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Steve in Boston
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Steve in the Vendee Globe

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Dateline 2June. - Boston break and return to sea.

Well, everything has nearly come full circle, we have had the prizegiving, I have slept in a normal bed for a few days, and now after a very short turn around we are on the way home again. I am writing this from off the coast of Massachusetts near the Fundian Channel, which is where we are aiming for, as this channel drains the entire coastline and as such will push us down towards the Gulf Stream which going in this direction is our conveyor belt home rather than an obstacle!.

My arrival in Boston was really quite a memorable affair. I was met by a RIB about half a mile before the finish line. The occupants were shouting and cheering and our boat was lit up by spotlight so that photographs could be taken. Once over the finish line my Dad and a member of Dee's shore crew kindly came aboard to help, and together we got the sails down and motored in to Rowes Wharf, which is the marina in front of the Boston Harbour Hotel, a large and impressive building right in the heart of the city. As we came alongside it was after midnight, and I was amazed to see so many people on the dock - I had felt sure that there would be nobody there at that time of night other than the customs men, but I was very wrong. Sam Davies, Dee and their shore crews, and seemingly most of the Offshore Challenges people were there, so there was quite a crowd and I was really rather overwhelmed, both because it was very strange to be amongst so many people after even relatively short time alone at sea, infact it was like a sensory overload in a mild way, but also I was also very touched that they had made such an effort on my behalf. Sam told me it was customary for the English competitors to be there for each other's arrivals, which was really nice I thought, and Jo and De had bought me a little bag of goodies - muffins, cakes and other bits an pieces that were much appreciated - I used them to soak up the champagne that I had been given for my arrival which was rapidly having an effect - two weeks with no alcohol destroys your tolerance level!

After completing customs Dad and I found a hotel out of town, so by the time I actually got into bed it was nearly 3 a.m! Seemingly seconds later at 1130 am I was woken by a phonecall from Dad to find that I had a massive hangover! Eventually we headed back to the boat to empty it out and also to remove a line from the propeller which had stopped the engine dead just as we came onto the dock - we were fortunate to be able to drift in the last few yards with no power! Hangover gone, I borrowed Loick Peyron's wetsuit and went over the side, knife in hand to remove a wheelbarrow full of line, two pot buoys and a sizeable piece of tree branch which was about seven feet long! I was asked whether we had been towing all that lot from Lands End, which was why we had taken so long to get here, but we had undoubtedly run into it in the harbour as we motored in!

Whilst I was in the States it gave me chance to see my family over there - amongst them my younger brother who I had not seen for at least a couple of years, so whilst the visits were brief, it was an excellent opportunity to catch up. We also got to the prizegiving in Marblehead for the Class 40s. They had had some really close racing and it was good to go over there, see some friends and show our support.

For the trip back I have some company. A friend of mine called Sam who has done a bit of sailing with me over the past few years is here to take some of the strain of the trip back - I am still quite tired after the race, and I have had very minor surgery on my finger which I am trying to keep clean and dry - not the easiest of tasks out here! Anyway, here's hoping for a speedy and stress free passage back to the UK.

Dateline 5 June. - Waterspouts and fishy smells.

I am starting to loose track of the days out here, it is very warm now we're in the Gulf Stream proper, where we are getting for once, a good push in the right direction, i.e. homeward, of around 0.9 of a knot. We have just been under quite a big cloud with loads of rain coming out of it that heralded a new breeze coming in after what has been a light and shifty yesterday afternoon and night. As the cloud moved away to the North West, Sam called me and said "Is that what I think it is, or is it just rain?" - I looked and announced it was rain, but then realised that it wasn't rain at all, it was a mini tornado or waterspout thing; we watched as it grew more defined and stronger by the minute. A dark grey curved column reached down from the base of the cloud nearly down to the water, where you could see the spiralling column of spray in the vortex as it rose up into the flat grey base of the cloud. It must have gone on for 20 minutes or so with the cloud seeming to grow infront of our eyes, then it began to pour with rain under it, and shortly afterwards the tornado ground to a halt and the trunk disappeared. I have seen waterspouts in Lyme Bay but never sailed near them, it just shows what large forces are at work in the weather.

