Sailing: High winds, higher hopes and goodbye to solitude

Emma Richards, who sets sail from Le Havre today in the double-handed Jacques Vabre transatlantic race, looks ahead to a tough contest in the race to the Brazilian port of Salvador
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Sunday 26 October, Le Havre, 10pm

My solo navigation in the Around Alone race, which ended in May, seems an age ago now. Since then, my sponsors, Pindar, have bought a state-of-the-art 60ft yacht for me to race over the next three years. We've spent the summer refitting and customising it with one specific goal - to be real contenders in the Transat Jacques Vabre. It's a double-handed event to Brazil, some 4,430 nautical miles. I'm fortunate that my co-skipper will be Mike Sanderson. As you might have read recently in The Independent, Mike also happens to be my boyfriend. That played no part in choosing him for the TJV. In fact, I seriously considered not teaming up with him for that reason. But if you want to win, you have to sail with the best. And he's one of the world's leading sailors. He's a veteran of the America's Cup and Volvo Ocean races and most recently contributed to the shattering of the transatlantic speed record as the helmsman aboard Mari Cha IV. Decision made. Romance had nothing to do with it.He can extract every ounce of boat speed from the wind. We'll need it. The two fleets - monohull, of which we're a part, and multihull - comprise the most impressive selection of racing machines this race has ever seen. The race village is buzzing. Sailing in France is like football in England, massive. There are thousands here already and still six days to go.

Monday 27 October, 6pm

We had an early start on the water, carrying out final tests on the sail configurations. It's fantastic to be sailing with someone again. You don't have to cope with the kind of solitude I hated in the Around Alone. Being double-handed also changes the primary aim from survival to making the boat go as fast as possible. Today is the birthday of my sponsor, Andrew Pindar. Sailors aren't renowned for turning down a chance to party and there'll be an immense turn-out - all the race skippers and crews for a start - for tonight's knees-up aboard Pindar's support ship, The Hatherleigh.

Tuesday 28 October, 11pm

The party went on until the early hours but it was back to work first thing. The weather forecast for Saturday looks increasingly tough. The prediction is for 30 knots on the nose, an uncomfortable start. If that transpires, the race could be won or lost in the first three days. The chance of damage is high. Due to the extreme conditions, we're going to use a stronger mainsail than the lighter one we'd planned to take. It means extra weight but we'll use the wind more effectively. We also met with our marketing team today to decide whether to put together a syndicate to enter the Volvo Ocean race in 2005-06. That might seem a long way off, but when you need to raise £10m, you need to start planning. If sponsorship is not in place by next June, it's a non-starter. If anyone at Vodafone or BMW is reading this, you know where I am!

Wednesday 29 October, 6pm

The race director decided today that the race will start as planned despite the weather. This isn't because the conditions are easing but because they'll get even worse with a delay, which was an option. Everything is shipshape except me. I've been feeling fluey and I've almost lost my voice.

Thursday 30 October, 10pm

Two days to go. Maximum speed is the aim so we've even removed all the light fittings down below. We'll wear head torches instead. We've also gone for a slightly different boom, it's the only mast-stepped boom (which means attached to the mast as opposed to the deck) in the fleet. It's potentially faster but with the weather as it is, it's a definite risk.

Friday 31 October, 4pm

Twenty-four hours and counting. Though I've sailed round the world alone and done two TJVs before, I still find it daunting to face such a high-calibre fleet and the dangers of the Atlantic. After the Around Alone, I also know expectations have risen. I just hope we can live up to it. The forecast is for Gale Force 8 winds of up to 30 knots. But the waiting is nearly over, which is fine by me. As Eric Tabarly, one of sailing's legends, said, "Pour la mer, pour le passion."

Emma Richards will be reporting regularly in The Independent from the Jacques Vabre race