This a Rally - NOT a Race

Mina2 in the Caribbean - Where's The Ice Gone?
Tim Barker
Sun 18 Oct 2009 12:04

Noon Position: 30° 44.6’N 016°25.4W

Date & time: 18 October 2009 1215 hrs UTC

Distance covered since start at 1530 yesterday: 123 miles


At 1530 yesterday afternoon amidst the sound of horns, rocket flares being set off and lots of what we French call bonhomie, the rally fleet set off on our first leg from Madeira to Tenerife, 260 miles (about 2 days) away, due south. It had been impressed on us that “This is a rally, not a race”. Like hell it wasn’t a race. We were all jockeying for position on the start line as the countdown commenced and, as the starting horn sounded, Mina2’s highly-trained crew of Lawrence Wells and Richard Close-Smith leapt into action like coiled springs. The cruising chute (enormous highly coloured sail like a spinnaker) billowed out and we shot across the line in 4th place out of about 34 boats. So far, so good.


The wind had been forecast very light and from the nor’northeast (from behind us) and for a while it looked alarmingly like I had asked Richard to fly all the way out to Madeira for a 40-hour motor to Tenerife. All of yesterday the wind had indeed been on the gentle side, but sufficient to maintain enough speed to avoid “peeling to the Perkins”. Mina2 is everything a horny-handed son of the sea could desire, but light she ain’t. She needs a bit of a blow to get her to pick up her skirts and go, and a bit of a blow was conspicuous by its absence. So we drifted along at 5 knots in about 11 knots of wind whilst we counted the lighter and, in these winds, faster boats as they passed us. My guess is that we were probably about a third of the way down the fleet in the middle of the night. Never mind, positions don’t mean prizes; it’s not a race, it’s a rally.


After a few hours sleep I came on deck this morning at 0730. The wind had picked up substantially. With every thread of the cruising chute straining to its limits, we were thundering along at over eight knots. The little pin pricks of navigation lights ahead of us last night had transformed in the dawn light into sails – behind us. YES!! Good old Mina, we had caught the bxxxxxxs !! It was Agincourt all over again!! The race was back on!!! Sorry, what I meant to say is that the rally progresses satisfactorily.


I’m not sure of our position in the fleet, but it is a lot better than it was. Thanks to the wonders of modern technology you can tell what we can only guess. All the yachts have been fitted with tracker devices and if you go onto the rally website on (or Google “Rallye des Isles du Soleil” if I’ve got it wrong) and click on one of the boxes on the left which says something like “See where the boats are” you will get a map with the positions of all the boats, updated every four hours. Incidentally, I’m told that there is also a link on the site of a clip of Lawrence and me being interviewed for Madeiran television.


Sailing in these waters is magical. Since we left Portugal just over a week ago, the wind has always been from our side or behind us, the water is flat (where the long Atlantic swell we experienced just off the coast of Portugal went to, I don’t know) the boat doesn’t tip and we are not being thrown around the saloon like pin-balls. Right now there is no moon, but the brilliance of the stars at night is breathtaking. As we head further and further south, the old familiar constellations dip lower towards the northern horizon, and hitherto unseen southern constellations appear for the first time. These “new” constellations will be our companions for the next few years. We will get to know them well as we learn the art of astro-navigation.


After a pre-prandial G&T, yesterday evening I cooked chilli con carne which is the specialité du bateaux (you can see my French is coming along in leaps and bounds). Lawrence will be fed up to the back teeth with it by the time he leaves the boat. 


And talking of French, the only people in the world to be worse than the British for learning foreign languages are the French, so three-quarters of the fleet are Frenchmen who speak no English and one quarter are Englishmen who speak no French. At certain times of the day, everybody tunes into a particular radio frequency on which we take it in turns to check in, hear any announcements and ask any questions. At yesterday evening’s net I wanted to ask a question which was beyond my limited French. When it was my turn, I asked the net controller “Parlez-vous anglais?” “Non” came the reply. And that was it! So much for English being the official lingua franca  of the sea. What I do like about the French is their sense of priority. When each skipper was signing off from the radio net there was none of the formal, clipped “Roger, wilco, and standing by on channel One-Fiver. Mina2 out.” that you would get on a British run net. It was all “Bon soirée tous le monde et bon appetit!”


On the subject of bon appetit, we had a little excitement this morning. Richard cooked a delicious breakfast of eggs, bacon, sausages, tomatoes and toast and had just pulled it all together and put the plates on the table when the spinnaker sheet shackle detached itself and the cruising chute started flogging itself to death. (Landlubbers can miss the next bit – it’s going to get a little technical). Whilst trying to bring the lazy sheet round to the working side, that too came detached. Attempting to douse the spinnaker with the squeezer, the squeezer jammed, so we bore away to bring the chute under the lee of the main, did a conventional drop onto the foredeck, unjammed the squeezer, fed the chute back into it, reattached the sheets and hoisted again. It probably took about 15-20 minutes and we probably lost a mile which we will have to make up, but the important thing is that the oven which was caretaking our breakfast was still warm and once we were stomping along again, we enjoyed the breakfast all the more. I am blessed with a magnificent crew that deal with an interrupted breakfast just like any other major crisis.


P.S.  Richard’s poetic bon mot (there we go again – I simply can’t stop the French from gushing out):


“The horizon behind us is positively pock-marked with sails, like the skin of a greasy adolescent!”

“Looking forwards, I feel like Columbus searching the horizon for the New World


Bernard Moitessier, eat your heart out.