The recent JOG race to St Peter Port was a game of two halves or at least a weekend of two halves. Once again I was in the crew of Juno, an X34.
The start to the west of Cowes was on the August bank holiday Friday evening. Our start, Class 4, was at 1900hrs, about 1 hour after low water. We all expected the start to be with the tide, eastwards through the forts but as we approached the start line we could see a green flag flying which meant that the course out of the Solent was westwards, against the flood tide and this was only a day after springs. The race out of the Solent was going to be very tactical.
We made one of our best starts of the season being first boat over the line. If I was being hyper-critical I would say that we could have been 5 seconds earlier. (I have to say that to stop the skipper getting above himself.) The NW to N wind meant that it was just possible to carry the assymetric spinnaker and it was immediately hoisted as soon as the gun sounded. However, with the spinnaker up we couldn't cross to the mainland shore where the weaker tides would be and so we had to opt for the island shore to cheat the tide but the rest of the fleet were doing the same.
By the time we reached Yarmouth it was about the third hour of the flood and the tide was building significantly. We had a bit of a nasty moment when the wind, which had been flukey all the way down the solent, suddenly headed us. With the tide now pushing hard on our weather bow we started to shoot sideways towards Black Rock at an alarming rate. In a trice we had the spinnaker down and the jib set. (we are getting good at sail changes, especially when sheer panic takes hold!). A quick tack was necessary to avoid disaster.
Eventually the wind settelled down and we were able to rehoist the spinnaker. We eventually reached Bridge WC, a mark of the course at 2300hrs. It had taken 4 hours to leave the Solent.
Approaching Bridge we had another bit of excitement. The wind was beginning to head us. We were still carrying the spinaker and we had to pinch to leave Bridge to port. We could see the green light of another yacht under our spinnaker that had had to tack to lay the buoy. At least we were on starboard tack. Then someone saw two white lights in line with a red to their right and a green to their left. We dropped the spinnaker and hardened up and gradually the green light disappeared and the white lights ceased to be in line. Panic over!
For the next couple of hours we sailed with just the main and jib until the wind freed enough to carry the assymetric spinnaker again. Now we had one of the best sails we've had this year. The sea was lit by the moon just 3 days after full. The sea was flat and the wind was around 20 knots, just abaft the beam. The log was continually showing 9 knots and occasionally exceeding 10 knots as we hurtled through the night. It wasn't long before we could see the lights, with their now very familiar characteristics, of Quernard and Casquets.
Approaching Casquets we had another few moments of drama. Our track took us fairly close, but not through, the Off Casquets TSS. There was another yacht about 1 mile ahead of us and a number of ships bound up channel seemed to be aiming for the gap between us. On three occasions we had to pinch up, with the spinnaker flapping, as large container ships passed across our bows. After what seemed for ever we could at last see the green lights of approaching ships which meant that we were across the shipping lane.
We rounded the Casquets just after first light and turned towards the Little Russell. The tide was just beginning to flood again and we had to punch hard against the tide in the Little Russell, making about 7 knots through the water but only 2 knots over the ground. The tide around Roustel and the standing wave just to the north had to be seen to be believed.
Still we hadn't finished with close encounters of the large ships kind. A cruise liner was anchored off St Peter Port and was right across our track to the finish line. Yet again we had to pinch up with spinnaker flogging, to clear the bow and eventually cross the finish line at 09:49hrs. A total race time of less than 15 hours and that was against the spring tide out of the Solent and down the Little Russell. Unfortunately, it only gave us sixth place but at least we finished close to HW and could enter the Victoria Marina without waiting.
Saturday was spent catching up on sleep and visiting local hostleries. We had dinner in Christie's restuarant which I can highly recommend followed by a visit to the night club where I felt a little bit out of my age group.
Sunday morning was also spent resting. Towards late morning I checked the shipping forecast using the internet only to find a northerly gale force 8 later warning for Wight and Portland. It was too late to move the boat over the cill and so there was nothing we could do about it. We were stuck until 20:00hrs at the earliest.
At the JOG drinks reception in Castle Cornet we discovered that a number of boats had already departed to try and return home before the gale. Lunch was had in the Guernsey Yacht Club followed by a visit to the Guernsey produce market along the quayside.
The midday shipping forecast was down graded for winds of W veering NW force 5 to 7 seas moderate. The only good news was visibility goodand that the gale had passed. the inshore forecasts for both the Channel Islands and Sesey Bill to Lyme Regis indicated that the trend was for slowly decreasing winds.
On the basis of these forecasts we decided to depart at our planned depature time of 20:00hrs or as soon as we could pass over the cill. We set the two reefing pennants that we have through the 2nd and 3rd reef points and departed a little before 20:00hrs. After leaving St Peter Port we set 2 reefs in the main, did not set a jib and set off up the Little Russell with a fair tide and rapidly increasing darkness. As we passed Roustel we didn't see the standing wave previously mentioned, just to the north of Roustel, but we felt it as gallons of water crashed over the decks drenching everyone who was in the cockpit.
Next up was the Alderney race. To start with this didn't seem too bad as we were in the lee of the island, but as we emerged out of the top of the race into the area where the north bound and west bound tides meet and out of the shelter of the island we received a number of waves over the top. At least we were prepared with the lower washboard fitted.
By this time two of the crew had been taken ill and had retired to the sick bay (The two berths nearest the centre of the yacht). The remaining 4 of us worked 2 hour watches but the only berth available to the off watch was the rear double cabin. Even though there was a lee cloth to split it in two it was still very intimate with the lee rail under water. The wind was also too far to the north for us to be able to lay the Needles and so we had to aim for Bembridge adding another 10 or 15 miles to the passage.
We eventually arrived back at Hamble at 16:00hrs, a passage time of about 20 hours.
And so concluded the weekend of 2 halves. An exhilarating high speed moonlit spinnaker reach out and a cold, wet, wild, windy weturn (sorry, return)