The AZAB Race leg two

The return leg Tuesday 19th June

We had said our good byes and wished others a safe passage home and made our way to the start line, determined to get a ‘flyer’, we had decided we would sail our own race and would not try to cover anyone. The race is held in high esteem by the Azoreans and they had provided a Portuguese warship as one end of start line and had laid rounding marks along the seafront to add to the spectacle.

 We got our ‘flyer’ and were first to round the eastern mark, hoisting our kite on rounding and reached westward along the southern shore, we were in good company and had a very exciting tussle with the Belgian yacht, ‘General Tapioca’ crewed by two past Belgian yachtsmen of the year.

Whilst this was great fun, it was not the course we had decided on so reluctantly we dropped the kite and hardened up onto the wind, taking us back onto our planned route, closer to the land but after a couple of hours, straight into a wind hole! We suffered along with all the others who had chosen this route, the yachts who took the risk of being really close in faired better than us and it was not until the early hours of the following day that we lost the sight of the shore lights and left the island of San Miguel behind us. 

Once again we could not believe the total darkness that surrounded us but with falling into the wind trap, at least we had the light of the yacht in front to follow, which makes it easier.

Wednesday was another day with very little wind but we did manage to keep moving, under spinnaker, with very little else to comment on, apart from Emma coming face to face with a rather large whale!

Thursday 0130, absolute pitch black again and flying head long, under kite into the black abyss, watch change, Pete spotted a ship on the AIS (a bit of a novelty, mid Atlantic!) that had just altered course and appeared to be on a collision course with us, Emma confirmed she had spotted it and was monitoring it. Pete took over the helm whilst Emma went to give them a call, they confirmed they had seen us and had just altered course. Emma continued chatting but the boat just kept coming, ‘check with them again’ Pete shouted and tell them to look out of their window as we light the sail up with the spotlight! The next voice was one of panic from MV COROLLETTA  ‘yes we are on a collision course what shall I do!’It was all to late they had altered course to avoid another yacht and hadn’t seen us, we were closing fast, there was no time to blow the kite, all we could do was make a drastic course alteration which put us head to wind, causing a massive ‘bubble’ wrap in the kite around the forestay. It shook so violently we thought it would shake the rig to bits. Pete was on the foredeck been flogged to death by the clews, sheets and guys when Emma appeared, we both took hold and tried to pull it down but only succeeded in being lifted off our feet and for a short while left dangling in mid air! We couldn’t see how to unwrap it and after an hour, totally exhausted, decided we had no alternative but to leave it shaking Ruffian to bits and wait until first light to try and un wrap it and hope it didn’t dismast us in the mean time.

As dawn broke a two hour battle began to take it down and with a combination of Emma gybing the boat and Pete unwrapping it bit by bit, we managed to unwrap it and stow it below.( all be it in shreds!)

It was now 0700hrs, we were both absolutely knackered when the dolphins came to play, it’s so strange, such a calming influence,  you feel an affinity with them, we are in their world and they are just checking to see if we are OK.As a post script to this incident, the blame was not solely Corolletta’s . We normally have a permanently mounted tubular radar reflector suspended from the flag halyard (and hoist a octahedral type when necessary) but as a bit of a stickler for protocol, Pete had forgotten to swap it with the courtesy ensign. Lesson learned!

The next couple of days were exceedingly monotonous, very slow going, the visibility varying from foggy to very foggy with light rain or drizzle. Lovely! We were soaked to the skin and kept warm with hot water bottles, yes, hot water bottles in the middle of June!

But at least the auto pilot was doing its share of the steering, that is of course until it broke, we figured that as we were not making much progress, we may as well stop and repair it. To do this we had to remove the wheel, which meant fitting the emergency tiller so we could heave too, which is exactly what we did!

Sunday brought squally conditions, so reef in, reef out, at least it breaks the boredom! and at least we were moving again at a decent speed, even if it was in ever building seas.Sunday also brought a call from another ship, Discovery, who told us they were conducting a survey(No, not door to door!) They had dropped large yellow buoys over the side and were monitoring the current drift, mid Atlantic and we should be extra vigilant, so as to avoid them. ‘Can you give us their lats & longs we enquired?’ ‘Errrr, not at the moment’ we were told, small problem with the tracking device’ wonder if they ever found them?

Later Sunday evening the wind starts to build and so once again the autopilot decided to take early retirement, with building beam seas we have to hand steer all the time, the hull has that familiar hum as we surf off the waves, this is great, this is how it should be, two reefs in the main, 28 to 35 knots and we are now making good progress.

Day break on Monday and we are still flying but the wind is down to around 20 knots and with improving visibility we spot another yacht’s mast, great excitement all round, ‘General Tapioca’ Pete proclaims, Emma questions this as they are 4 or 5 miles away but by dinner time he was proved right. They were sailing faster than us but we were harder on the wind and had no intentions of dropping down on our course, we take photo’s of each other and after a chat on the VHF we exchange waves and bid each other good luck. Can you believe it close quartered racing after 1200 miles!

