May 2004 Rally Portugal Crewing on Swagman

I was both excited and chuffed when John & Sue Allison who own Swagman a Grand Soliel 42 invited me to crew for them on Rally Portugal, as this would mean crossing the Bay of Biscay. The rest of the crew consisted of John & Sue – their son Rob, Chris Aston and his sailing team mate Tom.

This was a strong crew with me being; as Anne Robinson would say the “weakest link” as everyone else was very experienced and proficient in the rigours of both offshore and ocean racing. But heigh ho what an opportunity for me to be in such safe hands.

I flew down to join John and Sue on board “Swagman” berthed at Southampton, and we sailed her through the night to get to Plymouth in time to go through all the safety checks etc required by the organisers and get the boat provisioned etc – this was my first ever right through the night trip & I’ll never forget the bacon & egg roll Sue made for us………………most of the yolk well all down the front of my waterproofs – but boy did it taste good – the roll that is not the waterproofs!

It was very interesting for me to watch all the comings and goings, as was talking to a number of people who were using Rally Portugal as a starting point to a new life – and best of luck to them all – especially the couple on the Vindo 40.

The fleet was requested to go to Falmouth and allow a gale to blow through before setting off across Biscay – no real issue with this decision !! Next day we set off late afternoon early evening – with the next stop being Bayona in NW corner of Spain. With there being six people on board we ran three shifts of 2 hours on, 2 hours stand by, and two hours sleep. With all of this being new to me, and the overall adventure really quite exciting, I couldn’t settle down enough to get any proper kip the first night.

John and Sue are very experienced sailors who spent many years living and sailing in Western Australia, and John decided to have me be his sidekick on the watch system. This meant he would get his ears bashed by many questions, and being the patient soul that he is, he said he would give me some guidance advice and training.

First bit of guidance was…..there’s the kettle – First bit of advice was make tea/coffee – First bit of training was make sure you stay on the boat 🙂

The whole trip was a real adventure for me, and for a while it all seemed somewhat surreal watching all the shipping, experiencing Dolphins around the boat, until awakening from sleep one morning off Finesterre I was aware of the boats movement being somewhat more that it had been before. When I popped my head out of the hatch I was amazed at the sheer size and scale of the sea we were in – this was what I came along to experience.

Moonshadow Star Surfing Biscay Style


Dawn Breaks aboard Swagman

God only knows what I would have felt like if I had seen fear on anyone’s face……………………but I didn’t and they were all happily trying to outdo each other for the speed record surfing down waves – with the boom bashing through waves – a hell of a lot of fun. One wave actually took the inflatable dan bouy that John had bought (as a good idea) straight off the pushpit, and we all looked around to see if it had self inflated – but it hadn’t, a bit of a concern really – this was reported when we arrived in Bayona.

We arrived in Bayona late evening and by the time we had cleaned the boat and ourselves we barely had time for a beer and a couple of hours sleep before the four of us were on our way to Vigo airport for the early morning flight to Barcelona and then home.

Arrival in Bayona

A tremendous experience for me in the relative comfort of very experienced sailing team and skipper – thanks guys it was amazing !!