The Fastnet Rock lighthouse at last. Peter Zimonjic reports from Spirit of Weymouth 15/8/07

After two days and nights of pounding into the waves and wind The Open 60 Spirit of Weymouth could finally see a light that would signal the end of 48 of the most tiring hours one could spend at sea. By 0230 Wednesday am the sweeping beam from Fastnet Rock lighthouse was finally visible, still 20 miles away, but visible.

It would take until 0545 am Wednesday, London Greenwich time, before we would eventually round the dramatic cliffs and tall lighthouse clinging to the side of them – and when we did it was a moment to savour. Steve White, the owner and co-captain, and David Melville, the other co-captain and I sat quietly for 45 minutes pondering our achievement as we rounded the rock and began our journey back across the Irish sea towards Land’s End once more.

As we passed within a few miles of the Irish coast our cell phone fluttered to life briefly and Steve managed to talk to his wife, Kim, about how the race was going as a whole. Try as I did I could not reach My wife, Donna. We were starving for news. While we have e-mail we have no access to the internet and had not seen another boat in the race for almost 24 hours.

We learned that of the 300 who started the race at noon on Monday 180 had dropped out on account of bad weather. We also learned that of those who remain we were, as of 0600, in 15th place overall. Almost half of the 16 boats that had started the race in our fleet of Open 60s had been among those retired.

Steve says that he never likes to beat someone because they were forced to quit but I can tell he does take some satisfaction knowing that despite operating on a shoestring budget he is managing what multi million dollar sponsored campaigns cannot: a challenge for the finish line. Of course there is still a while to go before he can brag of that achievement.

Rounding the Fastnet Rock was only a milestone not a finish but it signalled the end of sailing into the northerly winds. As we turned the corner we would now have the wind behind us. It would mean travelling twice as fast and with only a third of the annoying motion that was making everyday life on board a nightmare to endure.
Going to the toilet, making a cup of tea, getting dressed over the previous two days was exhausting. Lift one foot up to slip it into your oilskins and you are sent flying across the floor and crashing into something with a corner sharp enough to leave a bruise. Try to go for a pee and you find more of it on yourself than in the bowl. And all this is only supplemental to sitting in the rain for hours on end while trying to sail a boat in one of the world’s toughest offshore races.

The last two days have been a real test for Steve and David. Every day they have had to confront their own exhaustion, isolation and will to push on. With the worst of it now behind them I can sense some big sleeps coming on as the favourable winds carry us back to England. Still there is no time for celebration just yet. It is only the morning of the second day. There are still over 200 miles left to go and any manner of things could go wrong to delay our arrival in Plymouth in, what we hope, will be another days’ time.

I’ll leave it there for now. I can see the sky is clearing and I would like to try and sample some of the first Sunshine I have had in 48 hours before it turns to rain once more.