Juno took part in the RORC Cervantes Challenge held over the early May bank holiday weekend. I am usually on board Juno on the Friday afternoon but this Friday was my wife's birthday and so I drove down after an evening meal in a local resturant which meant I arrived in Hamble at 2300 and was assigned the blow-up mattress on the cabin sole, all the berths being occupied by snoring crew.After a restless night the alarms went off at 0500 for an 0530 departure from Port Hamble. The course that had been set the previous evening was to start in a westward direction from the RYS starting line, leave the Needles fairway to port, round the Nab tower to starboard (leaving west Princessa and Bembridge Ledge to port) and then down to AH5 WCM off Antifer which was rounded to port and then to LH16, the last red channel marker into Le Havre which was the finish line, a distance of 125 miles.
Juno was the highest rated yacht in the slowest class, class 4, which was the first fleet to start at 0800. The line had a slight starboard end bias but with a Ne to E wind at 10-15 knots it was a running start. A strong flood tide was holding the 39 boat fleet back from the line. We opted for a starboard end start and then to hug the mainland shore in the hope of picking up the back eddies between Beaulieu and Lymington.
Although we were not on the line when the gun went we were one of the first boats to cross the start line and were leading a group of yachts heading for the mainland side. Another group had opted for the island shore and appeared to be better placed just after the start. We sailed to our optimum run angles of about 160° TWA gybing frequently to avoid the shallow water and the stronger tide. As we past Hurst Castle it was obvious that the northern shore had paid and that we were leading the fleet at this point. However as we approached Needles Fairway buoy some indecision over when to gybe meant that we approached the buoy with the wind dead behind us and in the last 200m to the mark we allowed 2 boats to overtake.
We rounded Needles Fairway at 1000 and the tide, which had been against us all the way down the western Solent, now decided to turn. This meant that we were faced with a 30 mile beat against a foul tide to the Nab Tower. This beat was a disaster for us. We just couldn't produce the boat speed that our competitors were achieving and we gradually dropped back through the fleet. Up to St Catherines Point it was more a closehauled fetch on port tack, but once round the headland we started a series of short tacks along the shore, tacking more or less on the 2 metre contour and then standing out for about 300 metres before tacking in again.
We rounded the Nab at around 1730 and set course for the buoy off Antifer which was a close, two sail reach. During the night we could see lightning in the clouds to windward but luckily the anticipated thunder storm did not materialise. We rounded AH5 at about 0230 on Sunday morning and hardened up to a beat to the finish line about 3 hours (or 20 miles) away. Once again the tide turned against us. We eventually crossed the finish line at 0608 on Sunday morning 24th out of 39 starters. The beat along the back of the Wight had cost us dearly.
Whilst in range of the French telephone transmitters we downloaded the shipping forecast from the met office website to find a gale force 8 later warning for Thames, Dover and Wight. We therefore turned northwards and headed back to the Solent with the wind approximately 100° off the bow gusting 18 to 20 knots under full main and no 3 jib. Later in the passage we had to drop 1 reef and then 2 reefs in the main but we were back at Bembridge Ledge buoy at 1700. A distance of 84 miles in less than 11 hours, an average speed of nearly 8 knots! As we passed through the forts some gusts of 28 to 30 knots came through and we dropped the jib and sailed up the North Channel under mainsail alone with the boat exceeding 10 knots at times.
After some minor excitement trying to get into the berth with 25knots of wind blowing us away from the pontoon and lots of winching in of the mooring lines we were tied up in Port Hamble at 2000. After supper and a shower we started the serious process of rehydration in Banana Wharf, the Bugle and the King and Queen before turning into our berths at closing time for some much needed sleep.