Dominique Tamalet and Jean-Louis Jeannin beat our record earlier in the summer by significantly improving the time with 11h22m. With my father, we put ourselves on stand-by from July 25th and a weather window appeared for the same day.
From Stokes Bay, we leave on the water around 4:30 pm. We are in a bit of a rush, the ropes, the halyards, the GPS, the daggerboards… Everything has to be well stowed, attached and tested before the departure. Moreover, during the test phase, the gooseneck (stainless steel part that fixes the boom to the mast) broke. We don’t have anything to repair it except for some pieces. That’s enough for Yvan Bourgnon to fix the boom on the mast foot with a system that is unthinkable for an engineer, but that works for a navigator. Around 6pm we are finally ready to leave. We just wait for a wind shift announced at 7 pm. The wind turns finally. Last pee, we drink water, eat 2 cereal bars, 7:20 pm: top start!
We go upwind, starboard tack, direction the exit of the Solent. We have 2nds of current against us, but the sustained wind allows us to go to approximately 8nds, as foreseen.
Then, a lot of small problems with the equipment, accumulate. Not foreseen
This shows that we left a bit hastily: problems with lights, goggles, seaweed, wetsuits, compasses… Details that consume energy unnecessarily and that can be dangerous when accumulating.
At the exit of the Solent, we are ahead on the record. There is more wind, about 15/20 knots. But the problem is the sea state. It’s terrible! The west wind has just passed and the current against the wind is creating a real mess with very close waves. We are being shaken around and the boat is suffering. However, we are making good progress, at an average of 14-15 knots and we are now heading straight for Saint-Malo. Everything seems to be lining up to beat the record.
As we move away from England, we think that it will get better, but the waves are still breaking hard, and are even bigger than before. Not the sailing conditions of the Bay of Quiberon or the Swiss lakes. It’s a bit like the beginning of a bumpy field in a sledge. We are both on the attack and in survival. We strap ourselves in with our safety harnesses and hold on to the catamaran. And it’s even more demanding than on our previous records. My dad is at the maximum, ETF26 style, and I’m constantly regulating the mainsail. It’s the intensity level of an inshore regatta.
But the most complicated part comes with nightfall. Our compass support on the spinnaker pole could not withstand the power of the waves and fell over the side. Fortunately, it was secured by a rope. Impossible to continue the record without seeing our course. So I went to look for it at the front and my father now holds it in his hand to see it well. Not a thing to do.
When I’m not bending the cart, I have one hand ready to shock and the other hanging on the ladder. My father has the helm and now the compass. No more holding on to the boat. After a few minutes like that, the wind rises. We take a rise and at the same time a big wave. It sweeps the catamaran violently. The hulls were whipped sideways, it heeled strongly, pitched up and in this movement, I found myself with my feet in the air, hanging on to the wing. My father, no longer having “a hand for the boat” could not hold on, slipped off the ladder and fell into the water.
He has his lifeline and harness, I tell myself that I just need to get him back on board. I immediately look back and see my father already far away. His lifeline exploded, part of it remained on the trampoline. He calmly yells to me “turn, turn”. Hearing him confirm that he is conscious, considering the violence of the shock, I had a serious doubt.
We mustn’t waste any time. Fortunately I have already visualized this situation of having to retrieve my father from the water, like him, I am calm and confident about what I must do. I push the bar to slow the boat down and realize that the starboard rudder has a problem. As he fell, his leg hit the tube that connected the rudder helmet to the tiller. I didn’t visualized that. I tried the manoeuvre a second time, but it was impossible to tack alone with the sea and the rudder turning in all directions. Every two seconds, I look up, trying to see him at the top of the wave and get a reference point. He is already far away and I can’t see much anymore, it’s urgent. Tacking is impossible: ok, let’s get down, gybe, luff up.
I decide to take the broken rudder directly in my hand and the tiller in the other. The arms and hands are flying in all directions and all forces seem light under the adrenaline. I think that the boat and the blocks have never turned so fast. Busy with the maneuver, I lose sight of him. As I raise my head and stand up on the boat, I immediately spot a small orange dot. A stroke of luck! His orange Forward WIP helmet made my task easier and surely saved his life. Considering the distance between us, he doesn’t swim as fast as Michael Phelps.
I promise, at the time, I’m not making a joke. I let go of the leeward rudder to position myself on the other hull. I want to get it back to windward and I already have my trajectory in my head, by instinct. The starboard rudder doesn’t hold and moves all over the place, sometimes it holds well and at other times it turns 45 degrees and makes me go sideway. That and the waves, the direction is chaotic! So I take some margin and aim well above his wind. He is only a few meters away. For a crew member who only steers when his father is asleep or in the water, I managed like a boss, he told me later. At 20 meters, I heard him say “between the hulls”, I didn’t believe it for a second. Shortly afterwards he said “No, to the wind, to the wind”. I took a little momentum, aimed at him with the tip of the hull, passed as close as possible then lofted wide to bring him closer to me. I am now just in front of the stern beam, sitting on the hull without a ladder, with my hand on the helm and the other stretched out towards him. He is coming a bit fast and I understand at once that his weight, his equipment, the speed of the boat, his speed… I, whose arms are as thick as his big toe, will have to hold on! The boat slows down a little, only a few meters more, a wave pushes my father towards me, and Tac! OUTCH! I got him!
I have both legs in the air, at the edge of the hull, my arms spread out, my father in the water at the end of the hand at nightfall…
A maneuver to show in schools, but not to show to grandparents.
Fortunately, he quickly grabs the boat with his other hand, then manages to pull himself up almost by himself.
“You broke the rudder
-Where? Shit! Nothing else?
-No, nothing else, it’s all good.
-Ok, let’s put it back together, jam it in the up position and let’s go “
I do it, put the rudder back up, and off we go! The weather forecast is only on starboard tack, so we can do without the windward rudder. He notices that his suit has torn at the level of the pocket which had his distress beacon. He couldn’t call for help and his suit was taking on water. The record race is back on!
With one ear, I can hear him a little angry at himself talking in his beard. I have often been told stories “Your uncle Laurent saved my life at sea” “Your father Yvan saved my life at sea”. That day, I recovered the Gladiator of the Seas.
We left like rockets! I think we were averaging 16 knots when he returned. If we continue at this pace, we will also break the 40-foot class record.
It won’t happen. After about 30 minutes of schuss, the port rudder starts to shake. It is only held together by one bolt out of four… If this bolt breaks, we become a raft. We can’t continue to force it and decide to go back to England. We have to fix it for the next weather window.
The Stand-By is not finished, to follow…