The Rolex Fastnet Race 2011
The ten CSORC Fastnet crew arrived at Ocean Village on Saturday 13th to prepare Blue Juice for the big race ahead. Food was loaded and stored, tracks and blocks lubricated, sails checked, lines counted and stowed, and all the myriad of safety items checked and double-checked. A quick dash over to Cowes on the Red Jet for the race briefing then a return to Southampton for a last supper in the Royal Southampton YC and an early night.
The forecast was for moderate southwesterlies occasionally veering, but on Monday night and Tuesday a low was due to track through the Celtic and Irish Seas to give us a bit of a dusting, depending on our rate of progress down channel. Before the start we had to take the boat through a gate with storm jib and trysail hoisted. This accomplished, we waited for our start at 12.10.
We started cautiously - there's no need to take risks with over 600 miles to go. We had one reef in and the number 3 headsail. The tide was ebbing down the western solent with the strongest on the island side, but with cleaner wind and more space we stuck to the middle - tacking into a SWly. At Hurst the impressive Tonnerre de Breskens, a previous Fastnet winner, went sliding past a boat length to windward. We were up there with the rock stars and big boats, at least briefly. We stuck with the number 3 as it was very lumpy in the wind against tide, and very busy. The smaller headsail gave us pointing and manoeuvrability and kept the boat flat and fast.
We soon settled down to a beat taking us offshore and down Channel. We shook out the reef as the 20 knots we had experienced eased to a moderate 3 to 4 and stayed that way overnight, occasionally veering then backing. By Monday afternoon we were off Mounts Bay and making reasonable progress. The wind got up slightly as we rounded the Runnel Stone off Lands End so we stuck a reef in, anticipating strong winds later, and lay off on port tack.
I was off watch when I heard the second reef go in. It was getting quite bumpy and I was trying to get some sleep before my 2 til 6 stint. When I came on deck Trevor was at the wheel, legs well braced against the cockpit, and it was grey, drizzly, windy and very bumpy. The wind was well over 20 knots and had been up to 28 but as we were on a beam reach it was more comfortable than it might have been. The waves were big but well-spaced. Jonathan had witnessed a garfish that came into the cockpit with one of the breaking waves, which is a first in my experience. In the conditions it fell to the more experienced to take the helm and after two hours I was starting to flag, but little by little the wind was dropping and Emily did a brilliant job for the rest of the watch, keeping Blue Juice on course and still creaming along.
As conditions eased we hardened up ten degrees to get us back to the rhumb line to the rock. We had been making eight to ten knots for a long while and were really eating up the miles. Lying on his bunk, Trevor was surprised to see daylight through a gap between the mast and the coach roof. Investigation revealed that three bolts had sheered and a collar which locates the mast had popped out. It was a worrying moment and we quickly took the main down and improvised a couple of extra "shrouds" using the main halyard and topping lift. We couldn't risk continuing to sail so, although only 80 miles from the Fastnet and in a smooth sea and light wind, after consideration we decided to retire and turn round and motor back.
We motored into the night, finally making Penzance Wednesday morning. Once tied up we were able to get everything dried out, give the boat a throrough check over and re-fuel, but not before enjoying a full Cornish breakfast on solid ground. We were all very grateful to get a rest, and stayed the night in Penzance before leaving on the early morning tide for Plymouth and the race finish.
It was a disappointing end to a race that had been going well up to the point of retiring, and we'd got through the worst weather we were likely to face - but that's sailing and there is another Rolex Fastnet race in 2013!
CSORC treasurer Richard Palmer was also competing in the Fastnet this year, two-handed in his J/109 Jangada Too, but he also had to retire due to electrical problems. And we weren't the only ones with problems as there were dismastings and in the highest profile case the 100 foot American monohull Rambler 100 lost her keel and turned turtle shortly after rounding the rock. All her crew were safely recovered.
On a more positive note the 140 foot French trimaran Banque Populaire finished the 608 mile course in 1 day 8 hours 48 minutes and 46 seconds. We saw her coming back as we approached Lands End. That's not ocean racing, it's practically day-sailing.
Thanks to the CSORC crew: Trevor Drew (skipper), Phil Armitage, Dave Balding, Dan Groves, Andy Lapsley, Jonathan Law, Emily Shrosbree, Alan Voysey, Mike Yogarajah, and myself Nick Bowles. It has been a tough season with strong winds in all our qualifying races and everybody has learnt a lot and vowed to come back for more.
The Run Up To The Big Race
There's more to a Fastnet campaign than chartering a boat, paying the entry fee and heading for the start line. Our campaign started long before we set foot on deck. Race regulations require that a third of the crew and the skipper must complete RYA Sea Survival and ISAF Offshore Safety courses. The crew completed these in March along with a weekend of familiarisation and training in Blue Juice.
Next came qualification. Skipper and half the crew have to complete 300 miles of RORC races in the twelve months prior to the race itself.
We opted for the Cervantes Trophy (Cowes to Le Havre), the de Guingand Bowl (round marks in the Channel), and the Myth of Malham (Cowes to the Eddystone and back). All three threw up some lively conditions with wind speeds of at least 25 knots - more in the Myth of Malham. You can read about these events in our race blog (link on the left).
|30th April||Cervantes Trophy||Cowes - Le Havre|
|14th May||De Guingand Bowl||Round Channel Marks|
|27th May||Myth of Malham||Cowes - Eddystone - Cowes|