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Our Last Night at Sea – by Philippe Falle

I have already written and posted my last philosophical and deep literary (non) masterpiece about life aboard Quokka as she carves her way across the Atlantic Ocean. For my final blog I want to simply draw you a picture of what life is like aboard on our last night as we close ever closer to St Lucia and the finish line, which just six weeks ago seemed unachievable, a goal out of our reach due to the cruelty of mother nature and bad luck soon after Quokka departed on her journey.

We were treated to another stunning sunset as Steve Bruce (aka Ratatouille) served up our last supper of the race. The air was warm and some of us were working on deck in just shorts and no shirts. The wind was blowing a refreshing 23 knots and spirits were running high as the day slipped away and was replaced by an enigmatic darkness. The night was quite special as it was the coming together of a fortnight’s hard work where friendships were formed and we learnt much about Quokka and all her quirks.

I am sure that Andy must swallow a packet of batteries every morning for breakfast as he has endless amounts of energy. Early in the evening he decided that he was not going to let a Lobster beat us without a fight and enticed Josh into a a superb display of trimming that put us elders to shame. It was wonderful to watch the energy that they both put into getting every last hundredth of a knot out of Quokka as we hunted down the lobster, they were perfectly in tune with the wave pattern and completely in sync with the helm demonstrating their talents and showing us why they are national champions.

Throughout the night Quokka thundered down the face of each wave creating a spine chilling roar whilst displacing 14 tonnes of water every boat length as she accelerated up to speeds of 15 knots before burying her bow into the wave in front. Sometimes Quokka would catch the next wave, as Josh and Andy perfected their trim, rise over it and hurtle down the face of it as she launched into the dark abyss with sustained speeds in the teens with no one quite knowing what would be in stall for us at the bottom!

The blackness of the night is poignant in understanding the skills of everyone on board, when I say dark I mean as dark as the ace of spades, a blackness where we can see nothing and the crisp white kite by daytime can only be described as an outline of a shape that we know is there but cannot really see, we have to feel it. Lights down below are banned and torches on deck are an unwelcomed accessory that serve only to ruin what night vision the helm might have. The trimmers and helm work tirelessly together to keep Quokka going at full pelt, every wave is felt and puff of wind dealt with as Quokka is on the edge but under control and being pushed hard. We are occasionally caught out and the helm and trimmer work hard to bring control back.

Over the last two weeks we have all learnt a huge amount about Quokka, we know her intimately well and in the powerful ocean we are like dancing partners, understanding and anticipating each others every move like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. The ocean controls us and we nurture Quokka through it as she looks after us with the reward of raw boat speed. For those of you who are familiar with Quokka you will know that downwind she had a reputation of being a little bit feisty at the best of times, like an untamed animal. Now, with a few modifications and better understanding between man and beast she is more like a lively lady wanting to dance the night away. Quokka is a finely tuned race machine that requires a perfect balance to perform and keep her on her feet. The loads are astronomical and extra care is taken at night to avoid the sharp bite that is always awaiting an unsuspecting victim. We must use all our senses including our sixth sense to make it work at night and that is only learnt with many hours at sea.

The enigmatic darkness of the night is interrupted only by the constant grinding of winches and creaking of the sheets as they are eased with meticulous precision. The crack of the kite refilling and the subsequent shudder of the mast can be felt and heard worse down below and is a sure way to get the attention of the skipper. The flicker of lightening on the horizon keeps us entertained whilst the occasional shooting star leaves a trail emblazoned in the sky as it passes overhead at thousands of miles an hour, then there was the flying fish that landed in the cockpit, much to the irritation of a perplexed Philippe (French) who was taken quite by surprise, but it amused the rest of us! If we dare look up at the sky we quickly become mesmerised by the unusual abundance of stars and the Milkyway that are unspoilt by light pollution.

As the waning moon finally came up at 0300 it was a deep and dull orange crescent where a full circle of faint light surrounded the rest of the moon that was hidden from us in darkness. As it gained height in the sky the orange glow became a brighter yellow that provided sufficient light to cast a gentle shadow over the boat. It also helped lighten the sky sufficiently to make helming much easier, requiring yet another sail change to put the larger kite up and restore Quokka to max performance. This meant everyone was needed on deck, so not much sleep for anyone tonight as the watch system is continually broken due to our lust for speed and success!

I have just finished my last night watch of this race and at 0600 I am sat at the chart table with just 65 miles left to run to the finish. We are due North of Barbados which means we have crossed the Atlantic Ocean. There are no fewer than eight new Transatlantic yachtsmen on board Quokka who have all enjoyed a life experience, an experience which we hope you have gained a good insight to through all of our blogs. Our small inshore race yacht has made it across this vast Ocean and is now ready for a well earned rest in paradise.

This race has very much been a race of the hair and tortoise, the hair has never stopped but in the dying stages has struggled to pull away from the tortoise that is plodding along behind. It has been a battle of David and Goliath where the giant slayer is holding a sword to the head of his oppressor but is unable to take that last swing for the final blood. We have now done all we can in this race and are on the last run in to Rodney Bay having given it our best whilst throwing everything we have in our armoury at it.

Once we cross the line we will have a long wait to see if we have been able to take Scarlet Oyster on corrected time. We need to beat them by about 19 hours, unless they slow up or have technical issues it is unlikely we have a large enough gap. However, it will be a tense wait to see if David can take that final swing of the sword! What we do know is that we will be in a restaurant tonight enjoying a well deserved meal at a table that is dry and does not move! You can probably guess what is on the menu……it is not that we have anything against Lobsters, but quite frankly, they can be a pain in the arse!

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