Suffolk duo make progress

Suffolk's Nick Bubb lies in 12th position on Kenmore Homes in Classe 40 at the end of week one of the Route Du Rhum, the gruelling 3,540-mile race across the Atlanitc.

Suffolk's Nick Bubb lies in 12th position on Kenmore Homes in Classe 40 at the end of week one of the Route Du Rhum, the gruelling 3,540-mile race across the Atlanitc.

Suffolk sailor Aurelia Ditton is also taking part in the race.

Nick Bubb's blog

I crossed the start line of the Route du Rhum only five minutes after the last of my fantastic shore crew left the boat, they were still working on the job list until the very last minute, thank you to you all!

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I started at the port end of the line and crossed three open 60s including Vendee winner Vincent Riou on new PRB, life doesn't get much better! Matched hot favourite Dominic Vittet on ATAO AUDIO for a while before he slipped away as I had to duck a 50 ft trimaran. Anyway,as the wind went to the right we fetched into the first and only mark about 20 miles to the west, I was 6th and pretty happy considering it was the first time the boat had sailed against any other of the Classe 40s. Notably was incredible speed of Ian Munslow on his Owen Clarke designed BOLANDS MILL, who after a very average start sailed around the fleet and up to second place.

Unfortunately the first few boats got round the first mark with tide and slipped away. I was in the next bunch and did not fare too well and we sat within 100 yards of the buoy for over and an hour and watched the rest of the fleet sail up to us. Eventually the breeze filled in and I rounded the mark just ahead of Phil Sharp who had had a shocker early on but was to make amends!!

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As we headed west in a very light and variable breeze, there were constant sail changes between Code Zero and the Solent but which ever sail I had up I was quick against the other boats which was encouraging especially as I wasn't racing the top guys at this point..... Just as it was getting dark and I was slipping by LE COMPTOIR IMMOBILIER and I managed to catch a bunch of fishing pots around the keel, incredibly this was the first time such bad luck had hit me since the first night of the Mini Transat! With such a light breeze it was impossible to back the boat up and I was soon well and truly wrapped. My only option was to dive over the side and free myself. This was the first time I had had to do this solo. I dropped my sails, rang my shore crew and told them exactly where I was (only about 30 miles from St Malo) and that if I didn't call back in 30 mins they may want to borrow a boat to come and find me! With wetsuit and harness with safety line on I jumped in to water to perform what was a relatively easy task, it still cost me over an hour though!

Later on that night I worked myself from the back of the fleet up to 10th and then eventually as the wind filled in and we headed out of the English Channel I reached as high as 4th only just behind 3rd in a top battle with the two other Brits Phil Sharp and Ian Munslow and the two Figaro legends Dominic Vitte and Gildas Morvan. Things really got going when the wind went round to the East and we set off on an amazing sleigh ride downhill, things were looking great 4th or 5th and just 20 miles behind the leader before when I tried to drop the spinnaker late one evening in a building breeze after a marathon 16 hours on the helm I realised I had a big problem. The two to one halyard had chaffed, despite my efforts to ease and subsequently tension it to move any suspect areas around, the chafe to the outer core meant this had bunched in the sheave and I could not move it one way or the other. Close to total exhaustion anyway, I lashed the kite behind the mainsail and passed out in the cockpit.

When I woke five hours later, I knew what I had to do and despite the 25 knot breeze and huge swell I got my Topclimber out and prepared to go up the mast and cut the sail free. This was a very painful but successful mission and I descended to sort out the mess and spent the day sailing with my Solent instead of spinnaker,subsequently losing valuable miles. After another climb up the mast I sorted out the make shift external halyard that I'd prepared and set the spinnaker again.Unfortunately the loose end of the halyard stuck in the sheave (about 1 metre) was wanging round wrapping itself on everything and I knew I would have to go up again to sort this . In the mean time I set about tying to recover lost miles and with conditions too much for my autopilots (I have not really had time to properly set them up to the boat characteristics yet) I held on for a 12 hour stint that included doing 25.4 knots on huge surf in one squall with the wind reaching 39 knots, exciting but tiring stiff, eventually after one Chinese (accidental) gybe when I fell asleep on the helm I dropped the kite for a few hours sleep and unfurled the Solent.

