The yacht was an Oyster 885 – essentially 90ft long – so it was a bit of a step up from the pontoon.
Actually, at the end of the automatic, electrically-operated passerelle with LED lighting and folding handrail was one of those little collapsible step ladders you keep in the broom cupboard so you can reach the top shelf in the kitchen.
It looked somewhat out of place on the big boat pontoon at the ARC, but the crew were having trouble connecting the passerelle app to the ship’s wi-fi, and besides, a tiny design flaw meant the miniature hatch in the transom got in the way.
I know all of this because my cousin Sophie is the cook aboard Babiana and invited me aboard to see how the other half lives.
The other half have it hard, I can tell you: They also had to contend with a glitch in the app for the sparking water system: It came pouring out of its designated tap without any bubbles. Never mind, they can always drink champagne. They’re carrying 250 bottles of wine from the owner’s award-winning Vondeling vineyard near Cape Town (It’s a hobby bought with money from the hedge fund he founded with money made from buying enough cocoa futures to give everyone in the country 83 Mars Bars each).
The Financial Times calls him “Chocfinger”, but in fact, he’s a surprisingly modest guy called Anthony Ward who was even then on his way with his wife Sophie (1) and determined to win the ARC’s racing division. It would have been better if the crew hadn’t returned the night before from pizza ashore to find the freezer on the blink.
Sophie (the one in the galley) had spent two days preparing and freezing ten meals for the 12-strong ship’s company. She’s catering for a 14-day crossing, so had another day over the stove to look forward to.
The skipper – that’s her partner James – as calm as a man can afford to be when he has retractable bow and stern thrusters, asked whether they might leave the freezer until the morning.
You don’t need to know the details of Sophie’s response.
But sure enough, by the time the owners arrived, Babiana had bubbles, the freezer was back at -18°C (they disconnected one of the fridges – they’ve got five of them) and we were ready to go out and try the whompa.
You need a whompa if you’re going to win the ARC. It’s the biggest sail you can get on a 120ft mast – which means it is 639sq/m (or, if you like big numbers 6,878sq ft).
We put up the whompa and sailed faster than the wind. Then, we put up the A3 and sailed faster than the wind. There is something curiously pedestrian about putting up big sails when the only effort involved is in keeping your toe on the button for the electric winch.
The helmsman has buttons too – different buttons for port and starboard steering positions. Of course, it all takes a lot of electricity, which is why they have a starboard generator and a port generator – although why nobody can make a washing machine that works at a 30° angle of heel is a mystery.
By the time you read this, they will be over the horizon, deciding whether to go north and sail deliberately into a gale or south and risk being becalmed.
Anyway, just in case, they topped up the fuel tanks. It took the best part of an hour. An Oyster 885 carries three tonnes of fuel.
Oh, it’s not for motoring through the calms (they’ve got the whompa, don’t forget). But what if the generator stopped – port or starboard – with five fridges and the washing machine to run?
Not to mention having to cross the Atlantic without bubbles….
The owners – Sophie and Anthony Ward