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Start - November 2008_|_ December 2008_|_ January 2009_|_ Finish - February 2009_|_ Epilogue



November 2008 Vendee Globe Reports

Steve and Toe in the Water ready for the 2008 Vendee Globe.

British solo sailor Steve White today re-launched his IMOCA 60 yacht in Les Sables D'Olonne (France),
announcing that he will compete under the new name of 'Toe in the Water'.


The tenacious skipper secured sufficient funds from a consortium of private backers at the eleventh hour to enable him to compete in the pinnacle ocean racing event. The funding has come from a group of like-minded supporters who together will provide the money privately and whose only request has been that Steve's boat carries the branding and message of the Toe in the Water project with him around the world.

Steve (35, from Weymouth, Dorset), commented from onboard Toe in the Water: 'I have dreamed of participating in the Vendee Globe for many years and have been building towards November 9 for the last four years. We managed to qualify by completing The Artemis Transat in May this year, but have struggled to find sufficient sponsorship. We arrived in Les Sables D'Olonne in October, unsure as to whether we could even keep hold of my family's home, let alone sail alone around the world. With these new funds, we can finish the necessary preparations, and I am delighted to carry the name and colours of Toe in the Water around the world.'

The private sponsors first encountered Toe in the Water during Cowes Week 2008 and were inspired by the manner in which the servicemen had overcome serious injury. Many of the individual sponsors behind Steve are ex-servicemen or have past/existing links to the armed forces, and therefore wanted to help raise the profile of the project.

The private backers, who will remain anonymous, were equally inspired by Steve, who displayed similar characteristics to those servicemen that they had met through Toe in the Water. The backers therefore saw Steve's Vendee Globe campaign as an opportunity to achieve two objectives: assisting Steve in achieving his dream and raising awareness for a worthwhile cause. The support is a philanthropic gesture as Steve will not benefit directly from the financing it will allow him to participate in the Vendee Globe under the colours of Toe in the Water, thereby raising the profile of the worthwhile project.

Toe in the Water, which has not made any financial contribution to Steve's campaign and will not be involved in the day-to-day management of the project, was honoured and grateful to be offered the opportunity to raise awareness of the competitive sailing initiative for injured servicemen and women in the UK.

Toe in the Water, established only six months ago, is a new project designed to use competitive sailing as an extension of the rehabilitation work carried out at UK's Defence Medical Rehabilitation Centre (DMRC) at Headley Court for as long as there are injured servicemen and women in need of support.

Holly King, the founder of Toe in the Water, concluded, 'When we were approached by Steve's backers and asked if they could use Steve's campaign to raise awareness of our project, we were both surprised and delighted. We are honoured that Steve's boat will be called Toe in the Water and will carry our colours on his sails and hull. We are committed to inspiring servicemen and women through competitive sailing, and hope that Steve's story will inspire many more people all over the planet. We wish him the best of luck in this extraordinary endeavour.'

Toe in the Water has received huge support from many of the British IMOCA teams and skippers over the last six months, most notably Brian Thompson (Bahrain Team Pindar) who invited two injured servicemen to join his crew during Cowes Week. Steve and his family also have links to the armed forces via their families and through their home in Weymouth, an important Military centre in the UK. Steve and his family are delighted to be involved with Toe in the Water, a campaign they have also followed closely since its launch in 2008.

Toe in the Water
Toe in the Water was set up to use competitive sailing as an extension of the rehabilitation work carried out at Defence Medical Rehabilitation Centre (DMRC) Headley Court for as long as there are injured servicemen and women in need of support.

It stated aims are:
a. To re-inspire injured servicemen and assist them in being able to see beyond their injuries.

b. To challenge injured servicemen and women both physically and mentally; taking them beyond their own and others expectations.

c. To provide a vehicle that can assist injured servicemen in finding a meaningful working and living environment following profound injury.


