2000-11 (NOVEMBER, 2000)

Yacht Racing - Portsmouth, England

Mike, a veteran of three Fastnet races, as well as many other yacht racing events, picked me up at 6pm on the Friday evening and we made our way directly down to Portsmouth. The two of us did the shopping for provisions before joining Bob at the boat. Tony turned up not too long after and Simon and Jim arrived last. Dinner was at a nearby Indian restaurant where we had an excellent meal and divvied up the onboard jobs - I was mainsheetsman for the next two days racing. The wind had been building all evening and we retired to the sound of howling in the shrouds - very impressive given that we were in a harbour, behind a lock, 4 miles from the open sea.

We awoke to atrocious conditions at 6:30am on Saturday morning. The wind was around force seven and squalls of rain were regularly coming in off the sea. I cooked breakfast for the crew. Mike wanted to be the first boat out for some practice before the 10am start of the first race, so we locked-out and exited Portsmouth harbor mouth around 9am. Sure enough, the weather was pretty heavy, and, whilst we were able to keep it together enough for some good zooming around, it was difficult to imagine 36 boats all vying for starting positions. The start of the racing was postponed from 10am to 11am, due to the weather, and then from 11am until 1pm. We came in for lunch and moored outside the lock.

At 1pm racing was canceled for the day. Most crews quickly cleaned up and headed for the nearest pub, but we didn't. Mike thought it might be nice to head out again and see how bad the weather had got - he thought we might be able to get over to Cowes for the night (Portsmouth is a bit of a dump). Well, it turned out that the wind had risen to force eight (Gale Force), which was nice. At this wind speed, rain moves horizontally and lashes bare skin. In the confused sea at the harbor entrance we slammed into a wave that was big enough to completely cover our 36 foot yacht in more than a foot of water. Tony, on the bow, floated clear of the boat for a couple of seconds before it reemerged from the sea underneath him. Luckily he was strapped on. Bob, who was inside at the time, said that every window, including the skylights in the cabin roof, went green (not white, as they would have been had they been covered in foam). Nice. Next a freak gust tore open our foresail. And then the topping lift blew out. Fun, fun, fun. At this point, Mike decided to turn around. No-one argued.

We hit the harbour mouth at the same time as a British Naval Destroyer was coming in and a large container ship was going out - one very tight squeeze! A gust caught us and blew us dangerously close to the rocks on the western side of the harbour entrance. With every rope let go (to de-power the boat), we watched helplessly as the rocks came closer. With 40 feet to go, another freak wave picked us up and threw us back out into the channel - a bit lucky there. Inside the channel, we dropped all the sails, but were still almost broached at one point, the wind was that strong. Sailing for the day was over and we hunkered down in a pub for the rest of the day and evening.

By Sunday, the wind had all but died and the rain had departed. We awoke early again and were out on the water by 8:30am. Three races had been scheduled for the day in order to make up for missing the day before, so we were in for a tiring day (each race lasts for about 2 hours). The racing was a bit fun and a bit stressful. I didn't make many mistakes (apart from one near miss due to me letting the mainsheet get jammed on as we rounded a crowded mark). We were all knackered by the end of it. I helmed the boat up the Portsmouth channel and brought her into the mooring before the lock, something I had never done for a 36 foot yacht before. We cleaned and returned the yacht and were driving home by 8pm. Mike dropped me at home and I was in bed asleep within the hour. It was great to be out with the other boats, but I'm not too keen on the stress of racing.

Dublin, Ireland

Louise, Richard, Andy and myself came to Dublin to find the best pint of Guinness (oh, and see some sights too). We arrived late on Friday night, settled into our hotel and slipped into the bar to get some practise in.

On Saturday we took in a city walk that took us though Trinity College (where we visited the Book of Kells), St Stephen's Green, Grafton Street, the Ha'Penny Bridge, as well as a pub or two. We dined that evening at Velure, a very good restaurant near St Stephen's Green.

On Sunday we rode the open-topped bus around the city and stopped in at the Guinness Brewery while Andrea went visiting relatives.

We flew out at 6:30pm and were home at a very civilised hour.

And the 'best pint' results? Here's a summary:

Dallas, Texas (For Work Again) - United States

I was sick all week, had no margharita's, had no spare ribs and did no shopping. Pants - big, saggy Y-fronts with brown braid.