There are two things that remain constant here whatever the day is - we have porridge for breakfast and I keep taking the pills for my finger every six hours. I don't know when it says "Take one pill four times daily" that it actually means quite as regularly as 0600, 1200, 1800 and 0000 BST, but it helps me to remember to do it! The finger is back to normal size now and quite happy, and I am quite happy it is still there too!

Things have been mixed on the wildlife front. Before we dropped off the continental shelf of the US there were lots of whales. We saw some quite closely albeit briefly, as they sank before our eyes leaving multiple eddies that were early the size of the boat as they went down. There were many in the distance that Sam located by smell in the first instance - when you are downwind of them breathing at the surface there is what you might call a bit of a "fishy odour", and even at a couple of miles you can see the spouts of vaporous exhaled breath going many feet into the air. After leaving the Continental Shelf all was quiet - Sam spent a lot of time looking for the elusive Mr Whale to no avail, but he did however see a flying fish at very close quarters, it flew infront of the boat from one side to the other, obviously trying to put the boat between himself an whatever was trying to turn it into supper!

My Dad e-mailed to say that we are now ranked 22nd in the IMOCA rankings, which is the rating for the Open 60 Class Association - not bad I feel up against some of the big campaigns. It will be good to see how we figure after the Vendee which is my prime focus now that the Artemis Transat is competed.

Meanwhile, it is very hot typing down here, next to my as yet unworn oilskins - it will blow soon he weather man assures me - just as well or I'll be going soft!

Dateline 7 June. - Wind, Speed and Flying Fish!.

We have had an interesting time here just recently. Through the course of yesterday and the night before the wind slowly built as what you might call a fairly energetic low pressure system passed to the North of us - we had already made the decision to go South as I thought it was going to be worse than it had been forecast the day before yesterday, and by going South we should have avoided the worst of the wind, the most dramatic rate of wind shift and crucially the worst of the sea state.

Just as well we did really - it blew up to 55 knots, with often a sustained 50, and we finished up with a short, steep Gulf Stream sea state, with the odd breaking wave - big enough to appear impressive on camera, and very beautiful with the occasional complete white - out as torrential rain and spray went flying downwind, but not ideal really. There were no ships around either funnily enough, although the birds loved it, but even they avoided the rain!

Whilst it blew we lay in our respective bunks like a pair of book ends, both of us thinking "surely this can't go on for much longer", but that's the joy of going with the weather systems, they take forever to come over you. Neither of us said very much, it was fairly noisy. I thought perhaps we should have had a game of shouted "I-spy" to break the silence between us, when Sam announced he could see some blue sky through his bedroom window, and within a couple of hours there had been a big wind shift of around 90 degrees, the wind had dropped to 30 knots, and we unrolled the solent, shook out the third reef and started for home in earnest, with our boat speed over 20 knots hour after hour. We fortified ourselves with the biggest vat of tortellini in the world, swimming in olive oil with grated cheese on the top and a yoghurt to finish! At one time later during the night the computer said that our time to go was 95 hours to the Scilly Isles, we were really hammering on! It didn't last - today we are upwind again, against an eddy of the Gulf Stream, again, with the wind going up and down annoyingly in the range between full main and one reef - shades of the race over!

After Sam saw his flying fish the other day, we both saw a flock of three fly across infront of the boat. It was incredible, I have never seen them before, they really do fly for ages, or glide to be more accurate. It is really stunning what nature comes up with given the opportunity; we all know they exist, but the possibilities seem to be without limits when you actually see something like that with your own eyes. Unfortunately there were some small ones dead on the deck this morning, one an inch long an another a bit longer, so that was quite sad. If you stretch out their wings they are really incredible, with long deep blue stiffeners running through them, although they were much thicker and stronger than those found in ordinary fishes fins. Their little bodies are deepest blue and silver underneath. The flying ones we saw were much bigger, at eight to ten inches long. The artist Didier Becet who painted them and the penguins and gulls that accompany them on the inside of the ceiling on our boat had obviously seen them too - although he has caricatured them, he has captured their slightly surprised looking eyes and intense but comical expression to a tee. I bet you didn't know fish had expressions.......they do though.

