This race was going to be very different for us as we had entered it fully crewed!! The shear logistics of getting all the crew together for the qualifying passage, ISAF off shore certificates, first aid certificates, not to mention practice and then all that goes into provisioning for a race for six people that could last six days, an immense undertaking in its self, for which Simon did a fantastic job of organising the wet food, preparing, freezing and vacuum packing the main meals of stews and bolognaise sauce, that only needed pasta or rice added to them. Emma and I sorted the dried food, high protein food, energy drinks, treats and of course the legendary flapjack and all that was needed was a last minute ‘fresh shop’ to complete task.
Emma and I had sailed Ruffian down to the Solent and were berthed at Shamrock Quay when Murdy, Simon, Sam and Lee arrived by hire car on the Friday evening. We had a meal and a few drinks at the local pub, followed by an early night and set off the following morning to Cowes where we would do the last minute shopping, leave our delivery sails with my old friend Mal, race pre brief and I had arranged to meet my son Terry, who was instructing sailing out of Gosport.
With all our pre race tasks completed, we spent our time relaxing, looking at all the magnificent race boats before meeting up with Terry and his crew, for the ‘last supper’ in the ‘Anchor’ and yet another early night!
The following morning I awoke at five a.m. to see Lee sat up in bed, eyes like saucers, thumbs in the air and hear the words “I’m really excited!” Well we all were, the adrenalin was kicking in, this time it had been a longer journey than most but once again we had made it to the start line.
Our starting time was 1230 and as every single competing yacht had to sail between two committee boats, with storm trysail and storm jib set, we readied Ruffian for the sail past. The next few hours seemed like an age before it was time to leave the marina.
First off were the huge multi-hulls followed by the IMOCRA 60’s, the Class 40’s the Figaro’s and then it was our turn, the largest class in the fleet with 85 entrants, all of whom wanted to start on the pin end on the northern shore, with so many boats and no one wanting a collision before the race really got going, it ended up a bit of a procession to cross the line, with first ever Fasnet winner Jolie Brise, a large wooden pilot cutter with a large bowsprit spoiling my plans and baulking the line! Never the less we were under way and as we had a foul tide for the first hour or so we cross tacked in the shallows of the north shore until with the turning tide we could make longer tacks and use the full width of the Solent, the most memorable of these was catching Icap Leopard inside us on port tack, could this be my 15 seconds of fame? No not to be she just powered through us, like a hot knife through butter, with the crew all cheering M on as he ground the last few inches on the genny sheet!
Everything was going well as we shot out of the Needles channel, like the old proverbial cork out of a bottle, the crew work was bang on, the attention to trim was second to none through the well executed tacks, as we tacked our way down the Channel first of all making sure we had a good ‘offing’ for St Albans Ledge and then off Portland Bill. We had started our two hour watch system at 2200 hrs and continued this until daylight, then it was everyone on the rail, we were tacking with some fast boats and knew we were still in with a good chance. It was a warm, sunny day and as the day went on, the wind got lighter and we made a tack back towards land. By 2300 hrs we had passed The Lizard and Sam announced that according to the position report on his i-phone, that on corrected time, we were in 18th position overall in the IRC class!!
We had tacked in very close inside the Lizard, to get out of the tide; we could see the waves crashing on the rocks, perhaps a little to close! We carried the turning tide on past Lands end and I made a monumental mistake of thinking we could carry it past the end of the Traffic Separation Scheme (every TSS had been made an exclusion zone and you were not allowed to enter) To compound my error the wind died, leaving us drifting around in circles and even worse the chart had not been updated for and alteration made in January which extended the TSS another twelve miles north!
With the tide now taking us nearer and nearer Longships light we made the decision to turn back and go inside of the TSS, which with the aid of the tide and a slowly building wind, we did and slowly clawed our way past the Scillies and turned for the Fastnet Rock, slightly down beat as we knew we had blown our chance of a good finish. It was now starting to get dark and as always seems to happen when you are down, the dolphins once again came to visit and lifted our spirits, so much so that we hardly noticed the increasing wind and it starting to rain as we marvelled at their skills, diving under the bow at tremendous speeds.
In the early hours of Wednesday we rolled away some genoa and put the first reef in the main, and in much reduced visibility bashed on into the darkness, daylight brought with it a wind shift allowing us to sail freer towards the rock, we picked up sightings of a couple of other yachts and at 1800hrs we rounded the rock in thick fog.
All night it had been very difficult on the helm, sailing into the total darkness and the fog misting up the glasses of those unfortunate enough to have to wear them, making it difficult to see the instruments, we resorted to the ‘talking compass’ which means someone has to shout out your heading: “good course, no, now too high bear away a little, yep that’s good, going high again, bear away, yep back on” etc.etc. Hard work but our new helms, M and Lee did a great job as we worked one hour shifts.
Thursday morning saw an improvement in the visibility and once again large pods of dolphins were around for most of the day and in addition with the wind more on the beam we started to fly, maintaining speeds of seven, eight and even nine knots over the ground as we closed in on the Scillies after which we could shake out the reef in the main and get the asymmetric up.
Helming was still no easier in the dark, dark night as we once again resorted to the ‘talking compass’ until we picked up the loom of light from the mainland and whilst not brilliant, at least it was something to aim for. Just after midnight, with everyone up, we hoisted big pink and managed to carry it for four and a half hours until, with the wind up at nineteen knots we were forced to drop it, but an hour later it had dropped off a little and once again we re- hoisted the wet soggy mass and managed to carry it to the finish.
We crossed the finish line off Plymouth breakwater at 0629.51secs on Friday morning, after sailing a total of 670 miles on a 608 mile course!!
By nine o’clock in the morning we were sat in the bar in the race village, and had had four pints of larger and slightly the worse for wear, before we retreated to Ruffian for a well earned sleep!