The Route du Rhum has come to an end for solo yachtswoman Lia Ditton 24/11/06

Aurelia Ditton crossed the finish line of the 2006 Route Du Rhum on
23 November at 15:28:22, taking 25 days, 2 hours, 26 minutes and 22 seconds
to cross the Atlantic. Her average speed was 5.88 knots.

The line crossing, the end, is never quite what you imagine or have been imagining for the twenty something days at sea. Suddenly people, conversations and activity are moving at a hundred miles an hour and you are climbing out of your foul weather gear at the dock side and spraying champagne and being thrown in the water, with a cluster of people that you don’t know and haven’t met, but who have been following you, clambering ‘What was it like, what was it like?!’ At some point later you wonder if anyone would notice if you crept back on board and crawled into the bunk with a muesli bar and went to sleep; sleep being the most delicious thought on your mind; sleep having been afforded last who knows when.

So it is the morning after and I have slept, onboard amidst the debris of my Atlantic crossing. It was a strange sleep that happened in bursts; bursts because suddenly and for no apparent reason I would wake up with a start, my mind having processed some thought incorrectly, perhaps that I was still out there or maybe the wind rocked the boat and subconsciously I registered that something had changed that required me on deck.

The last 24 hours left me with salt-sore lips. I was entirely on deck, mostly at the helm. As I rounded the north face of Guadeloupe it was a battlefield of squalls. I was running west and there was an enormous electrical, thunder and lightening spectacle right behind me. Thunder cracked above, so inconceivable close that I feared a bolt of lightening might subsequently end it all. On the radar the squall was tracking NW at twice my speed. It was a tough decision to make- to continue sailing without further reefs in the hope of out running it or to shorten sail at the risk of being run-down. We out ran it. Slumped in the cockpit, flush with relief, I inhaled the elixir of fresh rain- the smell of land.

The second squall was hanging off the western edge of the island. Its progress was slow and behind it I wallowed in airlessness, inching towards the mark at Basse-Terre at the pace of the squall. There was no option but to hand steer, as the wind shifted and shifted and shifted back, the boat otherwise perpetually on the brink of a tack. Then I looked around and there was a green masthead light glowing in the gloom- another boat! Where on earth did that come from?! Hilariously he illuminated his sail, as if I were a fishing boat in the way! After that I went into a match racing hyper drive- there was no way I was going to allow another boat to pass me at this late stage!

The other boat suddenly bore away and curiously did a U turn. I assumed he’d been hit be a wind shift, but as I too edged nearer the mark, I heard birds calling uncannily near. I looked left. Right by the boat and on par with a collision, was one of those giant steel drums that big ships tie up to. For once I was truly grateful to have a canting keel. I pressed it into negative can’t and the boat heeled away with the sudden ease on the main; close call. A line of light shone from the shore to the mark; a huge spot light, which lit up the sail as we rounded the mark. You could imagine the crowds at the shore front watching when the front runners came chasing in. The other boat was now hard on my stern, I had managed to sneak past him and so we set off for the end of the island, the pair of us sailing full throttle. Then the wind built and I started to throw in reefs- it wasn’t worth the risk of damage at this stage, even it gave him the opportunity to pass me. But my actions were rewarded, by the time we cleared the bottom of the island, we were mashing into twenty something knots, in a huge sea. Our leeway was fierce; his was worse and for hours we snaked between an outcrop of smaller islands and the mainland of Guadeloupe. I don’t know whether he got caught with too much sail up or that his boat simply wouldn’t point, but I began to leave him behind. My last 10 litre jerry can of water had surreptitiously capsized with the tap open and so I was by now gobbling up any remaining snacks and washing it down with Soya milk!

Mid-morning local time, mid-afternoon UTC and before America was awake, I crossed the finish line of the Route du Rhum 2006. With only 12 hours to spare, I made it!