed and delighted that I didn't have to run up on deck - a hot shower, lovely breakfast ..................... all those things we normally take for granted were a treat and I think that's a good thing for its easy to overlook them and something is lost when you do.
Today has been really busy with press and admin this morning followed by an afternoon of work on the good ship DMS. We set sail for Antigua at dawn where I have a day and a half before flying home. So when I say a holding blog its just to say thanks for all your support and I will do a proper blog on passage tomorrow when I get a little time to sit down and draw breath. As for now I have some shirts to wash, a meal to eat and then its off to bed - I have felt tired and stiff all day and I think tonight is going to offer up a really good sleep.
This picture was taken by Tom as we closed the line - note the lucky St Pirans that has sailed with me on all my trips.
November 21st, 2010
As you will all have seen, Pete has finished the 2010 Route du Rhum single-handed trans-Atlantic race in a very credible 14th place.
I have just spoken to Pete in Guadalupe and he is tired but very happy. He will do a full blog update in due course, but he wanted me to thank everyone for all your support.
He filmed another video blog update as he rounded Guadalupe, which you can see here:
He gives his first thoughts about the race in a press release which you can view here:
Thanks again. Cheers,
Stuart Elford, Shore and Communications Manager
November 20th, 2010
Just gybed in a healthy 20knts wind and am heading round the NW corner of the Island. Dolphins are a jumping and all is very happy on the good ship DMS. Couldn't resist an earlier call through to Dave Summers to share the moment and as expected he was up and at it. Cross your fingers that the wind holds true for a good bit more. Cheers, Pete