2004 Transat

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The Start in Plymouth
May 31, 2004

After weeks of preparation amidst beautiful (uncharacteristic) weather in Plymouth, the day of the start dawned rainy and cold. We (my shore team of Brian Harris and Laurent and I) got off the dock about 1100 and went sailing before the start. It was blowing 20 to 25 knots, so we went with two reefs and the staysail. It was lumpy and wet. All good until we were coming back inside the breakwater and the hydraulic keel control stopped functioning. A breaker was tripped and we reset it and got it working but it wasn't good for my nerves. It has already happened again so I don't think the problem is yet understood. It was quite a scene with all the support crew in RIBs, the spectator fleet, and a 37-boat fleet; 15 Open 50 monohulls, four Open 50 monohulls (including me on Wells Fargo/American Pioneer), 12 Open 60 trimarans, and six 50-foot trimarans.

With 30 minutes to the start, Josh Hall of Around Alone and Vendee Globe fame picked up Laurent and Brian, and I waved a final goodbye to my teammates, as well as to my wife, mother, and uncle who were on board a fishing trawler chartered by Kip Stone on Artforms. I suddenly felt very alone and very nervous. I crabbed my way up towards the navy destroyer that was the midpoint of a long starting line with three gates for the classes. It was a port-tack start; the first leg to Eddystone Light could be fetched on port. Everyone ended up at the destroyer jockeying for final position like it was the Farr 40 start at Key West Race Week. At the gun I found myself right on the line amidst all the Open 60s and all the skippers I have been reading about for years. Around Alone winner Bernard Stamm, Nick Maloney, Dominque Wavre, Mike Golding, Marl Thirercilin, Jean Pierre Dick, and Mike Sanderson. It was like a who's-who of Open class racing, and there I was right in the thick of it, well ahead of my 50 classmates. Kinda lucky and kinda bold, but definitely a good start. I was worried I was over early; four boats were called over, but no me. I called the race committee on the radio and they told me I was clear.

We were off to the races in what was now 30 knots of wind, lumpy seas, and a tight reach for 9 miles to Eddytone. Drag racing at 10 to 13 knots, I was hanging with the big dogs, ahead of four 60s! Wow. Made the turn at Eddystone, and we got headed bad and the wind went light for the 40-mile beat to Lizard Point. Took a while. Lots of sail changes. Reef in, reef out, Solent to staysail to solent. Quite a workout. I sweated through my Patagonia inner layer and had to make a change as I was soaked and got cold. Fog rolled in and things got a little weird when I failed to come all the way through a tack and the boat went into irons and began to sail backward. Luckily I had seen this movie before and got going again pretty quick, but I was upset at myself. I don't think Mike Golding pulled one of those! Tacking in to shore then back out to fetch the waypoint 5 miles south of the Lizard we had to leave to port. It was an exhausting beat, but we rounded The Lizard at about 2200 with a favorable slingshot assist from the tide and turned for Lands End, 30 miles ahead. Moving at about 10 knots now slightly cracked off, I just passed Land's End at about midnight and am poking up into the Celtic Sea trying to get some Northing in as the wind is clocking into the NW. More on the nose; I better get used to it. What a big Day. Covered about 90 miles to windward in the first 12 hours. I'm wiped but have been taking 5-minute naps and about four of them seems to have got me going again. And I have made the first of my favorite night watch beverages: instant coffee, cocoa, Parmalat milk, and a splash Of Jameson's Irish Whiskey to buck me up in the dark and cold and rain. All in all a pretty good start, I think, but I really have no info yet so I'll be curious to learn where the others are.

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