Today is beautiful, warm and sunny with some clouds. The sea state is confused still to say the least, but the sun shines through the little breaking crests lighting them up in a turquoise colour ageist the deep blue of the surrounding wave. Now it is lunchtime - I am going!

Dateline 9 June. - Not a leisurely downwind trip!.

Well this blog could almost read pretty much the same as the last one! We lurched from the last windy low pressure system straight into a secondary low that had formed in it's wake, as is often the case. It is also usual that a secondary low is more intense than it's parent, and this was no exception. When it appeared it was forecast to be quite mild, but taking no chances and not really wanting to pound upwind in 40 knots, we dived south to reach around below it as it was forecast to go north above us, but it had different ideas! We again finished off running before 40, then 45, and at the finish 50 to 56 knots, which was the maximum we saw. The sea state was now really big, with again, torrential rain, lightening and the like. The waves would hiss by and the boat would slide down their faces as the tops occasionally slammed into the side of or broke over the boat - pretty dangerous conditions to be on deck all in all!

As the wind was building and we were trucking along quite nicely, there was a big bang, and I came up on deck to find that the big stainless steel eye that the vang attaches to had ripped itself out of the deck, leaving a hole going into the water ballast tank as big as a 5 note. You could see that the pad eye had been moving around a small amount for a while, but I didn't expect it to rip out like that. It had an aluminium backing pad, so with the stainless steel pad eye, stainless steel bolts and aluminium plate, all swimming in salt water "electrolyte" in the ballast tank, it had just fizzed away like a giant battery and dissolved the backplate! Poor boat, we were both really upset that it now had a hole. I am going to have to fill it in later when it calms down, and then open up the ballast tanks and repair all of those pad eyes on both sides properly when I get home before we do any corporate sailing - no rest for the wicked!

At 0730 this morning I woke Sam to gybe the boat and turn to the east for home, it was 1130 by the time we left the deck with the boat set up on it's new course! We waited and waited for a lull, found the pattern with the waves to wait for a couple of quiet ones, and went for it. You guessed it of course, the pattern went out of the window and we were hit by 55 knots again! I had been downstairs to start the engine and pump ballast up for the new gybe, but had to turn the engine off to get on deck and found that I had to climb up the sink to get out of the boat which was laid flat! All pretty hairy I can tell you!!! Then when we had gybed and settled down it took a couple more big wipe-outs to realise that the sea state was not going to allow us to carry as much sail on this gybe as the last one, we were just getting knocked about too much, so we reduced sail to four reefs in the main (Very small!) and the staysail, all in 45 to 55 knots, and still managed to it 18 knots of boatspeed, but it was much calmer and nicer downstairs!

After a tidy up on deck, we had to tackle things downstairs, and it was utter carnage. Where we had been knocked down there was diesel and water in the bilge, two boxes of food had taken a fall across the cabin and kindly soaked up some of the diesel! The place stank! Sam took all of the contaminated food out of it's bags, some of it we had to wash, and poor old Ainsley Harriet's soup had to go in the bin - I can eat most things but not "soup a la diesel"! Worst of all Sam's sleeping bag had gone into the bilge and got soggy - it is drying out now thank goodness, the wonders of man made fabrics and all that!

Sam took some video footage of me fiddling about on deck and pretending to know what I was doing for the archive which we can use later during the Vendee Globe, but we'll put it on the website I think, the waves were pretty impressive!

The low has quietened down now so we have increased sail again and are trundling on now toward home with only 1300 odd miles to go to the Scillies. I had hope to have had a knap, make some pasta for tea and then put up more sail, but the wind is switching off as we speak, and we will have to attend to boatspeed first.