Toe in the Water website - www.toeinthewater.org

9 November - The 2008 Vendee Globe has started.

With over 300,000 spectators on shore and over 100 spectator boats at sea the 2008 edition or the Vendee Globe has started in style. Steve and the other 29 solo round the world yachtsmen are facing a blustery first night at sea on the start of their three month, non-stop race.

11 November - Birthday at Sea.

Steve is celebrating his 36th birthday alone at sea today by eating his first meal since leaving France. Yesterday was brutal with all his attention being on ensuring the boat survived the Bay of Biscay pounding. He is celebrating today in calmer weather in 20 knots of wind with 15 to 18 knots of boat speed.

Being born on 11 November, there were some that wanted to name him Armistice, but his parents prevailed and Steven Geoffrey William White was given his middle names from his two grandfathers. The eleventh of November and its reflection on the misfortunes of war reminds us of the ongoing conflicts and the massive sacrifices still being made and the need to rebuild the lives of the wounded survivors. Toe in the Water, as well as being the name of Steve's boat, is also the name of an organisation dedicated to rebuilding the confidence and lives of the wounded by exposing them to the challenges of sailing. Click here to visit 'Toe in the Water'.

12 November - Broadcast from Toe in the Water.

Britain's Steve White (Toe in the Water) reported in to today's live radio broadcast that he was dealing with several issues which had affected him since his rushed departure from Les Sables d'Olonne. White said he had suffered a small electrical fire, had blown a hose off his recently installed generator several times during the first 36 hours of the race filling his boat with a mix of diesel fumes and steam.

On the first night the exhaust blew off the generator four times which filled the boat with diesel fumes and water, and then a pin fell into the battery box and shorted out between the live terminal and the carbon of the boat, and caused a small fire, and so filled the boat with burning epoxy, smell and had a bit of a diesel leak, and I had quite a lot of water in the boat as well, and there was an awful lot of unsecured gear flapping around so I did not really have a very good time for the first 24 hours. I am getting there slowly, but if I can fix the keyboard then I can start turning some blogs, and I am just trying to take it easy on my elbow really, I have some problems with it, and I have a hideous cold, but other than that I am quite fine really, the sun is shining and I have my new spinnaker up, and so I am quite happy really."

"I have been living on adrenaline for weeks and so to go out through the canal with all these people is just, well, unlike anything most people will experience in their lives. It gave me the most enormous lift, and as soon as I got going, and went down stairs and saw the chaos, where things had literally been chucked down stairs, and the breeze started to build and the adrenaline wore off, and then the problems with the generator, and the fire and the adrenalin started to wear off, you suddenly start to realise how tired you are, and so I have been absolutely exhausted for the first 48 hours, and every now and then I stick my head out of the hatch and there is no one around and I am sailing around the world on my own....well the first bit anyway"

12 November - Steve's first Blog.

Hi,
Well, I finally have some semblance of order after what has been a few days of what can only be described as chaos! I now finally have the chance to write and to explain my lack of communiction.

Start day for me was a tremendous experience, if some what of a blur. We were literally throwing stuff down the hatch up until the last minute before we left the dock. Simon from bluQube drove the boat out and down the canal as I stood on the front and did my impression of the Queen Mother - I have never waved so much in my entire life. Nothing can prepare you for the experience of thousands of people waving, shouting and cheering at you personally as you set off, and the lift that it gives you is enormous. With a send off like that there is no way you could ever do anything other than your very best on the race course.

However, the first night at sea bought me back to reality with a bump. I was absolubtely exhausted after three weeks of frantic preparation,and it all caught up with me at once. The sore throat that had a appeared a few days before turned into a dose of man flu, and as we got bounced around through Monday night I began to feel pretty wretched. We had a diesel leak downstairs in the cabin, which made everything very slippery, I fell over and banged my head on the side of the boat pretty hard and saw stars for a while - luckily I didn't damage the boat though! The exhaust blew off the generator three times and filled the boat with diesel fumes and black water, and to top it all when I finally snatched a few minutes sleep at the chart table, I awoke to a boat full of acrid smoke - there was a fire in the battery box! A bolt had dropped out of a spares box, into the battery compartment, and had shorted out between the positive terminal on a battery and the carbon fibre hull of the boat which was blazing quite nicely. I poked the bolt out of the way and poured a cup of dieselly bilge water on it to stop it smoking. I have never had a boat fire before, and it was a strange feeling to have your own personal island going up in smoke; that would not have been good! To top it all I found my nice wireless keyboard swilling around in the bilge as I was sitting down there on firewatch.

