At the end of this unpleasant three days I was only 186 miles south-west of Plymouth. My chest was hurting me on one side where I had been thrown across the yacht when a door burst open forward; on the other side it had been stabbed by a sharp corner when the cabin hatch, which I was leaning against, suddenly slipped forward a foot; a patch of my skin over my ribs had been caught in a doorway when the door slammed on it, and I had cut my scalp on the roof of the cabin. Then my seasickness ended, and it was not long before I was recording that I would not change places with anybody in the world.
I got steadily more skilful in handling the yacht. One night Gipsy Moth really began to show her paces. I was called on deck by the hull slamming, the sails banging and snapping. I had too much sail set for the rising wind, I thought, so I slacked off the genoa before lowering it, and the result was extraordinary. Gipsy Moth went quiet, and shot off in the dark and fog at speed. I imagined that she had smiled to herself and said, ‘This is what I’ve been waiting for.’ There was no fuss, no disturbed wake and almost no noise. It was awe-inspiring on deck, with a black Hades rushing past the bright light shining from the stern.
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There was a slight, snaffly, clinky jingle from the end of the main boom which, from the cabin, sounded like the bit in a horse’s mouth. Gipsy Moth was going so fast that it was hard to stand up. She was like a horse flying over fallen logs on rough ground, haunches thrusting up with a wobbly movement, as if shaking her powerful stern in the air. The strange thing was that Miranda quietened too; she had a gentle weaving movement, instead of jigging and flapping and snapping as she had been doing before. Gipsy Moth cut out 8 / knots for the next two hours. It was not comfortable, though; while getting dinner I was pitched into the galley stove, and knocked it clean off its frame. Next morning I was woken up at 8 o’clock by the yacht’s tacking herself. I felt her go upright and heel the other way. I was about to spring up and rush to the tiller, when I looked at the pendulum which measures the heel of the yacht and was astonished to see that we were still heeled over 25 degrees to starboard. She had simply eased up suddenly from a heel of 45 degrees, which had fooled my drowsy senses. During that night Gipsy Moth had sailed 86 miles in 12 / hours, 7 knots on the wind – wonderful sailing. That was what I had come for! By next night the going was beginning to get rougher. Gipsy Moth rushed at the waves and ski-jumped off’ the crests to land with a terrific splash. The noise below was appalling, and I marvelled at the strength of the boat to stand the bashing. It was hard to sleep for more than ten minutes at a time, and I woke feeling that the gear, mast and sails could not stand the strain, and that I must change down the headsail. Sheila had warned me that carrying too much sail would be my biggest risk, but I hated to slow down the yacht. Then, an hour after midnight, an extra heavy sea came on board and I decided that the time had come. I rigged myself out in my full kit: oilskin trousers, long boots, long oilskin coat, cotton towel scarf, storm cap, knife, spanner and torch round my neck, with safety-belt over all to hook to the lifelines. But when I came on deck I found that Gipsy Moth was sailing as well as she possibly could. We must have sailed through a rough patch. It was thick fog on a black night, visibility 50 to 75 yards with plenty of wind and a rough sea. A steamer passed me, sounding her deep foghorn, and I answered with the right toots from my little mouth horn to show I was under sail on the port tack, though whether she could possibly hear anything I don’t know. She seemed a big boat and fast, because I was doing 7 knots and she just swept by. I went back to my bunk and slept soundly for four hours, when I was woken by a calm. Gipsy Moth had had a sail which I felt that it would be hard for me to beat single-handed – 220 miles on the wind in 33 hours, an average of 6 knots.
Every day I tried to call up a ship or an aircraft on the radiotelephone. Each of us in the race had been lent one, and we had had elaborate instructions on how to contact aircraft flying over, but the telephones were ship-to-shore sets for use only in coastal waters; also they had not been fitted until the afternoon before the start of the race. I spent hour after hour trying to raise a ship or an aircraft. Once I heard a Pan-American Clipper calling the yachts in the race, but it did not hear my reply. On I7 June I got a sun fix with the sextant, taking advantage of the fog’s lifting enough to show a horizon and the sun visible through the mist. I was pleased to find that my dead reckoning was only fifteen miles out after six days. One could expect this if racing with a crew of good helmsmen. I always worked up the dead reckoning carefully, but I could only guess what course Miranda had been steering while I was asleep.
During the next week the main theme of my log was fatigue. I kept on complaining about the heavy gear and endless sail changing; the wind changed force and direction like an angry rattlesnake. Sometimes it swung right through to the opposite direction within a few hours. In spite of.my troubles, I averaged 135% miles a day for five consecutive days – distance sailed, that is, not distance made good in a straight line. On 25 June, after two weeks, I had made good a distance of 1,264. miles in a straight line from Plymouth. I knew nothing then about my rivals, but in those fourteen days Blondie had made good 1,038 miles. I had not feared Blondie as a rival, although I knew his Folkboat hull was fast and seaworthy, but I thought that his junk rig would not take him to windward well. The Amateur Yacht Research Society, however, considers that a junk sail, slightly modified, is the most efficient rig there is.
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