Juno has just taken part in the JOG Salona Illingworth Challenge race from Cowes to La Trinité-sur-Mer in Southern Brittany, a distance of about 340 miles. The crew on this occasion was Charles Whittam (skipper), Kate Newman, Simon Hughes, John Strode, Mark van Miltenberg (not a club member) and myself. The race started at 1600hrs on the 17th July and the course was westwards out of the Solent, leave Ushant to port, leave Ile de Sein to port and then to La Trinité. There were a few other marks of the course to stop boats straying too close to rocks in southern Brittany.
The afternoon of the 17th July saw the wind coming from the SW at 20 to 24 knots with occasional gusts of 27 knots. These conditions provided for some excitement even before the race started. We motored from our berth in Port Hamble to the start line to the west of Cowes and then hoisted the main sail with 2 reefs. In the process of doing this the tide had carried us some way to the west and we bore away back towards the starting area when a squall came through. Under double reefed mainsail and no jib the boat speed exceeded 10 knots in the squall.
The beat down the western Solent was fast with the ebb tide reaching its maximum speed as we appoached the Needles channel. This made the sea quite lively, to say the least, with sheets of water coming over the foredeck at regular intevals soaking all of the crew. The Assie in the crew reckoned that the waves were higher than on Bondi Beach!
After clearing Bridge buoy we settled down on starboard tack to cross the channel immediately and to pass south of the Off Casquets TSS. During the night the wind began to ease and with a change of tide the seas became more comfortable as well. Between 2000 hrs and 0800 hrs we worked a 3 hour watch system and between 0800 hrs and 2000 hours we worked a 4 hour watch system. This meant that the watches changed from day to day and no one was always on watch at 0300 every day.
Towards the end of the night we picked up the light at Cap de la Hague, followed by the light at Quernard Point in Alderney and finally the Casquets light house. After passing the TSS we tacked onto port tack and headed west to the south of the TSS. During this period the wind was continually easing and by 0700 on Sunday 18th July had died away altogether. With Guernsey a distant speck on the horizon we began to drift with the tide again bringing back memories of the St Malo race 2 weeks earlier. The only difference was that this time the depth sounder was reading closer to 100m rather than the 60m in the previous race.
The chart shows the GPS derived position fixes between 0700 and 1500 hours; the top figure being time and the bottom figure being the log reading.
Eventually the wind picked up and we managed to head to the west again. As dusk was appoaching we managed to make out rising above the horizon the shape of Ile de Ushant which we rounded at about midnight on Sunday. We were now in the Bay of Biscay.
On the leg down to Chausee de Sein, the buoy on the western most part of the Ile de Sein, we saw a school of dolphins feeding in the distance. As soon as they saw the boat they swam towards us and frollicked around the boat for about 10 minutes.
This was the first of many sightings whilst we were in the Bay of Biscay.
When we were south of Ile de Sein we began to be aware of a strange graunching noise coming from the wheel. This gradually became worse as time went by. When we rounded the next mark of the course, still 50 miles from the finishing line the wind came free enough to fly a spinnaker.
However, we had some concerns with the wheel and did not want to put it under any more load and so decided not to fly the spinnaker. We had rounded the buoy along side a J109 yacht, a faster yacht than ours which eventually finished in 3rd place. For the next 40 miles we broad reached without the spinnaker and it was only 10 miles from the finish that the wind went so light that we decided that we could use the spinnaker in about 8 knots of wind.
Eventually we crossed the finish line at La Trinité in the dusk just before 2130 hrs BST on Tuesday evening, a total race time of 77 hours 29 minutes and 30 seconds to give us 4th place. After more than 3 days racing we were only 43 minutes behind the winning boat on corrected time. If only we had used the spinnaker. C'est la vie.
By the time we had tied the boat up it was nearly midnight French time but the yacht club bar was still open and was immediately filled with tired sailors who had all been wearing the same clothes for nearly 4 days from about 20 yachts.
Wednesday was a rest day. We remained at La Trinité and had the wheel inspected. It turned out that the noise was caused by the steering cables that had stretched and just needed re-tightening. Simon had to leave very early (0500hrs) on Thursday to fly back from L'Orient. The remaining 5 now went into cruising mode. (We put water in the water tank and fuel in the fuel tank) and sailed gently with the small jib and reef in the mainsail to Ile de Groix in about 14 knots of wind. As we approached Port Tudy on the Ilse de Groix I radioed the harbour master to check that they had room and was told that we would have to moor to a buoy. This was dissapointing as we were not carrying a dinghy and so would have to remain on board. However, when we entered the harbour there were only a few very large buoys to which a large number of yachts were rafted together. We were directed to raft up against one yacht that turned out to be owned by one of Charles's friends who had arrived 30 minutes before us. So, after a cockpit party he pumped up his dinghy and ferried us all ashore for a meal and more drinking.
An early start was called for on Friday so that we could reach Loctudy in the early afternoon and have some rest before we departed at 2300 to reach the Raz de Sein for slack at 0915 on Saturday morning. Initially, during the passage planning the wind was right on the nose and blowing 16-18 knots. By 2300 it had died away to almost nothing and we made better time under engine than planned and had to spend 2 hours waiting for slack water.
At slack water this as nothing compared to the Needles Channel a few days earlier.
Kate's camera case clasp causes crazy compass chaos for concerned captain.
After negotiating the Raz de Sein we set a course for Brest where Kate and I were catching a flight home. Passing through the Raz everyone had their cameras out taking photographs and a number were left in the cockpit. The yacht was on auto-pilot motoring in to the rock strewn mouth of Brest harbour when the boat suddenly turned to starboard. On investigation the fluxgate compass was giving a reading 45° different from the magnetic compass. A quick check with the hand held showed that the magnetic compass was correct and a frantic search for the fluxgate manual to discover the cause of the problem commenced. Someone thought that my camera might be causing the problem but it was turned off and had no affect when moved. Searching under some oilskins which were also on the cockpit seat we found Kate's camera and as soon as that was moved the boat, which was still being controlled by auto-pilot, veered to port and the magnetic and fluxgate compasses gave the same heading. On investigation it turned out that the camera case had a magnetic clasp and someone must have moved the case so that it was resting right above the fluxgate compass which was mounted on the roof of the cockpit locker.
We tied up in the new Marina du Chatêau in Brest where Don Shankley flew out and joined us Saturday night. We had an excellent meal before Kate and I left on Sunday's flight back to Southampton. Charles, John, Mark and Don are continuing the passage back along the north Brittany shore before returning to the Hamble next weekend.