With the winter fast cruises, you know what you are getting yourself into. Wind (lots), rain (some), with perhaps a little sleet or snow and the occasional patch of ice on deck. A timed passage in mid-June is completely different, of course. Or it should be.
But this is an English summer, so Shearwater headed to the start in a wind forecast to be south west force 5-7. Familiar conditions, then. Fortunately, the rain held off until Saturday evening and the journey back from the pub, but the sailing was dominated by south-west winds which frequently topped 30 knots apparent. A couple of boats familiar from the winter were present: Chris Overall's Oxygen and Richard Strong's Solid Air along with Amber One and Sour Kraut who were new to us.
The cruise started by No Man's Land Fort, close to Ryde, but the generous start window meant we saw nobody we recognised. Without the obvious presence of competitors, the adrenalin wasn't quite the same this time, but we deployed the traditional ginger biscuits to stave off wave generated nausea just in case. Bearing in mind we had the organiser, Michael Forbes Smith on board, it seemed polite that we arrive reasonably early to dispense snacks and alcohol at the finish, so Shearwater crossed the line shortly after the tide turned with two reefs and a a couple of rolls in the jib.
The first leg was a long fetch on port tack to Calshot north cardinal mark with the seas gradually getting steeper as the tide began to build. We gave Calshot a wide berth and tacked for Gurnard NCM, the next mark, only to discover that the tide was not quite strong enough to carry us conveniently east of Bramble Bank. Since one of Shearwater's sister Maxi 1100s lost her keel on the bank last year, it seemed that discretion was called for, so a couple more tacks found us at Gurnard.
The next mark was Hampstead Ledge, just off Newtown Creek, and it was here that we caught our first sight of the competition: the distinctive pale blue hull of Oxygen apparently closing fast. We resigned ourselves to having to share the crisps and wine with at least one other boat.
At this point, Avril complained the sea water that had eluded the spray hood was running down her neck and it was time for the winter series balaclava to get another outing, though the sunglasses were retained to preserve the illusion of summer warmth.
The final leg to Jack in the Basket, the quaintly named port hand mark off Lymington was a fast close reach and we were finished. Wet, but strangely not freezing cold. An obligatory dram and tea, then salt removal in Berthon Marina's luxurious showers was a great preparation for the pontoon party, during which the rain did not fall, none of the snacks blew away and nobody required treatment for frostbite.
The pub, the Mayflower, had a tiger's head on the wall, but the fare was definitely English with burgers and fish and chips on the menu. The surroundings were relaxing, the staff friendly and the food good, even if the decor was an eclectic mix of English country house and American diner with red leather benches and mirrors along the length of the walls. At least the fires didn't need to be lit.
Thank you to Michael for organising the event, to the handicappers for their efforts in developing the promising new system and to everyone else who took part. It was great to meet some new faces from the LSC. I suspect this summer sailing thing could catch on.
Avril and Andy Ormsby