Joy and Pain aboard Spirit of Weymouth. Peter Zimonjic reports 16/8/07

In the end it was will that won out over punishing headwinds. At dawn on Wednesday morning the two-man crew of the Spirit of Weymouth and their accompanying Canadian reporter rounded the Fastnet Rock and its famous lighthouse. Triumph.

Let me just say that reaching the rock, turning the corner, letting the sails out and feeling the wind behind us felt like reaching the summit of a mountain.

Like any great climb, however, the Summit is only the beginning of the return home. Trouble still lurked ahead for us but, at least this time, the wind was in our favour. Not long after leaving Fastnet Rock we lowered our headsail and put up the bright yellow spinnaker to maximise our speed.

For the first two hours Captain and owner Steve White, 34, took the helm off autopilot and drove the boat himself taking great pleasure in watching his craft accelerate down the waves as the yellow threads of his spinnaker stretched with each northerly gust.

Having been up most of the night Steve decided to retire to his bunk to catch some rest. I remained on deck with co-captain David Melville to enjoy watching the boat hold an average speed of 15 knots, faster than most yachts in the world would have been able to travel with winds of only about 17 knots.

A few minutes after Steve closed his eyes the wind surged, overpowering the boat, forcing a broach, the boat flipped totally on its side and the sails hit the water.The boat soon came back up but the only tragedy here was that the bright yellow spinnaker became trapped in
the waves and tore from head to foot, as the boat flipped upright again.

I watched as this beautiful sail was reduced to shreds in a matter of seconds,and then, as it broke off and sunk before anyone had a chance to save it.

Steve’s sleep would have to wait. Within seconds he was back up on deck attempting to clear the mess. Had this been any of the other Open 60s in the fleet the next move would have been to simply shrug one’s shoulders and put up another sail. But Steve has no sponsor. He is funding this race, and this boat, himself, through loans and re-mortgages. This sudden blow cost him £10,000 and it shone heavy in his eyes.

The two crew put up a smaller sail and before long we were once again making miles towards the Isles of Scilly just off the southern tip of Land’s End, although at a speed less desirable than before the broach that derailed our mid morning.

As the day drifted into afternoon, and the three of us were restored to vitality with a bowl of curry and rice, Steve once again started to plot putting up more sail. Up went the staysail and before long the Spirit of Weymouth was sailing down waves at a blistering 20 plus knots, to be aboard at such speeds is something special.

The sensation was enough to erase the previous two days of misery in the rain and storms that battered our 60-foot-boat all the way to Fastnet.

The joy and child like excitement of sailing that fast through the sea contrasted with the hardship of pouring rain and nasty headwinds, in many ways, crystallizes what it means to love this sport. True there are cold nights, wet clothes, horrible food and discomfort at every turn, but blasting across the Irish Sea at 20 knots in the sunshine with sea spray leaping into the air and a pod of common dolphins diving in and out of the boat’s wake, makes the toll worth paying.

One cannot see the brightness of the rainbows, the vitality of the sea life or feel the sensation of commanding nature from one’s living room. To celebrate the sun setting over a choppy sea or rising over a calm one it to be out where things are more beautiful than they could ever be on a television screen or in the pages of a book. It should be no surprise that those treats come at a cost.

In a practical sense we have been rewarded not only in experience but also in miles and time. It took us nearly 24 hours to cross from Land’s End to Fastnet Rock but we have made the return journey in the ten hours of Wednesday sunshine. The tiny islands of Scilly have claimed hundreds of ships and sailboats over the centuries and as we passed them at sunset Wednesday night it was easy to think of the seafarers before us who came this way and never made it home again.

As night fell we settled into the last leg towards Plymouth. The estimates are that we will make it into port in time for a late breakfast.