RB&I leg one- Plymouth to Kinsale

Feeling nervous with anticipation we left the Queen Anne’s Battery, with all the usual ‘fair wells’ both two and from our fellow competitors. Emma’s daughter, Holly and boyfriend had come all the way to Plymouth to see us on our way and had taken up the kind offer by the past race director Peter Taylor and his wife to hitch a ride on board their power boat, so they could see the rigors of the start close up.

Bob Aylot from Yachting Monthly who was doing a feature story on us was and had paid us a visit before the start was now out on the water in a rib, taking some more photo’s.

After sailing around to check out the best place to start from, a countdown came over the radio and the  cannon fired from HMS Kent to signal the start and we were off, a little late but at the pin end, a couple of tacks, and we were clear of the break water light and hard on the wind to Eddistone rock there was no doubt by now it was going to be a beat for the first half of the race but we managed to hold a good windward position, stood on for a while before tacking back to the English coast.

As the wind increased, so did the sea’s which made for an uncomfortable first night, still hard on the wind, we crashed through the waves, slamming and banging,  a stark contrast to the cushy few days we had spent in the marina!

We always had other competitors visible on the AIS, on the computer screen and so could gauge our progress as we made our way first to the Lizard and then on to the Scilly’s, where to wind slowly died, leaving the fleet wallowing in the left over slop and allowing the back markers to bunch up a little.

Crews were struggling to keep a forward motion, slightly fighting the tide, always dreading the thought of being washed too close to the rocks around Bishop rock lighthouse, there was only one thing for it, desperate times called for desperate measures and out came the oars (yes oars, allowed in these kind of races!) and Emma and I did our best to gain some forward propulsion, our main problem was timing! We never seemed to get it all together, couple that with the left over slop and after a short while, a lot of laughter and swearing we decided to ship oars! It must have been the sight of this, that the wind took pity on us and slowly started to build and once again we were on our way, leaving the Scilly’s behind, still hard on the wind until we reached the only two drilling platforms in the Celtic sea, where the wind freed off leaving us with a fast broad reach to the finish line at Kinsale it was a close run thing with the our sister ship, Saltheart but we just managed to pip them to the line.

After a trip up the river, tying up in the most confined of spaces, we made our way up to the luxurious surroundings of Kinsale YC to find out our position in the race.

RESULT !! First in class and third overall…. Somehow it makes everything worthwhile.

RB&I leg two Kinsale to Barra

We had a great re start, carrying the asymmetric kite most of the way along the south coast until we were in sight of the Fastnet rock, the wind was starting to build and we eventually rounded the corner to make our way up the west coast of Ireland. The course was now dead down wind, but in the ever building seas we didn’t think it safe to sail in that direction, so decided to sail the angles but with massively risky gybes. One of which took the compass binnacle/instrument pod out with the main sheet, we had just lost what we think is one if our biggest safety features, namely the outside chart plotter.

No problems, it just meant no rest for the wicked! We now had 3 reefs in the main, no genoa and 30 to 35 knots of wind. Emma was watching all the fishing boats on the AIS and keeping us clear of them but it did mean more big gybes. All was going well until a massive bang and we immediately crash gybed again, throwing us about and filling the cockpit with water, we re engaged the auto pilot but again it failed. A trip into the aft locker in those conditions to see what the problem was, was out of the question and so we made the decision to put in somewhere to try and get it sorted.

This meant a 50 mile beat back to the nearest refuge, namely Fenit where we will sort things out and depending on the time factor, decide either to rejoin the race or reluctantly make the gut wrenching decision to retire.

After hours of soul searching we have reluctantly made the decision to retire, not an easy decision to make and we know it will be made even worse when we read DNF in the results.

We came to the conclusion that even now that we have just about sorted out our problems (The RNLI have been fantastic with the help they have given us, use of angle grinders, tools and workshop facilities) but finding a… 7/16th UNF nut in a remote place that only has a bus once a week to the nearest town, has had its difficulties!!

We are one of the two slowest boats in the race and probably one of the greatest things about this race is the people who are connected with it, both the crews and the race officials and as we now are so far behind, the probability of catching up with them is very remote. Neil Matson, skipper of Vela Fresca said if he just wanted to sail around the British Isles, he could do it any time, he had come to race and that is exactly the same for us. We have completed the race twice and so feel we have nothing to prove, but never the less we are still very disappointed

Time for reflection

Looking back at what happened to us on the second leg and why we decided to retire fills us both with regret but at the time it seemed the right thing to do.

Our last night at sea during the race, to say the least was a little unpleasant but the conditions were only as bad as we had experienced many times before. Yes gybing in those conditions is always going to be risky, and as the course was dead down wind, there were plenty of gybes! It isn’t as if it’s the first time we had ripped the instrument pod off whilst gybing, it had happened quite a few times before but it was nothing we knew we couldn’t fix when the conditions improved.

When the auto pilot went with a bang, it threw Ruffian through another involuntary gybe, filling the cockpit with water, making us glad we had stuck to our ‘clip on at all times before you leave the companion way’ rule. Again nothing we hadn’t experienced before. With our previous ‘not quite so good’ auto pilot it was a regular occurrence! In fact, because of having an auto pilot that tripped out when the going got tough we have had to hand steer for 1000s of miles without a problem, albeit a lot more tiring, but again something we could cope with.

It wasn’t even the combination of both of these mishaps. To come to a conclusion, it has taken a thorough examination and many hours of soul searching as to why we enjoy this type of racing so much. As well as the unbelievable camaraderie between the competitors, it’s the challenge that offshore racing presents, you have to be self-sufficient, be able to cope with all situations, which is something we pride ourselves on and have proved, on several occasions in the past. You also need to be physically and mentally very fit, strong in mind and body and be really, really up for the job, so singularly minded that nothing else matters, tunnel vision, totally dedicated and fully committed to the cause.

In truth this was not the case, because we had done this race a couple of times before and many more like it, we just drifted along with the fact that we once again we would pop down to Plymouth and take part in the Round Britain and Ireland Race. We were under prepared and probably exited with thoughts of meeting up again with a lot of friends from previous races.

Our preparation had started early and was going very well, we were swimming three or four miles a week to build up our fitness, we had also worked on improvements on Ruffian. But then came the crunch! We are not looking for excuses, but trying to explain why, in hindsight we should not have started this race.

Eight weeks before the race I was taken into hospital, all the outside symptoms were just a very sore throat but the fact that I had lost 2 stone in weight in 2 weeks and couldn’t swallow made the problem quite serious. When I was discharged I was very weak, with not much energy and as we were to set off for the start line in four weeks’ time there was still a massive amount to do. We did what we could and were reasonably happy with the boat but I was most definitely not anywhere near fit enough.

During the time we have been putting together this website we have always tried to be honest, we have tried to encourage others to join in and have a go at longer distance sailing but now we would add, as well as having the boat fully prepared, you must also be prepared to deal with everything that the sea can throw at you, you must be both physically and mentally prepared before you undertake this type of sailing. It says in the brochure ‘not for the feint hearted’, how very true this is.