January FC: a breezy day

The fourth Fast Cruise was held on the 21st January. I had been invited on board Shearwater by Andy and Avril Ormsby for this cruise. We were also joined by Michael Forbes Smith and  Ian, a friend of Andy's. We set off from Gosport around 0930 with a westerly wind at around 22 knots. On the passage out to the forts the wind was definitely building and so we opted for a full genoa with 2 reefs in the main. I was relieved to see a number of other yachts heading towards the start line and amongst the usual yachts we saw Windhover, Jof Buttery's new Arcona 430, on her maiden sail and Day at the Races sporting a new carbon fibre mast. (Can she still enter the classics regatta with such a mast?) We also saw Robertson G, the Ohlson 38 that Clare Francis sailed around the world an now belongs to Around and Around, a charity for deprived children.

At 1100, the time of the start, the wind was a steady 25 knots with a few stronger gusts and the fleet headed for the first buoy, Saddle, on a close fetch. The second leg was to North Sturbridge, a dead beat into the ever increasing westerly followed by another leg close hauled on port tack to Browndown. At least the tide was helping.

After Browndown we had a small amount of relief as we bore away towards Mother Bank but it only lasted for a mile (we were now logging 10 knots) before we were back hard on the wind to Peel Bank. We were now seeing gusts regularly in excess of 32 knots.

Peel Bank was followed by another close fetch port tack leg to South Ryde Middle before we were able to bear away on to a dead run to North East Ryde Middle and we were able to stop doing our impression of an Italian cruise ship and come upright for a short while.

This was followed by a close fetch past SE Ryde Middle to Peel Bank the second time. We had been one of the last boats to cross the starting line but during these legs we steadily worked our way up through the fleet. We realised that SE Ryde Middle only had to be left to port and if we stayed hard on the wind on starboard tack we would pass the right side of SE Ryde but also be able to lay Peel Bank. Both Ronhilda and Windhover seemed to sail towards SE Ryde Middle which meant that they had to tack on to port to round Peel Bank. Ronhilda rounded just ahead of us but we forced Windhover to bear away under our stern. We rounded just ahead of Windhover but with her much larger sail area and longer waterline length she soon overtook us on the run.

It was now a five mile run to the finish line and we decided that we could now carry more sail. However, just as we started to shake out the reefs a gust in the high 30s knots came through and it was decided to keep one tuck in the sail. Just ahead of us we could see Windhover doing the same but the head of their sail kept going towards the top of the mast. She was now running under full sail. There were also some very black clouds in the western sky and a number of heavy gust in the high 30s came through. I did not see what happened next but when I looked again Windhover was pointing towards Gilkicker with all sails shaking. She had obviously broached in one of the gusts.

We crossed the finish line between Horse Sand and Saddle at 1341, and elapsed time of just over 2 hours and 38 minutes. An average speed of 6.2 knots for the rhumb line course.

We dropped the sails quickly as the wind strength was now over 40 knots and motored back towards Portsmouth Harbour. During the 30 minutes or so it took to reach the harbour the black clouds we saw gusts of 47 knots for a time. Although the seas in the Solent were flat the wind was whipping spray from what crests there were and it was really stinging the face.

When we returned to harbour I discovered that Pagan had given up before the start. The conditions were just too much for Roger and Katie to handle being two-handed. Robertson G also retired and Azanti had to drop out on the final leg of the course when his genoa became wrapped around the forestay and the furling line became tangled. Out of the eleven boats that had entered eight managed to finish although Day at the Races damaged her mainsail.

All eleven boats however, had managed to reached Gosport. With the wind still whipping across the pontoons the pontoon party was abandoned in favour of a warm pub where the cruise dinner was being held.

I am sorry that there are no photos of the Fast Cruise. I was too busy holding on to the boat and couldn't use a camera.

Graham Broadway, 23.01.2012 | More from Graham Broadway’s blog