It has been a busy and stressful day with our boat handling really being put to the test under those conditions - not what I had envisaged for "a nice leisurely downwind delivery trip"; that was how I sold it to Sam anyway.............

Dateline 11 June. - A more peacefull existence.

It looks at long last as if we have escaped the big nasty low which is behind us in the Atlantic. As it sits out there swirling around in an ominous fashion like a giant bath plug vortex, giving birth to baby lows all over the place, it is held out there by a nice big high pressure that is sitting in the Western Approaches. Good, we say here, we have had enough 50 knot jobs for one trip! The only down side is that we have been getting headwinds for the past couple of days, so we have been flogging away at 9 or 10 knots mostly hard on the wind, heeled over and bouncing around. Still, we passed the 1000 miles to go mark yesterday, and we are down to 800 this morning as I write. 800 miles to The Scillies that is, which always feels like we're home, then a few hours back to Weymouth if the wind plays ball! It is really good to have the boat and Weymouth on the same screen on the computer for the first time in weeks.

On the domestic front, our poor old mainsail which, if you think about it has done getting on for 8000 miles in the past few months and was already a long way past it's best, is giving up.It is literally coming apart at the seams, and the back edge now resembles Dracula's cloak in places - it's a bit loose and flappy! Now there are no more big blows it will get us home I'm sure. The worst part was that the bluQube logo on one side is coming off - I had visions of arriving at the finish line in Boston with just the "e" left, which wouldn't have been good as this was the side they photographed, but we got it stuck down again OK for the photos, but it is all coming adrift now!

I also now have a set of indoor oilskins as well as an outdoor set because we have a few leaks from the odd place, mainly the water ballast valves and the pump, which could all do with replacing or rebuilding, and the fog we have been in for the past few days makes the chart table seat soaking wet as it is all salty now and attracts the moisture, so when we have to sleep here, or sit here like I am now, you get a soggy bum - yuk! Al I need now are waterproof slippers.

Somehow, despite the huge size and variety of American supermarkets we seemed to have finished up with a rather limited menu which usually consists of porridge, cheese sandwiches for lunch (Yes, the bread is still OK!) and pasta of some description for supper, but for a change I thought we'd have some soup instead. Sam grabbed two tins of really nice vegetable soup only for me to find to my horror that the main ingredient was chicken stock - the Americans I have discovered put meat and soya into everything, and the former is not so good if you are a vegetarian - that's one reason why I couldn't do the Volvo fully crewed round the world race, I can just see a load of "hard as nails" ocean racers cooking an enormous vat of freeze dried beef stew for them, and a side order of lentils for the poxy vegetarian, how long would that last! I am happier alone anyway - just as well really!.

However, in the end yesterday we did manage a break from the routine - a continental breakfast of fruit, yoghurts, bread and honey, with soup for lunch and the last of the eggs scrambled along with a tin of baked beans for super. Back to normal today though thank goodness, I like my little routines! Sam had a Twix for breakfast though, I think he's all porridged out but too polite to say so...............

Dateline 15 June. - The last leg.

My apologies for taking so long to write this, but it has felt as if there has been nothing to write about until today, although of course that's not true. We have, until about 0930 this morning spent four days on the same tack, hard on the wind with 100% cloud cover - a blanket of low clouds with no blue sky visible at all, and usually raining, and not even a ship to break up the monotony. We have one book between us which is Sam's, I didn't get time to go home after the qualifier to bring any of my own, (or any of the other things I should have bought like Gulf Stream information!). We have both read it now, and I contemplated reading it again - it is a children's book, "Why the Whales Came" by Michael Morpurgo, it won loads of prizes and is worth reading to your children if you have them. It is set in the Scillies, which is appropriately where we'll be passing tomorrow.

