Ocean racers are a strange breed, we leave the harbour with grandioso dreams and killer speed that makes it impossible for our rivals to keep up or pull off some brilliant strategy. By the time the races near, our dreams have somewhat become more human and after 52 and a half hours of the 2021 Solo Concarneau all I wanted was to take off my leaking shoes and dry my feet!

I rounded the final headland with my friend Mael Garnier pressing at my heals, with shot onboard electrics which left me using a gimmicky Phone app more reserved as something people use in the bar to make sailing related jokes to find the finish line with the only thought was how much desperate I was to take off my leaking shoes.

After 53 hours I had crossed the finish line of the Solo Concarneau. The jury do what, I imagine, makes them feel like James Bond and jump from a speeding chase boat onboard. First checking my engine was still sealed, emergency gear was in place and I hadn’t used my phone to illegally download weather information. ‘C’est bon?’ I enquire in about the only French I could think of, ‘Oui’ was the only part of the jury’s response I could understand and with that I made my way to the Harbour I had left some 380 miles ago.

It was a hot and sunny Thursday lunch time when we had set off. After the usual pre-race warm ups, speed checks and last-minute navigation, plans were made and the starting boat made its signal. 

Dix, Neuf, Huit….. the starter counted us down. At the call of number 8 I started to accelerate. I don’t know why but since the age of 11, 8 seconds before the start has been the moment I’ve chosen to attack. Slightly shocking myself as I had managed to pull off one of my better starts and was at the front end of the fleet. As lunch became afternoon and into the evening those grandioso dreams of success were rather closer to reality than I thought, I was able to fight at the very front.

That first night the racing was frenetic as we worked our way north. The race had a nervous atmosphere, maybe it was the confused weather forecast that lay ahead, or maybe it was that everyone was keen to assert whatever small advantage they had. Either way, we slalomed our way passed islands, rocks and subtle changes in the tidal flow each seemingly deemed by someone as ‘their moment’ to make their bid for first.

As Thursday became Friday, we were still turning south with the racing holding its intensity, clouds started to grow, the expected storms were building around us. By 6am the mood was very different.

In previous days, the sun was replaced by thick clouds rolling in across the Atlantic Ocean, but now the soundtrack of the boats were drowned out by the sound of thunder and lightening in the distance. I tucked into breakfast, which the manufacturer amusingly named “gourmet breakfast”. I can assure you there is little gourmet about eating dehydrated food! But I was content, holding a position in the front group, the speed was good and I had a plan of how to execute the next few hours.

I watched the windspeed rise through the morning with the sound of the building thunder, I accelerated from 16 knots to 20 finally settling somewhere between 25 and 27 and around me I could see the lightening edging ever closer.

The boat wasn’t happy. She kept spinning out of control. I took the rudder from the autopilot and I could feel relentless tugs at the rudder, I pulled and released every bit of rope or control lines in sailor lingo to try to change the power distribution but nothing. Eventually I settled on the idea to reef (to make the sails smaller). I don’t know what it is about sailors maybe it’s an ego thing, maybe it’s a French thing but no one likes to reef. In that moment my gut knew the decision I had to make, eventually after a few more tugs on the rudder my brain agreed too. Pulling on the sail at the mast, the manoeuvre took a little over my minute target time that I had trained to do.

Taking the rudder from the autopilot the boat was light, responsive and happy. I looked over at my rivals who hadn’t done this, and screamed “wahooooo”, I took a mental note of their position relative to mine in the hope of seeing evidence of killer speed I’d dreamt of before the race start.


I was brought back down to earth when I was brushing my teeth and the instruments suddenly turned black, I looked at the navigation screen - black too. The autopilot had turned hard to the left, I grab the rudder and tried to regain control, using friend and rival Francesca Clapcich’s position as a basis for where I was heading. I tried push to keep the speed, not wanting my hard work to come undone. The lightning had caused my electrics to short out, rendering my displays, navigation equipment and autopilot useless.

