Mini Transat – Mission Accomplished

Here it is, my first post after finishing the Mini Transat.

Feeling a bit disorganised today, having arrived just over 24 hours ago. A lot to do on the boat but everyone is going to a nearby island tomorrow for a party thrown by one of the sponsors, so I guess I’ll go as well. At least I’ve got my flight home booked, which is something accomplished today, and I’ve handed in my passport and boat papers to the immigration people and should get them back tomorrow.

Now I have to find somewhere to sleep for tonight. Then probably do a few boat jobs and get it tidied up a
bit. Or perhaps just go and have dinner. Tomorrow I will take all my clothes to the laundry then start sorting things into categories of what to take home with me now, and what to put on the boat that I will take home from Lorient once the boat arrives there.

Everyone is saying what a difficult Transat this was – the most difficult for 20 years. The race director has said that he is really glad they put in place all the safety requirements over the last few years (mandatory qualifier, mandatory safety at sea course, strict requirements for the construction of boats, flotation requirements for the boats etc.) because he feels some lives would have been lost without them.

20% of the boats that started have failed to finish. Two boats have been lost and skippers taken off (one boat hit by a supertanker, one boat hit an unidentified floating object and nearly lost its keel). One boat has run up on the beach just a few miles from the finish, but they hope to save the boat.

My very good friend Ulf Brandstrom (SWE 772) stopped in the Cape Verde Islands for rudder problems and was told by three doctors not to continue because of a knee infection. Since then he has been on three different antibiotics which haven’t worked and had one operation, and may have another tomorrow. If he hadn’t stopped he might have died of blood poisoning. The fact that I can’t celbrate with him here in Salvador is a bitter disappointment and takes something away from the whole race experience for me, but the consequences if he had ignored the doctors’ advice don’t bear thinking about.

Another friend, Bert Bossyns on BEL 585 also stopped in the Cape Verde Islands for medical reasons, and was also told to stop because of a life-threatening medical condition. I don’t have any more information than that.

Another one of my very good friends in the race, Christa Ten Brink (NED 758) – who I was in radio contact with for about 8 days as we crossed the doldrums and the equator – lost her mast last night, only about 100 miles from the finish. Her husband (who was also in the race – Ysbrand Endt aboard NED 767) is going up the coast to get her.

The three of us had quite a day when the fleet was hit by a storm south of the Cape Verdes. Ysbrand got hit first, and got a message to me about the wind. Christa and I were already getting hit, and as I was on the radio with Ysbrand we both heard Christa calling for someone to respond as the wind was totally unexpected according to the forecast (that I had given her – she wasn’t able to receive the weather reports). That was the last time he heard her voice. I could talk to her and I helped her through the crisis, and was an intermediary between the two of them as they passed messages back and forth. I could speak with both of them, but each of them could only hear my side of the conversation with the other. Then I lost contact with Ysbrand and was within 15 miles of Christa for 8 days.

Christa and I also have a special bond because we did our qualifiers at the same time. We left Douarnenez within about two hours of each other, and for both of us Ysbrand was the last person we saw before setting off. Then during the qualifier I was able to pass her some fuel for her fuel cell as she had run out two days earlier and her batteries were almost dead.

A few minutes ago Ysbrand left to meet her and told me the latest information – she has lost one rudder and
there is a hole in the boat, but she has managed to get most of the water out. I’m really looking forward to seeing the two of them tomorrow.

A lot of the boats had rudder problems, including several Pogo 2s (like my boat). I am fortunate that I didn’t have some of the problems that others had, but I still faced a 40 knot storm south of the Cape Verdes, then a steady 25/30 knots upwind for the last couple of days, almost all the way to the finish. The waves were really big (at least for a mini), 2.5 meters high and sometimes breaking over the boat and into the cockpit. I wore my brand new drysuit (an URSUIT – absolutely awesome – thanks to Ulf who got me a great deal on it) for 48 hours straight and only changed out of it with about 5 or 6 hours to go to the finish. That is really not typical Mini Transat weather.

My electronics failed completely about 4 days from the finish, so I had no more wind or speed information and my primary autopilot wouldn’t work. I had a spare autopilot which could only steer to a compass course and that got me across the finish line. Other than that I had no major failures, although the inner forestay was starting to break (something I only noticed a day and a half from the finish).

As I say, I feel quite fortunate in light of the problems that others had. I feel fortunate to have finished.

Enough doom and gloom – now for the good news.

