SiFi’s Blog: Outrunning the Mistral

On Day 2 of SiFi’s and Justine’s delivery trip back to Concarneau, the duo passed by the Catalan Coast, just a stone’s throw away from SiFi’s family home in Barcelona. No time for a stopover though, as the infamous Mistral kept the crew busy through their watches.

Our second day at sea has sped by in a blur of high boat speeds, sail changes, and maneuvers. If the first day at sea was spent enjoying the novelty of being back out in the ocean double-handed sailing, then the second was spent getting a feel for what the race pace is like. We have fought hard to keep the pace up and the momentum high as we have cycled through our three-hour watches, grabbing what sleep has been possible. 

In the last 24 hours, we have blasted our way across the Gulf of Lyon and worked our way down the Catalan Coastline. As we sailed past the Costa Brava, I enjoyed spotting all the places I have been with my family. As we reached Barcelona, I could vaguely pick out my home from our distance offshore. However, thoughts of holidays and the comforts of home are going to have to wait for a few days more!

We have seen some good foiling conditions and a frontal passage which, albeit drier and less squally than that which you find in the Atlantic, is good practice for the two of us onboard. The changing wind strength meant numerous sail changes and reefs in and out.  Behind the front, we were left with a softening breeze and horrendous sea state which made it tricky to extract decent performance from the boat and with every wave the slamming felt like the hull was being strength tested by the sea. 

Luckily the slamming slowly abated as we were picked up by the start of the northerly Mistral which helped us make our way south.  With the wind building to 20 to 25 knots and bending around the coast, we were into fast sailing again, the slamming now replaced by plenty of white water over the deck. With the A3 up, we were gybing every 90 minutes to make the best of the shifting wind.  I have come to realize that dragging a 300m2 sail around to the other side of the boat each time you gybe is something I have always taken for granted in a bigger crew. Every gybe has a much bigger cost in this context, both in performance and energy, and I’m reminded of the importance of sailing smart to minimize maneuvers! 

Between gybes it is either back to trimming both the sails and the pilot or a chance to rest if you are off watch until we need to maneuver again. With little time between gybes, the hassle of getting out of wet foul weather gear seems too much like hard work, and the temptation to slump down wet on the bean bag just too great. Although tired, sleep is hard to come by though as picking the next gybe is always on my mind. It is great training however and satisfying to tick off each gybe with each one being smoother and more efficient than the last. 

We are now back to straight-line sailing as we head past the Ebro delta.  Having outrun the mistral, the wind has eased, but once again the sea breeze is beginning to build.  Another sail change and we are quickly back to foiling mode. In 15 knots of breeze and dead flat water, the boat is effortlessly doing more than 5 knots than the wind speed at times and there is plenty of daylight under the bow as the foil is lifting us clear of the water!  Now is probably the time to enjoy the fast sailing, as it looks like once the sun sets on our second day at sea we will be into light airs for a while to come.