January & February.
My season started with the Fast Cruise Series (in fact it never stopped) by chartering yachts for the January event to Bucklers Hard and the February event to Yarmouth. The Yarmouth cruise was especially entertaining as it took part on the same weekend that storms lashed the French coast causing considerable damage in places such as La Rochelle. Fortunately the Solent caught the very edge of the depression but it still gave us some interesting situations.
Charles Whittam took delivery of his new boat Juno, an X34. I was lucky enough to be invited for the commissioning/delivery sail and met up with Charles and Kate Newman at Hamble Point Marina. When I boarded Juno the electronics man was still aboard making final adjustments to the Navtex, AIS, VHF etc. We were joined shortly by two people from X Yachts and cast off for a short sail in Southampton Water. We had an eventful sail. One of the X Yachts men told us he had set up the echo sounder to read depth of water under the keel. Leaving the River Hamble we cut the corner to go up Southampton Water and came to a complete stop. Apparently the depth sounder had reset itself to read depth under the sounder, not depth under the keel!. The moral of the story is don't go north of a south cardinal buoy!
Luckily a passing RIB pulled us off using the spinnaker halliard and we sailed up Southampton Water to calibrate the log against the measured mile just north of Fawley Oil Refinery. The following day a number of the regular Juno crew arrived and we had a practice sail around the Solent trying to understand what all the bits of string did.
Juno was also used by X Yachts with a "Works Crew" for the Warsash Spring Series where she finished 1st overall. I was unable to take part in any of these races but did have a second practice sail in March.
Juno was entered in the first JOG offshore races of the season over the Easter Weekend at the beginning of April to Cherbourg. This was due to start at 07:30hrs on Good Friday but gales were blowing in the channel and so the start was postponed by 24 hours. We duly set off at 07:30hrs from Cowes on Saturday but although the wind had eased off a bit the seas were still rather rough. For most of the race the wind was on the nose and although we were doing over 6 knots through the water the VMG was only about 3 to 4 knots, making it a long passage.
At one point after dark the wind freed enough for us to hoist the spinnaker and we began to reduce the distance to Cherbourg. During this spinnaker reach I went below to write up the log and whilst down below I removed my foul weather gear to visit the heads. At this moment the boat was hit by a squall which also headed us so it was necessary to drop the spinnaker quickly. In the dark, and in a new boat, the wrong clutch was opened at the wrong time and the spinnaker fell into the water behind the boat. I went up the companionway to help but having removed my lifejacket and harness wasn't very keen to go any further. From here I could reach the corner of the sail which some one passed to me and tried to pull the sail down the companionway. Unfortunately it had picked up several gallons of cold sea water which came down the back of my neck. Once the spinnaker was stowed below it was decided that the jib that was on deck was too big for the squall that we were in. I found the small jib and passed it up through the fore hatch and was handed the other jib. This was full of rain water which again went down the back of my neck. At least it washed the salt off! I kept my oilies on for the rest of the passage!
We finally arrived in Cherbourg at about 21:40hrs with 30 knots of wind blowing across the pontoons in the marina. Trying to moor was interesting. We finished 6th.
Normally the race back to Cowes starts early on Sunday morning but a skippers' meeting had been scheduled for 09:00 hrs where it was decided to start the race at midday. All of us on board Juno were tired, cold and wet and so we decided to withdraw from the race. We had a good lunch in the Yacht Club in Cherbourg and departed at about 14:00 hrs for the return sail which we did with reefed main and small jib set.
My next outing on Juno was on the first May bank holiday where we took part in the JOG race to St Vaast. This was a fairly uneventful sail and we crossed the channel on a spinnaker reach in about 20 knots of wind. This, however, was not our best race, we finished 9th. The weekend was remembered for the fact that we did not go ashore. A northerly gale was forecast and so we turned around immediately and sailed straight back to Hamble. The gale arrived as I was driving up the M3.
In the middle of May Juno took part in the Royal Southern YC spring regatta. This comprised 4 short races over the weekend around buoys in the Solent. A much more frantic scene compared with offshore racing.
The Spring Bank Holiday I was aboard Juno once again taking part in JOG race to Deauville. This race is jointly arranged by a number of clubs and the start is from the Royal London YC line in Cowes. Whilst we were manoeuvring for the start, listening to instructions on VHF 72, we heard our commodore discussing a gale warning with other LSC boats planning to sail to St Vaast. We had not picked up any gale warning on any of the forecasts we had looked at and this produced a frantic hunt for smart phones to pick up the lastest shipping forecast. In the event we had a fast 2 sail reach across the channel in about 20 knots of wind. As we left Bembridge Ledge for the cross channel leg I was rather concerned that the course to steer that I had calculated was much further to leeward of the rest of the fleet. I spent an anxious time rechecking my calculations, checking the route in the computer and checking for predicted wind shifts but couldn't find any errors. But as they all disappeared over the windward horizon I became more and more concerned. In the event we were one of the first boats across the finish line and picked up a 2nd place on corrected time.
The only sailing I did in June was the Round the Island Race. This was the first time I had taken part in the RTIR and was amazed by the number of boats leaving the Hamble at 04:00 hrs. The next largest fleet I have sailed in was a Merlin Rocket championships in the early 1970s where 220 boats took part. We were rather disappointed with our position in this race. I take responsibility for this by taking us too far into the adverse tide around the back of the island.
Also in June, Juno took part in the JOG race to Alderney and finished 4th. I did not take part in this race.
In July I took part in two of the longest races in Juno. The first, at the beginning of the month was a 164 mile race to St Malo. We crossed the channel fairly quickly but soon after rounding the Casquets the wind died completely and we drifted with the tide between the Casquets and Geurnsey for 9 hours. The wind then filled in and we rounded the SW corner of Guernsey with a light breeze of around 10 knots but by the time we were at the same latitude as Jersey the wind died again. When the tide turned north again we abandoned the race and went to St Peter Port arriving there at about 03:00hrs on the Sunday.
