Mingming and I picked up our mooring at Burnham last Tuesday, after a trouble-free, 2500 mile non-stop voyage from Plymouth, via a point a couple of hundred miles to the northeast of the Azores.
The problem, as far as the Jester Challenge was concerned, was basic boat speed. There was always going to be a question mark over the effect of c.100 days' water and provisions on a yacht displacing less than one ton. After several weeks it became clear that we were averaging daily runs about 15 miles less than anticipated. This may not sound a lot - it represents just over 0.5 knot of boat speed - but over a 60 day voyage adds up to about 900 miles.
The prospect of being that distance from Newport at the beginning of August, well into what has been forecast as another particularly severe hurricane season, was a risk too far. Very regretfully then, I had no choice but to turn back.
I am, of course, very disappointed not to have completed the basic aim of the Jester Challenge. On the other hand, there are many positives I can take from the 38 day voyage. We had no damage or gear failures of any sort. Mingming, as anticipated, proved herself a superb little sea boat. She rode out a Force 8 in central FitzRoy as happily as a rubber duck at bath-time. The alterations I had made to her during her pre-voyage refit all proved their worth. There is nothing more reassuring in tough conditions than being aboard an unsinkable boat!
The junk rig was incredibly easy to handle from the hatch and meant I never had to go on deck for any sail handling manoeuvre. We had our fair share of heavy weather, but in fact were mainly plagued by calms and light headwinds, particularly, and untypically, on the return passage. We scarcely had any southwesterly weather from the Azores to the North Foreland - it was all mainly between north-west and north-east.
As a long-time exponent of small-boat ocean sailing, I was pleased to have again shown that a small and modestly equipped engineless yacht, properly prepared and patiently sailed, can make substantial blue water (and coastal) passages in relative tranquillity. It was a great pleasure and privilege to be associated with this inaugural Jester Challenge, the driving principles of which are very close to my heart. The next Challenge is in 2010, the 50th anniversary of the first Transatlantic Race. My little head's already at work....'