14th - 16th September

Having got off to a fairly poor start the mood on board was a bit subdued and I think that rather than being pumped up and ready top start racing the majority of us on board felt tired and not on the ball at all. For most of us it had been a long build up to the race start – many people giving up jobs, leaving behind families, struggling to find the finances for the trip – and now after all that effort we had finally left.  It was almost as though we'd reached the top of one massive mountain climb just to get to the starting line and we had to go back down physically and emotionally before we could start to climb the new mountain that was the race.  I wasn't feeling particularly well either – having had a cold a week earlier I was still left with a decidedly upset stomach and an intermittent sore throat.  At the time though I thought I was feeling continuously seasick – which I don't do – so that in itself was a tad disturbing.

I woke up on deck on Tuesday morning to find we'd already pulled back several positions and were in about 5th place. This was good news and made us more confident to keep pushing on. The conditions were lively but steady and fast and we could already tell we would be likely to arrive in La Rochelle a day or two early. The sailing was good but our route was fairly straight line. Out of the Humber turn right straight all the way to Dover, turn right again and then pretty straight all the way to the top corner of France where we may just have to put in a gybe!  This meant that the night watches in particular were a struggle to start with. IT wasn't cold but you could get quite cold over the course of 6 hours on deck with very little to do other than steer and keep checking the trim.  One small saviour was the face that we'd rigged up two temporary 'kipping' bunks in the saloon area especially for the night watches.  This meant that if there wasn't too much activity on board the watch leader could send 2 crew down at a time to get an hours sleep. This at least helped to break up the night and get me through the 4am slot which was when my eyes lids really started to droop!

By the time we reached Dover we fairly certain we were in first or second place.  The fleet were really spread out by now and the front four were ourselves, Cork, Team Finland and Spirit of Australia.  The race was on!

By my Wednesday morning 2am watch start we had just passed the Cork yacht and were fairly certain that we were in the lead – although Finland had taken a wider route and we weren't sure of their position.   Races are frustrating things though; We'd heard the positioning from Race HQ that Finland had managed to get ahead of the rest of the fleet and by the time the sun rose over the horizon I spotted a sail. We thought initially and with some glee that it was the Finnish boat and that maybe we were in with a chance of catching them – but to our dismay as the light got brighter and after much squinting through binoculars, I could just make out the Irish flag on the mainsail. That meant at best we were third – although we knew Australia were hot on our tails too, this was to be an exciting finish to the first race. Try as we might we couldn't close the gap on Cork and by the time I came up on deck for my watch at midday Australia were right alongside us and threatening to go past.  The next 3 hours were a head to head battle with Australia – a couple of times they overtook us and close to the finish line it looked like they would do it again but they changed course slightly to try and gain a tactical advantage, the move failed and we cruised across the finish line a couple of minutes ahead of them.

We entered the very attractive port of La Rochelle with its 3 ancient towers marking the marina entrance, by late afternoon.  The crews from Finland and Cork were already moored up and our Cork neighbours applauded our arrival and acknowledged our part in a gripping race while they clutched hold of their already half-drunk celebratory beer cans.

As a crate of beer was lifted on board to help us do the same I could tell that our stay in sleepy, serene La Rochelle would be neither serene or offer very much sleep!