Truth be told, writing this blog so close to having finished La Solitaire, I am really struggling with how to put a month of racing into words. Every time I put pen to paper, I end up writing an extremely dull list of every tactical decision that I made during the race - something akin to what my school teachers used to call ‘death by PowerPoint’.

Maybe some of these struggles are the result of extreme tiredness. I am finding that by four in the afternoon, exhaustion is getting the better of me and coherent thoughts become rarer. I can only imagine what living like this permanently must be like. I find myself looking back thinking, how on earth did I actually race that far and for that long?

What were your highs and lows in the race? 

For me the greatest moment of personal satisfaction was the final 400 miles, from the Fastnet Rock off the South West Coast of Ireland to the finish in Saint Nazaire in South Brittany.

In that time, I found a confidence or speed, (not entirely sure which came first!) where the weather, although tricky, fell into my hands. There was a beautiful moment, I knew which clouds to sail under, carefully stayed under them and managed to pass several competitors in the chaos. And for the first time all race, I managed to breakaway from them.

On the other hand, my lowest moment came in the 3rd leg, I was suffering the effects of food poisoning almost straight after the start.

Despite getting into a good position, I had no interest in racing that day, and when someone tried to overtake me I became incredibly irritated and wanted to just shout "Hey buddy, just hurry up and overtake me!"

I just wanted to stop after the first 90 miles after sailing from Le Havre to the Isle of Wight but I told myself to try to push onto Weymouth and see if I felt better.

At one point I found myself in the bottom of the boat shivering and when I got to Weymouth, I forced myself to race to Land’s End. Turning the corner towards the Bristol Channel, I managed to re-catch the leaders and after being 20 miles down I was now 0.5 miles behind the leaders. I said to myself "You can’t stop now David; first place is right there". That was seriously hard to deal with.

How was it travelling alone all that time? 

When you race single handed, your priorities are as follows;

1) Route: Am I going in the correct direction?

2) Performance: Is the boat going fast enough?

3) Batteries: Are the batteries charged so that the electrics are working

4) Human: Have I eaten and drunk enough water, and finally have I slept enough?

I would love to tell you that at all times I stuck to this order of priorities but sleep and eating definitely made their way to the top several times!

During the race, most participants sleep through a series of naps - 15 minutes here 15 minutes there. The sleeping aspect was probably the aspect of the race that presented the greatest sense of trepidation - I would aim for nine 15 minutes naps in a day for a total of two and half hours.

I’ve read that the greatest solo ocean racers are morning people, I guess that’s because we have to wake up 9 times a day. The trick I’ve learnt to sleeping while sailing is to never let yourself fall into a deep sleep. I will never forget the first 24-hour training session I did and the feeling of actually managing to do this - it was a mix of an anti-climactic disbelief that something that sounds so crazy is actually possible!

So the trick to racing while you sleep - I’m still figuring that one out I did find myself making a habit of losing places while sleeping, but then again maybe that’s normal?

Living like this does lead to some funny moments, because of course you are awake for most of the day.

On the 3rd day of the 3rd leg, my day began like every other during the solitaire - at midnight. Even this early/late (whichever way you look at it!) I was making high-risk sail selection decisions and having to think about how to make up time and catch up with the group in front, what my next battle with my friend Jesse Fielding would be, would the wind completely turn off or would thick fog descend and reduce visibility to meters.

I remember checking my watch and expecting the time to read 6pm as I felt that enough had happened that day that I could be rewarded with a lovely sunset soon enough but no. It was only midday. I still had another 9 hours of day light to go.

Racing by yourself requires much more self-discipline than I originally appreciated or understood, as at all times you must be prepared. You simply cannot sail by being reactionary.

Changes to the boat's setup must be made before the weather conditions change, you have to try to sleep before you become tired, and must try to anticipate what your rivals will do before they make their next move.

What did you learn from the race?

Despite not knowing how I could perform over a month of racing, I started with dreams of a ground breaking results.

A more realistic aim was to sail a clean and tidy race with few mistakes. My dreams of doing something special came crashing down at midnight on day three when I became entangled in a fishing trawling net that had been dumped in the Bay of Biscay, 100 miles of the coast of Spain. 

The time lost, followed by the penalty for outside assistance to help me escape from the fishing net, cost me those dreams but I will not let this story turn into a sob story about what could have been.

Ocean racing involves misfortune and it’s how you deal with it, all 34 skippers in the race have some tale of overcoming extraordinary problems and the difference is that mine were very publicly showed. I will say, I really wish the organisers had not brought the fishing net to the race village as a reminder of what happened though!

It's human nature to become frustrated when something you are passionate about isn’t going as well as you’d like. At the beginning my lack of speed was the main source of frustration - I was often being left behind and I'd have to work super hard to stay with the group.

By the end of the race, I had found some settings that resolved the speed issue and I could break away from the group I was in, only then to find that the wind become stronger for the competitors behind me and they'd catch up again! I had to tell myself that this issue was a better issue than the one I faced 2000 miles previous.

I generally consider myself to be a calm person; I have been involved in ocean racing in a team environment for several years and have faced many challenges and though that I would carry this calm demeanor into the world of elite solo racing. But I did not expect to internalise issues as much as I did. It’s easy to let your mind spiral out of control when small things are going wrong and let them become much bigger issues than they really are. It took a conscious talking to, to set myself on a good path again.

There was something that really helped though. There is a saying that dolphins carry the souls of sailor’s past and I can honest say that when I was on my own and feeling down, dolphins had a remarkable habit of cheering me up.

During that faithful third leg it was the middle of the night, I was in last place, there was no wind and it was chucking it down with rain; it felt quite bleak. All of a sudden, from beneath my boat I could hear a chattering sound and I jumped on deck, shone my touch around the boat and could see a pod of dolphins around me. The sounds I was hearing in the boat were the pod chatting to each other and occasionally bumping into the boat. It cheered me up immensely.  

I feel most proud that the Solitaire and the French Elite Offshore Championship are comprised of people widely regarded to be ‘special talents’ and truth being told I am not nor will I ever considered to be that.

I am some of who really enjoys being on the sea, at this point it’s probably more of an obsession. I managed to put together a project seriously lacking in resources that could go toe to toe and not be a walk over against these guys and girls.

I guess if there are any lessons from my Solitaire it’s that hard work and enjoyment can get you very far.

At Just a Drop, we are so grateful to David for completing La Solitaire on behalf of our organisation. If you'd like to support David's efforts to bring clean water to communities across the world then please donate here: