THE END IS NIGH
Hello there, I am Philippe
I looked at the smiling face topped with highlighted hair complete with the obligatory shades and thought what the hell am I doing here!
Here I was the Waterfront at Shamrock on a Friday night in May 2005 and I was there to join up with Sailing Logic for the RORC offshore shore racing series which that year culminated in the Fastnet. To say that I was nervous would be a massive understatement, my entire sailing experience comprised two legs of the Clipper 2000. I was probably unique in that I had 12000 miles in my log book but had only sailed in/out of a port less than 10 times. Added to which any smattering of knowledge that I might have picked up during my time with Clipper had long since evaporated.
Philippe introduced Allie and whilst she was of course all smiles, I was struck by the clarity and determination in her eyes. We had a couple of beers, they introduced me to Puma, said goodnight and went home to their warm beds leaving me to wonder. I had in fact sailed on a Reflex 38 during my training with Clipper. Memorable because I was violently sick for the first and last time in my brief sailing career. Spag Bol I recall taught me to eat little and often on the boat.
The following morning we met as crew for the first time. I did not know whether to be reassured or not to find that they were a mixture of dingy sailors, inshore racers and relative novices. Philippe outlined the campaign, training etc and we were encouraged to identify our own personal aims. It was during this session that I began to realise that here was a man who was passionate about his sailing and the enjoyment and satisfaction it could bring. This did not prevent me from thinking that he was absolutely mad when he gave us his targets for the season top 10 IRC1 and a podium place in 1 race!
The rest is history first in class Fastnet, first place over the season in IRC1.
There have been many memorable occasions over the past 6 seasons, mostly good but one or two bad.
Our first start can hardly be classed as memorable since it passed for me as a blur, with sound effects hoist, prepare to tack, bear away, starboard this latter accompanied by a few choice words which I gather were directed off the boat. It was absolute chaos, to this day I do not understand how anyone can have the degree of awareness and consummate sailing skill not only to avoid a collision but also to get us over the line with the leaders.
Then silence. We are across the line in first place and amazingly have the spinnaker up. I breathe for the first time in what seems like 20mins and take stock. What a wonderful feeling, on a spinnaker run there is no wind effect, its almost peaceful! There is no more beautiful sight than looking back at the fleet with the sunlight on their multi coloured kites. Notice I said looking back, they do not look quite so pretty when viewed from the other direction!
Round Britain & Ireland 2006 comes under the dual category of good and bad memories. So much of the latter that we swore never again so explain why I am penning this during the latter stages of the 2010 RBI!
Fastnet 2007 Sailing Logic have 7 boats entered and all crews muster at the Royal Southampton in Ocean Village. Stirring presentation by Philippe and Allie, strange strip by Peter, then off to the boats for a training day. Puma first to leave the dock, forward instead of reverse, in front of the massed ranks we run into the pontoon at speed, big chunk out of the bow, end of training day.
Fastnet 2007 was also the Annus Horribilis (sic) for Puma, crew never came together as a team for which all can take responsibility. Poor season, discord culminating in Fastnet itself when Tom broke his leg and we had to divert to Salcombe. As if that was not enough the crew decided against going out again. What a comparison with this year.
Madeira 2008 the weather around Ushant was absolutely atrocious. Philippe was actively considering diverting to Brest, so it had to be bad! For 24hrs we just survived with minimum sail, not just spray over the front but what seemed like continuous wave after wave rolling down the boat and across the cockpit. Through it all Puma just marched steadily on, bow deep into the wave, surface, shake herself and go forward, strong and determined.
Round Ireland 2010 Weather was perfect, strong winds (except at the end!) beautiful sunshine, incredible scenery and we won. The hospitality provided by the Wicklow Sailing Club was second to none which explains in part why we are racing now!
And of course the aprs sail! Since I am strongly advised that the old adage of what happens on the boat (or in this case off it) stays on the boat I will just mention crew meetings St Malo (10 petit dejuner and 10 grande lagers si vous plais), Madeira with Pen Azen and Change of Course, Cowes, Olive Tree, Frog & Frigate (I didnt make it but my wife and daughters did!), and a couple of cheeky pinots in Cherbourg, Le Havre, Plymouth, Dieppe et al.
So many memories, I could go on and on. What stands out as a constant throughout the 6 years is the professionalism and commitment shown by Allie and Philippe. This is far in excess of what you could reasonably expect from a commercial operation.
From the supply of new sails, rigging etc through to the stores and provisions the quality has always been first class. So has the enthusiasm, for example Philippe before each race, dons his gear, jumps into the Itchen and scrubs the bottom of the boat to remove what appears to me as a light film of growth. Speed is of the essence!
Finally away from the narrow confines of Sailing Logic in general and Puma in particular, there is the effect on the world of offshore racing or RORC. When considering the RORC of 2005 Will Carlings old farts comment comes to mind. Offshore racing was for the well to do owner driver with his amateur crew. School boats were tolerated as long as they kept their place they certainly were not expected to win! there was even (still is) a separate trophy for the most successful school boat, which Philippe has won every year on Puma with Sailing Logic. Thanks to Philippe, his determination, skill and ability to train and motivate newcomers to the wonderful sport of offshore racing these barriers are slowly being broken down.
I could go on but the shelf calls.
So now comes the sad news of the parting of the ways between Skipper and boat, with Puma destined for a more relaxed retirement.
+Thank you Philippe, thank you Allie and especially thank you Puma for 6 remarkable years.