Other than when reading, these last few miles seemed to have really dragged, every time we have passed any significant marker; 600 miles to go, 500 miles to go, this has been a cause for celebration. The trouble is, the boat does around nine knots upwind, but you know full well as soon as you start reaching, where the wind comes over the side of the boat instead of over the bow, the boatspeed can easily double as you surf rather than slam, the boat flattens off and you can move around on deck safely and below much more easily - upwind even staying put on the loo at 27 degrees of heel whilst slamming into waves is no mean feat I can tell you! Going upwind day after day in a reaching boat is like being given a Ferrari but being told you can only use first gear - very frustrating!

However, since we tacked this morning somewhere West of Ireland and level with Trevose Head on the North coast of Cornwall, the wind is starting to free us up, we have less than 300 miles to go to the Lizard and the sky is the bluest of blues you could imagine, which Sam described it as the kind of blue you see in an aeroplane from very high up. You can see for miles in clear cold air that has come down from the Arctic Circle, and we are pointing at home. which gives the spirits a real boost.

The talk on board is now of pints of beer and loved ones, (not necessarily in that order!) pizza and walks in the green fields. Imagine not having seen your house for approaching two months, I am looking forward to seeing what the farmers are doing in the fields as I drive home from Weymouth, smelling the dust and rain on the earth again, and waking up to hear the birds through my bedroom window and then going downstairs to let the dogs out early and make a cup of tea in my own kitchen whilst the world is still asleep. Being away makes you appreciate all kinds of things you wouldn't consider without having gone. Not long now.......

Dateline 17 June. - Home at last!.

At approximately midday on Tuesday 17th June, Steve and Sam finally lowered the sails and glided up to their mooring in Portland harbour. Meanwhile wives, families and friends waited patiently on land for the intrepid two to row ashore.

It has been a longer return trip than expected with contrasting conditions varying between virtually no wind, and 50 knot howlers, much of which has been in the wrong direction.

So now it is back to reality - Money to find to pay the bills and sponsors to woo, not to mention a significant refit of the Spirit of Weymouth to prepare for the tough non-stop round the world Vendee Globe race which is Steve's next challenge.

Dateline 24 June. - Back to reality!.

Well that's it. The boat is back in Weymouth and this chapter of the adventure now at a close. Once we got back to the Scillies it felt like we were nearly home, as it always does, and we had some excellent sailing in the sunshine with gentle breezes all of the way home. It was cold during the nights, and it was strange to be on deck and see the lights of the towns and cities on our port side taking the edge off the stars after what has now been quite a few weeks of being offshore where of course it goes properly dark.

Sam and I spent a lot of time on deck making the most of the last few hours of sailing, and keeping an eye on all of the shipping which seemed to be in overdrive this time; they were everywhere, it was like the M25!. Soon enough though we were round the Bill against the tide, and sailed into Portland Harbour and back onto the mooring. It would have been nice to sit there for a few minutes and just take stock, but we were already late for our reception committee - Kim, and Sam's wife Sarah and their family who had come en mass from Kent. We had time for quick introductions and then it was time for us to go and get the boys from school, so we are going to meet up and have a proper reminisce over a beer in the near future to tie the trip up properly. Sailing across an ocean whether racing or not remains as much a personal challenge and a spiritual experience as it does a sailing achievement, depending on your point of view, and as such I think it's important to have proper closure over a pint!

Having now been back for a week, I am finally getting a few days at home. 18 hours after I arrived I had a three day charter which finished in the early hours of Sunday morning! I am enjoying seeing the countryside and familiar places around home, and seeing some green rather than shades of blue and grey - it is a bit like discovering new senses, everything seems very bright and vivid, including my sense of taste - I have been living on pasta and porridge for so long that I have forgotten what vegetables taste like! The flip side is I am fully back to the grindstone work wise, slaving over a hot telephone and computer, attending to the business and looking for an additional larger sponsor to partner us in the Vendee Globe which is now very soon - I can feel we are close, it won't be long now I am sure, however any suggestions would be gratefully received!

The blogs will now decrease in number as running a business, even ours, is a much more dull occupation than sailing as far as I'm concerned, but rest assured you will hear me shouting from the rooftops just as soon as we have signed more sponsors, and I'll keep you abreast of anything else significant that happens in the meantime!

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