Draigy Enjoys the Breeze in the Rorc De Guingand Bowl
Peering through the spray on the Red Jet’s window we knew it was going to be an exhilarating weekend. Just visable in the distance was Draigy charging down the Solent under her storm kite. Lucky Kevin and Nic had an excellent delivery on Friday whilst Helen and I had been working. With a rendezvous in West Cowes, a strategy meeting was formed in the Anchor Inn. We had been emailed the course – Cowes, Needles, Greenwich Light Vessel, Cowes, 127 nm and the forecast was for moderate to strong westerlies
We awoke to a breathlessness hailed by the marinas bunting. Everyone knew the plan. A good team, well rehearsed, we slipped out of the marina for an 0800 Saturday start on the Royal Yacht Squadron line. Usual drill, beating, adverse tide, so the Squadron was the favoured end. Except you couldn’t lay the line on starboard. Mid line there was a massive wind shift with a freshening breeze which put Hurst Narrows in our sights. Taking advantage of this we had a cracking start, windward boat and were arguably in first place for the first mile but then the wind eased. We had to foot off and drifted onto a leeward boat. Forced into a killer tack, which took us to the back of the fleet, unperturbed we chased on picking off our rivals one by one. By the time we cleared Hurst we were in 6th place. Staying high towards the needles others were forced to tack behind us and we took a couple more places. Some of the faster class, who started after us, began to catch up. We rounded the Needles Bridge buoy, big bear away and hoisted the biggest kite we have.
The fleet divided here. Some went radically close behind the Needles to dodge the tide and others sought the breeze offshore. We had studied our tidal streams and took a midline until the tide really began to pick up then sought refuge inshore about half way to St Catherine’s point. We certainly didn’t lose out by this strategy. The wind was steadily increasing and as we rounded the headland the seas increased and we saw more and more boats broaching. Keeping in really tight we were chomping up the miles but then some of the extra fast boats started careering in amongst us with their asymmetrics. We had a couple of near misses with bow sprits missing our push pit by inches so decided to keep out for a few minutes until they had passed.
Pushing away from the island, on a lay line for Greenwich Light Vessel, the wind really got up and the seas rolled on. We watched more and more competitors getting into trouble and changing down to smaller spinnakers. An X34 alongside us had a massive wrap around the forestay and struggled for half an hour before admitting defeat and retiring. Draigy never faltered and we enjoyed the rollercoaster ride carrying the same kite all the way. We were whooping with delight at each surge down the waves with a record speed of 13.5 knots. Spirits were high & concentration imperative otherwise a wipe out. Getting the spinnaker down after 8 hours was some feat and just as we positioned ourselves for the drop a big wave picked up Draigy’s stern and twisted her around. Helen and I let out a shriek in spite of ourselves.
With trepidation we cornered the light vessel for the beat but we need not have worried, Draig handled the seas impeccably. Sometimes my imprecise helming highlighted by a slam and a shower for those on the rail. Forced to concentrate hard, determined not to lose our downwind advantage, we beat on into the bitter cold wind of the night. The wind eased a little as we neared the Solent and we changed headsails but immediately it sprang up again to mock us. Trimming as if racing around the cans we held the larger sail but eventually had to submit to changing back to the smaller jib.
The lights of the Solent are a bewildering and fascinating sight offshore. Spinnaker tower like some crazy helter-skelter. As we drew nearer and dawn approached our competitors appeared and it was clear we were doing well. At 5 miles from the line everyone has to radio the Committee boat to warn of arrival. It was good to hear some competitor’s position but not that Major Tom was 1.5 miles ahead of us. We had a tacking duel to the finish with an IMX 40 and finished within seconds of a Grand Soleil 45 at 0530 Sunday. We celebrated our finish with a breakfast beer.
Tired but elated we sailed into Cowes and had a couple of hours sleep until the tide turned and then headed for home at 9am. A typical beat all the way home we arrived on our mooring at 3pm and went ashore a very happy but rather sleep deprived team
Delighted to have finished 6th in class out of 24. We beat all the other British entries – just the French and Dutch to beat now. This put us 7th in the series so the pressure is on for a good result from the Eddystone Rock race over the bank holiday weekend. Also Jubilant to have been given £929 in donations for Sail 4 Cancer with a big chunk from the WSC Tea by the Sea party. Not far from our first £1,000 – can you help?