The last, long hours for Jason as Besso tacks down-Channel
We’ve rounded Beachy Head, at last. The good ship Besso is finally on the homeward stretch, with the English coastline a consistent, comforting presence off the starboard beam. We even caught sight a while ago of those pesky Kids, seventh-placed Save the Children. But it feels as much a race against closing time now as against the opposition. Can we make it back to Southampton before last orders?
In all honesty, these last miles are proving a bit of a slog. Attempting to type these lines, wedged in the cramped lazarette in the stern, I feel tired and grumpy. I’m finding it hard to stay at the heeled-over keyboard and break off, every so often, and make my way hand over hand to the swaying companionway to take a gulp of air at the hatch. Each time, I want to say, “Are we there, yet?”
I don’t think my mood has anything to do with the ship’s position at the back of the fleet. During the race, Besso has ping-ponged up and down the leader board. Last at the start, we managed to get into third place for a brief time in the Irish Sea and we were fourth rounding Waypoint Alpha.
Then came our sail troubles. First we damaged our Yankee 1. Then we shredded the larger of our two spinnakers. Its loss cost us dearly in light winds.
Then we took a flyer, breaking off from the pack through the North Sea oil and gas fields. It misfired. We found ourselves becalmed. “Isn’t it ironic,” Paul observed ruefully. “All that gas – and no air.”
So we slipped back to last place.
When the race is over, though, where we finished won’t matter. I’ve a hundred memories that will endure. I’ll remember watching a school of pilot whales gracefully moving past us as we sailed off the Irish Coast, one of the group, a frisky teenager perhaps, executing playful tail flicks as he passed; I’ll remember the startling changes in sea colour, from dark oil to brilliant turquoise; and the North Sea oil rigs at night, lit up like Christmas trees.
I’ll remember a dozen shades of sunrise (though being awake at four in the morning every day for a fortnight, going on or off watch, has rubbed away some of the gilt); I’ll remember sailing past the grey cliffs of Dover at 3 am after executing a dizzying series of tacks between the Goodwin Sands and the English Channel’s Traffic Separation Scheme. Above all, I’ll remember the camaraderie and laughter.
I don’t think I’ll forget seasickness in a hurry, either. Truth be told, none of the remedies I tried – pharmaceutical, homeopathic, hypnotherapeutic – proved to be the magic bullet I was seeking, though one or two of them may have alleviated my distress. No, seasickness was a rite of passage I had to go through.
In the end, I did develop sea legs of sorts. I still feel below par when the wind is on the nose, and I can’t stay below with ease for any length of time when conditions are rough, but I’ve been able to function on deck much better than I expected.
Indeed, from stem to stern, the yacht has become a less forbidding place than when I first stepped on board. As I’ve learned the ropes – or rather, learned to call them sheets – I’ve become more sure-footed. Even the dreaded jargon has become familiar, almost reassuring. The deck has ‘elephant ears’, after all, as well as a snakepit.
But I’d be lying if I said I feel entirely at home now on a yacht. I may be much more competent now than when I started on this venture, but I’m not a natural-born sailor. I know I’ll always be a landlubber at heart.
I’ve just taken some air at the hatch. Disconcertingly, the boat appears to be heading for France. We’re ninety degrees from the Brighton coast. What is going on? Have Gin Watch hijacked the boat? Are we being taken on a booze cruise instead of making towards the finishing line? It seems my sailing career isn’t over yet.