Tuesday was a much better day, it was my birthday. I had lots of messages from friends and some presents from Kim and the kids. Kim bought me a Rubiks Cube, not the ordinairy one that I had when I was a boy, (incidentally, I couldn't do that one either!) but a super dooper one with 16 cubes a side rather than 9! Luckily I think I can stretch the jobs out on the boat for long enough so that I never have to open it! I tried to repair my keyboard too, but alas, it was too far gone. Mark had left me with a spare one luckily, but it is a bit rubbery and stiff so you need Ninja fingers to operate it!

Today I am feeling much better. My support strap from Doctor Spike at MSOS has pretty much seen off my tennis elbow, I have had curry for supper, which is not only the best thing for a cold but probably the best food in the world, the dolphins are outside, and things are getting tidy in the boat. I have my brand new Toe in the Water spinnaker up, and it is tee-shirt weather on deck with a bright full moon showing through the clouds.

Tomorrow will be a busy day again going through the boat sorting things out, but generally all is very, very well in my world. Every now and again I stick my head out of the hatch, take in the scenery, and remind myself of what I am doing - I have to pinch myself so I know that it's really happening!

13 November - Blog 2. Settling in to the race

Time is flying by for me out here, it will soon be a week since the start. We are a world away from that first Monday night already, the sky is blue and the sun is warm, the sea is warm too, and it's shorts weather in the cockpit, but if you venture up onto the foredeck then it's another matter - dry fifty percent of the time and then having a regular river powering down it for the rest of the time as we plough into the wave infront!

The cold has gone, and I am eating like a horse, and taking advantage of light duties to rest my elbow, we have had the same sail up now for ages, so except for the odd bit of one-armed trimming, and steering up and down during the mini squalls we get from lunchtime until a few hours after dark as the sun energises the clouds, life is easier. Every now and again I miss a big squall and we wipe out, but that is happening less as I get more alert to them. Since we fitted some new bits to the instruments,the autopilot has behaved differently, which I am trying to adjust to, and tomorrow I will go through a bit of a set-up with them and try and see if I can sort it out.

Today's job is to sort out the generator. This is most important as it is being a bit of a lightweight! Every time it charges, it stops a little bit shorter of a full charge, so after three charges, I have to use the engine to charge the batteries properly all the way back up again, which uses a lot of fuel. I am reliably informed that a quick tweak here and there will sort it out - I am just waiting to hear what to tweak and how much! Having scorched the outside of the batteries with my little bonfire I don't now want to cook the insides by overcharging!

I am having a competition to see how many calories I can get into a sandwhich to try and fatten myself up for the South - I didn't eat lunch for the first two weeks I was in Les Sables as I was just too busy and consequently lost a lot of weight - I am up to about 800 I think, 600 calories of cheddar and about a third of a jar of peanut butter giving another 200 calories. It takes a lot of eating I can assure you, and the peanut butter sticks your mouth together, which most people who know me would say is probably a good thing! Then I sit at the chart table like an egg eating snake and wait for it to go down!

The sailing is fantastic, I am just trying to stay vaguely in touch with the leaders and not get left behind. I am really pleased with my little old boat and how she's holding together, and that we're not too much out of the chase. When you zoom out and look at the whole globe, you have to strike a balance - push too hard and break something now and it could be curtains, but I'm not going to be left behind without a fight, and this boat will come into it's own in the South I'm sure, but for now I'm pacing myself and enjoying the sunshine......

