The First 24 hours
We headed out of the harbour for our 12.15pm race start. 189 boats in total, with 20 boats in the racing class and 169 in the cruising class. We are in the racing class and we know who our completion are. There are 4 Beneteau 40.7’s in the race and we have met each of the crews. We are a few of the smallest boats in the fleet.
As we jostle for the start line with the other 19 boats in the racing division, the winds were blowing at 25 knots and we decided to pull the spinnaker up to get a fast downwind start. This was an ambitious way to start and was out first mistake. A Spanish army ship fires a gun and the 20 boats in the racing class head for the start line. The wind shifted right as we were crossing the start line and our massive brightly closured spinnaker gets wrapped around the main stay several times and it looks like we crossed the start line flying a cognac glass.
Getting this knot of sail untangled from a sail this big and light is a massive job in the 25 knot winds and building seas. For a minute we talk about heading back into the marina to untangle it but that feels quite defeating and so we try everything else possible before going that route. After about 30 minutes we have it sorted out and pull the spinnaker down. Even with all of this going on we have stayed with the pack just sailing on our main sail and even passed several boats in the process.
Once the spinnaker is down, we replace it with the big jib top and we are really back in the race flying along at 8.5 knots.
By 6.30 pm it is completely dark and the wind has picked up to close to 30 knots and there are 20 foot swells. We need to get the jib top down as we are totally over powered and the skipper goes on deck in the dark to try to take it down. The wind shifts and we jibe accidentally and there is a sickening crack as the boom flies over and we make sure everyone is still on the deck. The sea state is is massive and we “heave to” in the wind and the swells while we recover.
The wind is howling and we can barely hear each other talking, it is pitch black and we are being tossed around in the sea like we are a small cork. We manage to drop the sail and get back on course. It is only the skipper and I who are comfortable helming in the dark in this weather. He and I do one and a half hour shifts throughout the night. The boat is tossed around relentlessly. Things that were not properly stowed and hatches not completely closed get blown open and shit gets thrown across the cabin. The toilet door and a bunk door break off their hinges and fly across the cabin along with everything else that has broken loose. It is a frightening first night and we were lulled by the sunshine and the fanfare of the start. The weather forecast did not predict these conditions here now. I keep going on adrenaline.
As the sun rises there is no mistake that we are on a huge ocean that has no regard for whether we survive or not. I wonder if this is what the whole journey will be like. There is no sign of any of the other boats.
By day break the cabin looks like a hurricane past through. There is no door on the head (toilet) and we have to bear the indignity of using the bathroom in front of 4 complete strangers although this is actually the least of my worries at this point.
The wind is still blowing 25 knots but the swell is slightly less and it all feels easier in the light of day. I am on the deck for the next day and night and finally get into my wet bed exhausted.
I wake up in the middle of the night on Monday night and feel very very unwell. I ask someone to pass me a bag and start to vomit and this goes on for the next 36 hours. I take the helm as I know that this helps and throw up off the back of the boat into the darkness. I have never felt so ill on a boat in my life and wonder if I will make it across the Atlantic if I feel like this for 20 days.
I lie in my bunk and get tossed around and don’t manage to sleep. Every time I stand up I vomit and having not eaten this now only bile.
By Wednesday evening thankfully there is evidence of this passing and it looks like I now have my sea legs… I am back in the race.