Pip Hare gives it her all on on the final dash to Lerwick and a badly neede stopover

It’s half past two in the afternoon, and we are on our final dash into the finish of leg 3 at Lerwick.

The Shed is cranked over on her ear, fully powered up, slicing through the flat waters at 8.5 knots with Elixir hot on our tail, only two miles behind and in sight.

We worked ourselves to the limit last night and this morning, on the last of that ‘oh so long’ spinnaker run to Muckle Flugga – the headland that never seemed to get any closer.

During the night Phil and I trimmed in one hour shifts, feeling that was the optimum time we could concentrate for and keep The Shed on the pace. When morning came I made porridge and we had Shed rocket fuel coffee and agreed we would both be on deck now until the end.

In the last 40 miles, things were tense; all the other boats in our class had really started to shift and were sailing fast but in a different direction to us, gybing downwind to increase boat speed.

I did the sums over and over in my head, on a piece of paper, on my fingers. Should we be sailing slowly dead downwind down the rhumb line or join the rest sailing hotter and faster angles but a longer distance?

In the end we went with what I know. The Shed is an old girl [an Oyster LIghtwave 395] and from the days when boats sailed downwind. We squared the pole right back and soaked down on every wave.

I put on a preventer to stop the boom coming over and then in the bigger gusts was able to sail a little by the lee, easing the sheet as the gust came through, giving the boat windward heel and so bearing away further towards our destination.

In the early hours of the morning a sea mist came down and the whole situation became a bit surreal. We had less than 100m visibility and were heading for the most northern tip of an island to a waypoint off Muckle Flugga, where we would turn east and then south down the other side.

We got closer and closer, knowing that dead ahead of us was a huge lump of land, but we could not see a thing. Eventually speculating that we may well round the top but not see it at all which appeared rather ironic as we had just spent 40 hrs trying to get there.

Suddenly a lone rock appeared out of the murk less than a tenth of a mile away. It was quite a shock, even though we knew it was there, and made me think of the sailors from square rigger days, who if they came across a rock so suddenly in that way, would have been toast before they could wonder where they were.

As the advice on the inside of the cuddy says, we got to the corner and turned right, flying the spinnaker along the top of the island and making 11 knots, then dropped the spinnaker and turned right again, a monumental right turn this time as it marks the start of our Southerly return to home.

This last stretch is a pure and simple blast down the coast and we are struggling to stay ahead of Elixir who is pushing hard with us in her sights. The mist has lifted and the Shetland Islands are in view and it looks…well,  cold!

Low grey cloud hangs over a fairly barren and rocky landscape, there are islands and inlets and not a lot of dwellings. I think it would look a lot better in the sun.

When we discussed the Shetland stopover at the race briefing it was mentioned that we are arriving during the midsummer festival, when it never gets dark and everyone spends a lot of time in the pub.

I think because of the word ‘summer’ I had a picture in my mind of green fields, sun shining, people in shorts and t-shirts, marquees and music. Now I don’t know yet about the last two items on the list, but certainly I think an Aran jumper would be more appropriate than shorts at this moment in time.

The real colour is provided by the puffins. We have been spotting them from quite a way out. I did not realise they were so small.

Their beaks are the brightest orange and they are gorgeous to look at,with puffy little black bodies and odd orange feet that flail around on the water when they try to take off.

We are not in yet so I do not like to talk about our result, but we hope it will be good. The rest of our class never recovered from the early period of light winds leaving Barra and we have maintained and extended a decent lead at the moment.

This leg has been tough, hard work physically trimming the spinnaker and mentally trying to overcome the desire to copy what others are doing and stick to our own plan. Routing has been done from my head. I have been downloading grib files and looking at what the computer said I should do but on the whole decisions are being made independently and sometimes in contrast to what the software is telling me.

My grib files I download from Saildocs, via Sailmail through a HF radio and modem.

As I do not have the budget for a satellite phone this is a great cheap solution to email communication and weather forecasts at see.

Sailmail operates as a sort of co-operative and your yearly subscription entitles you to use the service for 90 minutes a week. This usage is capped to stop people from clogging up the shore stations so everyone may have a go.

I know in the last week I have exceeded my limit by downloading many many grib files, which are so important to routing. I emailed Sailmail head quarters, explained my situation and that I was racing around Britain and Ireland and they have agreed to allow me extra time until the end of the race. This is a service run by sailors, for sailors and it is so nice that they understand. Thank you Sailmail.

Now I need to get back up on deck and carry on sailing. Only two and a half hours to the finish at this speed.

I am exhausted but running on adrenaline, I would like to sleep and sleep when I get in. Recovery will be important as my body has just about had enough at the moment, but we will have only 48 hrs to get this Shed back on the road, into our next challenge

Then it’s the North Sea. How much more grey can a girl take?