Leg one. Start time 1200 hrs 11th June 2006
The cannon fired the first shot to signal the start of the multi hulls, next it was our turn, BOOM! and the nerves begin to jangle flying up the line on port, no one in our water, back onto starboard and the whole fleet’s coming towards us!, no need to shout they all bear away, a big gap opens up and we go for the line, the final count down on VHF is drowned out by the helicopter filming the start, but we had a good start we recon we were 2nd or 3rd over as we head out past the breakwater with ‘Wolfies Toy’ an open 50 just to windward of us. As the faster yachts start to get in front of us we manage to hold the windward position up to the Eddison Lighthouse, the anxiety has now subsided and it’s all adrenaline with just under 2500miles to go!
The wind speed drops and we sail into a massive wind hole, followed by ‘Rush’, a Sigma 35 and whilst we wallow around they set up a pair of oars (allowed in this particular race) and row themselves out of trouble, leaving us trying to row 5 ¼ tons with dinghy paddles! but to no avail, another lesson learned. The wind fills in a little but now the fog closes in, as we bear away at the Eddison, hoisting the asymmetric kite the wind falls even further and we make our first big mistake in not reacting to this, the kite we are flying is one and a half ounce cloth and simply doesn’t fly well in such light airs, by the time we had realised this and changed to the GP we were nearly at the back of the fleet, things only got worse when because of its age it absorbed all the moisture in the air and hung like a limp rag, we had no option but to hoist a kite Martin Donnelly had passed on to us. Old sails in a race like this is not an option, we would have to find a friendly bank manager before the next race!
Midnight saw us rounding the ‘Lizard’ in the most amazing phosphorescence, with the wind increasing and going forward of the beam we unfurled the genny and began to fly again, slowly reeling in the disappearing stern lights ahead of us. We crossed the TSS off the Scilie Isles with ‘Blue Demon’ and ‘Knights Challenge’ also accompanied by a pod of about 100 dolphins all crashing through the waves, they looked like a bunch of lads on a stag night rushing to the pub!
We left ‘Knights Challenge’ behind and lost sight of ‘Blue Demon’ (who we thought was too close to the rocks) and gave chase to another yacht we had spotted ahead, dare we hope we are getting back into this race? We followed him all that day and into the evening, recognising that it was ‘Tusitala’ another yacht in the race, Pete refused to relinquish the helm as he knew he was gradually pulling him back he was totally focused on overtaking him, nothing else mattered and after eight hours on the helm with total and absolute concentration her stern light turned from white to red and then red and green as we tacked in front of them, they followed suit but after a short while, tacked back again and sailed off in the other direction. Emma came back on watch, ‘Why did we tack?’ ‘I’ve got him’ Pete said, ‘look he’s over there’ ‘Yes I can see he’s over there but we are going the wrong way!’ Pete sulked off, realizing his efforts had left him completely drained, as Emma tacked and gave chase. Another valuable lesson learned! Especially as when Pete eventually returned to planet Earth, Emma had overtaken them and left them for dead in our wake!
The rest of the leg was spent in pouring rain and slamming sea’s until we passed an oil rig off the Irish coast, a signal to hoist the courtesy ensign and the sun to shine simultaneously (good trick to remember, hoist a flag and the sun comes out!) Land ahoy! We crossed the finishing line with ‘Blue Demon’ and ‘Iroquis’ and sailed up the estuary to Kinsale marina only to find most of the other competitors already there and some had already departed!
Position wise it had been a disaster but at least we have 48hrs to recover and get ready for the next leg, a good shower and a night’s sleep would improve things. Wrong again! As we came in to moor up our lines were exchanged for a can of larger, then another before we were dragged off to the yacht club for a few pints of the black stuff to exchange stories with the other crews.’ Why’? asked Tusitala, ‘did you tack when you overtook us?, we thought you had sailed brilliantly to catch us, you must really be some kind of a sailing god, so we tacked to follow you until we realized we were going the wrong way!’, we all fell about laughing when the truth came out after a couple more pints, a few more stories and a shower we staggered back to ‘Ruffian’ opened all the hatches to get rid of the pong and slept the sleep of the dead until a sharp knock on the side awoke us and alerted us to the fact that the BBQ and party was just about to begin. It’s a hard life! But someone has to do it!
