25 November 2020 - 09:02 • 12162 views

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And so the glory days are coming to an end, slowly but surely my small peleton has overtaken me and my job now is to hang on to their coat tails for as long as I can.
It was always going to happen and I don't feel bad at all, in fact I am immensely proud for having stuck it out in front for so long. We are now on a three day fetch down the Brazilian coast, wind angle between 55 and 70 degrees, sailing in a straight line, there are basically no tactics on this leg other than sail fast and then we are constrained by the boats we have. Medallia has done me so proud to this point but the fact is that a 20 year old design just does not have the power on a straight line fetching course that the more modern boats have. We are all sailing as fast as we can and Medallia just cannot go any faster.

My new goal now, rather than staying ahead is to try and keep as close to the others as I can. If they are averaging 1.5 knots faster than my average speed for the next three days I will loose 108 miles to them which could mean the difference between jumping on a cold front or not when it comes down to our passage into the Southern ocean, but equally it is a recoverable distance as well. I would still be in with a chance of catching up again and so I need to sail fast.

We changed a lot on Medallia in the six months prior to the start of the Vendee, including investing in a whole new sail wardrobe and some outriggers and that meant in terms of how the boat handled and what speeds it could achieve we had to rewrite the book on how to sail this boat fast. Through September and October I went out as religiously as possible and with Paul, we recorded new polars (these are the top speeds the boat could travel in any given wind angle or strength) for the boat. This involved sailing out into Poole bay, then setting the boat up and sailing it for 5 mins at 40 degrees to the wind, then 50, then 60 and so on. Then repeating on the other tack. Always making sure the boat was up to full speed and the correct sails were up for conditions. We recorded all of this data and then sent it away to be analysed, processed and returned to me with a new set of polars that help me now with my weather routing and my performance analysis.

Right now I am using this information all the time to keep pushing Medallia forwards, to make sure I am not wasting even a tiny 0.1 of speed. My days and nights are spent in the cockpit, gazing at the numbers on my instruments, monitoring Course, wind angle, boat speed then checking my rudder angles, the heel angle and how well I am doing against my polars. Any time I feel the boat speed drop I am trying to understand why. If I am under performing against my polars, I tweak, trim, steer up or down a couple of degrees, fine tuning to get my speed back up again. Always wondering if I could be faster. When I have consistently outperformed my polars I adjust them - I am after all still learning how to make this boat go fast and this knowledge I need to bank so we keep developing together.

It's relentless work, takes a huge amount of focus but I love the open endedness of this kind of challenge. There is no-one to say you could not do better, you just have to try. Sometimes what I try makes the boat go slower, then I know not to try that again. I am in my own little bubble, I can't see my opposition so I have to drive myself. I put on one of my many play lists, feel the music, feel the boat and get absorbed in the numbers and the ocean. When I feel we are going well I will take a nap, on my bean bag placed carefully so when I open my eyes I am looking directly up at my instruments. From my bed I can steer the boat up or down a couple of degrees to help with speed... but I can't trim.

I will try hard to stay on the pace for the next couple of days, if I can stay in touch there are possibilities, and with possibilities anything could happen.