16 November - Blog 3 - Night work whilst becalmed.

We've had a shocker of a night, somebody turned the wind off! Sailing in light airs drives most people mad as the boat rolls in the swell and the sails slat from side to side and you go nowhere fast. I have not been idle though, I went through to the bow of the boat inside all of the watertight compartments - we had taken lots off deck fittings to try and stop some of the leaks, so I went to check how much water was in there, and luckily it appeared to have beeen a largely successful operation as it was pretty dry - result!

I tidied the sail locker up as well because that was in chaos, lashed down one of the two anchors, which had escaped and done some minor damage to the ballast tank, and lashed down the emergency rudder, which was a fairy interesting exercise, it is like an eight foot long scimitar and consequently a difficult thing to hold still, but it is firmly held in place now. We are far enough south now so that it is too hot to work below decks during the day so working at night is a good option - it is still pretty warm at night though, I didn't put a shirt on until 0500 this morning! My apologies to those of you at home, I know it's freezing in England, Kim had to buy the boys electric blankets!

I had to take the spinnaker down for a while to do some work on the end of the bowsprit, we wheren't moving very much anyway, so I figured then was as good a time as any. We had a new arrangement for the bit of string that holds the spinnakers out at the end of the bowsprit using a stainless steel ring for the rope to pass through rather than a nice block, and the ring was hacking it's way through my nice new piece of string! I got into the bosun's chair, put on a headtorch and hauled myself out to the end of the bowsprit and started sorting things out. It was flat calm by this point, and I was engrossed in what I as doing, with my backside two feet above the water so you can imagine my surprise when a dolphin surfaced to breathe right underneath me - I could have touched him, and I was close enough to get a good blast of his breath! I nearly jumped out of my skin I can tell you. He was about five or six feet long I suppose, although he seemed about thirty when I saw him first! He wasn't at all afraid, just curious. Wherever you sail, the groups of dolphins seem to have different characters, sometimes they stay and play, sometimes they don't, sometimes they just cross your path and don't stop at all like they're really on a mission, but these ones are still here some hours later.

As I finished, the sun came up which often seems to kickstart the wind, but as we had no sail up at the front, and were stationary, the dolphins swam back and forth in all directions, turned on their side so they could get a good look at me standing on deck. It's always interesting to be studied like that by an animal, I wonder what they were thinking?

We are up and running again nicely now, and the breeze is getting less fickle. I am realy anxious not to lose touch with the boats immediately infront of me, so I need to keep down time to a minimum, but I do have to get the main sail down at some point today to do some work on that - all products of a rushed preparation!

Anyway, first things first; porridge time, then a short nap!

17 November - Blog 4 - Hot on the move again.

It's like an oven here today, We have complete unbroken cloud cover and it is very hot and humid indeed, although I suspect it will get more so as we are a way off the equator at the moment. I am further south than I have ever been I think, having just passed the latitude of the Bahamas. That's the thing with sailing, point the boat in one direction for a few days, and you finish up in a completely different world - if I had some good (very good) binoculars I could see Cuba to my right, and lions and such like to my left which is incredible if you think about it, we only left home a week ago. Somehow I don't expect this when I go sailing, it's not like flying where it is never a surprise to disembark in a foreign and different country; but when you step ashore in a new country from a boat, you feel so much more like you've earned the right to be there - not that I'm planning to get off for anything or anybody until I get back to les Sables in February! I am just building up a bigger list of potential holiday destinations.

I'm so glad the wind came back - lying there listening to the pilot buzzing away was like Chinese water torture, and was driving me mad. It's heaven to have the sound of water rushing past the hull again, people who call up can hear it in the background, but I have lost a lot of ground on the pack I was trying to keep up with, Sam is over 200 miles in front now, but you have to be philosophical about these things, and keep pushing. It's like one of life's great mysteries, why when I have no wind and stop do the people in front not seem to stop for quite as long? Still, we've got the South coming up,and I've got plenty of super warm thermals from Guy Cotten, and the boat is good in stronger winds. I also have to remind myself how far there is still to go.

