Solo on the Sixty

13th Oct, 2016

Click here to watch the video!

Last week I was able to set sail onboard the IMOCA 60, 'A2' for my solo training camp with coaches Dee Caffari (MBE) and Mikey Ferguson.

We had an ideal wind direction - consistent Easterlies, due to being inside a very large high pressure system originating from Scandinavia. The plan was to sail from the Solent to Eddystone Lighthouse (Plymouth) and back, with a few windward-leeward loops along the way.

Unfortunately, I wasn't to enjoy the light winds and sunshine that you normally associate with high pressure systems. The wind was being funnelled and squeezed between England and France, becoming very strong (the 'venturi effect') - while a shallow low pressure system had also developed over Europe.

Faced with a Force 8 in the Solent and up to a Force 11 further West - and therefore 60 knots of wind in the English Channel - training was to be limited to the Solent and on the pontoon!

On day one, we set off into a very lumpy sea. It was so rough I could barely stay seated on the side of the boat!

After putting in a few fully crewed tacks with Dee and Mikey, it was my turn to go solo - despite it still gusting over 30 knots in the Eastern Solent. I did 10 solo tacks before we had reached Portsmouth, which was pretty full on. There are a lot of things to remember; canting the keel, raising and lowering daggerboards, selecting the right gear for the winches, pulling the right there wasn't a lot of time to recover between each manouvere!

By the end of all the tacking practice I had the procedure sorted, but was starting to wish that I had a few tins of spinach in the food bag - having bigger muscles (like Popeye) would definitely speed up everything onboard!

With the wind increasing, gusting over 60 knots in the channel, the conditions were far from ideal to learn how to sail a 60 foot boat solo. By late afternoon we headed back for home, but no training time was wasted; Dee & Mikey immediately set me to work on reefing, unreefing and reefing again the mainsail!

Spending the entire day grinding the winches, I got a great sense of just how physical the IMOCA 60 is to sail solo. Doing anything onboard takes an incredible effort - it's a mix of endurance (like marathon running or cycling up a mountain) and sheer strength (think Olympic weight lifting). I'm pleased that I managed to do everything myself, but I'll be hitting the gym hard over the winter - next year I'll be back stronger!

After a good dinner (or two), I spent the evening laboriously writing up all my notes, revising for the next day.

Unfortunately Wednesday proved even windier, and so it was impossible to leave the Solent. However I still got in some more tacking and reefing practice, before going through a number of dry drills on the dock. Over the course of the training I picked up plenty of tips from Dee, and know feel I have a good understanding of every manouvere onboard.

Southampton Boat Show & #PitchPerfect

Just before my IMOCA 60 training, I spent a few days at the Southampton Boat Show catching up with my current sponsors and also meeting potential new supporters. A great way to practice my 'pitching skills' ahead of my #Vendee2020Vision #PitchPerfect training sessions!

Pitching my current and future projects to two major companies - Harrods and Grant Thornton - was a fantastic learning experience. I had not been in a boardroom before, and it really was quite like 'Dragon's Den'; just without the mouldy and damp building!

Having put a lot of work into my presentations I was happy with the positive feedback, and I'm looking forward to putting the skills I've learnt into practice as I meet new potential sponsors over the coming months.