The first few days out of Madeira were excellent – fast sailing and making a lot of miles to the finish. Then after the big low that hit us, we had light winds. Frustrating but easy sailing. I picked up the SE winds about 4 degrees north of the equator and thought I was through the doldrums, but either they were farther south than predicted, or they shifted south over me and I had another 24 hours of light winds and rainstorms. One of those storms was a blessing in disguise as I was worried about water and managed to collect 15 litres as it ran off the main sail. I used that for showers to get the salt off me.

As we exited the doldrums I tried to help Christa – who was feeling quite low – get through the next days by setting short milestones. She was about 12 miles behind me and I tried to set a milestone that would let us celebrate something each day.

I crossed the equator a couple of hours before her, and celebrated with a bit of Madeira wine, a madeleine cake and some peanuts. Half of each for me, half for Neptune. Actually he got much more than half the tiny (airplane serving size) bottle of wine.

The arrival in Salvador was excellent. I arrived in bright sunshine (apparently I was the first to arrive in sunshine for several days – everyone else recently had arrived in rain or at night), although the last 20 miles or so before the final turn, there were TONS of Portuguese Man of Wars in the water. At one point I started counting how long between seeing one to the next. For several minutes I couldn’t count more than ten seconds without seeing one.

As I got closer I put up my big flags (all 1.5 meters x 1 meter) – Red Ensign on a pole at the stern (a boathook), Brazilian flag on the starboard shroud, Royal Vancouver Yacht Club flag on the port shroud and the Canadian flag streaming out behind the main, hoisted to the third reef point.

Then I turned the last corner into the Bahia de Todos Santos and was going dead downwind in 25 knots of wind with full main and jib. I really should have had two reefs in, but with only two miles to go I didn’t bother. My ability to reef quickly was also compromised by the fact that I had raised a flag on one of the reefing lines! I had to gybe a couple of times to get to the finish line, got the horn from the committee boat and I had done it. I actually yelled at the top of my lungs “I DID IT!”

I dropped the jib and sailed towards the harbour under main alone, with a RIB escorting me. Once I was in the harbour I dropped the main, the RIB came alongside and one of the guys came aboard and steered my boat while I tidied up a bit, and the other guy towed me in. As I was pulled in towards the marina I could hear my them song (“Life is a Highway” by Tom Cochrane) blaring out over the loudspeakers, then a lot of fireworks and cheers from shore. As I arrived at the dock there was a huge group waiting. A lot of the skippers, some of the people from the bateaux accompaniateur, and the organisers and welcoming group. Dan (617), Emma (574), Pip (743) and Ysbrand were waiting and I was so glad to see them. Several other skippers were there and one of them told me to get off the boat and get on the dock where the party was – he would worry about getting my boat tied up.

Then Dan did the traditional thing and threw me in the water, which was excellent. I got out and there were the two Brazilian ladies waiting with a tray of fruit and a caiparinha. I got interviewed by the organisation’s press officer and enjoyed the limelight for a few minutes. Spent the rest of the afternoon not thinking about the boat – had a shower, a couple of beers, then helped welcome Bjorn (GER 626 and another friend) as he arrived. We all had dinner at the marina / race HQ and Ysbrand had already organised a place for me and Bjorn to sleep that night.

I’ve spent today not doing very much. Now I’m off to find a place to stay and a place for dinner.

Next chapter (or perhaps epilogue) to follow in some days.

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7 Comments on “Mini Transat – Mission Accomplished”

  1. Colin G Says:

    Fantastic Bruce!! Well done, it sounds like it was a very tough race, so many boats withdrew. I look forward to hearing more about it. Congratulations!
    Colin

  2. Steve Says:

    Well done!!

  3. Jerome S Says:

    Lots of Congrats Bruce !!
    You’ve done it !

    Cheers

    Jerome, former crew of the 529

  4. Michael Stepek Says:

    Well done Bruce!!! I’d been following you on the race site for the past month. I can’t tell you how much I admire your courage in having undertaken and completed such a challenge.

    It’s great to read your post. I want to hear more about it when you get back home.

    Mike S


  5. Congratulations!

    A great day for Canadian sailing!

  6. Etienne Says:

    Congratulations Bruce ! Be proud – see you soon back in Zh.
    Etienne

  7. Jill Carr Says:

    Congratulations Bruce! You’ve worked so hard–I’m sure the whole family is thrilled with your accomplishment!


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