RORC Channel Race

RORC Channel Race

Saturday 30 July was Juno's last chance for fine tuning before the big race, the Fastnet, in 2 weeks time.  The RORC channel race started at the RYS line in Cowes at 0900. The forecast for the weekend was for  variable and light winds, a complete change from the majority of sailing this year, and early Saturday morning saw winds of about 3 to 4 knots from the east with a fine drizzle reducing visibility. We had an added complication in Juno in that the wind direction indicator vane had blown off the top of the mast in Force 7 winds in the previous race and had not yet been replaced. So it was back to sailing the old fashioned way, holding a wetted finger iin the air.

The course set was to start to westwards, round Bridge buoy to port and then pass south of the Isle of Wight (leaving St Catherines Point to port) and then to South Dean outfall buoy, a yellow racing buoy to the east of Brighton, back to Owers SC buoy and then through the forts to finish off Gilkicker Point. The fifth round the island race this year!

The westward start meant a running start, against the last 2 hours of flood tide (2 days before springs) in about 6 knots of wind. At least the tide added another 3 knots to the wind strength. We agonised over where we should start. Should we start to the south, to sail in the weaker tide along the island shore. The drawback to this was that there was a junior sailing regatta taking place on the island just to the west of Cowes and the race committee had set a prohibition zone to keep the competitors clear of the juniors meaning that all boats would be forced to sail against the stronger tide. We therefore opted for the northern end of the line, near Williams Shipping, with the object of sailing to the mainland shore to make use of the weaker inshore tide on this side of the Solent. We were also hoping to pick up stronger wind in the convergence zone on the mainland shore.

We made one of our best starts of the season, reaching along the line on starboard tack. With 15 seconds to go we bore away and hoisted the spinnaker to cross the line just as the gun sounded. However, the drawback with running starts is that the boats that make the best starts find that the rest of the fleet blanket the wind and catch up very quickly. The first fifteen minutes or so were spent trying to find some clean wind.

And so we began the long haul against the tide, two days before springs, down to the Needles. We headed into the shallows, inside Lepe Spit buoy, trying to cheat the tide. Although we were a long way inshore, two or three boats went much further in than we did. Some obviously went too close as we heard a Pan Pan from a yacht that had stuck on Lepe Spit!

Slowly, very slowly we headed westwards. The tide started to turn as we approached Lymington and our SOG increased quite rapidly as we past Hurst Castle. However, as we approached the Needles, the wind dropped completely and we found that the ebb was pushing us across the Shingles Bank. What wind there was also seemed to head us and was probably tide induced wind. We dropped the spinnaker and tried to tack back eastwards towards the Needles. The depth had gone quite shallow but after we tacked it began to increase again. Initially I thought we were beating the tide and were back in the deeper water of the Needles Channel but a glance at the chartplotter confirmed that this was not the case. We had actually crossed the Shingles backwards and were now in deeper water to the west of the Shingles. The kedge was quickly dropped (but obviously not quickly enough) and we sat waiting for the wind to fill in. After about thirty minutes we had enough breeze to make some way over the ground and we quickly retrieved the hook.  This was short lived and we had to resort to the kedge again. Eventually a light breeze sprung up from the south and we could at last make Bridge after 6 hours but unfortunately the ebb was now flowing at its strongest and we were swept a long way south of Bridge buoy. Yachts that were behind us had been much closer to Hurst Castle when the wind had died and were much further up tide than we were. Their tacks allowed them to lay Bridge buoy without being swept past it to the same extent that we were.

However, every cloud has a silver lining. The majority of boats that rounded close to Bridge Buoy sailed deep into Freshwater Bay and into a hole in the wind. We had been swept further to the south and were suffering from the foul tide but had much more wind and we began to pick up places. We eventually reached St Catherines Point at about 1800, only 9 hours after we had started at Cowes! The sea here was quite bouncy but nothing compared to what we had experienced 3 weeks earlier beating against the tide in a force 7. Of course we reached here just as our evening meal was ready and so we had to delay serving it until the water had calmed down a bit. The tide was now with us, going eastwards at 3 knots, so we were through the roughest part quite quickly.

Rounding St Catherines the wind was now free enough to carry a spinnaker again and we started the 56 mile spinnaker leg to Brighton during which time the wind gradually increased  to about 10 to 12 knots. We rounded the buoy at about 0200 on Sunday. (I don't know the exact time, I was off watch and fast asleep.) The next leg back to Owers was initially a two sail reach but as dawn broke (I was up and on watch now) the wind started to decrease in strength and began to back again. Now began a number of sail changes in quick succession. Firstly we changed from the number 2 jib to the number 1 jib. After about 15 minutes the wind had backed enough for the asymmetric spinnaker to be used and so that was hoisted. After another 30 minutes we past the Owers buoy and bore away for the forts. The wind was now free enough to use the symmetric spinnaker and so sails were changed again. The final 20 or so miles to the finish were under spinnaker and we crossed the line at 0901, 24 hours 1 minute and 40 seconds and 122 miles after starting the race.

Now for Juno's next race. Two weeks to go and six hundred and eight miles to the Fastnet and return to Plymouth. Watch this space!

Graham Broadway, 31.07.2011 | More from Graham Broadway’s blog