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Clipper: Safe arrival in France

Skipper Vicky Ellis at the race 1 start Photo: Clipper Ventures

The Clipper Race fleet has arrived at the French port of Brest. And this morning, I tried out my rusty French buying breakfast at the local patisserie. My crew is recovering today after the end of the first race from London.

Out of the 12 boats, my team Switzerland came seventh - a result we were reasonably happy with though we know we can improve. Much of the race took place in very light winds so the boats crawled along. Eventually, the organisers decided to shorten it because we were at risk of never making it to Brest in time to prepare for race 2. So on Wednesday, they suddenly told the skippers that the race would end at 4pm and the boat closest to a lighthouse on the French coast would be declared the winner.

We had three hours to go as fast as we could and we knew we were in a pack of four boats all around the same area. Not that we could see them, the whole area was in dense fog.

Slowly releasing the spinnaker sail Credit: Clipper Ventures

At the time, we were flying one of our spinnaker sails which can be very effective but is also tricky. The spinnaker needs to be flown at the right angle which involves one person (the trimmer) slowly releasing a rope through their fingers until the sail is at its best performance. But if the trimmer goes too far, the whole sail starts collapsing and the boat loses most of its speed. So the other half of trimming team is the grinder who has the job of frantically turning a winch to pull the sail back in just before it collapses.

Hard at work in the race's final hours Credit: Clipper Ventures

So some our our team trimmed and grinded in a mad effort to overtake the boats in our group. The rest of us sat at the front, using our weight to keep the boat balanced. Our navigation team told us that we were closing in on the lead boat OneDLL... and then suddenly, we saw a mirky shadow of a yacht in the fog. Sixth place was almost in our grasp.

In the end, we didn't quite overtake them - the 4pm deadline came a few minutes too early. But we showed to ourselves what is possible if we really focus and concentrate. There were times in our race when we put together a sudden burst of speed because the crew (many of whom are novice sailors) put together a good stint of work at a time when we could take advantage of a sudden burst of wind.

The Clipper fleet in Brest Credit: Chris Paxton

We get the chance to show what we've learned when race 2 to Rio in Brazil starts on Monday.

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