Finally away

Mon 24 Nov 2008 17:29
Skippers briefing.  Main point of interest was the weather and the best course to take.  The weather forecaster bravely  said that there was little doubt that going south to Cape Verde and then along the Trade Winds was the the only way to go, there being a big area of no wind along the more direct route.  Beware of the accelleration zone of high wind off the southern end of the island and don't get caught in the wind shadow that can extend some hundreds of miles.
Everybody is pretty sorted by now but is panic impulse buying non-essential stores.  Our few tasty cheeses appeared shamefully tame against some scandinavians in the next checkout queue who were wielding a whole spanish ham complete with hoof,  viking style.  Massive bunches, cut straight from the plant, of green bananas are lashed to the decks of several yachts along our dock.  Thank goodness we didn't tick "bananas" on the order form halpfully provided to all the boats by the local vegetable wholesaler.  Went to the very smart department store in search of English newspapers and the girl at the magazine department nodded enthusiastically and pointed proudly at the the Sun and the Daily Star.  Sweet.
Very good dinner at the hospitable Club and then back to the boat for an early night (it slipped to brandy and cigars) to watch midnight fireworks let off from the end of the dock.  The noise was as dramatic as the display.
Everyone in their smartest logoed shirts being photographed by wives and sweethearts and all the crews wishing one another well.  The noisy, cheerful marching band added to the carnival atmosphere, the weather was bright and sunny, waving crowds lined dock walls and the wind was a light moderate breeze giving a running start.  Our attitude to starting (a term borrowed from the safety examiners who were very careful in their choice of language incase something they said could be construed as a recommendation) was that we would make a reasonable start for the fun of the game but not be too keen and be a bit late to avoid a melee on the line, 30 seconds late would be just fine.  Got out onto the water, sails up early to get a feel for the boat, the conditions and the water.  Watched the racing division start and clocked thte best tactics, then made a couple of preparatory ciruits round the bay and at 1 minute 40 seconds tacked and made our run for the line.  In no time we were pursued by highly polished hulls at least half as big as us again.  We all forced to dodge to right and left as a mad catamaran wildly and inexplicably dashed wildly and blindly through the fleet going the wrong way on port.  Incredibly the tightly packed fleet managed to avoid it and one another.  Then things got tight indeed.  As we approached the line we were being squeezed tighter and tighter together by a spectator boat on one side and yachts determined not to be forced over the line early on the other.  We were drawn inextricably into this funnel of closing yachts and choppy, corkscrewing water and ended up with one highly polished bow just a few feet away (sometimes less) on our starboard side and the same on our port side.  A collision was less than a second away.  The three of us walked this perilous, very high stake tightrope in absolute silence, not a word from any of the crew either.  This was really serious, not a time for any posturing or advice.  At last the start gun went and the squeeze was off, one crew member still just feet away understatedly offered,"Hairy start".  I would have liked to have said, "Oh really?", but my throat was too dry to utter a word.
As we all breathed more easily and laughed nervously we realised that the genoa had got itself stuck, it would not furl, unfurl or come down.  We spent the next three hours ignominiously pulling it this way and that and at last we licked it.  Luckily brave Fiona's offer to go aloft was not tested.
Posted by Andrew bravely and expertly skippering Moondancer for the start!