The Fastnet Race - from Juno's Nav Table

On the way to the start line

My race started in inauspicious circumstances. Whilst climbing aboard Juno I managed to drop my sleeping bag in the sea. It was quickly recovered and hung across the boom in the hope that it would dry. My second error was not to don my oilskins before the start. Sunday 14th August started brightly with  a SW wind gusting to 20 knots blowing up the Solent.  On motoring out of the Hamble we were greeted by a colourful site as 300 boats passed through the two check gates, to the north and south of the Solent, wearing orange storm jibs and trysails.

The "professional" classes were first to start with the big multi-hulls starting first at 1100 followed by the IMOCA 60s and then the Class 40s. We had an excellent view as the larger boats beat down the Solent. We were next to start at 1130 in IRC Class 4, the biggest fleet of 67 boats. With the tide still flooding we opted to start on Starboard tack, about a third of the way along the starting line from the Island shore and headed inshore to pick up the eddies that should have started to flow westwards. Unfortunately a number of boats started on port tack close inshore and it soon became obvious that that was the right place to be.

The tide started to ebb just after 1200 and after a number of short tacks inshore on the island side we tacked into the centre of the Solent to make full use of the tide.

As the ebb tide built, and as we approached Hurst narrows, the seas started to build and as a wave came over the boat and along the side deck I wished I had donned my oilskins. I now had a damp sleeping bag and damp clothes. My only change of clothes was in the boot of a car in St Albans waiting to be delivered to Plymouth the following weekend.

We passed the Needles and set off on port tack towards St Albans Point hoping to use the race over the ledge to push us further westwards. However, before we got there it was obvious that we wouldn't pass Portland Bill before the tide changed. We therefore tacked on to starboard before the ledge to make sure we were far enough to the south not to be affected by the eastbound race around the Bill. The Bill was passed using a number of short tacks between 50° 22'N and 50° 24'N to keep in the weakest adverse tide. We passed the Bill surprisingly easily.

We were well offshore as we passed Start Point but as we approached the Lizard the tide tables suggested that we would have a favourable tide and so we passed close inshore, only to find that the tide was still foul and that we couldn't make any way through the chop. This was definitely a tactical error.

We rounded land End at dusk on the second day and as we were halfway across the TSS we were hit by a squall. Up to this point we had carried full sail but we rapidly had to put 2 reefs in the main and change to the No 4 Jib. Whilst this was happening a ship appeared in the southbound lane and we had to take avoiding action halfway through the sail change.

The leg from Lands End was a close reach with the wind at about 70°. The strong winds, gusting to about 28 knots lasted for about 4 hours and at times the end of the boom was in the water making it difficult to spill wind. Gradually the wind eased back to around 16 knots and we had a comfortable sail up towards the Fastnet Rock. Here we made another tactical error by sailing to the north of the rhumb line. Looking at the race tracker when we had finished it became clear that the boats that had stayed south of the rhumb line had benefited.

When I came on watch at 0000 on Tuesday morning I was greeted by the news that the loom of the Fastnet light could be seen. Shortly after this the wind veered enough for us to be able to hoist the asymetric spinnaker and we raced along at 9 or 10 knots with dolphins swimming through the bow waves. By the time we went off watch at 0400 the light was above the horizon. All of the off watch asked to be woken to witness the rounding of the "Rock". We were duly aroused at 0600 with the rock about a mile away. As soon as we were all awake the wind dropped and we drifted for another two and a half hours before we eventually rounded it. After sailing for days on our own, with only the odd sail seen on the horizon, we were suddenly in the midst of 30 or 40 boats, all rounding the rock at the same time.

The spinnaker continued to be used to Pantaenius buoy, a special laid mark 7 miles SW of the Fastnet to separate the returning yachts from those still heading for the Fastnet. The next leg, to Bishop Rock off the Scillies, was a two sail reach with the wind between 80 and 90° and we covered the 150 miles at between 8 and 10 knots again with dolphins playing in the bow waves.

As we approached the Scillies the wind started to drop again and boats ahead of us had sailed into a hole in the wind. By using the AIS we worked out which boats had the best wind by their SOG and worked our way into the best position making up a number of places. The tidal atlas suggested that we would be at the Lizard about an hour or two after the flood tide had started but it was obviously late turning. Other boats had headed inshore to to use the race around the headland but had been held back by the foul tide. This allowed us to pick up a few more places. Although we benefitted from this I sometimes think that tidal atlases are a figment of someone's very vivid imagination!

At the Lizard there were around 50 or 60 boats all grouped in a line. We all progressed very slowly, as a group, towards the finishing line at Plymouth. Juno crossed the finishing line at 0131 on the 19 August amidst the 50 or 60 boats that had accompaniedus from the Lizard. Spare a thought for the race officers in the lighthouse who had to record with the finishing times.

As is aways the case we finished just after the free flow in to Sutton Harbour had finished and so all the yachts were directed to Plymouth Yacht Haven on the opposite side of the Cattewater to the beer tents! By the time we had tied up and caught the ferry across it was 0300 and we found that we had finished 34 in IRC Class 4 and 108 overall. Most of us stayed in the tent until 0900 before we eventually found our berths.  Some of our crew (not me) actually tried to get into a night club, which actually was the aquarium, at 1000 in the morning! After a few hours sleep we re-entered the beer tent for a bit more partying. This was very confusing as we had already had one Friday, now we were on a second Friday.

Four of the crew departed Plymouth on the Sunday. Anne Blunden joined the boat and four of us sailed very slowly back to the Hamble, day sailing only with night stops at Dartmouth, weymouth, Poole and Cowes before returning to Hamble on Thursday 25 August

Graham Broadway, 26.08.2011 | More from Graham Broadway’s blog