A friend of mine bought me a Breton Fisherman's prayer on a clay tile - not very good for weight, but I've stuck it up anyway! It is below the boat's own lucky charm which is a bolt from the Cutty Sark, which was a present to the boat when Josh had it. It was to bring good luck for getting around Cape Horn, as this bolt has apparently been around there a few times successfully when it was a part of the ship!

I found the vegetable oil to go on the Tortellini I had for lunch - it is a four litre bottle! Besides making it difficult to add a few drops (for "drops" read "large uncontrolled splashes"!), if it bursts I could have a major clean up operation on my hands. Still, It's good for upping my calory intake - when I get back I am going to join one of those online dieting clubs and recommend a few of my own recipies..........

18 November - Blog 5 - Nude nightime dances!.

There is no shortage of things to write about today after last nights frenzied activities. I was snoozing in my bed when the boat began to broach - I was straight up, boots on and onto my feet, by way of pushing buttons on the autopilot to turn the boat away from the wind. Once on deck, I did the usual and eased the sails so that the boat will turn away from the wind again and the pilot can take charge, but nothing happened! We stayed with the bow into twenty knots of wind, with spinnaker, staysail and full main, and everything shaking and banging in an alarming fashion. The pilot refused to work!

I put the boat back on course by hand, and dashed below to turn on the backup pilot and instuments, which didn't work either! I nipped back down a couple of times before I realised it wasn't going to play so I set about getting the spinnaker and staysail down. The staysail just falls down if you undo the piece of string that holds it up, but I had to winch the snuffer sock down to silence the kite. After I had finished performing,I was lucky to have a spinnaker left at all - but I must have looked pretty funny up at the front wearing only my boots, covered in sweat one minute and seawater the next, dancing under the deck floodlights!

With things under control and the boat just drifting I got Mark the electrician out of bed - it was 2345 - and he diagnosed the problem after I had rolled around in the dirt under the chart table plugging things in and unplugging them for forty minutes, my old pilot hydraulic ram that drives the rudders had just said "enough" and that was that. It was the only one I have ever used in the two and a half years I have had the boat, so you can't complain really!

I was in the process of bolting the new ram in place when the phone rang. You don't get many calls at 1 AM in the morning; it was the unflappable Julian from the Race Organisation. "Hello" he said "You were going quite nicely, and now you're not. Do you have a problem?" I just remember swearing a lot, and he left me to get on with it. By 0300 we were up and running again though. It's a terrible feeling when you know that the people behind you are catching you up, and those infront are getting away as you roll around in the bilge with the soldering iron between your toes and the boat rolling like a pig towards Brazil at half a knot. Aaaargh!

I was pretty wired by this time, and I'd found a can of coke which didn't help, so I stayed up fixing things and watching the new pilot. I finally got the generator set up properly, cut off some sharp bolts in the sail locker and generaly tidied up, but everything is fine now, except I think I could do with a shower!

I might have a go at cutting my hair later, I look like a mop. I didn't get chance to have it done properly before I left. I'm not to worried about the outcome, it's got three months to grow back if I make a mess of it, which I'm sure I will. If you see me wearing a hat in any video footage you'll know why!

19 November - Call from Vendee Headquarters.

Steve White, GBR, (Toe in the Water), 17th, +387.1 miles: " I am cooking in my own juices, absolutely boiling. Blue skies, blue seas, hardly a cloud in the skies. We have had the same sails up for a while now, main, spinnaker and sometimes a stay-sail depending on the angles, and we have been hitting 17-18 knots at times, and down to 11-12 knots because the wind is up and down. It has been a little bit alarming at times because I have had problems with a dodgy autopilot which is a bit alarming when you are going along at 17-18 knots."

" I count my blessings every single day that something does not let us down. I was talking last night with Mark the electrician and he was saying that I am probably the only person in the fleet with nine years old course computers to the autopilot and instrument systems, and that is a credit to B&G that they are still working, because nobody has nine years old instruments systems, but the thing is that I have a problem with those then things could change very, very rapidly, so I just count my blessings. I am just grateful for every day that comes."

