Jason Best is fighting to overcome sleepless nights and seasickness to prepare for Challenge Business's non-stop Round Britain & Ireland Challenge which starts in just 20 days time
On May 30, we’re sending Jason Best, a film critic with virtually no previous experience of yachts or sailing, to report on 1,700 miles of ocean racing in the Challenge Business’s non-stop Round Britain & Ireland Challenge.
Jason normally reviews movies for our parent company’s TV magazines and spends “a certain proportion of the week in a darkened room”. He volunteered because it would be “so different”.
From 21 May onwards Jason will commence his final training aboard one of Challenge Business’s 72ft one-design steel cutters. Here’s the report from his last training session
When I leave the office to embark on my second phase of training for the Round Britain and Ireland yacht race, a thunderstorm of biblical proportions is raging over central London. I need my sailing boots just to wade to Waterloo. Should I be taking nautical tips from Noah?
It’s considerably drier on board the 67ft training vessel moored in Southampton’s Ocean Village Marina, where I join skipper Alex Phillips, mate Julie Nisbett, and my nine fellow crew volunteers that evening. But though I have escaped the rain, I still have to contend with thunder. My two cabin mates could snore for England.
From bunk A comes a long drawn-out rumble, like barrels being rolled into the hold; from bunk B comes a more muted roar, like the tide withdrawing over shingle. The combination is devastating: bunk A exhales, bunk B inhales… Earplugs are useless.
After a sleepless night I must gather my wits to attend to the morning’s instruction. At 8.30, Alex, who was the only female skipper in the 2000-2001 Global Challenge round-the-world yacht race, takes us through the four stages of learning: 1) unconscious incompetence; 2) conscious incompetence; 3) conscious competence; 4) unconscious competence.
Following the first week’s training, I have passed from stage 1 to 2: from blissful ignorance of all the things I don’t know to painful awareness of my shortcomings. Stages 3 and 4 remain a distant dream.
There is, however, one field in which I am fast becoming an expert: seasickness. Since my first voyage I have sought advice from all quarters. I have weighed the pros and cons of conventional and homeopathic medicine, cinnarizine versus cocculus, acupressure wristbands against scopolamine patches. I have given up caffeine, forgone fry-ups and eschewed spicy food. I have even contemplated dabbing a blend of herbal oils behind each ear lobe in the hope of keeping nausea at bay. Frankincense and myrrh among the ingredients sound reassuring, but further reflection reminds me that the three kings travelled over sand not sea.
‘Have you caught the sailing bug yet?’ a friend asked innocently after my first training sail. ‘If by that you mean, “Do you vomit uncontrollably when you get to sea?” Then the answer is undeniably, “Yes.”‘ Another friend had an even more unfortunate turn of phrase: she declared herself green with envy that I have secured a berth in the race.
My pills and lotions are soon to be put to the test. So am I. After a day in the Solent we leave East Cowes marina early the next morning for a day-night sail to Le Havre and back.
The sky is a battleship grey and a steady rain is falling as we set out. As we cross the Channel the wind rises and the sea swells. With conditions worsening, two small birds valiantly skimming over the waves briefly accompany the boat. For a few minutes, first one bird, and then the other, ventures on board. The tiny, yellow-breasted, sparrow-like birds rest for a while on the guard-rail, then the helmsman’s life jacket and the sleeve of my oilskins. If we were on dry land, these same birds would be far too timid to get so close. Out here amid the waves, weariness makes them lower their guards. Is the same true of us?
After the first training sail I naively thought my experience of seasickness was as bad as it gets. Little did I know. As the waves rise so do my feelings of nausea. Before long I am feeding the fishes over the side.
Between each bout of vomiting I attempt to load my stricken stomach with ballast, chewing on dry crackers and gulping swigs of coke. I am fighting a losing battle. After a while I discover a hitherto uncharted region: the Dry Heaves.
Eventually I retreat to my bunk in clammy-skinned misery. On present form, I appear to have as much chance of sprouting a centaur’s hindquarters as I do of developing sea legs.
In the night the wind rises to Force 6. Now and again bigger waves slam into the hull with resounding force and the boat clangs and shudders alarmingly. Out here in the Channel, water seems all too solid.
By the time I am back on dry land in Southampton the following afternoon I have recovered from my nausea, but the ground beneath my feet continues to pitch and roll. I take comfort from the knowledge that Nelson was famously seasick.
In the evening, Alex runs through the weather systems of the Northern Hemisphere. We learn about polar fronts and tradewind belts, and about the doldrums and the horse latitudes, where the Spanish conquistadors threw their horses overboard to conserve water after lack of wind stalled their ships for days on end.
The following day we encounter the Solent’s own version of the doldrums. We have set out hoping to hoist the huge spinnaker sail, or ‘fly the kite’, as Alex puts it. Instead, we become becalmed just off Cowes. With no breeze, the spinnaker refuses to fill. And we have no horses to jettison.
By mid-afternoon, we have almost given up when the breeze miraculously lifts and the sun comes out. Up goes the spinnaker and the brightly coloured woollen ties that loosely bind the sail snap open and flutter away, catching the sun as they drop down to the sea. The yellow spinnaker billows proudly before the bow and we pick up speed, sailing nimbly past the stately QE2 as it emerges from port. Uplift at last.
That evening we celebrate the end of the week’s sailing in the appropriately named Frog & Frigate, a spit and sawdust pub with loud music and a late licence. Several members of our crew achieve the impressive feat of dancing on the tables while simultaneously getting legless.
At five in the morning I am awakened by a tremendous rumpus. One of the late-returning revellers from the Frog & Frigate has attempted to climb into the wrong bunk – much to its occupant’s chagrin. Everyone in the neighbouring cabins finds this hysterical and ribald banter is soon flying back and forth. The tide of hilarity rises to a clamour that is louder than all the week’s snores and waves put together
Finally, Alex, whose good humour has never wavered all week, has had enough and emerges from her aft cabin to scold the miscreants. ‘Boys, boys,’ she chides in the firm but fair manner of a games mistress ticking off a bunch of naughty children. When skippers say they run a tight ship, I hardly think this is what they have in mind.