My friend who works in IT always suggests doing a “soft reset” in situations like these. With his thick Yorkshire accent playing through my mind, I switched everything off and turning it back on. Success!

An hour later they went black again so I tried again. Again, success.

I released that I had two options, every hour for the next 250 miles I was going to have turn the whole boat off and on or try a ‘hard reset’ aka pulling the wires out and putting them in again. Pulling out wires in 3-meter seas soaking wet seemed to go against all electricians guide in history!

This internal debate about how to handle this was short lived - suddenly there was a loud bang and the boat came to a shuddering halt.

My job as an electrician was replaced by a new one, sailor.

The storm front had passed leaving no wind, no huge seas or rain - an English summers day some might call it.

Friday afternoons challenge was to keep the boat moving despite these conditions.Throughout the next hours there were few gusts of winds, the wind gods had full control of our destiny, toying with us showing us a glimmer of hope with every new gust. These gusts had a hidden poison, they kept coming from a new direction, making for a slightly disorientating situation. Every so often checking the manual compass a releasing I was pointing the direction I had just come from. I kept reminding myself “nothing lasts forever”.

How people handle a lack of sleep is different - in that moment I believed that I was making smart choices. I was conscious to my lack of sleep, I had woken up at 8am on Thursday and it was now 3pm on Friday and still I had not managed to close my eyes even for a moment. Increasingly the new challenge as the wind filled in was a lack of speed, I was being passed by rivals with ease. I could not understand why. I checked and checked everything. When suddenly I had my lightbulb moment, I had managed to hoist a sail upside-down and sailed in this configuration for 40 minutes. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

Saturday morning dawned, by now hanging on further and further toward the rear of the pack, I confessed to myself that I should give up some time to my rivals and rest before we rode the final storm. I set my alarm to allow me just 20 minutes sleep -  it rang I checked all was ok, and repeated the process over the next three hours until the final turning buoy approached. The Rochbonne Plateau was the final stop; and is 20 or so miles off the coast of one France’s most famous sailing towns, Le Sables D’Olonne.

I turn the electrics on to find out the direction I needed to sail to the finish, 330 degrees for 110 miles.

After 3 hours sleep, I felt like I had some sort of reincarnation, with a clear mind, I planed the tricky manoeuvre of pulling the powerful Code 0 spinnaker the hoist mechanism for which was damaged. I rounded the buoy, immediately turning fully away from the wind to slow to the boat. Frantically I carried out the instructions I had written on the boat as a reminder for myself for how I thought it was possible.

The final storm front of the race emerged with a sudden downpour of rain; the wind speed jumped from 16 knots to 35 knots, this time pushing us toward the finish. The boat speed jumped from 10 knots to 20. Using a hand-held compass for direction, I was sailing the boat like a child on a dinghy free from the worry of outside pressures.

It was beautifully pure, there were no distractions, just me, the boat and the ocean.

As the speed increased, waves washed across the boat, the inside of my supposedly waterproof shoes now more of a cold bath than the jargon they put on the label when their new.

So why do I do this? The truth is, I do not know.

But to race on the ocean alone involves maximum concentration, in a funny kind of way it's peaceful - only a few thoughts run through your head. Someone once told me you do not compete in elite sport because you like winning, because those moment are so very rare, 28th position in the Solo Concarneau on paper means I should be tasting the bitter pill of defeat for the 1000th time. Perhaps I like the taste of the pill of defeat? My victory in this race was in being confident in my decision making, calm throughout and my speed at times was there. Yes, I will rue the three big mistakes that I made in that race and yes, I will start the next race with that little voice that says grand dreams are still very much on my shoulder.

What interests me is discovering what truly I am capable of, something that I appreciate I do in an incredibly selfish manor and how lucky I am to have this opportunity.

Ultimately to take Just a Drop on this journey with me means that I can use this platform to bring about a small change for good.

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