Later that day we hear Nigel Philpott on ‘Odette of Hamble’ has had a problem with his wind vane steering system, the bolts holding it in position had started to work loose, one of them below the waterline was letting in water and to make matters worse, Nigel had nearly taken his finger off when he had tried to repair it. Medical aid was required. Fortunately this was on hand from fellow competitors on ‘Carte Blanche’ the nearest vessel to them, who just happened to have a surgeon on board! The joy however was short lived as they unfortunately lost their backstay and deemed it unsafe to carry on in that direction.

When a crisis occurs you need good people about you and you could have no one better than the crew of ‘Shockwave’ who came to the rescue, picking up the required drugs from ‘Carte Blanche’ (don’t, forget this was in very big seas),delivering them and administrating them. When Nigel couldn’t maintain his course anymore and had to free off, no doubt wracked with pain and in need of sleep, we heard a message from ‘Shockwave’ telling him to turn his VHF up full volume, they would shadow them and call if any problem arose. They continued with this escort duty all the way back to Falmouth. Mike Buggy on ‘Raparee’ diverted to give assistance to ‘Carte Blanche’ and shadowed them all the way home.

For the next two days we worked hard, reefs in, reefs out as the squalls came and went, we were both very tired now and soaked to the skin, reduced to 1/2hr watches but we were maintaining good speeds, eating the miles up and nearing on the finish.

We cross the end of the Scillies traffic separation lane ends and very soon the Lizard light came onto view, onwards towards the Mannicles buoy, a few more Red Bulls apiece and it will all be over!, the wind keeps threatening to die but we manage to keep going, we spot another yacht in front of us and follow him across the finishing line at 08.19.15 secs on the 28th June.

  We head for Falmouth Town Quay, where we meet up with other crews, and chatted till lunch time before heading off for a well earned pint of Guinness in the Chain Locker pub!

Later that day we wandered down to the Royal Cornwall YC to see how much our run in with Corolletta had cost us, we had come 4th on the return leg and had succeeded in finishing 2nd overall in class, a result that in truth we had only dreamed about before we had set off.

Back to Scarborough

We finally crept back into Scarborough at 0730 on Friday the 13th July after what seemed like a long hard slog home.  With all the adrenalin drained from us after the race had finished, and weather reports which mentioned the word seven every day, motivation didn’t come easy for the return passage of over 500 miles, just a short hop for us you may have thought, but not so.After four days storm bound in Falmouth, at the second attempt, we finally departed and set about the task of getting back to Scarborough but with only a small weather window we decided to make our first port of call the beautiful river Yealm where we picked up a mooring and once again met up with Peter Taylor who joined us for a G&T before supper.

 An early night and an early departure to catch the tide around Start Point and we were on our way to Dartmouth (a decision we regretted as the SW wind gave us a very unpleasant and uncomfortable sail with a nasty breaking swell that threw us all over the place, we made a note that when sailing you can not sail to a strict time table, you must not ignore the forecast and our safety must override the urge to get home. This may seem strange after severe gales and 2500 miles of Ocean racing but the main point is then we did not have to consider the rocky shore line – now we do! ) We spent two days in Dartmouth which gave the opportunity to  spend more time with friends we had met the previous year on the Round Britain and Ireland race.

After two days another break in the weather saw us setting off for Weymouth for an over night stay, before heading off to Cowes and meeting up with our sail maker UK McWilliams, who even though they were heavily committed to sail repairs from the Swan World series which was on at the time, worked on the main sail over night so we would not be held up on our passage home, many thanks UK.Once again an early departure saw us on our way to Brighton, a marina neither one of us had been in before and with a strong SW wind in the shallow waters around the entrance, one we don’t particularly want to go to again!! This is a huge marina with absolutely no character, with the most appalling architecture we have seen, sorry Brighton, the staff were great but never again, unless we are in dire need, then please ignore this foot note!

Four am saw us leave, on our way to Dover for a night before the final push up the coast to Lowestoft, which since the stay with the RB&I, almost seems like home from home. We left at  nine am to carry the strong North going tide through the shoaling waters off Great Yarmouth, squeezed through the offshore wind farms, inside the Haisborough shoals (land, seven miles offshore!! ) across the Wash and crossed the Humber estuary on a very pleasant evening and finally home.

WOULD WE DO IT AGAIN?, oddly enough, one mile from the finish line I said I wouldn’t, Emma said ‘she would do it again tomorrow’, but after meeting up with fellow competitors, exchanging experiences, feeling the bond that a shared experience like this gives, a few pints of the black stuff, I was ready for the off once again.If ever anyone gets a chance to do a big race like this, grab it with both hands, it will be something you never forget, to get to the start line is, in itself no mean achievement and requires total dedication to the cause and then to race flat out  for eight or nine days, twenty four hours a day to the point of exhaustion and still be able to give it ‘some more’ when things go wrong requires unparalleled effort, certainly this has been the hardest thing we have ever done, the rewards are tremendous and of course the prize is a free holiday for two in the Azores!!!! If you want it, go for it, MAKE IT HAPPEN !

One final foot note. We are very proud to say that all our efforts and everyones generosity ended when we were able to present cheques to our two charities for over £5500 to each of them.