The Route du Rhum is France’s premier solo transatlantic race. Every four years the race starts in St. Malo and heads west across the Atlantic to Guadeloupe in the Caribbean. There are five Classes – Ultimate Multis, IMOCA 60’s, Multi 50’s, Class 40 and the Rhum class. 2014 marks the 10th anniversary of the race and the first time a South African has made it to the start line.
Over 2 million people visited the race village before the start. It was definitely one of the most festive races I have ever been to.
At 05H00 on Sunday morning we went through the lock and out to sea. The IMCOA 60s went out before us. The lock was lined with people singing and cheering us on. The atmosphere was amazing. I had two friends on board, Pip and Ash, as well as Paul Peggs who had been helping me get the boat ready for the race for the previous two months. Pip and I went through the weather forecast once again when we were through the lock and then I got a bit of sleep. At 10H30 Pip and Ash got off and Rod, the owner of the boat, got on board. The race was scheduled to start at 14H00.
We motored off to the start line. I looked at the weather again before the start and tried to get some more rest. Before I knew it Paul and Rod had to get off. This was really hard and a rather emotional time. Paul and I had been working together on SWISH for two months solid to try and get her ready. Now it was time for me to go and show off all of his hard work. The RIB took Paul and Rod off. My parents and some other friends where in the RIB, too. They gave me a big cheer.
I tacked around and headed to the start. Suddenly I was alone on the boat and it hit me: I was about to start the Route du Rhum! We were on the same start line as the IMOCA 60s and the Rhum Class, which added up to about 70 boats on our start line. The gun went and we started the 10th edition of the Route du Rhum. We were hard on the wind heading towards Cap Frehel. The RIBs from all of the boats and the camera boats came back to join us. It was crazy out there. I had never seen so many boats on the water. Soon my RIB came back to join me and everyone was cheering me on. It was very moving. Then the RIB said good bye… I felt very alone. It was a strange feeling. But I had to get on with it. I tacked to Cap Frehel and then went around the mark. The spectators and the helicopters disappeared and the night started to set in. I needed to make a sail change before nightfall. I furled the solent away and changed to the staysail. I was set for the night.
It was time to eat something and warm up a bit. I had a cup of tea while weaving in and out of some of the other boats. Then I had a boil-in-the-bag pasta. The sea was getting rough and the wind was increasing.
I was starting to think about another reef. By midnight I had two reefs and the staysail. Dark clouds obscured the moon. The sea was 5 meters and the squalls that came through almost every half an hour reached up to 40 knots. SWISH was a happy girl sailing towards Ushant.
At 0230 I noticed a competitor sailing downwind on port towards me. We were on collision course. I was also on port sailing upwind so I did a big bear away to try to avoid him but before I knew it we collided with one another. The boats smashed against each other and the spreaders knocked each other in the big waves. Yannick who was on board the other boat fended us off at the spreaders and I did at the stern of SWISH. I continued downwind so I could establish what the damage was.
I called Paul who was ashore and said that I was going to the foredeck to check the boat and I would call back in 10 mins.
I clipped on and went forwards. I could not see any damage.
“Wow that was lucky”, I thought. So I called Paul back and carried on sailing.
It turns out that I have had to retire as I have a compression crack in the mast. The spreader bar has been pulled through on the port side. I managed to motor into Roscoff with the rig still up. It was very scary and not easy but I am not injured and the boat has not encored any further damage. It has been a real disappointment, especially watching the rest of the fleet sail off across the Atlantic while I have had to deal with insurance companies.
I want to try and get a campaign together for 4 years’ time. I hope that maybe I can get a South African company to back me so it can be a real South African campaign.