With the RG650 all packed up with race-prep gear and changed from racing to delivery mode I sailed from Yacht Club Italiano for Palma with the option to continue on my qualification passage if we were making good time.
The forecast was light, but I was expecting some strong winds to take me across the Gulf of Lion across to Mallorca.
I had a good breeze as we sailed down the Italian coast line, but as we reached the boarder of France the wind dropped out, and we sat bobbing around for most of the first night. A flock of birds gave me some unexpected company as they flew into the cabin and roosted on the stacking lines, chirping away to the music that was playing from the ipod.
As the sun set, the birds flew off once the wind died off, leaving me bobbing about laughing at the only bird who remained behind. As I was only relying on solar for the passage, my limited power did not warrant leaving the autopilot on through the night of no wind, so making sure we were far away from any navigational hazards, I put on the AIS and navigation lights and went below for a rest, with my trusty egg timer waking me up at one hour intervals to ensure we remained safe.
Early in the morning the wind increased from the south, and I made good miles towards St Tropez throughout the day, with winds gusting above 30kts at times. By the next night the wind had almost died out again, and I coasted along peacefully making my way to the Porguralles Islands – first island of the qualifier. Light winds made approaching the Porguralles harder than predicted, but once finally around I set the auto pilot on course and went below for some rest.
The wind veered and increased through the next night, and by midnight we were experiencing a steady 30kts. With two reefs in the main and one in the solent the RG650 raced along surfing at speeds of over 15kts.
At sunset that night I was welcomed with the most amazing surprise as a pod of fin whales surfaced and breached around me. Fin whales are one of the largest whale species, and can grow up to 70ft long. The whales who joined me were between 40 and 50ft long, and when a whale that is over twice the size of your boat breaches only metres in front of you it can be a rather scary thought. One whale surfaced only metres from the boat, another breached and then slapped is tale only 50m off my bow. I remained on high alert while in the company of these beautiful creatures, and while the whales made amazing company, the thought of one hitting the boat kept me on deck well past midnight.
At 4am the next morning I was struggling to stay awake, and went below for a short rest. I awoke to find us planning down wind a fantastic speeds and went on deck to join in the fun. Minutes after getting on deck as I had my head down tidying up sheets and halyards that had found their way into the cockpit throughout the night I heard a loud bang followed by a ripping sound. I looked behind and saw a sunfish surface in our wake and realised that it was the cause of our unexpected collision. Immediately I realised that the sun fish had hit the port rudder and I moved to the back of the boat to inspect any damage. I was relieved to find the rudder still in tact, and the gudgins still securely fastened to the back of the boat, but as I took the boat off autopilot I knew that something was wrong.
There are many stories of yachts hitting sunfish and loosing their keel or rudders, and as we were planning at over 15kts at the time of the collision I was quite impressed that the boat was still intact. I went below to inspect the transom for damage from the inside only to find some delamination due to the collision. I was expecting the damage to be a lot worse, and was relived to realise that it was still possible to continue sailing. Infact, it gave me great confidence in the boat that we could hit something so hard and only receive minimal damage. If this had happened in the Mini Transat it would have been more than feasible to continue racing, however, as it was not a race and only a qualifier, the prudent thing to do would be to sail to Palma and make repairs.
The course was diverted to Palma `150nm to our south, and I managed to arrive into port by that afternoon, sailing straight up to Club Nautico and finding myself a berth in the club where I knew there would be other mini sailors to help me arrange repairs the next day..
In light of disastrous results of mini qualifiers over the past week, my decision to stop in Palma was a good one, as the yachts who sailed past only days later were severely punished by strong winds and rough seas. Mini 716 sailed by Jeff MacFarlane is currently being towed to Menorca after the boat lost its keel and rig forcing Jeff to be airlifted off late last week. Thoughts go out to Jeff who I hope can rebuild his campaign over the next few weeks.
Many thanks to Hugo and all the Palma crew who have made it very easy to get things done in this beautiful city and to Jason and my sister Amanda who have provided 5 star accommodation in the best part of the city. It is hoped that repairs will be complete by Wednesday and I will be able to re-start my 1000nm qualifier with an amended course before finding work for the season to fund my expensive sailing habit!
Pic. Styling along in my first qualifier attempt in my Zhik hoodie and boardies