20 November - Blog 6 - African Visitors?.

If I thought it was hot before I was mistaken, now it is really hot! I made the mistake of slowing the boat right down to do a sail change, and as soon as you stop the cooling breeze coming over the deck then it really hits you, it is roasting and the sun is very powerful. It makes it difficult to sleep except for at night, and it takes your appetite away too.

I have had some strange visitors in the past 24 hours - first a small fly with disproportionally large wings, then a moth at the lights at the chart table, a sabre toothed giant fruit fly that went for a swim before it could bite me, and then the daddy of them all, a giant black cricket who was as fat as my thumb and as long as my index finger, not counting his antennea and three pronged forked tail. He was lovely, and sat on my finger for a moment, until I decided he had better take his chances and fly off to wherever it was he had come from. I launched him - and he didn't fly. I felt terrible, either he was flightless and got here by some other means, or he had a real short term memory problem and just forgot to flap. I couldn't keep him really, I don't think I'd have had enough food on board! What's so strange about a few insects I hear you ask; well nothing, except we are 700 miles downwind of Africa and 400 miles from the Cape Verdes!

I have serviced the last of the winches today, and had a chat to Arno from the race organisation, who is helping me to get my films back to them through the Fleet 77 satellite phone. It's not as simple as all that - the compression and editing software has to be sorted out, and then you have to make sure that it goes to the correct place with ftp's etc - I sound like a techie, when in fact I didn't know what an ftp was until a couple of weeks ago! ( I'm still not sure I know now entirely!) I am getting there with a bit of help though, not bad for a bloke who is generally lost if he can't oil or put coal in a peice of machinery to make it work.

The boat is going along quite nicely, and the jobs list is coming getting smaller too. I have to go up the rig tomorrow, I need to make sure evrything is OK before we go into the south. With everything being new up there it is possible that there could be all sorts of problems, mainly where things rub together and chafe through, but we shall see tomorrow..... I hate going up the rig at sea, you have too wear loads of clothes to stop you bashing yourself to bits!

I did give myself a haircut too, and then washed it! I felt much better to not be like a mop, and a lot cooler too! I remembered each of my kids has cut their hair at one time or another as all kids do, and I wasn't quite sure that I shouldn't be telling myself off for doing it too! It doesn't look that bad though I don't think; no patches of scalp showing through that I can feel (I can't see anything, my mirror is pretty poor!) Still, who cares, nobody has to look at it, and it's got a while to grow back!

22 November - Blog 7 - Time for a wash.

Now, as of two hours ago, my writers block (not that you could call me a writer!) has been lifted as I have been released from the Doldrums. I thought initially that perhaps I'd escaped punishment, but it was not so. At one point I was trapped under a cloud that filled a 24 mile range radar screen - and boy, did it rain! It was almost Biblical! We just sat in the midst of it with the sails banging and slatting back and forth, which is a sailor's Chinese water torture, with the rain bucketing down.

That was the largest of many clouds, but there were very many equally frustrating ones, sometimes with wind in them, and sometimes only with wind at the edges, and nothing but torrential rain and no wind at all in the centre. There were gusts, but never that big, up to about 20 knots usually, but that's enough when you normally have a couple of reefs in and full ballast tanks by that point, and, you've guessed it, it can blow from any direction. It changes direction so frequently that I often had to look at the wind direction from the instuments and make funny angles with my hands to work out which tack I should be on to get me best to where I wanted to go! At some points I was going backwards faster than I'd been going forwards for the preceeding few hours! It changed so often it can get confusing if you're tired. It has been really frustrating, and I am not keen to come back, but it is another experience to add to the list. I often imagined what it would be like to come through here in a square rigger. You can see how they got stuck here for weeks, sooner them than me.......