Finishing time Wednesday 14th June 12.58.41secs
Distance 294.4 nautical miles Moving average speed 3.9 knots Maximum speed 8.4 knots
After a day running around doing the laundry and replenishing food stocks, saying good luck to all our new friends and casting them off, we caught up with some much needed sleep, treated ourselves to a nice meal, a couple more pints of the black stuff with the rest of the stragglers and listened to some of the most amazing stories we have ever heard from Michael and Peter Ellison, sailing their catamaran, ‘Iroquis’, a sister ship of the one they sailed in the very first RB&I and just about every other top amateur race ever heard of, we felt honoured and humbled to be in their company
Leg two. Restart time Friday 16th 12.58.41secs
12.59.17secs, buggar, late again! But it’s good to be back on the water again even if we are short tacking in a choppy swell, only to discover we had a bad leak, Emma is the expert on bilge water, after tasting it, ‘fresh’ she proclaimed and started to find out where it was coming from, ‘it’s coming out of the inspection hatch ‘o’ ring’ which we re-sealed with sealant and carried on our merry way. We had over filled it as we had run out on the previous leg and were told it’s not that easy to get at the next stop over.
It was around 2200hrs that evening when, in a dying wind, we picked up the Fastnet light and 0630 the next day when we pasted it! Our first time rounding it, it was so benign, hard to believe it is feared by so many. During the following 24hrs our top speed was four knots, we were feeling pretty low when we received a call from the race director, ‘I know there’s a long way to go but if you guys don’t get going soon, you probably won’t make the time limit’ Well as you can imagine there was a rush for the knife draw, to see who could find the sharpest knife to end the misery!
Eventually the wind filled in and once again we were on our way, working hard, it was kite up kite down, as the conditions permitted, the famous Atlantic rollers were starting to build as we enjoyed the occasional surf, with Emma winning the intense competition with 13.5knots, we spotted Rush to seaward of us, and as the wind changed direction we said our farewells to the Irish coast and managed to leave them behind as we headed for the outer Hebrides.
Only 100miles to go now and we were really flying along, both very determined to keep the pressure on and make up for the poor first leg. Heavy rain reduced visibility, we were soaked to the skin, no matter how good the oilies are, the rain eventually finds it’s way down your neck as you briefly remove your hood to cock your ear to windward, did you hear something in a distance?, a big boat maybe?, or maybe not. We eat the miles up as we hear the shipping forecast, Shannon, Rockall, Bailey, Hebrides, Gale 8 to severe 9 imminent, storm 10 later, we are now sailing inside Barra Head, not far now, the wind eases as we bear away and hoist the big kite, must keep going if we are to be in before the storm, not many street lights around here, it’s a dark cold night but you can just make out the outline of jagged rocks, we pick up a very dim stern light and steadily start closing on it, it’s ‘Iroquois’, not in our class we don’t sit on her wind. Then from nowhere we pick up another light closing in on the finishing line its ‘Chimp’, they did really well in the first leg and re-started ages before us, maybe things were not so bad after all? Emma yells ‘there’s not enough room to drop the kite after we cross the finish line and at this speed we could end up on the rocks’ but needs must and after crossing the finish line we executed the swiftest drop, in the pitch black, you could ever wish for, engine on and main down we navigated our way into Castle Bay, just as the gale started to hit.
Finishing time Tuesday 20th June 02hrs 59mins 59secs
Distance 470.4 nautical miles Moving Average 5.3 knots Maximum Speed 13.5 knots
Race control informed us that unfortunately no mooring buoys were available and we would have to anchor anywhere we could but not in the ferries turning circle!, we spotted Iroquois so very reluctantly dropped our hook near them. This really was not a good place to be, no shelter, and the situation didn’t get any better as we let out more scope, which only took us nearer the rocky shore line, a quick call to race control only produced another apology and to be told they couldn’t offer anywhere better.
