There must have been some good reason why 134 yachts were gathering in the Solent near “Williams Shipping” buoy early the other Saturday morning. The occasion, of course, was the start of this year’s RORC Myth of Malham race (named after John Illingworth’s ground breaking off-shore racer of the early 1950s).
The Myth is always a popular race, but even more so in a “Fastnet” year as it covers the same ground as the opening stages of that classic. From the Solent start there is just one mark – the Eddystone lighthouse – before the return to finish just outside the western Solent (appx. 230 miles).
The largest number of boats (41) were competing in Class 4 (for the smallest boats) and so Juno found herself at 08.00 crossing the line in close company with 40 other hopefuls. With just an hour or so of fair tide it was important to make the most of its assistance in the light W/NW winds then prevailing so we started at the outer end of the RYS line in the central Solent in some august company (tactically reassuring!), including the eventual class winner.
Monitoring the tide’s behaviour, we sailed close hauled predominantly on starboard tack until it started to turn and then with the rest of the fleet we headed close into the mainland shore to cheat the worst of the flood all the way to Hurst spit.
With just 4 knots or so of boat speed getting through Hurst narrows against the 2+ knot flood was interesting. After we broke free from the strongest current, we set off for the far reaches of Poole bay, just skirting the northern edge of the Shingles bank (with a very attentive navigator) to stay out of the strongest of the Channel flood.
One advantage of starting on the very last of the ebb was that we were spared the usual debate as to whether or not we could round Portland Bill on the first (ebb) tide.
And so, we progressed towards that landmark, cheating the tide as much as possible by staying close into the Poole Bay shoreline near Swanage and around St Albans Head, in the confident knowledge that by the time we arrived at the Bill the tide would indeed have turned again in our favour. The wind was cooperative, building to a solid 14-15 knots TWS from the W/SW as we changed from #1 to #2 jib along the way. Of course, that age old question was soon in our minds – how far off the Bill to venture? At least it was still daylight as we approached and mindful of getting the best tidal assistance we could we opted for a distance off of around 1 mile. It was choppy, but fast!
After the frisson of passing through the Race (not something to be done in stronger winds) we settled down to the long crossing of Lyme Bay, eat our pouch meal supper (yum yum!) and split off into 2 watches of 4 people for the night (3 hours on/off). The night hours were challenging at times with some very strange (light) wind behaviour and a lot of stressful fiddling with sail trim to try and keep the boat going – with mixed success.
Dawn on Sunday brought some very different weather to Saturday’s sunshine. Grey cloud, black skies and murkiness all round. With fog in the forecast. Also, the wind had swung round to the west, so from Start Point we still had a 30 mile beat dead upwind in 14-15 kts again to get to the Eddystone.
After a long slog all morning, sustained only by our pre-cooked sausages in a bun, the lighthouse eventually came into view around noon and we finally turned for home 40 minutes later.
After bearing away and hoisting our trusty S4 spinnaker for what was to transpire to be its last outing we settled onto our optimum downwind angle – which gave us a very satisfactory heading of around 090oM, perfect for clearing Start Point. With boat speed around 7-8 kts it was looking like it would be faster going home than it had been on the outward leg.
It was also lunchtime – always more pleasant when sailing fast and flat downwind! Inevitably the crew started the “what time do you think will we finish” lottery discussion as they munched on their pre-pack sandwiches. Wisely the navigator kept silent.
During the afternoon we experienced varying degrees of visibility, sometimes down to 0.5mile, but fortunately no worse as the wind was also building and double-digit speeds were becoming the norm. Direction was constant though so we stayed on starboard tack with the intention of gybing about two thirds of the way across Lyme Bay to head north east as we calculated our gybe angle would then neatly skirt the Bill and take us up into the weaker tidal area to the east of Portland.
We also had some company, always good for morale.
The wind had generally been building to the high teens during the afternoon and one gust of 23 kts had the skipper getting a bit twitchy about the need to shorten sail a tad. With hindsight (!) we did not pick the best moment to put in our gybe to head towards the coast. A little mid-gybe mix-up at the front saw our 9-year-old S4 reef itself into a number of separate pieces. So, we lost a few minutes getting that down, sorting ourselves out and hoisting our back up sail – a poled out A3. Of course, the wind now eased off, never to break 20kts again (hindsight eh?) and the A3 is 20sqm smaller than the S4 – so we definitely lost time because of that hiccough. The one good thing was that the general weather conditions now picked up significantly with a brightening sky and sunshine!
We now had a very long gybe on port tack which was to take us all the way into the centre of Poole Bay, passing 5-6 miles south Portland Bill this time and skirting St Albans head a biscuit toss off!
Along the way we had the most spectacular sunset many of us have seen in a while.
By the time we got close to Hengistbury Head the tide was in our favour and we started the hunt for the elusive (and diminutive) North Head SHM. Any Solent sailors will know how hard it is to spot, especially at night. However, that was our finish line and after a couple of gybes to line ourselves up we eventually crossed at around 02.20 on Monday morning.
Down with spinnaker, on with the iron topsail, and a 2 1/2 hour motor-sail in the early dawn hours back to our Hamble River mooring saw us tied up by 05.00. We then squeezed 8 people into a boat with a nominal 6 berths for a few hours’ sleep before “getting up” at 08.30 to clean the boat, grab some breakfast at “Jenny’s by the Water” (the old “Galley Café” has had a change of ownership and something of a makeover!) and depart for home. A perusal of the preliminary results over breakfast showed that we had achieved 11th place out of 41 starters – shame about that gybe/loss of the S4, but still a satisfying result and a highly enjoyable weekend. As the actual winner of our class has previously observed, to win you have to make fewer mistakes than everyone else. How true.
Written by Charles Whittam