Post 111. Around the world in 70 days?

If you thought I was swinging the lead in post 108 when I said I didn’t walk in Padstow as the weather was atrocious, the photo of Coswarth House was taken just as we were leaving, when the sun finally decided to come out. Obviously.

I can’t get away from these shipping sayings: swinging the lead is a naval term referring to seeing how deep the water around you is. Before modern detection methods, a lead weight on a length of rope (with knots every six feet) was lowered over the side. At least, I thought this was where it came from, but when I did my research, I found out that this by no means implied being lazy, which is what the saying means now. One source I found suggested it was a corruption of ‘swinging a leg’, that is, pretending to be lame in order to be discharged. I could do that (but would it help me escape the lockdown?)

Going back to gin briefly, ’Dutch courage‘ referred apparently to gin (made in Holland) given to soldiers to make them less scared when going into battle.

All of which introduces today’s topic, boats, but not as we know them. I’m not sure what pictures I can use, I’ll probably go back through my old ones and find something to do with the sea. Or possibly (having gone through my old ones), some to get you in the mood for next month…

The Vendée Globe is the only Round the World sailing race that is for one-man (and women) sailors, in 60 foot monohull yachts (i.e., no catamarans). It’s non-stop, unlike Clipper, and without assistance, so once you’ve left you’re really on your own. There are tiny exceptions, you can return to the start within the first ten days if you have a problem. You can also drop anchor (if you’re in a shallow part of the world) for repairs or to climb the mast, but cannot go ashore. As you can imagine, there’s very little chance of proper sleep.

It is a race dominated by the French: to date only the French have won. Unlike Clipper, it takes in all three great Capes. (The Cape of Good Hope at the bottom of Africa, Cape Leeuwin in Western Australia and Cape Horn at the bottom of South America). Clipper misses out this last one and goes through the Panama Canal as the Cape is felt to be too dangerous for amateur sailors. It runs every four years (unlike Clipper, which is in theory every two years). It’s based on the Golden Globe race of 1968, which as we all know, was won by our very own Sir Robin Knox-Johnson (I gave you a very brief insight in Blog Post 29 of 2nd June 2019).

It started in 1989-90 with 13 boats setting off and has steadily grown to 33 this year. It is usual to have an attrition rate of about 50% with many retirements due to damage of the boats. Of the 167 skippers taking part in the previous races, only 89 made it over the finish line. In 1992-93, one skipper was lost at sea before the race start (coming over from America) and one drowned off Cape Finisterre. In addition, a skipper cut his tongue open: with no one around, he had to sew it back together himself. I cannot imagine how you even start doing that, let alone on a moving boat. In 1996-97, four of the boats capsized and one skipper was lost at sea, leading to major improvements in safety. In 2000-01, (Dame) Ellen MacArthur finished second in 94 days. The record of just over 74 days was set in the 2016-17 race by Armel le Cléac’h, a Breton. As a reference, Clipper takes about a year to go around the world, stopping every month or so to refuel and change crew. There is a professional skipper and first mate on each Clipper boat plus about 20 amateur crew.

This year in the Vendée, 22 of the 33 skippers are French and a further two have dual nationality with one half being French. There are four British contenders, three women and one man. Sam Davies, one of our women, competed in the 2012 iteration: she was the only woman in that race and suffered a dismasting five days into the race. Prior to that, she finished fourth in 2008-09. Altogether there are six women competing this time. This year, the 9th edition set sail on November 8 from Les Sables d’Olonne on the Atlantic coast of Western France. The pre-race favourite Jeremie Beyou had to turn back on 10th November due to rudder damage (but he’s now back in the race, three and a half days late) and Nico Troussel was dis-masted on November 16th and had to retire.

So why are we interested in this? Well, the one British male, Alex Thomson, was a Clipper Skipper. In the 1998-99 race he was the youngest skipper (ever) to win, at the age of 25. So too late for George to set a record, but possibly not too late for JD to train and become the oldest Skipper!

In the Vendée, Alex’s boats suffered damage in 2004-05 and 2008-09 and he had to retire both times. He was third in the Vendée 2012-13, taking 80 days and 19 hours. He was second in 2016-17 with a time of 74 days 19 hours. As I started to type he was in the lead, but has suffered some damage so has slowed down to repair it and is lying third. His website here gives all sorts of interesting information: you can track his heart rate and sleep patterns!

The race is getting faster due to the boats undergoing massive changes. They are no longer traditional yachts; most have foils sticking out such that they almost glide above the water. There are some great photos if you go onto the website above, including a scary Sir RKJ model in the cockpit of Alex Thomson’s Hugo Boss boat (look under Race Day 1, photo 15). (It’s also on his website above. No getting away).

There’s a tracking map but I’m happy to say it is not as addictive as the Clipper one, it’s only updated every few hours.

I said I was the pessimistic one, then JD asked what would happen to his weekly cocktail if I predeceased him? (What he meant was, who would make it for him). Nice to know I’ll be missed. Here’s what I gave him this week, an A1 cocktail (30 ml gin, 15 ml Grand Marnier, a dash of grenadine and a dash of lemon juice). The jury is still out re Padstow gin. JD didn’t realise that it was the main ingredient!

If you read about me on the front page of the newspapers, it’s because I googled kill, husband, murder, cocktails. You’ll have to make sure he goes on this course if I do die before him. I’ll add a note to my Will.

Possibly more bad news for him, my trashy cocktail sign (post 102 of 11th August) is not working properly. It turns itself off after a few seconds, well before the cocktails are made. I’m not sure if this is a Sign that I should stop making them? No, what would I have to talk about?


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