After an August devoted to a tour of the British Isles, Mary Taberley, skipper of Penn Duke VI, tells us about her adventures. Raw story!
A challenging 1,800 mile course
Penn-Duke VI also returned overnight to her home port of Lorient from Thursday to Friday. The month of August was devoted to the race of the season, the Tour of the British Isles. A difficult course, 1,800 miles starting at one of the regatta’s high points: Cowes, a small village on the Isle of Wight in the south of England. The route should take us from the east of the island, past the fastnet and along the entire west coast of Ireland. Then we ride across Scotland again, heading north of the Shetland Islands to reach 60°N latitude. After crossing the Muckle Fluggher we face the North Sea descent, watch out for channel boat traffic and return to Cowes.
To command Penn-Duke VI, I gathered a group of warriors who I wanted to brave the cold and somewhat turbulent sea conditions, imagining them in the complex conditions of the south. In tactics, another warrior: Alexia Barrier. A finisher of the last Vendée Globe and never one to miss an opportunity to sail anything that floats, Alexia is furious to follow her dreams and unconditional love for the ocean. For the rest of the season, the goal is to improve this beautiful boat, make a clean copy, and of course select the best volunteers for this new crew.
Longest run of RORC
A tour of the British Isles only happens every 4 years. In other years, it is tested in the form of records, in the sense we need. It is the longest race (apart from the Atlantic Race) on the RORC calendar (the Royal Ocean Racing Club, more of an offshore racing organisation). Essentially, the Tour of the British Isles is the “coastal course world championship”, often in complex seas and winds. However. Instead of playing next to the pig in a dam jumping environment (which we really love!) we competed in the “Quiet World Championships”! Total discomfort! You should have seen Alexia’s face as soon as you saw the first routings, ETA 14 days… what?! There is no wind whether going up or down.
From the first mile, we understand. We understand it can be long. Bullets round the Isle of Wight. The current in the English Channel is a real conveyor belt, so for 6 hours, it’s ok, but for the next 6 hours we suffer. We arrive in the south of Ireland feeling like we’ve been gone for a week. We look for chain tacks, long, very long quarter helms in the middle of a dodger, for the little giggle. We comfort ourselves by telling ourselves that this is the same situation for all boats, and above all Penn-Duke VI seems to do well in light winds despite her 34 tons.
Rationing of food in sight
The amount of food should be adjusted from the second day. On board, there are no freeze-dried products and we have a person dedicated to the kitchen and stock management. Being a cook on a 12-person boat is a full-time job: a cook is one of the most important positions on a boat. We reduce the ration a little, hide the biscuits and cakes above all, it is very easy to fill the boredom with food and nibbles!
Something we don’t ration: Coffee! Thanks to our partner Lobodis, we have kilos of them on board! Thanks to them, besides being delicious and responsible, he wakes us up because the nights are long. And coffee, we’re going to drink liters of it. You don’t need to sleep to squeeze every wind. Alexia and I are pretty light sleepers to keep the boat going, we average 3-4 hours of sleep in 24 hour increments. On the plane, we work in 3-person shifts, each shift lasting 3 hours. Alexia, the cook and I went in shifts.
A heavy lull in the GRIBs
This calm gives us the opportunity to regularly observe fin whales circling the boat. With so many birds and dolphins at the same time, we must be in the middle of their restaurant. Wind shifts follow each other and we try to keep our spirits on board. Alexia boosts the morale of the troops by constantly hunting for better settings, and is glued to the chart table, going through the hopelessly blue weather files, hoping to find the best way to get us out of this.
It’s been 5, 6 days without wind. Physically, bodies that do not exert themselves suffer and time is longer. No matter how spectacular the scenery, sunsets are long and beautiful, starry nights, but it is long. Even the barbules disappeared from the files, giving way to circles, symbolizing the sheer emptiness of the wind… To prevent damage to the headsails, we had to lower the headsails for several hours. We are like caged lions.
On board, we don’t have internet, so we only get ranking information when we’re close to shore. We have the lowest rating in IRC 1, the category of large boats.
So we will be competing against 4 more modern and efficient boats, which in theory should get ahead of us, but it will be compensatory time that counts. They are all indebted to us, so the gap with them should be minimized.
Finally a breeze!
At the top of Ireland, the other competitors in IRC1 are 50 miles ahead and we learn of the retirement of two of our rivals. We don’t let go and finally, after 9 days (9 days!!!) of calm, the wind is back! In time, I started drawing the hanged men in the logbook! Penn-Duke VI finally extends the lead. We were passing St-Kilda Island in 20-25 knot winds and the crew understood why I liked the wind upwind! While all the boats slow down in the waves, we speed up. We board the group of boats we’ve been with since the start, and finally the 6th stretches its keel, and the morale of the troops soars!
60° North, the Shetland Islands! No ponies to be seen, but we pass them at night anyway. But the nice surprise is to realize that we are at the top of the classification, another competitor has withdrawn from the competition and our last competitor still hasn’t put enough distance between him and us to save his rating. We’re counting down to the end of the fair…(briefly…) so let’s not go, there’s still half the race to go and no time to slow down. So we’re not slowing down, but the wind… another peak to control, we’ll land in light winds, but still around 9 to 10 knots, which is luxurious compared to the 0-2 knots of the first week. .
Wind farms stand in our way
On the other hand, we have to deal with wind farms and dozens of existing oil platforms in the North Sea. Honestly, it’s impressive. Although I updated the nautical charts at the beginning of the year, the parks do not appear, and worse, they do not have AIS (AIS is an identification system that allows them to appear on control screens). We won’t get into the wind power debate here, but you have to see these parks, these huge wind farms, the smallest of which still has 70 wind turbines. On board, we wonder how many liters of concrete it takes to build their foundations… when it’s not wind turbines, it’s oil rigs.
There are always four or five people around us. At night it’s Disneyland. Between the lights of the platforms and the windmills, we have the feeling of being in the middle of the city. It’s scary.
In the West of Ireland, we saw lots of whales, dolphins, seals, puffins and a variety of birds. In the North Sea, no one…not a sign of life! Even worse, not a bird, nothing in the sky… a no man’s land.
Return to Channel, DST Management, Maritime Transport. As soon as we pick up some GSM signal, we check the ranking, always first… so we focus on getting past the shoals and currents in the south of England. The light breeze leaves us, still giving way to a large soft zone. We do not sleep, we approach the goal, it passes!
On Monday, August 22nd, Penn-Duke VI crossed the finish line and promised me an unexpected victory on my birthday!
The purpose of the season was to prepare for the world tour, select the crew, and prepare the winter yard. Winning the Dream Cup was already a nice surprise, but winning the legendary tour of the British Isles? So, I didn’t even dare to think about it!
Back in Lorient, Penn-Duke VI is now broken and in a shed for 3 months. But since this paper is already long enough for a windless day, we’ll let the Elemen Terre Games pass and I’ll get back to you with the end-of-season report paper, site presentation, crew selection and announcement. Quick program!
Text: Mary Tabarley.
Tv fanatic. Amateur food maven. Devoted webaholic. Travel lover. Entrepreneur. Evil writer. Beer guru.