New sails and the hard work continued!

Ruffian had always been fast off the wind, but wouldn’t point and was a handful when fully powered up, always rounding up and having to continually spill wind off the main. A trip to the Southampton Boat Show in September (by sea naturally and one in which we experienced our first knock down surfing off a wave and recording 19.9 knits on the Garmin chart plotter) cured all that with the purchase of a new main and genoa by UK McWilliams, which completely transformed the sailing capabilities pointing 5 degrees to 10 degrees higher and making her less of a handful.

 During the autumn we sailed her up the coast to Whitby, where she was lifted out and after seven weeks of work on her underwater profiles, stripping, fairing and re-antifouling, she was ready to go. We had already submitted the log for our qualifying passage, which to our delight was accepted, so all that remained was to get ourselves ready for the off.The next couple of weeks were spent doing all the last minute jobs on the boat, to bring her up to the standard required for offshore racing, making sure we had every single chart to sail all the way round the British Isles including the more detailed charts for landfalls, tidal stream atlases and then of course enough food, fuel, gas, etc. for the delivery trip and then working out what the minimum amounts of each for the race, entering all the waypoints required not only to get the boat to the start line but for the race itself.

Our starting list of ‘jobs to do’ instead of getting shorter seemed to be getting longer as we got nearer to our departure date, until the day arrived when we had to say ‘what isn’t done now will just have to wait!We had, however, allowed ourselves a few days at Plymouth to complete any outstanding jobs and rest up before submitting Ruffian for scrutinising. The plan was to make our first stop at Dover and on to Cowes where we would pick up our new Genoa before pushing on to Newton Ferries (just outside Plymouth), where a berth had been booked for us by the race director, Peter Taylor, at about the third of the cost of a night at Queen Ann’s Battery!

At last we were on our way.                                       

At lunch time on the 26th of June we were totally amazed by the number of family, friends and well wishers that turned up to see us off, some bearing gifts, Mum’s famous flapjack, Aunt Dee Dee’s Bannock cake, Judith’s enormous chocolate bar and the odd bottle of gin for medicinal purposes only! We cast off with tears in our eyes but with a massive feeling of elation, after two years of planning, hard work, scheming and dreaming we were on our way to take part in The Round Britain and Ireland Yacht RaceWe sailed out of sight until the wind dropped and we reached for the engine key, the enormity of the task ahead suddenly dawned on us, when the race starts, no longer will we have the easy option to turn on the engine, we were about to sail 2500miles in whatever conditions arise, a task that seemed even more daunting when Emma realized she had left her mobile phone at home!!!!

The trip down gave us the opportunity to check everything out and we soon settled into our watch system, we came across the usual heavy traffic off the Humber, dodged the oil rigs, wind farms and shoals off the North Norfolk coast, back in among the traffic off the Thames estuary and Dover before we inadvertently wandered into an exclusion zone off the Isle of Wight and got mixed up in a Volvo 70 race around the Island ! After picking up our new sail from UK McWilliams in Cowes we cracked on to the Newton Ferries on the river Yealm .

It was a sunny morning when we entered the tricky navigation into the river and our jaws dropped at the stunning beauty of the surroundings, which would be our new home for the next few days. It was just like sailing into a wooded Norwegian Fjord

You may think our first objective would be to seek out Peter Taylor who had, very kindly, promised us storage room in his garage for our delivery sails and unwanted cruising equipment, you may have thought a trip ashore for a shower may have been in order, washing off the boat? No all this was secondary to catching a bus onto Plymouth, to buy a new mobile for Emma!

Almost there!

After a very pleasant stay on the Yealm, and enjoying the company and hospitality of Peter and his wife Rosie, with three days to go before the start of the race, we presented ourselves at the Royal Weston Yacht Club, the organisers of the race for what seemed like an endless round of form filling, followed by drinks receptions, presentations and finally the race pre-brief given by various members of the team involved in this mammoth organisation, with none other than Sir Robin Knox Johnson presenting the starting instructions. A golf ball is the precise size of the starting cannon barrel, he claimed and anyone over early would end up with a hole through their main sail! he joked, at least I think he joked!  No one put it to the test as the time penalty for being OCS was in the order of six hours per minute! The rules are simple,’ all rocks to starboard’

We looked on in amazement at the big multi hulls taking part, anchored in the bay, too big for the marina, they had arrived from as far away as America to take part in this four yearly race. The mono hulls we were tied up against were open 50’s, open 40’s and many other awesome looking racing machines, we felt very humble but we had made it this far through our own efforts and determination, nothing could stop us now, we were less than 24 hours from the start.We had made new friends, mostly in our class, all of whom had their own stories to tell of their trials and tribulations in arriving at the start line.

There was a massive feeling of camaraderie around the marina and in the yacht club. I will never forget Peter Taylor walking down the pontoon, chatting with Sir Robin, shouting over ‘morning Pete & Emma, how are you today?’ ………If you can walk with kings and yet not lose the common touch etc. comes to mind

Our families and friends had travelled all the way from home to see the start of the race and we had managed to get them all booked on one of the ferries that would mill around the start line and then follow us out of Plymouth Sound but first ‘the last supper’ and we all enjoyed an Italian meal together before turning in for the night, dreaming of the perfect start the following day

The following morning after family fairwells we took the sail covers off, made sure all was stowed correctly and fired up the engine, there seemed a new kind of urgency, crews wishing others good luck with everyone busying themselves, on our part probably to try and hide the sick feeling in our knotted stomachs, our neighbour cast off and left, our turn now, no point in delaying any more, lets do it! We were both feeling very emotional at this time, all our plans were about to come to fruition. Look Emma, over there, Pete Goss and Paul Larson being filmed by the TV crews, God! do we feel out of our depth! Nice boat, have a good one, he shouted, Bloody hell! Pete Goss shouting to us, it was all too much, our emotional state was starting to show, lets get out of here, we left the marina, only to be confronted by another explosion of feelings as we spotted family and friends on the ferry with a huge black and red banner, which Sandra had made with RUFFIAN on it, stretched right out across the stern of the ferry! The start line was between two war ships and now we strut up and down trying to protect our area, protect our wind, this is where we want to cross the line, AT LAST, WE HAD MADE IT!