My Sailing year 2011

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Sailing the Fastnet

As we near the end of 2011 I thought that I would recap on my sailing adventures over the past year. My first sail of 2011 was the January Fast Cruise to Hamble where Bill and Anne Lewis kindly offered me a berth on Musyk. I cannot remember too much about the weekend except that it was cold.For my next outing, and for almost all of the rest of the year, I was crewing on Charles Whittam's Juno for the February Fast Cruise to Gins Farm on the Beaulieu River. Again I do not have too much to report on this except that the finish buoy for the cruise was intended to be Raymarine off the mouth of the Beaulieu. Early on Saturday morning just before the cruise started i received a phone call from "Day at the Races", who is berthed in the Beaulieu, telling me that Raymarine was not in the water. After a few frantic phone calls a new finish line was organised and the other yachts informed of the change.

The final Fast Cruise in March saw us sail to Ocean Village for dinner at the RSYC. The last few legs of the Fast Cruise course, after Don's obligatory beat to Browndown, was a long spinnaker run from Hill Head all the way up Southampton Water. This was ideal conditions for Juno and we led the rest of the fleet by quite a large margin. As we crossed the finish line the tide in Southampton Water was just on the turn to the ebb and the rest of the fleet had a long haul in a dying breeze and strong ebb tide.

Late March and early April was spent tuning Juno and practicing various emergency situations in readiness for the Fastnet Race in August. The emergency steering trials can be read here.

The first serious weekend was the Easter weekend when Juno was entered in the RORC Easter Rally for some "round the cans" racing in the Solent. This took the form of a training weekend with a number of "experts" in ribs following the fleet and pointing out what you were doing wrong. Each evening a talk was presented by Jim Saltonstall, National Racing Coach for the RYA for 23 years. This proved to be a very interesting and informative weekend.

The first offshore race that Juno competed in was the RORC Cervantes Race to Le Havre. This took place on the first May bank holiday in easterly winds which at times were blowing at 20 to 25 knots. This was my first "round the island" as the course took us down the western Solent to the Needles Fairway buoy before turning east around St Catherines Point to the Nab Tower and then across the channel to Le Havre via a west cardinal buoy off Antifer. It gave me great satisfaction to see the 9 flashes appearing dead on the bow after about 10 hours of sailing from the Nab Tower. Having crossed the finish line we turned around without going ashore and returned to Hamble via the forts to complete the "round the island."

The next outing was again an offshore race on the last weekend holiday in May. This time it was organised by JOG to Deauville. With westerly winds and a starting leg towards the forts there was no beating in this race. Yet again, after crossing the finishing line we returned to the Hamble without going ashore. Apparently, the winds in the Solent had been quite severe and as we were approaching the eastern Solent we picked up a "Securite" message about a yacht that had sunk near Browndown Point. This was rather worrying as we would be entering the Solent after dark. We did consider going into Portsmouth for the night but we had no change of clothes on board and we were all soaked to the skin and so decided to push on to Hamble for a shower and change of clothes.

Our next outing was the RORC De Guingand Bowl Race. Again the westerly winds were in the upper 20s knots and after a hard beat down the western Solent we turned round Bridge buoy to sail up channel to the Greenwich light buoy. Just off St Catherines Point in strong wind over spring tide we attempted a gybe but managed to wrap the spinnaker around the forestay. The wrap was so tight that we couldn't free it and had to sail into Whitecliff Bay, in the lee of Culver Cliff and anchor so that we could send someone up the mast to free the spinnaker. This cost us four hours and, after short pursuit of the fleet,  we decided to retire at the Nab Tower and returned to the Hamble. This was our second "round the island"

The next race was on 24 June, the Round the Island Race. Once again a westerly wind in the high 20 knots was blowing a hard beat down the western Solent was the order of  the day. The run past St Catherines was fairly hairy with the large Round the Island fleet packed tightly together and wind over tide making the seas rather confused. A number of multihulls capsized and other boats lost masts or broke various bits. The VHF seemed to be continuously broadcasting Maydays. This was our third but official "Round the Island".

Immediately after returning to the Hamble I jumped off Juno and boarded Aeolus, a Hallberg Rassey 36 that Michael Forbes Smith had chartered for the Brittany rally. That evening we sailed down the western Solent heading for Alderney. This was in complete contrast to the day before. There was not another boat in sight and the wind had dropped to a zephyr. Having been awake since 0400 I was allowed to have the first off watch and after leaving the Solent I retired to my bunk below. On returning to the cockpit after 4 hours sleep I found we were motoring through thick fog in the middle of the shipping lanes. One long blast of 4 to 6 seconds duration forward of the beam made sure that I was fully awake and was glued to the radar screen plotting the target's track!

