Andrew Preece, from APP, is onboard Orange, Bruno Peyron's maxi cat as she attempts to break the Round Britain and Ireland speed record

Andrew Preece, from APP, is onboard Orange, Bruno Peyron’s maxi cat as she attempts to break the Round Britain and Ireland speed record

My last experience of big cat sailing was with PlayStation a few years ago when we got our fingers badly burned, nearly lost the boat and a few of our lives when we went ‘down the mine’ at the start of a TransAtlantic record attempt.

That time Steve Fossett was the skipper and ironically, I now find myself amongst a crew aboard Bruno Peyron’s maxi cat Orange trying to beat Fossett’s Round Britain record set in 1994 of five days, 21 hours, 5 minutes and 21 seconds.

For this record attempt the boat is skippered by Peyron and co-skippered by Neal McDonald who is joined here by his wife Lisa as well as several grand prix sailors fresh out of the Volvo Ocean Race; Jason Carrington from ASSA Abloy, Damian Foxall from Tyco and, of course, the team’s navigator, Roger Nilson from the VOR yacht, Amer Sports One.

Late on Sunday night a conference call with Roger ‘Clouds’ Badham in Sydney completely changed the game plan. We had been preparing to set off towards the east and head through the Dover Strait and north; Fossett and his crew of four had gone that way and got to Edinburgh in 24 hours. But the final look through the five weather models revealed the prospect of a beat into 35 knots from the Shetlands to St Kilda.We decided to go clockwise. We hoisted the main and Solent jib in lee of Sandown on the south-east coast of the Isle of Wight early on Monday morning and with 25 knots blowing out of the north-west, sheeted on, lurched forwards and crossed the imaginary starting line watched by chairman of the World Speed Sailing Record Council Sir Peter Johnson at 0910. For 14 hours we sailed upwind towards the west, the traveller moving four times and the jib halyard twice.

As the wind dialed into the west a tack south of the Scillies set us up to lay the south-west corner of Ireland on port. The upwind phase had put us a few tenths below the 12.67 knot average but as the wind built to the high 20s our speed topped out at 30.6 knots and at the end of the first 24 hours we had averaged 12.7 knots over 305 miles and 60 miles south south-east of the Fastnet Rock.

For a while it was storming sailing, the boat rocking, lurching and hooning along, time to hang on down below sleeping always with feet forward, always a difficult, treacherous and spray-blasted passage across the trampoline from hull to hull; the navigation station, the font of all tactical knowledge, is in the starboard hull, as is the galley where we have eaten pasta boiled in three different and widely varying qualities on the occasions that it has not been simply dry sliced bread; the boat may feel as spacious as the QE2 but Neal McDonald is no gourmet chef! But at lunchtime yesterday (Tuesday) the wind shut down. The two weather models we are believing – an American model and an English one – predict different outcomes: one says this calm will last no more than a few hours, the other says it will spread frustratingly around us. If it does our record attempt will be over.

In the space of a sentence the boat speed has lurched from less than a knot to almost eight knots which we know would be flat out for our distant monohull cousins. But eight knots in a catamaran is nothing, not enough to provoke even a glimmer of a smile from skipper Peyron who is never happy unless he is storming along at more than 20 knots. Could this be the first of the new breeze? We hope so. And before long we will find out if tonight (Tuesday) we will be storming north towards the 61st parallel where Muckle Flugga lies or working out how to retreat with our tails between our legs and a warm bed the new short term goal.

Andrew Preece