I haven't had chance to do any more on the second instuments and pilot, I have been on deck for a lot of the time, and am now short of sleep. The boat is very clean though, lovely and salt free. When it rained for the first time,which was both a blessed relief from the heat and the chance for a shower for me, it was interesting to see all of the red dust washing out of the sails and the boombag. I take it all blew across from Africa, incredible really.

When we were moving, it was great to watch the flying fish. They take off into the wind, get a bit of altitude, and then bear away and go hammering off downwind for hundreds of yards in some cases, just inches above the surface. There have been very few birds however, and usually they are on the windy edges of the clouds because it is easier for them to fly. There have been some gannet like birds with diamond shaped tails that I have not seen before. One stayed around for most of a day,and seemed to be just messsing about, it is testament I suppose to how much there is to eat out here that they have the time to do that. He was like Jonathan Livingstone Seagull, just playing in the wash and updrafts from the sails, going round and round the boat time after time like a child with new game.

Now we are moving again we can settle into catching up with the boats in front, which is going to be a tall order, but If I don't loose any more miles I shall be happy! Brian called up. He was very well and quite chatty, and it was really good to talk to someone else in the race. He said it was lovely a bit further on, and the sailing was easy - I am looking forward to it!

24 November - Steve crosses the Equator.

Steve and Toe in the Water crossed the Equator at approximately 3 AM on 24 November. This was Steve's first crossing and the seventh for Toe in the Water.

25 November - Blog 8 - Equator celebrations and bird watching.

At long last we seem to be getting the same wind as everyone else! I have not seen the GPS go below 11 knots so far this morning, which is a bit more like it. I had parked myself in a narrow (but clearly defined by Maxsea) band of lighter winds that did me no favours after my appallingly unlucky crossing of the Doldrums! Anyway, we're out of it now thank goodness.

I had my little celebration as we crossed the Equator at 0350 or there abouts the other morning - a little late to start drinking really, but after giving a bit to Neptune, and a bit for the boat, there was very little left for me! I had been overly generous with the first two toasts, which was a shame, as I had used the bottle of wine that Norbert had given to each of the competitors on start day, and which was absolutly beautiful! I had a message from my friend Richard who told me that it was almost seventy years to the day the Eric Newby had crossed the Equator in one of the last working square riggers called the Moshulu - you can read about it in "The Last Great Grain Race" - but there they painted Eric and three other first timers with read lead paint from head to toe, shaved two stripes into their hair and painted the scalp green, which amused Richard no end. No namby pamby health and safety at work in those days! Luckily being alone, I had to endure no such humiliation, although I'm sure there are lots of people who would have liked to have had a go!

I have been bimbling away with the Fleet satellite phone and the compression software trying to get some video sent back. I might just finish up sending film back as attachments to an ordinairy e-mail, which will be horribly expensive, but I need to get something sent back, but I don't want to find Kim as had to sell the house to pay the communications bill though! I started out with ten thousand pounds as a communications budget, but that got hoovered up on other things pretty quickly. You see, the intenton was there to be a good person media wise, it just hasn't worked out yet...

On the not very interesting and apparently never ending subject of the second instuments, I think we have found the problem at long last. I am just waiting for some calmer conditions before I test out the theory - no I'm not wishing for calm just yet, I've only just got wind! It can wait, I'm not going anywhere.....

I spent an hour on deck standing at the back of the boat and just watching, getting the occasional dousing in spray from a warm sea, and bathed in very powerful sunshine. I stood there until I was at risk of burning just watching a seabird who was a bit like a racing gannet, very sleek and pointy with a brown back, white and brown underneath and with little orange feet. He was flying about thirty feet up directly to windward of the bow of the boat, with his head looking all about the sea surface just infront of the boat. After a short while it became apparent as to what he was doing; every few minutes, and sometimes more frequently, we would scare up one or sometimes a number (a flock?) of flying fish, whereupon he would do his Peregrine Falcon impression and chase them, inches above the water at high speed. On innumerable occasions he was oh so close that I'm sure he could almost taste them, they would go into torpedo mode, fold up their wings and dissappear beneath the surface. He never got one, but he never gave up either. I can still see him out there now through the window as I write. I'm sure he'll get one in the end.