After a good night's sleep we sailed back on a beam reach with 15 to 20 knots of wind and in bright sunshine. One of the best sail's of the year. Something I learnt here is with a boat that can do 6 knots, if you leave St Peter Port when there is just enough rise of tide to cross the sill you catch the northerly tide through the Alderney Race and the next flood through the Needles. We actually averaged about 7 knots across the channel and reached the Needles a little bit early on the last of the ebb but it wasn't enough to worry about.
The second race was the 340 mile JOG race to La Trinité-sur-Mer in southern Brittany. This started in 25 knots south westerly and going through the Needles channel with an ebb tide was interesting. Here I very nearly went over the side. Having spent some time short tacking and grinding in the jib sheets we changed places and the foredeck crew came back to do some grinding. This meant that I was furthest forward on the side deck, a long way from my natural habitat. On one tack the jib foot caught on the lifelines and I went to skirt it. Just as I was moving a wave caught the boat and I shot across the foredeck headfirst towards the side. I grabbed the lifeline with both hands but then let go with one so that I could skirt the jib. Once I had stopped the slide across the deck I felt perfectly safe but the boat was heeling so much I couldn't move. This wasn't helped by Kate hanging on to my boots!
As we crossed the channel the wind fell and as the tide turned the seas quietened down considerably. The following morning saw us becalmed just to the west of the Casquets and in sight of Guernsey once again. Two weeks earlier we hadn't kedged because we were in 80 metres of water. This time we were in 100 metres. After 5 or 6 hours the wind filled again and we rounded Ushant at about midnight on Sunday. Once round Ushant and into the Bay of Biscay we encountered numerous pods of dolphins.
On the leg south of Ushant the steering started to make some strange noises and we couldn't work out what was causing it. It was decided that we should nurse the boat. Fifty miles from the finish line the leg became free enough to carry the spinnaker but with the concerns over the steering we decided not to fly it. We finished 4th in this race, only 43 minutes behind the winner after 77.5 hours of sailing. If only we had used the spinnaker! We moored in La Trinité marina at about 22:30 on Tuesday evening; 11:30pm FST. Our first thought, after more than 3 days of sea (and with the water tanks empty), was a drink. Fortunately, we found a bar right at the end of the pontoon. Unfortunately for the locals, we were still wearing the same clothes that we had been wearing for nearly four days!
We had a rest day in La Trinité whist an X Yachts agent checked over the steering and found that it was only due to stretched cables between the wheel and the steering quadrant. In the process of removing the wheel he managed to hit himself on the nose and covered the cockpit with blood. Still, this probably isn't the first British registered boat to spill French blood in Quiberon Bay.
We cruised back via Port Tudy on Isle de Groix, Loctudy and Brest where Kate and I left the boat to fly home. I gather that Juno was fog-bound in Brest for a day but also called at Camaret (because of the fog), Dartmouth and then returned to Port Hamble.
I did very little sailing during August. Juno sailed in the JOG race to Fecamp and finished 4th but I was in Scotland at the time.
My next sail was over the bank holiday weekend in the JOG race to St Peter Port. This was both an uphill and downhill race. Uphill in that it was mostly against the spring tides but downhill in that the wind was abaft the beam all the way across the channel. The spinnaker reach westwards down the Solent was very slow against the tide and it took about 4 hours to reach the Bridge buoy. The wind backed to the west as we were passing Yarmouth which meant that the spinnaker had to be dropped quickly as the tide started to push us towards Black Rock. An hour or so after rounding the Bridge the wind freed again and we were able to hoist the assymmetric spinnaker and we had one of the best night sails I've experienced; surfing directly along the full moon's reflection with the wind at around 20 knots and a boat speed around 10 knots. Unfortunately the conditions suited the J class yachts and later we had reports that some of them were doing 19 knots!! A speed with which we couldn't compete. The final leg through the Little Russel was also against the tide. At some places we were doing over 7 knots through the water but only about 1 knot over ground. This race we finished 6th.
The sail back was a difficult sail. After a late night on Saturday and a lie in on Sunday we found that the 05:00 shipping forecast gave a northerly Gale 8 later warning for Wight and Portland. By the time we saw this the tide had fallen too far for us to cross the cill in the marina. Anyway we couldn't return to the Hamble in 12 hours. The lunch time shipping forecast had downgraded the winds to N to NW 5 to 7. We could cope with a 5. What about a 7? We decided to leave on the evening tide. The ride up the Little Russell (wind over tide) was very wet. By the time we reached the Alderney Race we had the lower washboard in but the seas in the race itself were not too bad. However, as we came out of the lee of the island and entered the point where the eastbound tide and northbound tide meet the seas became very rough and we shipped a lot of water. Although the winds were never as strong as forecast the wind angle meant that we couldn't lay the Needles and so opted for the eastern entrance to the Solent which we could do on one tack. Of course this meant we had a foul tide in the Solent. The return passage took about 21 hours. Just over a month earlier we had done the same passage in about 15 hours.
The rest of 2010.
I did no sailing in September. I should have been on Juno for the last race of the season to Cherbourg but my son decided to move to New York on the same day the race started and so I was on domestic duties at Heathrow about 2 hours before the scheduled race start. Juno managed a 6th place in extremely bad weather and finished 5th place overall. 9th October Fast Cruise will be Juno's last outing of the season before being lifted out for the winter. A number of us who regularly crew on Juno will be taking part in the rest of the Fast Cruises in chartered boats again.
I think the season can be summed up as sailing in foul weather or sailing in flat calms. There was very little of gentle force 3 winds and bright sunshine.