Saying Goodbye to St Maarten

The Caribbean - Sept 16th

Moleskine entry: September 17th, 2009

It’s about 6pm here on the Caribbean island of St Maarten. The Lucozade Challenges are at an end and my epic summer of travel is coming to an end.

At the time of writing, we’re all sat on the tarmac on flight LEAT509 waiting to depart to Antigua. Our plane is old school. It has propellers and as they start up outside my window, I’m reminded of my Mum’s old washing machine. I smile.

Yesterday was amazing. Three days of intense training on the 12metre F1 Americas Cup winning yacht, the Stars & Stripes, all leading up to today: THE RACE.

The winners Jon, Clare, Trevor and Al (joined by me and Sam) along with Captain Morgan, Shaun and Rob. Nine of us against ‘True North IV’, manned by some real experienced yachtsmen. We’re in it to win it and we’re not taking prisoners.

Our track looks like this:

Moleskine Image

Point A (near the top) is the start line and Point B (at the bottom) is the marker which we must sail around to come back again. Before the competition starts, the judge (on a separate boat – not pictured) raises a green flag signalling the start of a six minute countdown. It’s at this point the yachts start racing back and forth in front of the start line, jockeying for the best position and getting up enough speed for when those six minutes are up. 360 seconds later the judge raises a white flag and then the race really gets going.

It’s worth noting that in practice we had our starts nailed; passing the buoys at 6:01 over and over. On race day we did it againy taking the opposition by complete surprise; suddenly they were on the back foot and they knew it. We weren’t messing around.

For three of the seven legs we remained in the lead. Our hearts pounding. Ears out for commands from the Skipper, one eye on the next marker and the other on the competition closing in behind.

Somewhere into the fourth leg (it may have been as early as the third), Rob noticed something; the True North IV was gaining.

Now apparently, before the race today, several agreements were made about how it would be run. The main part of which we’ll come back to later butt the bit that matters most right now is that Rob and the Captain of the True North IV had a gentlemen’s agreement that they wouldn’t use a full skiff.

Well surprise surprise, when we looked up to see the True North IV suddenly gaining speed, there she was with a full skiff –

The Caribbean - Sept 16th

12 metre with just the main sail –

The Caribbean - Sept 16th

12 metre with skiff unfurled – see the difference?

Rob smiled, knowingly.

What they were doing wasn’t strictly against the rules (the judge had no idea about said agreement and therefore wasn’t about to disqualify anyone for using their yacht correctly), but you might have considered it to be a little unsporting. A fact reinforced by the sight of the opposing team placing their hands over their ears as they passed us to yells of “CHEATS! CHEATERS!”

Of course, the only real response was to unfurl our sail to its full extent and play them at their own game. So we did.

Whatever the result, it was nice to know that we pissed them off so much that they felt they had to throw everything that at winning. And win they did. But my God did we make it hard for them and my God was it a close finish…

On the final leg, with the Stars & Stripes still trailing, the True North IV made her final turns into shore to take the wind coming off the land. Like I said, we were trailing so we took a gamble. Being in second place – aka ‘last’ –  means you really do have nothing to lose but everything to gain. In search of stronger winds, we turned the yacht out to sea.

The Caribbean - Sept 16th

It so very nearly paid off. By the time we crossed the finish line the finish line there were literally SECONDS in it. They beat us by HALF A BOAT length. I can’t tell you how exhilarating it felt to come that close to beating this professional and experienced team. Just magnificent.

Their boat was technically faster, apparently on one leg, their buoy was closer than it should’ve been, they had to use a full gib to catch us and they had probably the most experience 12 metre yacht captain in the world….

AND YET we still came that close to beating them. It feels now as it felt then, totally invigorating.

Later at the bar that evening, Rob tells us that today’s race was kind of a big deal for him. The night before he had called a meeting between our crew, the opposing crew and the race judge. They all agreed that the race today would be ‘for real’.
You see they race these boats day in and day out and could’ve quite easily made some decisions (that wouldn’t have been obvious to us), that meant they would’ve handed us the race. Rob, having trained us all week and seen how we respected the skill and the effort that went into it, insisted that this would be the case.

He told the rest of the staff that the race was to be exactly that.
No fudging it for anyone.

“Throw everything you’ve got at us.” he told them “Try and thrash us. If you do, it’ll be their fault. If you don’t, well then.. they’re awesome. Either way, these guys will not appreciate being handed the race and will know if you do…”

Wow. What a guy. I for one am very glad he called it like that because, come the finish line, yes we came second – a very close second in fact. But we earned it.

—- End of Moleskine entry.

It’s with a tinge of sadness that I reach the end of the Caribbean notes like this. Rob, our 12 metre expert and pro, tragically passed away only two short months after we left. I wrote about it at the time and, if you’ve made it this far, it would mean a lot to me if you read ‘For Rob’ as well.

Thanks for reading. The Lucozade journals are at an end now, however the Moleskine itself is not. I’m going to keep writing up my entries as I go as, well, that’s what it’s there for.

Until next time… For Rob.

Last updated by at .

2 thoughts on “Saying Goodbye to St Maarten”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *