By Jerry Freeman.
I have wonderful memories of my two Azabs in Alice’s Mirror, my 30 foot water ballasted flier did her first Azab in 1983 with Chris Smith outbound solo in 8 days 23 hours and her last in 2003, returning solo in 7 days 15 hrs.
My French boy friend, Laurent Noel returned for the first leg in 2003 after our success in 1999, laden with tins of canard, saucisson and family sized deodorant. As usual we fasted for the first three days and found our sea legs in the standard SW 5 to 6. By Monday we were down to storm jib and three reefs, the crew cowered below, the log at 0320 Tuesday notes; ‘Dead slow to knackered’ 4.5kts at 275 deg. We eventually found more settled weather but progress was slow, only getting to half way by 1900 hrs on the Thursday for the celebratory curry.
The two pigeons had come aboard about midday, no doubt confused by the very bright full moon and flying west from Spain, we were in 13.30degrees west at the time. We boxed them up and stowed them on the cabin floor to confine the mess to one place. In the dark with Laurent in the best bunk, his sick bucket and the pigeon box presented quite an obstacle course in the cabin when getting forward to the chart table and galley. We refined their cage with two perforated plastic vegetable boxes that we could wash in the sea and built them a proper drinker from a Pepsi can.
The best invention of the first leg was the spinnaker net, cobbled together from gash ropes and sail tiers it was perfect for preventing the spi from wrapping around the forestay in the big swell and light winds or when sailing deep in the dark, an absolute must for Azab, especially if you nod off or cannot see the spi in the black nights.
The pigeons preened on deck for most of the morning as we sailed along the southern coast of St Miguel but they were not inclined to leave until we had crossed the finish line, probably worried about the racing rules as regards crew. After one brief lap of the harbour they landed on Torbellino, Rob Craigie’s previous Sigma 38, an excellent choice.
Before he flew back Laurent offered me his spare CO2 bottle for my life jacket as he could not take it on the aircraft. He opened up my life jacket to check it would fit ok; No bottle! I had removed the empty bottle after survival training in the swimming pool in March 2000 pre Ostar and not replaced it since! Happily completing the Torquay Triangle and the RBI in blissful ignorance.
The race back solo was excellent, after a 24 hour postponement of the start to Tuesday for lack of breeze, most boats took the westward route around the island, carrying spinnakers in a warm light WSW. I was prompted to render the first verse of ’Home home on the range’ over the VHF before rushing on deck to hoist the spinnaker clew first, I don’t think anyone noticed!
I had just finished sponge drying the bilges on day 5, the Sunday and was relaxing , content with progress and weather when we came to a sudden stop, not a crash , more like running into a big jelly, I rushed on deck expecting to see a whale with the hump but nothing was in sight. A quick check of the still dry bilges confirmed no damage and we pressed on while I got my pulse rate back to normal.
It was around that time that we perfected the Dump-Gybe, a very useful technique for single handers that you will not find in the RYA manual. Running deep under autopilot the skippers takes his constitutional on the bucket in the cockpit, an inconvenient wave causes the boom to crash over, with the low profile skipper safe below the deadly arc, the shock causes the desired action in the bowels and moments later the boom crashes back. To the outside observer this would appear as a seamless and practiced combination move.
The position 46 north 13 west was very familiar for Alice, I calculated that she had been here 16 times in 20 years of racing, three Ostars and three return Atlantic crossing , ‘84, ‘88, ‘92,and five Azabs (10 visits), not bad for a little wooden boat that is deemed not seaworthy by the brains at Lymington. Hands up any boat that can match that?
Dolphins are frequent visitors on the Azab and through the wooden laminated hull I could hear them calling , I often played loud music back to them, the Eagles were popular and Hotel California a particular favourite.
Hallucinations are very common when racing solo; I was often sailing past distant villages with their lights visible on the moors and once under a big bridge. My favourite was sailing down the high street in a market town when the traffic lights changed to red, I leaned the boat against the adjacent shop front until the lights changed to green and then sailed on, as you would too I guess?
We finished at Black Rock in a deluge of heavy rain and very light winds at 0300 on the Wednesday, 7 days 15 hours at an average speed of 6.25 knots with four daily runs each over 160 miles.