The Chequered Flag

The Chequered Flag

Dec 13, 2008 @ 14:14 14:04.51N 60:57.01W

As Dawn broke on Saturday at the ridiculously late hour of 1000 hours, we all sat in the cockpit silently contemplating the likelihood of crossing the finishing line later in the day. It didn’t seem real as St Lucia was still not anywhere to be seen. The odd word about “ no wind so how are we going to get there?” was mumbled, breakfast was foraged individually and time seemed to stand still. I ordered the engine to be started, reluctantly I add, as we have used it so little on the trip it seemed a shame to spoil it at the last moment. After all we are a sailing yacht! Anyway the sound of the engine seemed to raise our energy levels and we soon spied St Lucia on the distant horizon. However, there it seemed to stay – so near and yet so far.

With the needle on the fuel gauge frighteningly close to empty I calculated and recalculated the time we had left before the engine would utter its last gasp and with a sinking feeling in the stomach, decided we could no longer motor. Off went the Volvo Turbo Diesel up went first the cruising chute – that seemed only to want to take us off the Martinique. Then mainsail and headsail were ordered – they seemed only to want to go to the south of St Lucia. The island was still on the horizon and progress was painfully slow.

Iona decided Julian Bream played loudly on the cockpit speakers would calm us all down and she followed this by a reading of The Ancient Mariner. This seemed to do the trick, as we all agreed that what will be will be and we sat back and simply waited for the currents to drift us to our destination.

Pigeon Island at the north of the island eventually came into view and we rounded it in slow motion, in pitch darkness, the full moon hidden behind thick clouds. Then, there it was, the finishing line 500 metres away but only 200 meters wide – the most unbelievable feeling of euphoria welled up inside me and I forgot to order a tack to port, only to hear the finish line controller announce on the VHF for all to hear that a boat seemed to be sailing on past and presumably was not an ARC boat. I immediately got on the VHF and told him not to make any such assumption. I ordered the tack and then another and then – it was all over! The single blast on the air horn, the shouting of congratulations on the loud hailer and the “Welcome to St Lucia” played on the steel drums said it all. After 20 days, at 2200 hours on 13 December 2008 we nudged our way into our pontoon berth with friends from other boats there to take our lines. We heard shouts of “well done Oboe”, “well done skipper”. We saw husbands, wives and girl friends jumping for joy on the pontoon. Corks popped, champagne and rum punches, courtesy of the St Lucia tourist board were drunk, hugs were exchanged and everyone was overcome with emotion.

ARC2008 started as an unlikely dream a year ago, when Oboe was no more than a hull fresh from the mould, beginning its construction in a factory outside La Rochelle. March saw it handed over and sailed to the UK. A hectic spring and summer of charters around the Solent and the West Country, interspersed with major fit-outs requiring Oboe to be hauled out of the water time and time again presented a huge project management challenge that seemed at times to be overwhelming. But nothing could stop the dream from becoming reality.

So, thanks again to all those who have supported the adventure. You know who you are. A big thanks to John, Mike, Iona, Jeremy and Rob, who worked hard all the way across the Atlantic and to Richard, my best sailing buddy, the other Mike, Simon and the other young Richard, who crewed the earlier legs of the journey from Northney to Las Palmas.

The journey ends but of course another one will soon emerge from the plans already on the drawing board … Bye for now.

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