Life aboard a racing yacht


As the Jog season starts we are republishing Graham Broadway's notes about life aboard a racing yacht. This weekend whilst JOG runs the first race of their season - the Nab Tower Race. Juno  is running practice sessions. We hope to carry an article from Graham next week about what to do when the rudder drops off.

I am a fairly regular crew on Charles Whittam's Juno, an X34 that was launched in March 2010.  The X34 is described as a "performance cruiser" by X Yachts of Denmark.  This means it's not an out and out racer but does have some comforts such as a cooker, fridge, heads and comfy sofas (but no soft cushions). Compared with the X Yachts cruising range it does have a taller mast, bigger sail area and deeper keel and so is faster than a cruising yacht.

Unlike cruising yachts we do not have a furling genoa; instead we have 3 jibs.  I use the word jib because the largest sail on the X34 has only 106% overlap. Jib 1 is a light weather sail, suitable up to about 11  knots of true wind and is made from a light sailcloth and is cut quite full. No 2 Jib is the same area as the No 1 Jib but is a heavier cloth and cut flatter than the No 1.  It is used from 10 to 25 knots true wind. We then have a smaller No 3.5 jib which is used above 25 knots.  We also carry three spinnakers.  The No 2 spinnaker is a light weight cloth, cut quite full and again is used up to about 10 knots of true wind.  The No 4 sail is a heavy weather sail used up to about 25 knots true wind. Both of these are symmetrical sails (they need a spinnaker pole) and are carried with the wind angle between 110° and 150/160° true wind angle. The number 3 spinnaker is an assymetric sail which can be carried at about 80° true and up to about 25 knots.  We will also use this when running in winds up to 35 knots ( although not at 80°!!)

The racing we normally do is the Junior Offshore Group (JOG) JOG Battle flagoffshore races.  JOG was formed in 1950 to provide offshore racing for yachts that were too small to take part in the Royal Ocean Racing Club (RORC) events.  Nowadays the JOG and RORC fleets overlap somewhat but the JOG fleets are divided into Classes 3 to 5.  (The faster the boat the lower the class number).  Juno is in JOG class 4 with an IRC rating of 1.000. 

Because many different boats take part in each race the races are run on a handicap system.  The IRC system is used to rate a boat and the faster the yacht is the higher the IRC rating.  Results are based on "corrected time" where the elapsed time is multiplied by the IRC rating.  With a rating of 1.000 even I can work out our corrected time!

The JOG offshore races are passage races; where the destination is around 80 to 100 miles away, usually in France or the Channel Islands.  This means that the races last about 15 to 20 hours but can be much longer if the wind direction and strength are not good. Races usually start around 18:00 to 19:00hrs on Friday evening and so we, more often than not, arrive in the late morning the following day.  All races will involve sailing at night and many is the time that we have sailed across the shipping lanes, in the dark, with the spinnaker set.  However, this year we have entered for two longer races.  The first was to St Malo which is 180 miles or about 30 hours and started on Friday 2nd July.  The second is a fairly recent addition to the JOG calendar and is a biannual race that is held on non Fastnet years.  It goes to La Trinité-sur-Mer in Southern Brittany and is about 340 miles and will take 3 to 4 days. It starts on the 17th July.

We normally sail with a crew of six.  The core crew is Mark van Miltenberg at Bow.  His job is to prepare the foresails and spinnakers for hoisting and to gybe the spinnaker pole. Next back is Simon Hughes at the mast.  He hoists the sails, attaches the mainsail tack when reefing, attaches the sheets to the new jib and recovers the spinnaker when its dropped.   Kate Newman works pit.  Which rope do I pull?Her job is to raise the spinnaker pole on the topping lift, tail the halyards when sails are hoisted and make other adjustments to various things such as mainsail clew outhaul, cunningham, jib inhaulers (adjusts the fore & aft angle of the jib), help tack the jib and keep the cockpit tidy.  Rhian Deakin's task is to trim the mainsail and adjust the mast bend. This is fairly critical because with a 106% jib a considerable amount of drive comes from the mainsail.  Rhian has also taken on the task of telling us when we are not at our target speed.  (She never stops!)  Charles, the skipper, tends to be the helmsman and will take the wheel at critical moments in the race, such as the start and the finish.  My main job is navigator but I also help tack (and trim) the jib and also do most of the spinnaker sheet trimming.  It is also my responsibility to control the spinnaker and keep it pulling through the gybe. 

Juno under spinnaker

As navigator I have numerous bits of kit to help.  We have Navtex for weather forecasts, two GPS systems plus a hand held GPS and a Yeoman chart plotter.  We also have an AIS Class B transponder and radar. There is a computer on board which can run tactical software called Expedition which also acts as a chart plotter.  This also has tidal data from Service Hydrograhique et Océanographique de la Marine (SHOM) and the Solent "Winning Tides" data.  We also download a Predict Wind GRIB file just before we leave the pontoon.  From this data Expedition can work out the optimum route for the race.  I will still work out tidal vectors for the cross Channel legs and we keep an hourly plot of our position on a paper chart as we cross the Channel.  We also have 3 displays on the mast for such things as boat speed, wind speed and wind angle (if beating) or boat heading (when sailing free).  A display above the companionway and another on the binnacle can also display information such as depth, SOG, COG, distance to waypoint and even a graphical display showing how the tide is affecting the boat. Expedition can certainly re-plot the route much quicker than I can if the tide or wind are not as predicted.  At the moment we do not have the means to access this from the deck and so I have to keep going below to check on the navigation.

Most cruising sailors would probably aim to be a mile or two uptide of their destination on a cross Channel voyage.  However one mile out means an extra 12 minutes at 5 knots which can be the difference between winning and losing.  I try to be within a couple of hundred yards of the finish.  It doesn't mean I always get it right!

As I mentioned earlier, most races start in the early evening and the starting line for JOG races is on Egypt Point, just to the west of Cowes.  The course can be set either to the east or the west with marks of the course either Bembridge Ledge EC when going east or Bridge WC if going to the west.  Invariably the leg out of the Solent will either be a beat or a spinnaker run.  For this reason we have everybody on watch until we are out of the Solent. For the cross Channel leg we will divide up into 3 watches of 2 people with 4 people on-watch and 2 people off-watch.  Watches are changed every 2 hours so each pair has 4 hours on-watch and 2 hours off-watch.  Crossing the Channel when on-watch we take it in turn to steer and to trim the mainsheet with each person doing each job for 30 minutes.  Those not involved in steering or playing the mainsheet will act as ballast, sitting on the windward side deck, and also check the trim on the jib or be trimming the spinnaker, depending on the wind angle.  Those off-watch can rest down below but often "rest" on the side deck to add more ballast to keep the boat upright.

When the race has finished there is normally time for a few hours in port and JOG always organises a reception with food and drink at the local yacht club.  We then cruise back home, usually under reduced sail with a much more relaxed watch system with 3 hours on-watch and 6 hours off-watch.

Not many of us have raced before; we are still learning.  Our best result so far this year has ben a 2nd place in the race to Deauville over the Spring Bank Holiday but other results have not been so good.


Graham Broadway, 24.06.2010 | More from Graham Broadway’s blog