Draig O’r Mor first qualifier for the Fastnet Campaign. Cowes to Le Havre
I looked at the course that had been emailed to me with astonishment. We were on delivery passage approaching the Needles when it came in. I was pretty surprised that I had a signal & marvelling at modern technology then it hit me that this course was not exactly what I had expected. When we did the Le Havre race two years ago it was pretty much straightforward and straight there. This time we were to depart the Solent to the West leaving the Needles fairway buoy to port then beat against the tide round the island to Nab Tower on the East side and use this as our departure point for Le Havre 125 miles. Good Game Good Game. It’s not that I mind beating against the tide. But there’s something pretty sadistic about a course where you fight the tide for hours and just start to enjoy it as it turns in your favour. Then after about half an hour you turn a corner and have to fight back against it again - TWICE. Call me old fashioned but I’m more of a downtide downwind gal any day. (there’s a song there somewhere)
Anyway we had a good run ashore in Cowes Friday night and our new crew toasted the start of the campaign. Nic & Neal new to us from the RORC crewlist and Helen M-S on loan for the weekend– special thanks to her for turning down some distant relative’s wedding invitation. Other crew had not been available for this race so we were 5 up with Kevin and me (normally 8).
We had an interesting start (0800) narrowly avoiding the biggest boat you have ever seen, adopting some starting strategy of sitting stationary, broadside on the line with pole up ready to launch their spinnaker – reminiscent of the old WSC start line??? So we were not exactly in the best position on the line we had hoped for. Never mind we were clear away spinnaker up no trouble. Dead running, fighting the tide for an hour, keeping to the shallows. Exciting close quarter stuff. Not many Sigma 38’s as they had their nationals in Weymouth. A 101 like Terry’s sailed double handed doing well. Our old rivals Winsome Hepzibah & Iromiguoy running down towards Hurst & eventually some favourable tide. So here we were bombing along past the Needles to the Fairway buoy & after some discussion Kevin eventually decides to change the headsail ready for the beat. Now I’m not saying it was a bad decision. In fact we all applauded the headsail when it went up. It’s just I wish we had started just tad sooner. Before we knew it I was counting down the seconds to the mark – no pressure eh! All went well with a couple of seconds to spare but we certainly realised what the extra 3 crew members do!
Now we were beating towards St Catherine’s point. During RTI is a relatively easy duck from the Needles into the Bay out of the tide but from the Fairway buoy it’s a major detour & more of a balance – keeping check of the foul tide on each tack & tucking in fairly close. From St Catherine’s it was a proper old fashioned short tacking beat keeping in really tight with big holes in the breeze, dodging boats like Partouche ( Class 40) with its amazingly long bow sprit ( ooh err !). We were doing reasonably well until the port runner jammed in the block & we had to tack away from the others until it was hacksawed off. A spare soon in place and we were back in contention. As we approached Nab Tower we started to enjoy the favourable tide but looked over with dismay to see that no one had launched a spinnaker, as we had hoped, for the long haul across channel. As we followed we could see why and carried our largest head sail on this close reach against the tide out into the channel. Here we launched our new Code Zero with high hopes of carrying it through the night. Something was not quite right & we need to experiment more with this sail. We were rather bows down & rounding up dramatically which is not like Draig at all. Anyway we decided to drop in favour of the genoa at sunset & really didn’t lose any speed and were far more controllable.
Our approach to the turning mark A5 was pretty spot on (So I’m told. I was asleep at the time – confidence in my navigation? – no just knackered) and we took many places as others struggled to get round. From here it was a slight harden up and straight for the finish line as dawn approached. Its so fascinating to identify the boats whose nav lights you have been sailing with through the night. We finished alongside a Challenge yacht, a First 34.7 & X34 and were pleased to hear others from faster classes arriving after us. We were 15 out of 39 not bad for a first effort. We learned some valuable strategies and beat some serious competition.
With a forecast for stronger winds on Monday we sailed straight through the line & put the spinnaker up and headed for home – Kevin sneaked a beer in celebration at 0600 while the rest of us waited until at least 0800. Arriving in Weymouth Bay just as the fireworks started on the seafront was a real buzz. We had sailed 242 miles non stop over 38 hours, beat the rain and more importantly caught last orders.
As we toasted our homecoming I suggested an extra race in 2 weeks time & everyone thought it was a brilliant idea. A great team really working together by the end of the race and with full complement of 8 next time we should to do even better. The De Guingand Bowl is a race around marks in the channel over 24-36 hours on Saturday 14th May.