Richard Jefferies reports from the St Malo Race aboard the school yacht Puma Logic 18/7/06

Richard Jefferies, who’s had a long gap in his racing career, returned to the scene last year competing aboard the sailing school yacht Puma Logic. With the Round Britan and Ireland Race just ‘around the corner’, Jefferies and the Puma Logic team raced last weekend’s St Malo Race. Jefferies reports?

It was the 100th anniversary of this great race with over 200 entries including Dame Ellen MacArthur’s B&Q compared to just the four entries in 1906. I don’t get to see much of the start as I tend to get tied up below using the computer looking at our position on the line. After getting our bearings with practice runs at the line, the kite was hoisted before the gun and we had a text book start second over the line but the first boat was OCS.

We went west towards the Needles. Going past the Needles always raises a tingle down my spine as I remember the first time I went past them aged 11 with my father on our way to Poole as my first real yachting adventure.

As we turned south at the Needles fairway buoy the winds were from the aft and we were trimming hard, driving towards the western end of the Channel Islands. Tactically we were looking at how far east we dare go as that was where we were expecting the breeze to fill in from, always a bold move going the wrong way to get breeze but sometimes there is no choice especially with the number of French boats determined to be first to St Malo.

As well as wanting a good result, this race was also about testing our newly installed systems for the forthcoming Round Britian and Ireland Race. This included the freeze dried and boil in the bag food, which we’d had all been dreading trying. With evening came our first test and we were all pleasantly surprised at how good it tasted and two weeks of it doesn’t seem quite so bad now.

As this race was expected to be quick the sleeping strategy was for people to take sleep when they felt they needed it. So, as one of the first at about 10pm, I headed down to get a couple of hours. I’d just settled into the forepeak, to keep weight forward, having forgotten about the Puma tradition of dropping wet kites straight down the hatch onto people sleeping!

Gradually the wind built and as we passed Guernsey I was woken to make sure we didn’t hit any rocks! Sitting down at the chart table watching our progress on the computer (again). It was a little like playing a sailing game shouting up right five degrees, standby to go to genoa in two minutes and watching the little boat on the screen make all the course corrections was quite surreal. I also managed to download another GRIB file which suggested that we could follow the lift of the wind round until we could bear away, hoist the kite and go for the finish.

However, I didn’t quite have the faith in the forecast, Philippe our skipper agreed and we headed to the line surrounded by smaller French boats which was a little depressing! The sun coming up warmed our faces and we all hiked hard to eek every little last bit of speed out of Puma to the finish. After 19 hours and five minutes we were finished and the beer and Bastille Day fireworks in St Malo awaited us.

When corrections had been applied we were 7th in class, missing out on being 5th by under 30 seconds but was still good enough to hold onto our 2nd position overall in the series. How many other sports can get that close after such long periods of racing?