RORC St Malo race - the alternative Brittany Rally

St Malo

The next event in the racing calendar for Juno's qualification for the Fastnet was the RORC Cowes to St Malo race which started on Friday 8 July. A number of us were down on the boat on Thursday to prepare for the race. During Thursday night the rain lashed down on the decks and the wind howled through the rigging causing the boat to heel over even though she was tucked snuggly in Port Hamble marina.

Friday morning's check of the wind at Chimet, Bramblemet was out of service, showed SW winds gusting to 35 knots with the average just under 30 knots. We motored to Cowes in the late morning to see our wind speed indicator show a steady 28 - 30 knots with the occasional gust to 35 knots. The race committee obviously took account of the weather conditions as they set a course out of the eastern Solent around Bembridge Ledge and West Princessa Buoys. This, of course, turned the cross channel leg to the Casquets into a true windward leg.

We started at 1500 with two reefs and the smallest jib on a two sail reach towards the forts. However the wind had dropped to a mere 25 knots in the Solent and we realised that we were under canvassed so the 2nd reef came out. We reached Bembridge Ledge at 1630, just 90 minutes after the start and this was against the tide! As we rounded Bembridge Ledge buoy the wind direction indicator failed and so we had to resort to old fasioned "seat of the pants" sailing. This was to have serious implications for our return trip.

We now settled down on the beat which was to last until Hanois on the SW corner of Guernsey. The ebb had now started and the race software was suggesting a port tack along the south of the Island using the fast tidal streams around Dunnose and St Catherines Point to carry us to the west as quickly as possible. The seas off St Catherines in a force 7, wind over tide situation are indescribable; but I now know what those swirly symbols on the chart mean! Several times the boat just went into freefall off the top of a wave. On one occasion a wave came right over the yacht completely covering the foremost person on the weather rail whose lifejacket immediately inflated.

Eventually the seas became slightly smoother and we continued westwards to Studland Bay where we at last turned south towards Casquets. After six hours the tide turned which gave us some relief in smaller seas and slightly less wind. We had gone into a three watch system after leaving the Solent which meant we had four people on deck with two off watch and the skipper 'floating' (between watches, not in the water of course). This meant two hours off watch, two hours "resting" on the side deck, one hour on mainsheet trim and one hour steering.

By the time we rounded the Casquets at about 0900 the following morning the wind had moderated to about 15 knots. As we sailed further south towards Hanois the wind contined to drop. We at last rounded Hanois at about 1600 and could at last bear away onto a reach and after 24 hours  the boat came upright. By now the wind had dropped to 10 knots and the spinnaker was set as we headed for NW Minquiers buoy.

More drama was to follow. As we approached the Minquiers the wind headed us turning the leg once more into a close fetch but also fell away completely to about 2 knots and this corresponded with an easterly tide pushing us towards the rocks. There was an anxious hour or so around 0200 on Sunday whilst we tried to claw up tide but at last the wind increased enough for us to weather both the NW and SW Miniquers buoys which were both marks of the course.

Now we just had 20 miles to go. The final legs of the course were to round the Number 2 red buoy at the start of the Chenal de la Grand Porte before joining the Chenal de la Petite Porte, both under spinnaker, and finishing at the harbour entrance at 0850, a race time of nearly 42 hours. Of course we finished at low water and so there was no chance of entering the marina!

When we started the engine there appeared to be no thrust suggesting the folding propellor had not opened fully. It was now essential that we found a diver who could inspect the propellor. Eventually there was enough water over the cill to allow us to enter and we had a brief three hours in which to find a diver and refill the water tank. I also just had time to meet up with an old sailing friend who had retired to a small village just outside St Malo 15 years ago.

However, tide and time etc and we had to catch the switchback ride past Alderney and Hurst point to return so that crew members could go to work on Tuesday. At 1330 we departed again. For the cruise back we had two watches of four hours and it was sheer bliss to have four hours of sleep at a time. (I'm still not sure how I got the 2330 to 0330 watch!). But now we found another problem with the failure with the wind direction indicator. The autopilot would not work without wind information so we still had to take turns to steer. To make matters worse we tried to solve the problem but without the aid of the manuals. They are much too heavy to carry whilst racing! Someone suggested a reset. When the software asks "Are you sure? Yes/No" the correct answer is No. Unfortunately we selected Yes. This immediately lost all the calibration data for the log, the depth and the electronic compass. Now there is some more work to do before the next race!

We returned to Hamble at 1600 on Moday having motored virtually the whole way. We had covered 300 miles in 3 days and 1 hour. We now have 295 miles of the 300 miles of offshore racing to qualify for the Fastnet race.


Graham Broadway, 12.07.2011 | More from Graham Broadway’s blog