Race to Scotland Reflections: Crazy or Amazing?
Reflections on an emotional 865 mile adventure along the length of Britain in an RS Aero.
Crazy and amazing - sometimes they are the same thing, sometimes they are poles apart. The skill is being able to spot the difference, because one experience could be life-changing and the other life-ending! As I’m here writing this blog the good news is that sailing a dinghy twice as big as your bath at home along the length of Britain wasn’t life ending, but was it a life changing experience?
When I first came up with the concept of sailing from the South West corner of England to the very top of Scotland, in a very small bit of plastic, most people’s view on it was “Crazy”. I kind of expected that reaction, but I was surprised by how many people thought it was an amazing adventure. Lots of fellow sailors were keen to offer support, enthusiasm and advice, although they did point out they wouldn’t want to do it themselves!
Having come up with the idea, turning it in to a reality involved months of preparation, route planning, logistics, equipment research and getting seriously fit. One of the best things I did was talk to some of the very small band of dinghy sailors who have undertaken such epic long journeys. Ted Sargent (round Ireland in a Laser) and Jeremy Warren (Wayfarer round the UK) were invaluable in helping identify the challenges I would be facing, offering solutions and generally reassuring me that people do actually successfully complete these epic journeys! I think I needed to hear that more than anything else. I was also really fortunate to get some great companies to back me including RS Sailing, Rooster (supplying me with their great clothing), Garmin, YB Tracking, Harken, ICOM, Zest Boatworks and many others. In this corporate profit driven world it’s great to know there are still companies that have a soul and a conscience to give something back. The final part of the jigsaw was sourcing a support crew to give up a month of their lives to help look after me and my RS Aero. Not an easy thing to find, but I was more fortunate than I could ever have hoped in having Ian and Jane Pike offer their support.
All that was missing now was a name for this adventure. As I was using all my annual leave from work for this adventure “Race To Scotland” fitted the bill, reflecting that this was an ordinary persons race against time to sail from one end of the country to the other before his leave ran out. No pressure then!
So after 9 long months of preparation, hard work and the obligatory last minute panic I finally launched from Sennen Cove near Lands End in early May. As I staggered out in to the seaweed bolder strewn harbour holding my boat and trying to avoid twisting my ankle in the first few minutes of the adventure, it was hardly the fanfare start I’d envisioned! The first three days soon brought home the enormity of the task ahead. Constant head winds, surf beach landings, periods of dead calm, long lonely days – welcome to your new lifestyle for the next month!
Day 4 was my first big crossing of the trip with the Bristol Channel looming between me and Wales. Another false weather forecast where the promised reach turned in to another day of headwinds quickly left me behind schedule and searching for the RIB who had kindly offered to escort me for some of the day. By the time we found each other just south of Lundy I had been on the water for 5 and a half hours and Wales seemed a long way off. Blasting past Lundy things seemed to have turned in my favour and as I bid farewell to my RIB crew Wales finally started to appear on the distant horizon. As I continued northwards the wind began a steady frustrating decline. Despite the calm sea conditions and a visiting pod of dolphins, I realised as the sun started to sink over the horizon, I wasn’t going to make it. Looking at the twinkling lights of the Welsh coast a few frustrating miles away I contacted Milford coastguard to find out if the wind was due to increase. The answer was a despairing “NO”, so the common sense action was to call out the RNLI. Making good use of my GPS to give them an accurate position report and guide them with my LED flare, the rescue was a simple and rather calm affair. The RNLI crew were great and we soon had the Aero strapped on the back of the lifeboat’s hydraulic ramp and were heading towards Wales at 20knots – that was more like it! I was finally dropped off about 100 metres from Freshwater East beach and paddled ashore in the dark using my dagger board as an oar. So Day 4 ended with me as a “boat people” refugee in South Wales, no clothes, no money and no plan. The support and kindness I received that night from the coastguard team and the locals in Freshwater will stay with me forever.... to be continued!