The winds at the start had been predicted for 10 days to be very strong and building. My great shore crew got off into our rented inflatable after hugs all around. I started with staysail and one reef in the main, to be safe and under control. After clearing the fleet of spectator boats, only the zodiacs with shore crew and the helicopters followed the fleet to sea. One by one they dropped off to head back to shore. Zodiacs with friends from other teams swung by me for a last wave of encouragement. Then we were alone.
Into the afternoon, I adjusted the sails, keel and pilot, and tried to see how we did with our group. Of the 30 boats in the fleet, 20 are new boats with 30% more horsepower under sail. There is a group of six older boats that do not have as much horsepower, including Great American III, but we will all sail hard and remain competitive.
The emotion of the day made my stomach quite queasy and I had nothing for lunch. Into the evening, the wind picked up and I went successively to two reefs, then three in the dark of night. My queasy stomach turned worse and I became violently sick. I've gotten sick before the start of other long voyages, but this was different. Not until the early morning today did it start to get better. I had eaten and had nothing to drink for almost 24 hours--not a good start to my nutrition regimen.
The boat motion was wild and violent. These boats are meant to go downwind, not upwind. The bottom is relatively flat to surf down seas, and upwind, it simply pounds, shaking the rig, the keel, and transmitting these crashes right up into your teeth. We were bashing into 30 knots of wind and accompanying seas. You had to always hold on, and in my weakened state, it was not easy. The pounding that the boat was taking was beyond belief. Just like the Bay of Biscay last December for the Vendée Globe qualifier, I could not believe that the mast was staying up. We would shoot off the top of a 12-foot wave at 9 knots and then just freefall and land with a huge crash, again and again and again and again.
By morning I had started to eat and drink a bit, and was able to get some rest, maybe sleep, in the chart table cushions. We had made it through the first day of the Vendée Globe 2008.