28 November - Blog 9 - Gennaker Woes, Sikaflex and Guy Cotten.

Well quite a lot has happened since I last write. Every time I have nearly got down to writing, something else has happened. Last night I was about to do some filming and send a blog when, as I was downstairs fiddling with the camera, the mother of all squalls came through, we broached, and I dealt with it in the usual manner and went back downstairs.

Ten minutes later there was a sickening bang, the boat came upright, and there was a papery rustling sound which was my gennaker, or two bits of it. Gennakers are large sails that fly off the bowsprit, and have a bolt rope that goes up the leading edge that the sail flys from, and that you can rotate by pulling on a piece of endless string to roll the sail away, just like a kitchen blind! Anyway, the bolt rope had broken, which meant the sail took all of it's load, and the head pulled off it. Not a big repair, but in an important place. It took ages to get it back on deck, it is quite a big thing on your own at roughly twenty five metres by twelve by twenty three! It did not want to go into it's bag either, but I couldn't leave it loose on deck! The only problem is it is about three feet around at the moment, so it won't go down the forehatch by a long shot! The worst of it is in between the squalls it is the sail I really need at the moment. I delayed putting it up as it is eight or nine years old, and I didn't want to obliterate it in a squall which is precisely what I did. Poor old sail, but it will live again. Suit man with needle and thread (Me in this case) My track must have looked like the Starsky and Hutch's as I sailed downwind to tidy up the mess, then more upwind with the solent, and then downwind again with a different gennaker which is just not right for the point of sail I wanted, and then back to the solent! I'm surprised I didn't get a call from the race office to find out what I was up to!

I had a Sikaflex spree as well. One of my computer sceens bounced out, and the window above my bed started pouring in water, which is OK here, but not good when it gets cold, so they got stuck back and sealed up, and I glued up the thing that holds the microphone for the VHF, which had made a scuff mark on my generator panel where it has been swinging back and forth for three weeks! I don't know why Sikaflex doesn't sponsor a boat, after all, the entire marine industry would fall apart without the stuff, and I must admit, so would most of our house and our cars!

Luckily, it's not as warm as it has been, so it is easier to sleep and you do have an appetite sometimes - I am eating all of the heavy things first becase I am really starting to resent all of the extra weight! It also means that I have to start wearing things on deck too. I'm doing pretty well in that line, we are sponsored by Guy Cotten, a French clothing manufacturer who had the faith in us to offer their support when it was by no means clear that we were going to get to the start line, and they have done us proud. Their kit is fantastic, and I seem to have most of their range and multiples of most things here on board, and some special items just for the Vendee. The only downside is when I need to get myself on deck in a hurry I am to be found doing my Lawrence Lewelyn-Bowen impression, finger on lips, wondering what I should put on!

I had a sort through of the food as well, after the strange smell from the back of the boat became stronger an stronger. I found the source - six dozen eggs, and each half dozen box had a broken one in it. You can imagine what that was like in the heat that we've had. I had to take them on deck, cut open the bags so the eggs went over the side, where I'm sure they'll be gobbled up by the well known I'vegotnosenseofsmell fish (Latin name), then I had to wash the bags out so I could put them in the bin. Vile. Still, now the boat smells a bit better!

29 November - Audio report - Fast run in an old boat.

Conditions are quite changeable at the moment, the winds are all over the shop! I didn't know anything about [my top 24-hour run] until a friend sent me a very cryptic email, saying 300 something or other, and that he'd done two laps of the living room, so I took it that meant it was a fairly respectable 24-hour time, other than that I had no idea! When we're going downwind [Toe in the Water] is still a light boat and quite wide, so it's not that bad. The problem is upwind and in the light, where we've only got a very short mast, no daggerboards, no canting keel, nothing like that so the new boats walk over us. But when it starts to blow hard from just a bit behind the beam then we don't do so bad.

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