Tuesday, 31 May 2011

One Regatta Down, Seven To Go!

Beautiful Corsica

I’m writing this blog sitting in the staysail that’s tied down to the deck on the bow as we motor away from Ajaccio, Corsica and head for Antibes. The sea is flat calm and the sun is being kind to us behind a thin, lacy vale of cloud. It’s a good spot to ponder our first regatta and to start telling you all about it. I’m a bit uncertain as to how I should summarise a whole regatta without boring you to tears with too much detail. I’m struggling to even know where to start to be completely honest.

Moored up in Ajaccio in the morning sun.
One certainty is that quite a lot of emotion goes into racing in a regatta. Times that by the number of crew onboard, mix it up with some VIP’s staying, 3 course meals, late nights, heavy fog and a Man-Over-Board and the material is endless. I’ll keep it to the point and keep the deviations to a minimum if I can.

So here goes, deep breath and…

Nine folk arrived to help us sail the boat for the regatta in Ajaccio, including my Dad who came to do the navigation. That was great, having my Dad with us. I was very proud. Not that I saw much of him. My position on the boat means that I’m pulling on ropes forward and he was down in the lazerette with the charts on the aft deck. We occasionally waved to each other when time allowed. 

All hands to the peak halyard.

Perfect spooning on the rail guys.

The racing had its ups and its downs. The first race was a short one and although we were first boat to the second mark, we struggled with the downwind leg and I think we might have come last in our class. The second day was weird. We had just started to hoist the sails for the day when the fog set in. According to a local guy I spoke to, this fog comes but once a year, and it chose a race day, of all days. 15 classic yachts floated around the bay of Ajaccio for a few hours without being able to see much past their bow sprits. We had Natty on the bow with the fog horn and Joe the engineer up the mast, standing on the spreaders. It was all a bit spooky and incredibly disorientating. I was glad my Dad was on the navigation knowing where we were and where the big ships were. He’s a bit clever my Dad.

Beating up to the mark

The final race was our best of all. We were leading the fleet which is always exciting with some great beating up to the first mark. In fact the other boats, smaller and lighter than us were really falling behind. And then just as we were getting ready for a tack, we heard those awful words;

‘Man Over Board’!

With a new safety procedure and focus, last year we didn’t have one man-over-board. However in 2008 there were 4 in total. There is no guard rail in place when we race and the risk of being washed down the leward deck by the sea is pretty high. We do wear safety harnesses and clip on when the wind is strong and the leward deck is getting wet which stopped me from going over last year in a big gush of wave in Falmouth. This time however, Nikki lost her footing and because she stands very close to the back of the boat, she went in head first, a line around her ankle. Thank God it slipped off quickly or she would have been dragged along behind the boat at 7 knots.

It is a horrible moment when you hear those words. Everyone on the boat is a great friend as well as a colleague and keeping your cool when you know someone has gone overboard is tough. Jim, our captain, called quickly for a gybe, a life ring was thrown and George called for focus and everybody to their positions. We gibed around, had someone watching Nikki and pointing the whole time, a line was prepared and she was picked up in 4 minutes and 36 seconds. She has a few bruises but really the only injury was that her brand new camera was still in her pocket.

And off we set again to finish our race. Smooth.

It took just a little bit of coaxing and great boat handling to get Mariquita going again but the sailing yacht Mariska, managed to pass us. However, we had such a great lead on the other boats that we were next over the finishing line. It was a fantastic race and we are very proud of our Man/Girl/Person-Over-Board recovery and staunch race focus with Nikki back on board. Well done us.

Now if you think that once a year, thick Fog and Person-over-boards were a bit scary, let me tell you all about the sandwiches.

How hard is it to make a sandwich? you may ask. I’m giggling now as I remember, but have to admit that it wasn’t very funny at the time. It was decided that because we had 3 VIP’s staying on board, that I would be too busy to make all the race sandwiches, which is very true. So to relieve the pressure a bit, we ordered and had sandwiches delivered everyday. Great!

Actually not great. Let me give you a little list of some of the fillings provided;

  • Grated carrot and anchovy (yum!)
  • Sliced egg and crab stick (delicious)
  • Some sort of spam and oceans of hot mustard (Can’t believe I hadn’t thought of that one before)
And my favourite,
  • Lettuce and tomato (Genius)

So, most mornings were spent repairing the sandwiches with Sian, which wasn’t really the point at all. Oh, how we laughed…

I cooked a few VIP meals and did a couple of canapé evenings with Sian, my hard-working stewardess. One meal was asparagus and parmesan stuffed, boned chicken supreme’s, griddled baby courgettes and mint, followed by mini summer puddings served with crème fraiche, a selection of Corsican cheeses and Corsican rose wine. Unfortunately my camera’s battery-life expired that night, so you’ll just have to believe me.

I hear the entertainment for the boats and crews was great on the dock in the evenings. But if you are chef or stewardess on any boat with guests and owners then you don’t often get to partake in much of that. We are the first ones up and the last to bed. Add a little yacht race into the day and bed is the most wonderful place on earth for the short time we’re in it.

I would like to take this opportunity though to urge you whole heartedly to visit Corsica. It is the most beautiful country with a very interesting history and great character. It is famous for its superb hikes and walks, waterfalls and mountains. Jim, Tim, George and I went for a hike one day before the regatta. We caught the bus to Vizzavona and from there we followed the Cascades des Anglais which took us through beautiful woods, past waterfalls and deep icy pools which you can swim in if you’re brave, or silly enough to. We ended up being very silly and jumping in a deep pool of melted-snow water. It takes your breath away but after you have scrabbled out in what is usually a fairly undignified manner, the feeling of elation is palpable. You feel incredibly healthy and alive. You just have to go for it, don’t think about it, just jump right in. The sun soon warms you up and then if you have been really clever, like us, you then truly deserve your rose picnic. Especially if you have been chilling the rose in the icy cold water whilst you were busy frolicking about in it.I guess it is times like these when life at 33 Degrees is a wonderful thing. I am incredibly lucky.

So do accept my apologies for not writing sooner. It’s been quite a week. I hope I’ve done it justice without boring you to tears. There is so much more to write but considering this was our first regatta of the season, I’m pretty sure there’ll be more stories to tell very soon in Antibes. We don’t want to over-do it so early on now do we?

Thanks for sticking with me and making it to the end. When I write again soon, I’m hoping it will be all about the fish we’re about to catch as we head across the sea to Antibes in France. Fingers and chop sticks crossed. Ginger and wasabi on the ready.

Oh and camera battery charged this time.

One regatta down and seven to go. I'm sure once I've caught up on my sleep I'll be raring to go for 'Les Voiles d'Antibes on the 8th. For the moment, I'm enjoying lying in the staysail on the bow in the setting sun with some great memories already. And we've only just started. It's going to be a great year. Hope you can join me.
Cheers! See you soon.