Round the Rock - Again? Part 1

603 miles............................

As these things often do it all started in a sailing club bar one night last September.  This time though, the participants in the discussion had all gathered with a single purpose in mind – to decide whether or not to join with me in campaigning Juno (my X34) in a second Rolex Fastnet Race. I was not even sure if I wanted to do so myself. However, by the end of the evening, as well as adding to the RORC’s bar profits, five of us (including fellow Little Shippers Mark Blunden and Simon Hughes) had resolved to give it a go – on the proviso that we could find two other members of crew of sufficient skill to join us. The deadline for a final decision was agreed as the end of January this year, at which point if we had not identified the required extra hands, all bets would be off.

As an old boss of mine once said “we’re all in marketing now”. So it was we planned our recruitment strategy. The first step was to put together a pdf document setting out a bit about us and what our aims were, as well as defining the skills we were looking for in prospective crew mates. Then it was loaded up on the RORC crew register website as well as the X Yachts Owners’ Association (XYOA) site and Juno’s page on the LSC site. We also sent it to various sailing contacts of each of us. Not surprisingly perhaps, the most interest was generated by the RORC website and over the next couple of months about a dozen “applicants” responded. One or two were in a different league to us, as rapidly became evident in the first phone conversation – one or two were also in a different league, but in the other direction. Happily however we were able to identify 3 or 4 “promising candidates”, who we all arranged to meet for “interview” at RORC. Out of that process we invited Chris and Alastair to join us in January this year (beating our deadline). Chris is a former racing owner himself (finally the expense and hassle of crew logistics got to him - we bonded immediately) and Alastair is an Ocean YM and trim specialist.

Meanwhile, the race had opened for entry on Monday 7 January on RORC’s online race entry system REMUS. In 2011 it had “sold out” in a week, setting a record, so I was mindful of getting our application in promptly on the first day. Just as well I did, as by 12.00 on Tuesday 8 January the entry list was full (at 300 boats) and closed to further applicants – a new record and an incredible testament to the popularity of this challenging event. Since then, the entry limit has been lifted to 340 for IRC rated boats (like Juno), as well as extra places on top allowed for the “rock stars” in their Volvo 70s etc. – at the time of writing around 380 boats are expected off Cowes on  11 August.

With the die cast and crew selected it was time to consider Juno’s needs. Although there is always something that could be bought, the most pressing requirement was for a new mainsail as the old one had done 6,000 miles and had been repaired too many times to risk on the Fastnet – so an order was placed with North and although advantage was taken of the generous XYOA discount, this pretty much blew the budget for 2013. So no jib top (shame). After that it was time to get the crew together for a social – almost always a curry at The India (round the corner from LSC) for Juno’s team, and plan the sailing campaign.

I wanted to keep the sailing programme focussed specifically on the Fastnet and the necessary preparation for it, rather than add in lots of other events. Not only did this help with everyone’s other commitments, but I think it has helped keep us all feeling fresh and enthusiastic. So the programme was decided as:

  • Feb/March – a couple of “training/getting to know each other and Juno” weekends
  • Easter – the RORC Easter regatta – a series of 7 short sharp inshore races over 3 days, with on the water coaching and video debriefs by Jim Saltonstall each night. Excellent preparation in boat handling – and boy did we need it.
  • Then to offshore training:
    • JOG Cowes-Owers –Cowes (55 miles out and back)
    • RORC Myth of Malham (230 miles; Cowes- Eddystone Light–Solent)
    • RORC Morgan Cup (125 miles; Cowes-Dieppe – and in our case straight back non-stop)
    • RORC Channel Race (flexi-course – 100-140 miles depending on conditions)

RORC have a number of requirements that have to be met before an entry for the Fastnet is confirmed. Chief amongst these is that the prospective crew and boat together must have completed at least 300 miles of RORC racing in the 12 months prior to the race. So as well as the races above we diarised two other events as “back up” in case we had to retire from any of our planned choices. As luck would have it, however, these were not needed. Other entry requirements cover safety equipment and crew “theoretical” training (first aid and the ISAF Offshore Safety 2 day course). So Juno and her team formally qualified at the end of June after the Morgan Cup race, in which we recorded a very gratifying 4th in class (from 26) – Juno’s best RORC result to date.

So where are we now? Well there are 10 days to go before the start, and final preparations are under way. The commemorative team polo shirts have arrived; Juno’s bottom has just been scrubbed and the menu plan has been decided – along with who will pre-cook and freeze the daily suppers. Both symmetric spinnakers have been back for valeting and checking over, the rig has been checked and the extra safety equipment required this year (a means of recording a MoB position at the helm station) has been fitted. We’ve also hired a satellite phone to increase our access to GRIB files and other weather data while out of range of mobile broadband. All you traditional navigators will also be pleased to hear that the necessary extra paper charts have also arrived. All that remains is to complete the final small running repairs that a boat always needs and then start focussing on the weather and first leg tactics. As I am lead navigator this year that means a good few hours hunched over the laptop in the next 10 days, documenting our race strategy and initial route planning to circulate to the rest of the crew (like this one for the Morgan Cup), probably once a day next week.

Finally I have to get to Cowes (annoyingly I cannot do this at RORC’s London clubhouse) at some point before the start to register our entry and collect our Yellowbrick tracker. Oh well, looks like a day out this weekend.

After that we just have to sail from Cowes to Plymouth – the long way. To follow us “live” you will be able to pick up the relevant link here: http://fastnet.rorc.org/blog/race-information/tracking/index.html - or look for us on any AIS website, starting on the morning of Sunday 11 August.

All being well I’ll let you know how things went in Part 2.

Juno’s team for the 2013 Rolex Fastnet Race and their principal responsibilities are:

Mark – watch leader / mast

Simon – watch leader / pit

Alastair – headsail trim / watch navigator

Sally– main trim

Anthony– bow / watch navigator

Chris– helm

Charles– skipper / navigator-tactician / helm

Everybody on the boat has completed the ISAF Offshore safety course, two people are trained medics, three more have First Aid. There are 3 YM Offshores and one YM Ocean. All but one of the crew have completed one or more previous Fastnets. Everybody eats meat, cake and drinks beer (or wine at a pinch); all but two also eat porridge and vegetables.