We are underway at last. Our mainsail is set on our port side, our big genoa poled out on starboard and our smaller jib sheeted in to give us that extra half a knot, a new innovation suggested by Eddie at Oyster that we like a lot. Half a knot over two weeks could get us to the rum punches in St Lucia almost a day earlier.
The morning of the start dawned bright and sunny with a fresh breeze but none of the shrieking squalls of the previous day. The brass band had been recalled for another performance, the stirring brass section and rattle of snare drums adding further to the mood of nervous excitement, palpable around the marina. Crews dressed in their tribal uniforms, dinghies being stowed, hose pipes coiled, pasarels retrieved; all the usual paraphernalia of departure but with a frisson of tension as each individual went about their tasks, anticipating the moments ahead.
At last it was time to cast off; nervous smiles and good wishes to the crews on either side, a brief exchange with Mervyn and then we slip our lines and join the procession of boats filing out of the marina, past the big breakwater lined with spectators, all waving spectators of this unique sight of two hundred yachts, about to disappear over the horizon to distant shores.
We hang back at the start; a tanker is moored in the middle of the improvised start line and we go behind it so as not to fall into its wind shadow. The committee boat is a bright orange tug, marking the middle of the mile-long start line. We hear the five-minute warning, then the three-two-one countdown to the start, which is marked by the crack of a gun. Cheers echo around the water from boats in the huge fleet and we are off and trimming Juno for speed, but sailing conservatively, keeping our distance from other boats as best we can. As we round the outer breakwater the big swell caused by the storm is running high, bringing further drama to the moment but the wind is fresh, the sun is out and we are all excited to be part of this, the biggest ocean rally in the world.
As the afternoon wears on, the wind strengthens with over 30 knots gusting off the hills in the acceleration zone and we are making ten knots. I reef early remembering a big broach last time when Kim and I were overpowered on this very spot. Some boats have set spinnakers and we watch them struggle to contain these fluorescent monsters, which attempt to rip themselves free as the wind builds and feeds their ferocious appetites. Then suddenly the wind drains away as if by magic and all is calm; we are in the wind shadow of the island and soon completely becalmed. After a brief and fruitless spell with the spinnaker we start the engine and in ten short minutes we are again out of the shadow and into the breeze, turning off our engine to minimise the time penalty.
It is a bumpy first night as we continue to sail south, gybing west at midnight once we are clear of the island. Despite the broken sleep, dawn brings its generous helping of optimism and soon Paul and I are having breakfast of hard-boiled eggs with toasted baguettes and coffee in the cockpit. We are sailing due west and I am keen to make some more south as an area of lighter airs is forecasted to develop south of Tenerife. We have practised setting the spinnaker pole in the marina but it is always more challenging on the pitching deck in a big sea but we are all harnessed on, wearing lifejackets and our rehearsals prove worthwhile as the pole goes out without a hitch. Kez and I are on the foredeck with Fatty and Paulus running the boat from the cockpit and handling the guys and sheets. Soon the big genoa is poled out on starboard, the main on port and we are surfing down the waves at nine knots steady as a rock.
The sun is starting to dip in the western sky now so before dark falls we will set Juno up for the night and then our six pm ritual of peanuts and drinks before supper. Good progress today, more tomorrow.