Jason Best reflects on his experiences of the Round Britain and Ireland Challenge
At ten past four on Saturday morning, 12 June 2004, after 13 days at sea, gallant Besso eventually crossed the Royal Yacht Squadron Line at Cowes, the last of the eight-strong fleet to complete the Round Britain and Ireland Challenge.
We’d spent the final, frustrating hours short tacking along the Solent, beating against a tidal gate that appeared to have been slammed shut. Then, after more zig-zags than we’d executed in the rest of the voyage, the twin lights that marked the finish at last came into alignment and the race was over.
For me, our achievement took a while to sink in. We sailed into Ocean Village Marina at half past five to the surprisingly boisterous cheers of the well-wishers lining the dock to greet us. There were spouses and siblings, parents and friends, and a clutch of Challenge staff members brandishing champagne and confetti.
The reception was heartening, though I can see why vicars ban confetti at weddings: the stuff clings to boats with the obstinacy of barnacles, as we discovered when we came to clean Besso an hour or so later.
The rest of the day – long, relaxing bath, even longer and more relaxing lunch with my crewmates, and spirited knees-up with the whole fleet in the evening – passed in a daze. The following morning, though, when I woke at seven, in a bed, not a bunk, the past fortnight caught up with me. I’d no sooner opened my eyes than the room lurched alarmingly, pitching and yawing with as much vehemence as the foredeck in a Force 8.
The fact that my body should react so turbulently to being back on dry land showed me, perversely, just how much at home I’d become at sea. At the outset of this adventure, as a novice sailor I’d been completely green. And I turned even greener, of course, as soon as I encountered a spot of rough weather.
Fortunately, in time, I became less bilious. Healthier colours returned to my cheeks. And, even if I never achieved that beatific smile on my face that I noticed on George whenever she took the helm, I did experience my own moments of bliss. Surprisingly, they weren’t necessarily the voyage’s passages of calm. When asked by my crewmates to nominate my personal highlight from the trip, I found that it was our white-knuckle ride through the fog with the spinnaker aloft that came to mind. Perhaps my sensibility has been jaded by too many Hollywood films, leaving me unable to appreciate more subtle effects of light and air, but I thrilled to our hurtling course through the murk and was secretly disappointed when a horrified Matt urged us to take the kite down.
Somehow, though, despite this covert relish for adrenaline, I don’t reckon I’ll be taking up the generous offer made to me by Yachting World’s features editor, Elaine. “Perhaps we should speak to your editor,” she ventured, “and see if you can be seconded to us for that six-week windward leg of the Global Challenge across the Southern Ocean round Cape Horn! We know how you’d love to spend Christmas on the foredeck in 50 knots.”
If you don’t mind, I think I’ll stick with mince pies rather than risk another encounter with boil-in-the-bag spotted dick.