When I went to rehoist the spinnaker it had a big knot, not exactly easy to sort out on your own, it was still blowing 25 to 35 knots.... Anyway I ended up with the spinnaker below deck to sort it out and then 30 mins later tried to rehoist and 3/4s way up the external halyard I was using got knotted with the end of the old one I had had to cut, anyway, it ended with me pulling the sail from the water miraculously with no damage. So again I had to return to the Solent and completely exhausted elected to go for the Code Zero instead, a little smaller but safe and easier to handle (80 sq m to the 120 sq m of the spinnaker I was using). Once this was set and I passed out again, with all the foul weather gear I had on that hadn't been off since the start and probably more importantly no time to visit the gym since the start of this project I was feeling more and more run done. When I woke and sorted the kite again and finally got her hoisted I was a very relieved man. Anyway the next day the wind eased a little and I went to the big spinnaker but still on my external halyard. The masthead one I still have rigged but shows massive chafe after just 1 hour of light use during the first night and I don't want to get this sail stuck up or have to drag it in over the back of the boat if the halyard breaks.

Anyway today, one week after the start, the wind eased and I am now sailing in very light conditions with my Code Zero. I have managed to climb the rig for the third time to check everything as well as rig another external halyard with a bigger turning block for the Code Zero and as a pare for my one working spinnaker halyard. I have also cleaned the boat and dried some kit in the very welcome sun, it was also a chance to clean myself a little and enjoy the privacy of the ocean and sail without any clothes on....

I am currently in 12th but Ian who was 10th at the last position update is now actually in sight, pretty sure I smelt him before I saw him!! So things are close and to be honest with so many teething problems (to be expected) I am happy. When I was riding high I forgot about the fact I had only used the spinnakers for 30 mins each before the race or that the Code Zero had never been up before the start day and thought only of pushing harder and catching the leaders, now I am a little more philosophical and have to ensure that I keep the boat together and all working as a number one priority. With the wind set to build tomorrow evening and initially be upwind before giving us some more fast down wind conditions. I am happy that both skipper and boat are better prepared than a week ago and can push ahead and try to make up valuable ground lost during my repairs and ensuing exhaustion.

Thank you for all the messages of support which have been forwarded to me please keep them coming it makes a huge difference to me and keeps me fighting!

Cheers for now, Nick.

Aurelia Ditton's blog

My first glimpse of sunshine arrived this morning with a momentary vista of blue sky. A sea of pastel shades wallowed benignly underneath it. Low grey rain clouds loomed off to the west. I could have sat helming, basking in the warm sun rays, observing the trim of the boat and taking pleasure in being out here, but unlike the solar panels, for the first time all week enjoying a power drink, I felt weary. My night had been severely punctuated by the wind shift alarm, the deck and cabin instruments chiming in chorus and the subsequent need to be on deck.

As twilight crept in, I had met a horizon line of clouds with the "medium" weight spinnaker up, which I socked before a 180 degree wind shift took effect and a light rain kissed the deck. Then the boat rocked and yawed for a time, the sails thrashing their lines in desperation. The Code O replaced the chute in a light aired breeze forward of the beam, but as the breeze strengthened and we began to beat to windward, I furled her away and stashed both kites down below. Tidying up the halyards and sheets in the early hours, the wind was to peter out once again. An airless void had opened up beneath the line of latitude 42 degrees north, grinding the race track in its vicinity to a painful claw for a mile's progress.

Visiting the line and then flopping over onto the opposing tack; the morning's dance of port to starboard to port to starboard tack repeated itself into this afternoon. By 1600 I could neither think straight to write this update nor entertain the idea of yet another tack, as the wind had its way with us once again, shunting our heading anywhere but in the direction west. I simply had to sleep. Yet there are miles to go before we sleep, miles to go before we sleep.”

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