Going into The Ocean Race, there are many unknowns, even for a two-race veteran like Annie Lush. The British sailor onboard GUYOT environnement – Team Europe has some concerns.
“These IMOCAs are very different than the 65s,” she says. “I mean, in some ways they’re less physical because you’re not getting smashed by waves every second you’re on watch. But if you’re foiling properly in any waves you can’t move around. It’s just not safe. The boat is jumping around in every direction, falling violently off waves, it’s insane. You can’t really do anything.” By anything, Lush means pretty much anything. The basics of daily life.
“It’s very hard to sleep. The noises coming out of the boat are horrendous. We’ve got a bunk but it’s better to sleep on the floor. When you’re foiling, you want to be as low in the boat as possible. You lie on a bean bag, although we’ve got some pimping mattresses now! Thanks to the skipper’s girlfriend who’s a really sailmaker. The mattresses have got thicker and thicker over time, and they’re quite heavy so you wouldn’t never allow them on a 65. But we only need two of them and it’s worth it for the comfort factor. You lie down with your feet braced against the bulkhead, and you do your best to sleep. But it’s pretty hard because it sounds like the boat’s going to blow up all the time, and there’s a zillion different alarms going off. I’ve never taken any headphones or technology on board before, no music, no movies, because I always wanted to be alert to what was going on up on deck on the 65. But on the IMOCA I think you might need to force yourself to tune out. All the IMOCA skippers seem to wear ear plugs, so maybe I need to change my thinking about this stuff.”
“Eating is going to be a challenge, because you’ve got to make the food, you’ve got to boil the water. And getting the water from the kettle, into the bag, that’s really scary. We used to make food in a big pot, but that’s not going to happen, someone would end up giving themselves serious burns. But even getting the water from the kettle into the packet is going to be hazardous. And then when you’ve done that, getting the food from the packet and into your mouth, that’s hard too. Which is why we’ve banned forks from the boat because it would be too easy to skewer yourself.”
“I’m working in the pit, and there’s almost no need for me to go on deck at any point. I could be down below pretty much the whole race. I could just stay in my pyjamas! Or maybe T-shirt and shorts. Except that I think that could prove to be a rookie error. The problem is, occasionally you want to go out the back of the boat to look outside at the sails and see how they’re setting. It’s hard to do from inside. But even if you poke your head out for a moment, it’s like standing in a firehose. So you probably want to be wearing some kind of dry-smock, except that it can get really hot down below. There’s no easy answer.”
There is no seatbelt on the toilet. In fact, there is no toilet. “So… we’ve got a bucket, and I’ve sort of worked out how to wedge it into position, but it’s definitely a problem. I sent a WhatsApp round to the other girls in the race and asked, ‘Who’s worked it out? Who’s got a solution?’ Nothing back, no one has an answer. So anyway, it looks like we’re going to be sitting on a bucket, about a metre away from the person driving the boat. So I thought about maybe bringing like a little shower curtain with me and I just clip it up around me, you know? Or maybe put a mask over my face so they can’t see me? I have to admit I’m definitely jealous of the boys in this department. My biggest fear is… am I going to be the one – as we leap off a wave – am I going to be the one that concertinas the bucket?”