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I saw a shark…


I saw a shark…

Ryan Finn is seeing things. Or is he? Here’s his view from the Mini Pavois

Well, I definitely saw the shark.  I’m guessing it was a basking shark, because it was a shark that was basking.  Combine that with the fact that I don’t really know anything about sharks and this is the kind of information you end up with.  It was definitely big though.  The picture I took is way too lame to publish, so I’ll leave it to your imagination to come up with an image.
That was second day into the Mini Pavois race, after this happened: which was a result of an autopilot ram failure.  Unfortunately it was my only autopilot ram that did this, and I had to sail back to La Rochelle (the start) and rush to a shop in Gill foul weather gear to buy a new ram. 

This is a story to itself, but basically the shop in La Rochelle fronted me the ram with no collateral, in faith that I’d pay them when I got back.  Pretty amazing, but somehow part of the spirit surrounding the Mini scene and solo racing in general in France.  You’d have to see it to believe it.

How I got to that point: 
We started in 20-25 knots for a short upwind leg before heading off to Gijon on the north coast of France.  They give us these upwind legs to keep us on our toes, I think…  So I have a decent start, round the top mark in good shape, so I can take my time setting up the code 5 for the wild broad reach to Spain.  That involves going below and stacking all of the gear aft, because minis are incredibly nosey boats.  I left the water ballast in, because I knew I’d need the righting moment to stay high and clear the tip of an island which we must keep to port.  below is Myrna in the fight.    

SNAP!  Kite up, and the boat is flying over, then crashing into the back of a short chop in the bay created by a current coming in and wind going against.  I’ve never taken such a constant amount of water over the decks downwind.  Anyone know what a crankbait is?  The bass fishing lure?  This was that, and it was going to be a long night.

It soon became obvious that the sailplan was too powerful to carry the island, and I had to get the Ullman code 5 down.  Boats were wiping out all over the place, so I was feeling pretty smart in my thinking.  Pilot on, and time to sort the tack line and halyard before cracking off for the douse.  I pick up the tack line and then hear a beeping noise (autopilot alarm), and bam!  We broach hard.  

So Myrna is on her side, I blow the tack line grab the sheet and pull the kite in to windward of the mainsail with the halyard clutch open.  It is both ugly and effective and the kite is unharmed.  Boat back on feet, and on course.  Then I realize the bowsprit had gone to the dark side (leeward) and when I try to rotate it to windward it’s clear that there were victims in this little event.  The sprit gooseneck pictured at the top is what was left, and was rendered unusable.  

I reset the pilot, and it seems to work while sailing underpowered and trying to figure out what to do with the bowsprit issue.  Then the alarm goes off again and the ram seizes again.  It’s a high voltage alarm, and I recognize it from testing my back up ram the day earlier, which I discovered also didn’t work.  It means the motor if f’d.  But hey! it’s a short race.   What’s the risk of going with one ram?   Umm…

So I decide to head back and figure out what to do with the rest of my race.  It’s a long upwind beat in 20-30 knots, and I anchor outside the harbor for a couple of hours waiting for a tow in.  Tow boats are limited, because they are assisting a boat or something, then when I get in I realize that two boats have been dismasted, one flooded with a ballast scoop failure and various other boats with smaller problems not unlike my own.  So I was lucky.

I rush off to get the ram, replace some broken battens with battens from the mainsail of a friend who lost his mast, and head off again just before sun down. Without the bow sprit I only have main and jib, and it’s a pretty damn dull way to sail a mini, but that’s that.  I need to finish the Mini Pavois to get the qualification miles for the Azores race, and the guy who gave me his battens to cut up basically said I have to finish, so…  Plus, my computer was in a van on its way to Gijon.  I really had no choice.

Getting to Gijon doesn’t much deserve writing about, but I did see a very large shark basking, and I love Spain.  The food is great and I had a meal twelve hours ago that I’m still full from.  However, the best discovery I’ve made since getting to La Rochelle for the Pavois is how much I’m enjoying the mini and the people who make up this amazing class.  There is nothing in my experience to compare it to, and I am very glad to be a part of it now. 

To be honest, before I started this race, I actually looked at the mini as a thing to get through rather than a thing to enjoy.  Now I’m finally enjoying it and even starting to get it.  Who knew. 

The second leg starts on Monday, and at the moment looks like a quick ride on an alternate course bouncing us all over the bay before finally finishing in La Rochelle.  With help from the organization I’ve had the bowsprit uni joint sorted out and I will work my ass off to stay at the front.  I’m not worried about damaging the boat anymore.  It’s just part of the process of working a boat up.  I just happen to be getting scored for it.
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