Scarybird, birthday cake and her resourceful crew


Cowes Isle of Wight and Solent
United Kingdom

I bought ‘Scarybird’, a mid-80s Albin Nova 33 (similar in dimensions to a Sigma 33), with a view to both cruising and racing, having been immediately impressed with her fine lines and fractional rig (and photos of her carbon race sails) when I first saw her at Strangford Lough Yacht Club, Northern Ireland. The experience of sailing her from Ardglass, NI, to Southampton this July, reinforced the impression of a fast boat, so I was looking forward to testing her against some competition in an actual race. The opportunity arose with the John Lewis Partnership Regatta (8-9 October 2022), organised together with the Island Sailing Club (ISC), and run from their start line off the entrance to Cowes harbour. I needed to get an ISC handicap rating for Scarybird to enter this regatta, and luckily was able to get exact sail dimensions from a phone call to the sail makers, Goacher Sails of Windermere. I opted for a non-spinnaker rating (what we call ‘black-sail racing’ on Scarybird), as most of my crew have so far next to no experience with spinnakers. We discovered that our rating of 0.956 put us 3rd slowest among the 8 boats in Class 2, which was not surprisingly awash with four JLPSC Hallberg-Rassys, plus a Robert Clark 41 ‘Longbow 2’ and the Met Police SC ‘Lyra of Broadway’, a Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 349. The ‘slowest’ boat in our class was René Chinnery’s well-sailed Westerly Regatta 290 ‘Temptation’, which I knew well having raced on her previously including this year’s Round the Island Race.

On Friday, after dinner in the Bistro at Shamrock Quay where Scarybird is moored, myself, Bob, Suja and Francesca returned to the boat to try to get a reasonably early night. However, our fifth crew member, Yusuf, was due down from London on the last train, and somewhat mysteriously promised to bring a chicken with him, despite having been at a concert all evening. Sure enough, he arrived, fairly quietly, at 0230h, complete with a whole raw chicken!

Saturday 8th October dawned mild and sunny, with a forecast of light to moderate W-NW wind. We left a little later than intended around 0830h, but were able to enjoy some sailing down Southampton Water in a NW 2-3; however, the tide was flooding, the wind was easing, so motor-sailing was necessary to keep our speed up, and even then it seemed quite possible we would be arriving only just in time for the start gun. As we passed close east of Bramble bank, the wind dropped, and my friend Richard, skipper of a Hanse 445 ‘Solid Air’, who was also competing in the regatta for LSC in Class 1, called to ask where we were – luckily he also pointed out that flag AP was flying, i.e. racing postponed, as there was now virtually no wind off Cowes - so, time to relax. Eventually we ended up mooring in Cowes Yacht Haven, as it was pretty clear that there would be little chance of enough wind ‘till the afternoon. Originally, two races had been scheduled for Saturday, and one on Sunday, but it became fairly obvious that we would be lucky to get one race on the first day.

At last, the Race Officer encouraged us all to gather at the start line, with the hope of racing starting around 1430h. The course was announced not long before the first warning signal, and I realised too late that I should have trained one of the crew on how to enter a route in the plotter, so instead we would have to rely on Navionics and the upgraded Boatie app, with its included list of Solent marks, for our best course. By now, the ebb tide was fading, but with the wind light, the Race Officer may have wanted to reduce the risk of OCS, so we were started to the east, i.e. downwind. There are three things that really matter at the ISC start line: tide, wind, and avoiding being run down by ferries or other traffic. However, tide is usually king, and so I lined up for a start near the breakwater where the foul tide would be weakest. Timing looked good, and I was surprised to see that the rest of the fleet were further off in stronger foul tide. As we ran down to the first mark to the east of Cowes harbour, we picked up a favourably eddy and rounded the mark first, a lead that we never relinquished, and became something of a habit for that regatta!

We enjoyed an entertaining evening at the dinner in ISC, helped by not only discovering we had won the first race by over 12 mins on corrected time (in a race that took us not much over an hour), but also by winning a bottle of Prosecco for telling a story about a late crew and a raw bird… On Sunday, for the first race, the tide was just still flooding and the wind was SSW, so wind and tide were working together and the obvious place to start was near the ODM, the yellow ship’s mooring buoy, Trinity; this time, a few more boats were not far from us, but our timing to the line was excellent, the wind was plenty, and we led at the first mark. To make things a bit more sporting, Yusuf decided to bake a cake (it was Francesca’s birthday very soon) during this race – in fact he needed to get that done, as he was planning to roast his chicken, with all the trimmings, during the second race! The skipper had been somewhat distracted by other things, and hadn’t really had to time think through the implications of these crew diverting activities; nevertheless, we completed the short course in about 55 mins, being fairly sure we’d won (later discovering we finished over 4 mins on corrected time ahead of second-placed Temptation, after we’d – just - managed to put a large ship between us and them), with the smell of freshly baked sponge wafting into the cockpit.

The final race started about noon, and now the spring tide was ebbing fast, and again we were starting to the east, with the wind S-SSW. There was just time to avoid a couple of ferries, do a dry run to the line, and get the chicken and veg in the oven exactly in time with the announcement of the warning signal on the VHF! This time I knew I wanted to be near the breakwater again to be in least foul tide, but my timing was a little early; luckily, there was no traffic to worry about at the entrance and we were able to luff, hanging by No. 2 port hand mark until we could power up for the run to the line. Looking around, again I was surprised that, despite my obvious ‘lead’ to this position, no one else was following us this close in: inevitably we drew ahead of the fleet, who were punching stronger tide. Our lead extended to the second mark, which involved ferry gliding on a broad reach across the tide to West Ryde Middle cardinal mark, with crew calling the transit; it was critical to avoid giving any ground downtide of the rhumb line, and thus having to punch straight into the strong foul tide, but looking back later at the fleet, some seemed to have succumbed to this. This last race was longer, taking us 1 hour 40 mins, which fortunately was about the time the chicken needed in the oven! We hung around to see how far ahead of the next boats we were, which turned out to be the slowest (Temptation) and second slowest (Longbow 2) yachts in the fleet; however, they finished over 15 mins after us, so we won comfortably by over 10 mins from Temptation on corrected time. Now it was time to gybe our way back to Southampton, in a rising southerly Force 5, during which no one really felt like sitting down to a roast lunch! So lunch became a high tea at Shamrock Quay, but fortunately the chicken proved not to be ‘high’ despite its adventures since Friday evening! We did however celebrate Francesca’s birthday by icing and serving Yusuf’s delicious carrot cake whilst sailing back home!

Well, what a memorable regatta that was; three firsts in our class in our first regatta, and certainly two other firsts for me: having a roast chicken dinner and birthday cake prepared and cooked while sailing two races – like Scarybird and her talented crew, that is going to be hard to beat!