OFFSHORE yachtsman, Phil Sharp, and his crew finally cast off from Falmouth at midnight Thursday – setting off into rough December seas to make the seven-hour passage around to Land’s End, where they will start their bid to set an inaugural benchmark for sailing from Land’s End to John o’Groats.
Their weather window is not ideal.
They will start in strong winds and big seas but light winds off Scotland’s west coast may slow them before they head round Cape Wrath, expecting to finish at John o’Groats early Monday morning.
After being on hold since last Sunday, waiting for big winds to clear the yacht will still be seeking to outrun the next big Atlantic winter storm which will hit the top of Scotland Monday and Tuesday.
Perhaps the most nervous of Sharp’s crew is the intrepid Sean ‘The Beard’ Conway.
Conway, instantly identifiable by his unruly flame red beard and mop of flyway hair, is bidding to add a fourth end-to-end of Great Britain adventure.
He has already run and walked from Britain’s south westernmost tip to the most north easterly tip. In freezing temperatures in November 2013, he finished an incredible 135 days swimming from end to end.
Now, Conway aims to add a fourth end-to-end: sailing.
Ironically, his sailing experience is limited to living on an RAF gunboat in Worcester and three long months surviving aboard a tiny, 25 ft 11in South Coast One Design – which he bought sight-unseen off eBay for £4,000 – which became his support vessel and his home during his epic Land’s End to John o’Groats swim.
But even then the tiny sailing yacht was his bed each night and he never sailed.
One thing Conway is sure of is he suffers acute seasickness!
Phil Sharp is using the passage as a chance for a few days of training for the Vendée Globe solo non-stop race around the world which starts November 6th next year.
While he awaits final details of his IMOCA 60 yacht to be completed, he sails this Class 40 with Conway and round-the-world racer, Alex Alley.
Said Sharp who won his class in the solo Route du Rhum transatlantic race from St Malo to Guadeloupe in 2006: “We are itching to get away. It is exiting to be getting under way finally. I wanted to do something just a little bit extreme, to do some extreme sailing this winter and to start some Vendée Globe training.
“We are 11 months from the Vendée Globe start. But I woke up one morning with this idea and hope to create some interest in our Vendée Globe project.
“And it an iconic route that everyone knows but no one has ever set a record time for. Sean will be great for keeping us positive and focused.
“He will find it tough I’m sure but will find his sea legs by Saturday we hope.”
Conway added: “I will just be doing what I am told for the next four days. I will be trying to help out where I can making the teas and coffees and food and being ballast where required.
“Phil is a great sailor and I have been briefed what to expect.
“I am expecting to be sick for 60 hours and so anything better than that is a bonus. I am looking forward to it. My biggest concern is the seasickness. It is December now with big storms coming so it can be nasty.”
All things being equal, fair winds and all that, they should pass Islay – home of whisky sponsors Bruichladdich – very late on Saturday evening.
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Image credit: James Carnegie