It’s friday morning, we rounded Pt. de Raz at 1am against the current and now the wind blows directly from the Point de Penmarc’h, the southern edge of the Bay de Audierne and obviously our next mark. After a short leg towards Audierne the fatigue kicks in and I tack towards the open sea to get some rest. The autopilot is in apparent wind mode (which is great for speed upwind) but unhappily the wind makes a 30 degree shift and the pilot diligently follows it. When I get up from my nap we are heading northwest (instead of southeast), grrrr….
As the sun comes up we round the Point de Penmarc’h and the wind turns back and decreases in strength. My next waypoint would now be the Plateau de Rochebonne offshore of La Rochelle but my tacking angle is so poor in the light winds with remaining swell that I opt for the inshore tack instead which brings me close to the coast and the Îles de Glénan. So close to shore I can use my cellphone to pick up a weather forecast which forecasts 20-25 knots from southwest, veering south. This doesn’t sound too bad, at least the southwest bit as it would mean a tight reach, so I tack offshore and head for the Plateau de Rochebonne, some 150nm away.
I am keeping a bit right of the line to have some buffer should the wind turn south earlier than expected to reduce the amount of beating upwind I’d have to do.
At dawn the wind picks up but stays on SW and as the sun comes up again we round the first markers of the Plateau de Rochebonne at 6am – some 4 hours earlier than my routing predicted. What a quick night that was only briefly interrupted my some cargo vessels but otherwise meant a lot of sleep for me.
After rounding the SW buoy of the Plateau de Rochebonne I can bear away, hoist the medium spi and am treated to absolutely dream conditions: sunshine, 16-20kn Wind from SW slowly turning S. We are making 10 knots surfing along the southern coast of the Île de Ré towards La Rochelle.
One spi gybe and we approach the large bridge that connects La Rochelle and the Île de Ré when I get a bit cocky and keep the spinnaker up going under the bridge. A mistake cause on the northern side of the bridge a channel-effect causes 20 knots to blow from the west but after a bit hectic drop some 5m behind the bridge we are on the road again going upwind towards the northwest and Les Sables d’Olonne.
This has been the last official waypoint of my qualification and I am in good spirits: only 100nm left!
The Île de Ré disappears in the dusk and I can hoist the Code 5, then quickly switch to the big kite and we are cruising north doing 5 knots, me already calculating my ETA in Lorient.
Around Les Sables d’Olonne I have some close encounters with fishing vessels (a bit too close for comfort) but after 2 hours I finally have the sea back to myself and am trucking along with the big Spinnaker as the wind starts to drop. At 11pm I end up in a total calm (again!) some 20nm south of the Île d’Yeu. I am going to spend the night below deck sleeping on my big spinnaker with the alarm clock waking me up every 30 minutes to check for wind.
But it is going to be a long night: a 7 am we finally get steady 1-2 knots of wind and off we go again.
Not long after we can hoist the big spinnaker again and have great sailing: 12-15kn of wind propel us with 6-7 knots towards Belle Île and we can easily avoid the cargo traffic around St. Nazaire.
Early afternoon, we are able to lay Lorient, the sun is shining and I open my final good food thinking we’ll be home soon as the calm hits us once again. It will be another couple of nerve-wrecking ours of drifting south of Belle Île with no wind whatsoever, no clouds and Lorient so close I could smell it. I spend the time ranting into my GoPro camera and considering other hobbies.
In the early evening we finally get some wind again, of course it blows directly from Lorient: So a final couple of hours beating upwind in a freezing wind until we arrive at the dock in Lorient at 6am on Monday morning – 8 days and 17 hours after setting off.
Here are some pictures from the qualifier. Some photos are stills from videos where I talk which might explain the funny faces.
Ever since last fall my plan was to do my qualifier as early in the year as possible so all preparations were pretty much finished and the boat packed up since end of january. It would take another two months until the stars would finally align and I would find both a nice weather window for at least 4-5 days and my job would allow me to take a week off.
Saturday, April 4th I decided to sleep in and have a relaxed breakfast, then I did some final grocery shopping and cleaned up the boat.
After the harbormaster in Lorient had stamped by logbook, Nicolas d’Estais pushed me from the dock and we were on the road. On the way out I met a couple of minis doing training, then I headed west towards the Îles de Glénan. With full main and solent at first the wind veered further towards southwest and soon I was making good progress with the medium spi, enjoying the sunshine.
Once I was clear of the Île de Tevennec (right north of Pt. de Raz) at around 3am I dropped the spinnaker and put a reef in. The wind was turning more westerly again and had picked up to 14-18 knots. On a tight reach with no boats in sight or on the AIS I went downstairs for a couple of naps.
Right in the middle of one nap I wake up as the boat seems to feel different so I want to go on deck to check if everything is alright as I notice the GPS indicating a speed over ground of 13 knots (that is pretty quick!). I jump on deck but everything is fine, the wind has picked up to a steady 20 knots with gusts of 27 so I put another reef into the main and we are cruising with a comfortable 8kn, the pilot steering – me sleeping, across the English Channel.
Sunday morning the wind drops down and we can hoist the big spinnaker again, still doing a comfortable 6 knots directly towards Land’s End which we round around lunchtime in the sunshine.
In the first 24 hours we log 161nm, an average of 6.7 knots, not too shabby considering I was in “cruising mode”.
Finally, at Tuesday morning around 4am we finally get a little wind and as the sun comes out the fog disappears. We are tacking upwind in the sunshine, everything is on deck to dry out and we get a lift and are able to lay Coningbeg. Life is starting to be fun again!
We round Coningbeg, make the obligatory photos of the mark and myself, then up goes the big spinnaker for the way back south. To celebrate the occasion I open one of my two beers on board and treat myself to some crackers and ham, then a nap below deck.
Cargo traffic is heavy this time: we have to dodge a couple of ships and I spend some time on the VHF with “Ushant Traffic” and the Cargos themselves to find a safe route through this heavily frequented waterway.
Friday around lunchtime we pass Ushant with the Code 5 doing 5-7 knots and although it is freezing cold we have something to celebrate: the first 500 miles are behind us. My ETA at Point de Raz looks perfect until the wind decides to rain on the parade by disappearing completely again.
For the next six (!!!!) hours we drift towards the rocks south of Ushant before a new wind sets in from the south.
Within minutes it goes from dead calm to 18, then 25 knots of wind and we go back to 2nd reef in the main and one reef in the solent, beating upwind.
Night falls and I decide that although we are going to be late for the tide, I will try to go through Point de Raz (rather than go outside around île de Sein which is a detour of 11nm).
Things get a bit interesting as during my final tack in front of the La Plate lighthouse the shackle on the solent tack breaks, we crash-tack and with the main sail blocked by the backstay we drag the leeward lifelines through the water in the pitch black.
Again some swearing, then I shake out the reef in the solent, sort out the mess and off we go again.
At 1pm on friday morning we are finally south of the Point de Raz and return to the bay of Audierne, still beating upwind.
(to be continued…)