The Navigator (Chris) stepped on board 6X after the dinghy ride over to the mooring and cast a racing sailor's eye over the boat and her contents. "You won't need an inflatable dinghy on board when you're surrounded by 200 other boats to pull you out of the water", was his first comment as he opened the engine compartment and tested the tension on the drive belt. I pulled a notepad out of my nav bag and started making a list headed: THINGS TO COME OFF.
The list of things to come off included spare anchor chain, inflatable dinghy, CQR (we have a kedge anchor in the anchor locker), sprayhood, berth cushions that won't be used, spare lifelines, two tins of tomato soup and a tin of semolina (quite right too, no-one likes it anyway). I decided to keep quiet about the half bottle of whiskey and two cans of beer as they might be needed for mental health reasons on the RTIR weekend.
The day was sunny, warm and blustery with a wind forecast of F4-5 with gusts up to 28mph. Having sailed 6X in all sorts of wind conditions I know she is a boat that needs hard reefing early on or you show your hull to the world and wish your crew were all 20 stone beefcake. The northeasterly direction in Portsmouth makes it a bit of a wind funnel and the Solent usually stays nice and flat with the wind off the land. We put one reef in the main on the mooring to get everyone used to the reefing system and chose the mid-size genoa. This started a new list of: THINGS TO GET. The genoa was sadly lacking in tell-tales.
The THINGS TO GET list got longer as I remembered that I hadn't replaced the dodgy winch handles and we were down to one, non-locking handle which if it went overboard would leave us with two locking winch handles which had worn out so much they won't unlock from the winches when not in use.
The Sailmaster (Giles) hoisted the main and we added 'spare cleat' to the THINGS TO GET list. The clutches for the ropes into the halyard are a bit worn and don't clutch. The Gopher (Kim) on the bow decided that waterproof trousers were the order of the day after her first soaking. The Navigator decided we would all need boots or maybe he was just getting cold feet at the whole idea.
Sailing downwind with a big spring tide pushing us towards Cowes, we tested out our sail plans. There was a good reason I had invited two very experienced dinghy sailors to be part of the crew. Downwind sailing with a big wind behind makes the boat twist and roll and the Navigator decided that goosewinging wasn't going to be the best point of sailing for our RTIR weekend. I was later told by the Admiral (my Dad) that a twin headsail sail plan is good for downwind in a big sea as it puts all the effort forwards, stops the rolling and makes it easier on the helm.
Downwind with the tide we were easily doing 7 knots and experimented with reefing up and down before turning round to beat back upwind and into the tide. Everyone took turns on the helm for some close tacking practice. This was a Friday afternoon in the Solent with not even any commercial shipping to contend with, so we had to visualise hard to imagine the 1,799 other boats that would be around us on race day.
By 1600 we had made it back across the Solent to Gilkicker, the Navigator mentioned our ETA back at Haslar marina of 1700 and I put the engine on. Even so we slogged slowly back to the mouth of Portsmouth Harbour, the crew helped on by the Sailmaster's strawberry tarts and some coffee from a flask.
We plopped the boat into a downwind berth without running into the end of the pontoon (I impressed myself with my controlled parking) and had a quick cockpit de-brief and provisioning chat for the race weekend, before the crew went their ways homeward and onward and the skipper worked out the logistics of the 6X weight loss plan.
Saturday morning saw me at Arthur's Chandlery working through my THINGS TO GET list. Two new winch handles (floating ones, don't you know?... so you can look at them longingly as they drift away from you); new flare pack; cleat; tell-tales. I collected the sail dodger (phew, gave them the right number).
After a lovely harbour sail up to Fareham and Porchester with the Admiral on the helm and Patrick and I testing out the new winch handles, I stripped 6X of all the cruising gear. Once filled, the trolley was too heavy for me to drag up the ramp at Haslar on my own and my car tyres sank under the weight. But 6X looked a different boat once stripped of the clutter. We put her back on her mooring with a distinct list to starboard (where the fuel tank, stove and stove fuel tank are all sited).
Never mind, I'll stash the whisky, beer and food on the port side and we'll be straight. I have a feeling 6X is looking forward to this adventure, I certainly am.
Here's a picture I received from the Navigator, Goose Rock from the air during the 2006 race. Looks busy!