Tuesday 21 May 2019

Enda's epic voyage ends

After sailing solo for 66 days on some of the world's most turbulent seas, Enda O'Coineen's voyage is drawing to an end

HOME IS THE SAILOR, HOME FROM THE SEA: Enda on ‘Le Souffle du Nord’
HOME IS THE SAILOR, HOME FROM THE SEA: Enda on ‘Le Souffle du Nord’

Enda O'Coineen

Later today Enda O'Coineen will arrive in France to unofficially finish the Vendee Globe Around the World Race. The race began in November 2016 - but on New Year's Day 2017, somewhere on the ocean between Cape Horn and New Zealand, his mainmast came crashing down - and he had to take his boat into shelter in NZ.

Bloodied, but unbowed, Enda decided to complete the solo circumnavigation as an "unofficial finisher" - and this is an extract from his final ship's log...

AFTER the tribulations of rounding Cape Horn and a tough upwind slog off the coast of Brazil to the equator, it was not unreasonable to expect favourable conditions for finishing the final leg.

Not so. Entering the Bay of Biscay, we were hit by a massive storm. Lying in my navigation chair, I was alarmed to see the wind move north of 40 knots in a vicious squall. It was time to shorten sail and furl the jib.

I put my foot on the floor, destined for my seaboots - and instead stood in water. I swore. Whatever else, keeping socks dry and warm was mission critical.

"Oops, must have left the hatch open," I thought. But no, instead there was water sloshing around the bilges. I was scared. So close and yet so far. Were we in danger of sinking? How fast was it filling? Were we sinking? Should I run for the coast? My mind raced.

Then the boat heeled more. I struggled to get my boots, even if wet, and oilskins on. Whatever the problem, in these cold conditions, to stay protected from the elements is important.

No sooner had I surfaced on deck, there was a crash gybe. The wind and enormous waves were too much for the self-steering in a turbulent ocean, as the seas shorten on the ocean shelf. The boat lay on its side, main stuck against the runner with the keel angled the wrong way.

After a huge struggle I eventually got the boat back under control and on the other gybe.

This lifted the starboard side clear of the water, where the suspected leak was. There is no more efficient way to bale out than a frightened man with a bucket. Twenty minutes later the bulk of the water was out and the leak - being on the other tack - had stopped for the moment. I found the valve for filling the water ballast tanks had opened.

And so this problem was solved - for the moment. It was just one of many dramas on this 60ft-ocean racing machine. Every day you live life on the edge and you never know what problems - which seek solutions - will confront you next.

I am not sure if I am ready for the planned arrival party - those travelling from Ireland - and the Les Sables Mayor's invitation to make me freeman of his city is a great honour. In some ways I wish to stay on the boat because the adjustment back to so-called normal life will be another challenge.

On a personal basis, just arriving and fulfilling my mission and dream is enough. However, while alone, it has been a great team effort and, like a good Irish wedding, or indeed funeral, the party is not for the dead - it is for the living. Likewise, the wedding is about everything other than the bride and groom.

Preparations and the voyage have gobbled-up all the ranges of personal emotion, physical challenge, personal resource, fear and jubilation in between. There is no logic to the logic - and right to the finish line for the final week, rounding the Azores and the north west corner of Spain, the storm crossing the Bay of Biscay, kept me on edge.

And now I am ready to sign a document that will allow family and friends to lock me up and throw away the key should I try at my age a repeat performance.

And whether it's getting up and walking around the block or climbing Mount Everest, we each have our own challenges but it's the essence of life to live it, set goals, have fun, do our bit and hopefully make the world a better place.

That said, to finish, I take inspiration from the words of Samuel Beckett and once again I thank everyone who helped your me on my 'mission impossible'.

"Perhaps my best years are gone,

But I would not want

them back,

Not with the fire that's in me now."

Please support the Atlantic Youth Trust, whose mission is to connect the young with the ocean and adventure

Sunday Independent

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