Things go from bad to worse for Will when the wind picks up and he's hit by the boom while trying to reef the main

The weather briefing and farewell dinner were all very nice but I might as well have been on another planet. They drew different conclusions than I did. I had a very bad feeling about the whole thing.

That night I hardly slept. The next morning I was up before the crack of dawn checking different weather sites for a glimmer of hope. They drew a very confused picture. The fact that the autopilot had died and that our crew did a runner meant that to all intents and purposes we were two down for the trip.

The mayor and press came round to wish every a good trip. Yanni bade goodbye to his fishing friends. The signal to depart came as a great relief – it cleared my mind. All yachts circled before the starting line. Five minutes to go – let’s get this show on the road!

One hour in we were in third position. An adrenaline rush kicked in. The previous day I had placed Yanita in the slow group. I had figured us to arrive somewhere on Saturday afternoon. If we kept this up, we’d be there on Friday. We got buzzed by Sea Harriers a couple of times. Same pattern every time – target practice. An ominous sign.

Start Point loomed on the horizon. I had sort of planned to follow the rally organisers’ advice and get as much westing in as possible. The plan was to head in a straight line from Start Point to Lizard Point, then head south. The westerly wind meant we would be on a dead run all the way. The ocean swell kicked in as soon as we rounded the corner. Yanita started to roll very uncomfortably. The crew changed colour. This was not the way to go. We set a southwesterly course on a straight line to the outside of the Brest traffic separation scheme. Cracking along at over 7kts, we were making great progress. It was not to last.

Disaster strikes

As night fell, the wind shifted south and increased. Constant windspeeds in the high 20s and low 30s over deck. We needed another reef, and we needed it quick. Brigitte took the helm and steered us into the wind, Evita stood-by at the main halyard. I clambered forward toward the mast. I felt seasick for the first time in years. It was very hard to bring down the main. My fingers were wet and cold, hardly any grip at all. Disaster struck: we rolled – the boom swung out and hit me on the forehead. I started to throw up almost immediately. Dazed and concussed (I guess), I took me another 15 minutes to complete the reef.

Brigitte took the helm for an hour while I went down below to defrost and dry out for a bit. I warmed a bit, but stayed soaking wet. When I woke, a quick look at the plotter showed that the French coast had to be just beyond the horizon. Evita looked at me in a begging fashion: ‘we’re not ready for this, dad!’

Whilst I was down below we had not covered the ground we should have. In fact with both wind and tide against us, we were making hardly any progress at all.

Went up to relieve Brigitte at the helm. ‘We can’t keep this up for four days’ she said. Before I could reply the decision was made for me – the electrics went (again). In a way it came as a relief. For the past two days I had felt like Donald Crowhurst on his final night: waiting for someone to ask me not to go.

Desperately seeking a port

Where to? Northern Brittany is very inhospitable. No light down below. The nearest waypoint programmed in the handheld GPS (damn! I meant to program in the new route) was southwest of Guernsey. That would have to do. The wind allowed for a broad reach and the tide was with us. Everyone went below to catch some sleep, and I started my lonely vigil at the helm. Over 75NM to go. At least we made good speed, keeping up 8 knots plus over the ground.

The lights of Guernsey came as a great relief. At four a message from St Peter Port radio – harbour and marina full. Yachts to go elsewhere. As far as I was concerned, there was nowhere else! We found ourselves off St Peter Port just before dawn. No room at the inn? Against all hope we found a spot on the marina waiting pontoon.

I crashed down below, and slept the sleep of the saved. I do not snore, but apparently they complained about the noise three boats down. Woke before lunch to get into the marina proper and have the first meal in over 24hrs.

Off to look for parts to fix the electrics. The harbour master proved most helpful. Got the required parts the next day. Took a day or two to recharge the batteries – those of both Yanita and crew. We did touristy things: walked around town, visited Herm Island, ate proper meals.

Today I discussed our options with the family: rejoin the rally at La Trinite or make our way back at a leisurely pace. I have planned for both. But if the weather allows, we will head for L’Aber Wrach in the morning. I’m desperate for my taste of the Atlantic. After all, that’s why we’re here in the first place.