Disaster Strikes Draig o’r Mor and the Race is ON
If you have ever seen a mainsail lashed to the boom by a lifeboat crewman you will recognise it in an instant. No nonsense, practical, no matter how high tech the sail, it gets the same treatment when lives are at stake. Back in Weymouth I looked down into Vertigo’s deserted snakepit and thanked my lucky stars that we had got off so lightly.
The RORC Myth of Malham race, Cowes to Eddystone Rock and back is a 230 mile taster along the start of the Fastnet route. The drama of our entry began with Kevin and Nic delivering Draig to Cowes under tri sail and storm jib. With winds gusting well over 30 knots they surfed down waves and made record time - in safety. The crew gathered like a reverse Red Arrows manoeuvre from Holland, Sherborne, Weymouth and Alton. Kevin, Kay, Nic, Helen, Neal , Albert and finally Andy converging for a strategy meeting in The Anchor. We all slept well that night.
At 6am there was little breeze and we pondered our choice of headsail. As we headed out to pass through the identity gate we could see the white tops building past the end of the headland. Two fire extinguishers to show this time. I remember saying to Nic to make sure they were properly secured afterwards. Kevin had been on an offshore once where a girl had received a nasty blow to the head when a fire extinguisher had worked loose. We knew we were in for a rocky ride with a long beat to Eddystone.
Starting with a favourable tide was a novelty. With moderate north westerly breeze the northern limit of the line was favoured. With a smaller jib we hoped to hold starboard tack the length of the Solent. Second away behind our rivals, Hebzibah, we fought to gain height and worked hard to overtake them by Beaulieu. We couldn’t shake them off until we eased sails at Hurst to make for the Needles Bridge buoy. Amazingly a couple of Sigma 38s, who had started mid line, had managed to hold a high enough course so they didn’t have to tack and had taken advantage of stronger tide in the middle of the channel. We pushed on level pegging with an X34 Sunfast 37 and First 34.7 beating down the channel for hours waiting for the wind to back. Offshore from Portland Bill we struggled for breeze and changed up to our biggest headsail. The pressure built later on and we reverted back to our new code 3. With neap tides the tidal gates were not so critical and we pushed on making good progress into the night. As predicted a favourable wind shift and we tacked for Start Point as darkness fell.
Discovering your company when dawn reveals is always exciting and this time encouraging. We rounded Eddystone with Persephone, Sigma 38, and Storm Trooper Sunfast 37 at 0620. Andy said there were seals positively scattering. Albert, on the helm, decided we must bear away – now. Unfortunately he didn’t tell Neal on Mainsheet and Draigy responded by laying on her side and ignoring Albert. After I had shouted a few words of encouragement( bleeding ears all round), Draigy was back on her feet again and a coordinated bear away was achieved. We had overtaken Storm Trooper and our kite was up and pulling. Just Persephone to overcome now. It took some time but with each roller we surged a little faster than the Sigma, peaking at 14.5 knots and eventually we were past and putting good distance between us. We watched the J97 Jika Jika struggling with their Assymetric gybes then heading off at breakneck speed only to stop for another gybe as we caught up ( Known in Weymouth as doing a Melges!)
We had rounded Start Point, the finish in our sights. An easy downwind blast with only places to be gained along the way. We knew we were doing well, then at 1225 the unthinkable happened. A combination of a hasty gybe a large wave and a big gust. Nic and I were below. We heard a big bang and a bucket of spanners being emptied??? Shooting out on deck to look for damage all appeared well but the boom was rather high. Back down below I was horrified to see a crease in the mast from side to side around the front where the coach roof anchoring points are. We span Draigy round and simultaneously put back stay on to support the rig. The crease opened up as the mast righted and I shouted to nick to keep well away in case it broke off. With sails down we admitted defeat and motored.
Emergency procedures became a priority. We were 20 miles downwind and tide from Dartmouth. Turning into both with a dodgy mast was not an option. 33 miles to E Shambles and another 7 miles to Weymouth we wondered about our fuel. We had half a tank which might be enough, but what if it wasn’t? I radioed Persephone the nearest boat – but no reply. I tried Brixham Coastguard – no reply. I tossed Andy the hand held VHF and after discussion with Helen we agreed to put out a Pan Pan. Many thanks to the yacht who relayed the Pan Pan to the Coastguard – I never did get their name. We agreed to push on to Portland Bill and then contact the Coastguard again when we were in a better range for both VHF and mobile phones. We were pretty miserable but not in danger so only one thing for it – we had a beer.
An otherwise uneventful motor back was broken by the turn of events on Vertigo. We listened to the VHF in horror. A crew member overboard who had been recovered, was conscious but obviously in a bad way. No sails or engine, the coastguard helicopter airlifted them off in the distance. We did not hear any of the Liquid Vortex rescue. They were nearer Start Point. Apparently someone hit by the boom and airlifted off. As we rounded East Shambles we saw the Lifeboat go to the Bill to escort Vertigo in. They had a rope around their propeller
Vertigo and Liquid Vortex came up Weymouth Harbour together minutes after we had arrived. I stood on the quayside and looked down on them tied alongside each other, deserted, one could only imagine they must have raced to hospital to seek news of their fellow crew members. Our plight seemed trivial by comparison.
Our hopes for the Fastnet are dashed – for now. If we manage to fix Draig in time we have shown good form for a high placing result. Prior to our mast break we were putting good distance between Draig and Persephone who are on the same handicap. They finished 7th so we could easily have achieved that or better – would have, should have, could have. I have asked RORC if they will consider the section of the race we completed as counting towards the remaining 48 qualifying miles we need ( 125 Le Havre, 127 De Guingand, 300 needed)
Frantically seeking a 6 metre section of Proctor mast or a new mast ( minimum 6 week lead time). We are putting out a plea to anyone who has contacts in the Marine industry to help push Draigy’s repairs on. We really want to compete and succeed in our campaign to raise £10,000 for Sail 4 Cancer. All money donated goes straight to Sail 4 Cancer – none is used to finance our campaign