Day 1 - May 5th
We started out from Pornichet on a lovely evening with about 8 knots of breeze. I was already regretting not bringing the tonic to accompany the gin that was onboard from our delivery. However by the time we reached Belle Ile the wind had turned off completely. We spent of the night bobbing around with barely any wind. An unfortunate sign of things to come...

Day 2 - May 6th
We spent the next morning battling our way out from behind Belle. We finally emerged into a little W-SW breeze which was what had been forecast. Unfortunately that breeze turned NW as we sailed up the coast and then turned off completely leaving us floundering in a swell going absolutely nowhere. I spent most of the night hand-steering to make the most of the any breeze that was around - something I was trying to avoid so I could get some sleep before crossing the shipping lanes tomorrow.

We have only averaged 3.5 knots so far which is very frustrating given the pressure I am under to finish this sail and get back to London. I need to cover about 1150nm in a bit over 9 days which works out at 128 nm a day or just over 5 knots. We are slipping badly already...

Day 3 - May 7th
Finally the wind kieck in from the SE at 10 knots so I am up on the foredeck as quick as to plug in the runner (my biggest spinnaker). We are approaching Raz de Sein, the first of two NW corners of France that take us towards the Channel. The second of the two is Ile d'Ouessant which we will pass inside via the Chanel du Four.

Day 4 - May 8th
Today has not been the most pleasant of days. The sky has been grey and the wind building to 20kts. We have now been beating upwind since partway across the Channel and it is looking like is shall be that way all the way to Conningberg Light, the northernmost mark of the course. The swell is growing and the boat is slamming down off the top of the waves. Despite having been wearing my foulies for the past day, most of my layers of thermals are damp and my boots are soaked thru. As a result I'm really struggling to keep warm except by going below and wrapping myself in my sleeping bag (which is now wet as well).

Unfortunately since there has been no sun for the past 24 hours, the charge on the batteries is starting to run a bit low which means that I can't really use the autopilot. So, I have rigged up a simple line from the windward winch to the tiller to hold it in place. I can set the angle on the tiller and the sails such that the boat is balanced and steers itself with a degree of self-correction. Unfortunately if the wind changes while I'm below or asleep, that self-correction fails and the boat tends to bear away and gybe itself. At which point I'm quickly back on deck to sort out the mess, get the boat back on track and rebalance it. This setup works remarkably well for sailing upwind and there are only 4-5 accidental gybes over 100nm or so. Many sailors have successfully used this system-I was inspired by the idea having read of Robin Knox-Johnson using it in the first single-handed round-the-world race after all of his self-steering systems broke. Then the wind starts to drop and swings around more to the north (which is bad since that's where I'm trying to go)...and it's still bloody cold.

Day 5 - May 9th
Today has been another pretty crappy day for progress. The only positives to come out of today were the sun coming out and the company of some playful dolphins and a whale. Unfortunately the sun and wind were then quickly enveloped in a thick fog which served to suitably dampen my mood and greatly increase my frustrations. I recall us having only 36Nm to the Coningberg Light this morning. It is now 8pm and we still have 5Nm to go. I now also have to look forward to the forecast south-easterly winds which will make my passage back down to La Rochelle a real pain. When the wind gods are against you, they really throw everything at you. I feel like I must have done something to offend them.

The last 10Nm or so to the Coningberg Light are perhaps the most frustrating of all. I have to put up with the constant mocking of the light's fog hornas it bays at me 3 times each minute. In the end however I have to be thankful to the horn for being able to find the light. With visibility down to about 50-100m and only an approximate position of the light to the nearest mile I would have no hope of finding it without its distinctive whine.

Day 6 - May 10th
The fog has continued to be with us for the whole day with visibility never creeping above 1/4Nm. I am constantly on edge listening out for the sounds of any shipping since with no form of radar or radar detection on board we are essentially sailing blind. Going to sleep is really playing a game of Russian roulette.

We are however making some reasonable (relatively) progress down the Irish Sea and by the end of the day I am nearing Land's End. My mood is then brightened  considerably by catching Woody (Andrew Wood - GBR500) on the VHF. Woody is one of three Brits who is out on the course and who left 3 days after I did. After 5 days without talking to anyone and dealing with the frustrations of making such slow progress it's nice hear a familiar voice.

Day 7 - May 11th
Today has been another day of slow progress as we struggle across the Channel. The fog is still thick which makes for nervous passages across the shipping lanes.

Day 8 - May 12th
We have finally made landfall on the French side of the Channel. The day has been marked by periods of sun which have finally broken through the fog after 3 days.

Things start to look up as a trailing breeze is pushing me along nicely through the Chanel du Four (the channel between the French mainland and Ile d'Ouessant) with a favourable tide. Unfortunately things come to a screaming halt as we just miss the tide at the Raz de Sein - another tricky little passage between Pointe de Raz on the mainland and the Ile de Sein. The tide here starts to run against us furiously and as we are at springs the tide is running at over 5 knots. The wind is coming from the opposite direction which is creating large and steep standing waves. Things start to get a bit exciting especially as it is dark so I decide to pull the plug on my attempt to get through and heave to for a couple of hours to wait it out.

Day 9 - May 13th
We finally escape from the clutches of the Raz de Sein with a favourable tide behind us but unfortunately the wind has fallen to a whisper. Finally a light breeze fills in from the NW and we start to make some reasonable progress down the coast.

Day 10 - May 14th
Today is the day I was hoping to be finishing my qualifying sail by. I've just checked the GPS which tells me that I have 177.9Nm to go - it's actually i little bit more than that since there some land in the way.

As of early this morning the wind has switched to the SE so it will now be upwind sailing all the way around the Plateau de Rochbonne and in to La Rochelle. Let's just hope that the wind stays some flavour of E or S to aid my passage back up the coast to Pornichet.

Day 11 - May 15th
Sadly the wind has not held true. Shortly before I arrive at Ile de Ré (just off La Rochelle) the wind swings around to the NW. Aaargh! I am also encountering heaps of weed in the water which is causing me no end of problems. I'm forever trying to clear the rudders of weed and am constantly going forward to pull up my dagger board to free it from the weed. Who knows how much has been collecting on the keel. At least my (mandatory) oar has now found a use in assisting me in pushing the weed off my rudders.

There are also lots of very large jellyfish (50cm+ diameter) about. There is a dull thud and the boat vibrates each time one of them crashes into one of our foils. I'm a little concerned about the damage that such impacts might cause. At one point we climax hitting 4-5 each minute.

The final tack into La Rochelle brings back some fond memories of our Global Challenge leg winning finish. There was a huge feeling of relief then at finally having cracked a win but here we are merely at the last turning post. I recall the breeze that day funnelling under the bridge between Ile de Re and the mainland and a similar thing is happening today. Finally we pass under the bridge and out into the bay tacking directly upwind as the breeze fades once again.

My day is capped off as I hit a lobster pot buoy which becomes entangled in my keel. I finally decide to cut the line after a period of trying to untangle myself from it. I still then end up sepnding another furnther 15 minutes doing 360's to try and unravel the flag which is still tied around the keel. Finally it frees itself which is a great relief since we are just approaching the point where I am considering the need to go for a swim and sort it out. The evening draws to a close with a a slow drift up the coast past Les Sables d'Olonne.

Day 12 - May 16th
Finally, we're here at last. And finally a day where we have had a nice little breeze and some downwind sailing. After all this time and all the frustrations of the wind and weather, it's a great relief to have the qualifying sail over and done with.

However, another journey is just beginning. I have an hour to pack up and then make a break for the train to start my trip back to London in the hope of being back at work for tomorow morning. But that is a another story...