Latest report from British yachtswomen Lia Ditton who moves into second in Route du Rhum 1/11/06

When it comes to weather forecasts, there is one word that I detest; variable. There is no getting away from it. It is the same word in French, pronounced var-ee-a-bluh. Du vent var-ee-a-bluh is what we have this morning and which is responsible for the unloading and loading of my 2.2oz kite, sometimes with a violent and sudden tug on the sheet.

The waves are also partly to blame, as the boat surges forward down the back of one, up rockets the apparent, down goes the accelerator until water friction [the wave-ploughing effect] and the up-hill aspect of the next wave eventually have their way with the speed. Molecular matter forming pressure on the inside of the spinnaker, known in layman terms as air, is thereby dumped; leaving the cloth floundering and in a partial state of collapse. The stern is then picked up by wave two and off we go again.

It was pitch black and the middle of the night when the wind went aft and that word spinnaker loomed in my mind. As per usual, I decided to prioritise the subject by taking a one-hour nap first which turned into a two hour struggle to get up at all, along with lots of excuses-to-self that we were doing 8-10 knots anyway so what was the fuss about? All in all, the conclusion was probably the best possible outcome; I slept, on the basis that hoisting the kite and then falling asleep willingly or otherwise would not be a good thing. So when first light broke the gloom on the horizon, the time had come. If my writing here denotes a touch of apprehension, a touch is too slight! My experience of hoisting and running spinnakers amounts to about nil.

Upwind/reaching I know how to eek every knot percentage out of tub or torpedo. Downwind, yes, well, perhaps I should have done the Mini Transat first?! Erring on the distinctly boring side of caution, my first choice of kite this morning was therefore the ‘heavy’ 2.2oz. The training kite, if you like. Up I trawled the sock through the companionway hatch, to the foredeck. Bagged, she will neither fit down the forepeak hatch nor the main companionway entrance, and liking the weight aft, she had been added to the main cabin furniture.

So up she went and returning to the cockpit, I did grumble that my decision had been far too conservative, that after all I was racing and hadn’t I douse and re-hoist the ‘medium’ tri-colour instead? You know what happened next… wham! The wind filled back into 18 knots gusting 21 and the kite began to dip in the water. ‘Ease the main!’ A voice screams in my head, a voice so indoctrinated from the couple of years racing fully crewed off the East Coast US. Mr ‘heavy’ turned out to be the better sail.