Since a couple of you have asked for it, here is a rather long account of the race finish, as far as I can remember it through the excitement (not to mention the rum).
When I last wrote it was early morning on the last day of the race, and we could see GB more or less on our beam, upwind and on the horizon. We could also see Jamaica, and the point we had to claw our way around before we'd be able to bear away towards the finish. It was agonizing, sitting on the rail – from the high side we could only watch as their sails got bigger and closer. They did not seem to be drawing ahead, but we knew they had a better wind angle, and should be able to sail a little more free and fast than we could, and still make it round the point.
Our watch was over at 8am, but it was hard to contemplate going below to sleep with the race hanging in the balance. It was clear it would be a long day though, so I eventually went down at about 9:30 just to get out of the sun, and to try to read a book and think about something – anything – other than the race for a couple of hours. Jules, as mother, was getting ready to make bread, she said in case we didn't get in before dinner time, but I think she was trying to distract herself too. By the time I'd helped her find a recipe for a raisin and walnut loaf, the word came from upstairs to sleep on the low side, as the wind had lightened so much. Probably not good news.
To my surprise, I actually slept for an hour or so. I woke up to the familiar sound of a winch rotating on deck. I thought it was a running back stay, which could only mean we were preparing for the dreaded and very costly tack to clear Point Moran. Definitely not good news. I was puzzled though, in my half asleep state, as Henrietta's angle of heel did not change. And looking through the open port above my head, I could see a curious line leading across the cockpit. It took me quite a while to realize that Port watch had raised the wiindseeker as we'd hit winds so light that GB and the boats behind were all making gains on us.
But at least we hadn't tacked. There was still a lot of activity up on deck, and then I heard Eric talking to the race office, reporting our position and telling them that we had GB neck and neck and Switzerland about 4 miles behind. iI gave up the idea of sleep and went up. The first thing I saw was GB, on the starboard side, now just about ahead, and using their free-er wind angle to fly their A1. The second thing was land – the point now long , low, and green, and VERY close on the port side. We just had to clear the shallows, then we too would be able to raise the spinnaker. You can guess it was pretty tense on board as we pushed the boat as close to the wind as the sail could go, while watching GB pulling away from us with their bigger sail. Morgan and the rest of Port watch had everything set up for the peel (when we raise the new sail before we drop the old one), and we just had to wait – checking and double checking that every line was run right and everybody knew what their job would be – until we could make the turn.
Soon enough the time came, and we managed a flawless peel – huge relief all round, but we still had to catch GB, clear ahead and flying along. Eric came up from the nav station and said we now had 20 miles to make up half a mile. That actually didn't sound so bad – one thing we know we're good at is coming from behind, especially when we're flying a kite. So we settled down to do it. For an hour I trimmed for all I was worth, squinting into the sun directly overhead, concentrating so hard on the curl in the sail that I had no time to see if first Nick, then Eric, on the helm was making any ground on the boat ahead. At first we had to sail the kite as close to the wind as it would go without collapsing, – something it was never designed for – until,we turned another corner and were able, at last, to sail down wind. When Nick took over trim and I became a piece of moveable ballast, I could see we were gaining, bit by bitt, although the distance between us was expanding and contracting like a rubber band with every puff or lull in the breeze.
We were gaining, but as Eric always says, it is easy to catch up with another boat, but very hard to actually pass them. Eric had a plan though, and we sat ourselves on their leeward quarter, and watched them like hawks for the first sign that they were about to gybe. We were set up to gybe the instant they did, so that we'd get inside them in the turn. In the end, with bearings to the finish confirmed by Ryan and Chris down in the nav station, we gybed first. GB followed, but we were now inside, between them and the finish – about 2 miles to,go, and we were no longer behind!
It was still neck and neck though, and now, as the windward boat, we were bound by the racing rules,of sailing to keep clear of GB. As we hurtled in towards Jamaica's dramatic jungly coastline, It was comforting to know that the same rules also forbade GB from running us right up onto the beach. It soon became apparent that we were not going to make the finish on our current course. That meant another 2 gybes, with GB matching us move for move, and trying to snatch back the inside position. If we hadn't been working so hard we'd have held our collective breath through each gybe, but the teamwork was great and they went smoothly. There was some tense back and forth between Eric and the navigators as they established the bearings to each end of the line, the courses we could sail on each gybe, and which end of the line was actually closest. On the out-to-sea gybe, GB were windward, meaning we could hold our course and have a little time to think. But on that last gybe back towards Folly Point and the finish, GB did manage to get inside us. They were still behind, but so close we were sometimes overlapped. Now we could hear their trimmer's voice, and practically see the whites of their eyes. We sat on the rail, hiking out as hard as we could as they made repeated attempts to lunge upwind and overtake on our windward side. It was not good for,our collective blood pressure!
By now we could see the lighthouse, and try to pinpoint the imaginary line stretching from it. We also,had a small white sport-fishing boat dead ahead – at least a few of us did not realize it was the Clipper media boat, and wondered if we'd be disqualified if we ran it down! GB suddenly gave up their attempts to pass us, and headed off towards the north end of the line. Another flurry of consternation – Chris and Ryan had to confirm that yes, the south end was still closest, and no, the line had not been altered or lengthened to make GB''s course the optimal one. There was an almost plaintive 'we must be close' from Eric, seconds of silence from the nav station, and then, 'we're over!' With the rocky shoreline of Port Antonio rushing towards us there was scarcely time for a few whoops of delight before we had to get the kite down. But we'd done it – 31 seconds ahead, our most satisfying finish so far!