Conrad Humphreys' Vendée diary, in which he vows to swallow a bitter lump and get re-energised
‘The lyrics of the Coldplay tune playing on the stereo say it all: “Nobody said it was easy”. If it were, then there would be seven Brits fighting it out down here and maybe 40-odd boats taking part. Every question before the race start is about the ‘south’ and whether you are mentally prepared, but no-one ever asks about the calms, the Doldrums or the periods of quiet downtime when actually you are forced to search your soul far deeper to summon up the mental strength to carry on.
‘The high pressure ridge that is drifting down the course in the direction that we are heading like an unwanted pest is a severe test to each of the trapped Vendée sailors. Some will crack. Watching Jean Le Cam and Vincent Riou disappear on the horizon opening up a 750-mile lead is more akin to Paula Radcliffe pulling up in the Athens Olympics than Michael Schumacker dominating F1 from day 1.
‘Both require the mental strength to get going again, the difference with the Vendée Globe being that we are on day 20 of a 100-day event. So much can happen in this race, so many cruel twists can occur at each stage that I wouldn’t say the writing is on the wall.
‘Sure, 750 miles is a healthy margin, it means we need to summon up another 5 per cent effort, speed, luck to catch them. Their real advantage however lies within the control of each of the skippers that have been left behind. Having the mental strength to fight back from these situations creates champions. I for one will draw on the experiences of the last few years to find that fight.
‘First you have to swallow that bitter lump that sits in the back of your throat and get over the jealousy of what “they” have versus what is real and here now for you. It will be difficult to minimise the loss further until we are out of the grip of this weather system and, given its movement, finding an exit is proving the first challenge.
‘It’s a new experience for me having just one head to get re-energised, thinking and working the problem. Four years ago on the BT Global Challenge, I felt a lot more pressure as skipper because during the recovery phase so much effort is put towards those onboard who couldn’t do that on their own. That said, then there were 18 new ideas onboard about how we should solve the problem- this time there’s only one.
‘Or so I thought. I phoned back to base to find Vikki and Jill working in the office, updating the website and ready to give me any emotional support necessary to help break the system. They both know me far too well. The conversation went something like:
” I haven’t moved for five hours”.
“Have you eaten?”
‘I put the phone down and laughed out loud. Perhaps I thought for a second that there would be some magical words of wisdom that would give me a direction to escape this hole. What I got was commonsense. Later I checked my email and Jill had sent me some funny jokes. I went up onto the foredeck and looked into the fading sunset as it disappeared over the horizon.
‘Between them both, they reminded me that the first step to recovery is keeping your sense of humour!’