Just after dawn the fog cleared and the leading marks for Braye were clearly outlined by bright sunshine. We spent the night in Alderney and sailed at 0400 to catch the tide down to Lezardieux. Most of this day was spent motor sailing with virtually no wind. We passed outside the Casquets. Michael, being a Hornblower fan, wanted to see the rocks that were mentioned in many of the novels. It was obvious that we wouldn't reach Lezardrieux until very late in the day so we decided to have our evening meal before we entered the river and eat it in the cockpit with the autopilot turned on. After tidying the bowls away I took the helm and rounded up into the very light breeze to drop the mainsail. When the main was half down a squall suddenly hit us with no warning and as the sail was stowed I turned towards the river entrance to see a bank of fog rolling off the land. We stayed offshore for a few minutes wondering what to do next but the visibility improved slightly. We inched into the river with a lookout on the bows and someone down below at the chart plotter. We had timed our arrival for the start of the ebb so we could enter with a low SOG but still maintain steerage way. We arrived in the marina just as darkness was falling and had time for a couple of beers in the yacht club before retiring to our berths for yet another early start.

The next day was a 0400 start to catch the tide to L'Aber Wrac'h. The wind was much stronger on this day but acoming from the NW giving a fairly tight reach to L' Aber Wrac'h. At one point the wind reached 34 knots for a short period but was easing off as we reached our destination. After a rather rolly entrance to the harbour we tied up in the marina and found an excellent fish restaurant. The following day all the other boats on the rally arrived.

After a day's rest we again set of at 0400 to catch the tide through the Raz de Four down to Brest. The wind was light and the sea calm though the Raz. Michael's daughter joined the boat in Brest and the following day we sailed across the Gullet to Cameret for the rally dinner. I had a flight booked from Brest the following day so we once again sailed to Brest so that I could take a taxi to the airport.

The following weekend I was back aboard Juno for a return to Brittany in the RORC St Malo race. This race started on the Friday afternoon and as we were sailing to Cowes for the start the SW wind was a constant 35 knots! The race organisers wisely decided to start the fleet in an easterly direction rather than send around 100 boats beating past Hurst Castle with wind over tide. By the time we had reached Bembridge Ledge the tide had begun to ebb and so we set a course just to the south of St Catherines to pick up the strongest favourable tide. By this time the wind had eased to around 26 knots but the race around St Catherines was extremely rough. One crew member, sitting by the shrouds, disappeared under a wall of water. When he reappeared his lifejacket had inflated.

During the race the wind eased down until we were hardly moving through the water. We passed the Minquiers in the middle of the night with hardly any wind and the tide pushing us on to the rocks. At the last moment a light breeze filled in and allowed us to clear the SW Minquiers buoy. We eventually crossed the finish line around 0900 on Sunday morning after 42 hours of racing. We had about 3 hours ashore in St Malo before we had to return. The wind was virtually non-existent now and so we motored all the way back to Hamble via the Needles completing our fourth "round the island". Shortly after this race we had confirmation that we had completed our qualifying mileage for the Fastnet Race.

Two weeks later we competed in the last RORC race before the Fastnet; the Channel Race. This race was sailed in light winds; the first since the Easter weekend. The course took us out of the western Solent, around Bridge and then to a buoy off Brighton and then to the finish line at Gilkicker Point in the Solent. Our final and fifth "round the island".

The climax to the season started on the 14 August, the Fastnet Race. Our start was at 1130, the first of the IRC classes and just after the big catamarans, Volvo 60s and Class 40s. Yet again the SW wind was in the high 20s knots at the start and we had a long hard beat down the Solent and towards St Albans Ledge. After a few hours sailing it became obvious that we would not pass Portland Bill before the ide turned and so we short tacked between 50°22'N and 50°24'N to keep in the weakest tide. As we sailed west, the wind eased and backed to the SW. We did quite well as far as the Lizard but made a tactical error at the headland. We went inshore expecting the tide to be going westwards only to find that it was still flowing eastwards. As we rounded Lands End the wind suddenly increased in strength rising to force 7. However the strong wind only lasted for about 4 hours before easing again and by the time we reached the Fastnet it was very fitful. During the leg back to the Scillies the wind picked up again and we had a 155 mile close reach in force 4 taking just 22 hours to reach Bishop Rock. Once again the tide was misbehaving at the Lizard but this time it worked in our favour. Around 50 or 60 yachts had been caught by the tide and were stuck but the tide turned just as we reached the Lizard. For the last leg to Plymouth we were surrounded by over 60 other boats after 4½ days of sailing. We eventually crossed the finish line at the western end of the breakwater at 0131 on Friday morning finishing 34 out of 67 class 4 yachts and 108 out of 300 overall.

After partying until daylight, sleeping all day and partying again we sailed back to Hamble on Sunday, calling at Dartmouth, Weymouth, Poole and Cowes.

After the Fastnet I had a complete break from sailing until the October Fast Cruise to Ocean Village when a group of us chartered a Sun Oddysey 37. Family commitments meant I missed the November Fast Cruise but I am back in action on another chartered boat for the December Fast Cruise. So far this calendar year I have logged 2280 miles in 50 days and 94 night hours.

Sailing the Fastnet