As dawn came, the conditions deteriorated and the tide fell, we realised we were only 50 metres from a rocky reef, we kept the engine running, the plan was, if we dragged anchor we would gun the engine and head out into deeper water. The wind was now 50 knots. We watch the futile attempts of others trying to extricate themselves from the position they were in, with the odd crew just jettisoning their anchor and powering off at full tilt, with just enough speed to make head way to try and find somewhere with better shelter but with our dodgy folding prop,( It has a mind of it’s own, sometimes requiring 2 days notice to open, and then there’s no guarantee!), for us, this was not an option, we would just have to ride out the storm.
We settled into our anchor watch routine and slowly started to dry out, wet clothes everywhere, and then it happened BANG, we were on the rocks, as quickly as that! We were laid on our side, Emma put out a call for help whilst Pete shot outside, grabbing a fog horn as he went, discharging it before he tried to pull us off with the anchor warp, only to eventually hoist it aboard, cocooned in a ball of kelp about a yard in diameter. Our luck was in as the local lifeboat was just completing the task of escorting Knight’s Challenge into the bay and after making sure she was OK, came to our rescue. We caught their heaving line at the first attempt and quickly pulled in the tow rope, attaching it to forward cleat, a split second later the life boat was in full reverse but our rudder was fouled on a rock, refusing to let go! The bows were being pulled under the water but all of a sudden the rudder relinquished her grip, we were free, the whole operation from start to finish took just seven minutes but now we had no steerage.
The RNLI rib put two guys onboard to help, they soon had us strapped alongside whilst Emma and one of them checked for water ingress, Pete and the other struggled to remove the steering linkage and swap the wheel for the tiller but once done, even with them both heaving on it, couldn’t shift it. ‘Thanks for your help’, Emma said to her new best friend, ‘I’m Emma,’ ‘ I’m Pete, pleased to meet you’, came the reply, ‘Have you been in the RNLI long?’ she asked, ‘RNLI, no I’m not in the RNLI, I’m in the race’ came the reply ‘Which boat are you with?’ and as he pointed to the Seacart 30 ‘Playing for Success’ it suddenly dawned on her she was talking to Pete Goss!
We were soon laying to the lifeboats spare anchor in a more sheltered area reserved for the fishing fleet and before they left were given assurances that it wouldn’t drag and even if it did and it wouldn’t, it would snag on the cross chain moorings for the fishing boats! After declaring the hull sound, Pete Goss and Paul Larson left only to return with an under water camera and took loads of pictures of the hull and damaged rudder which they told us had bent, shouting ‘Join us for dinner and we’ll put them on the laptop for you’ as they left us to it.
OK first thing is to find a diver to remove the rudder, so that means a trip ashore, in the meantime we removed all the bits connected to it and prepare for it’s removal With this done, some food and much needed sleep a Rib came to collect us and once ashore we met up with a diver who agreed to help us in the morning.
Then we wandered up to the Castle Bay Hotel. To our amazement our entrance was greeted with a spontaneous round of applause as we were peppered with questions, ‘What’s the damage?’, ‘Can it be repaired?’ ‘Is there anyone local or will you have to ship in a new rudder?’ ‘What did you fasten the tow rope to, it couldn’t have been your cleats or it would have ripped them out of the deck?’ Will you go home by the Caledonian Canal?’ ‘Did you know you had a second in class for the last leg?’ WOOOOOOOH, did you say second, this last bit of news gave us something to celebrate at last and after a few pints of the black stuff, joined everyone for dinner, where we were able to look at the photos of the rudder, we also learned of the plight of Pete’s boat which had started to de- laminate on the forward bulk head and the sad news that the big cat ‘Kenmore’ had been dis-masted
As it was time to leave and get back to ‘Ruffian’, a few people wished us well and said their goodbyes saying how sorry they were that our race should end like this, a thought that had not even entered our heads! Outside it was now force 10, and as we arrived back on Ruffian, the rib that had brought us back was completely full of water!, ‘Can’t stop’ and off he went, Emma was first out and climbing up the stern boarding ladder, shouted out ‘the rudders gone!’. It had, now we didn’t even have a rudder! Could things get any worse? Answer yes they could, and just to prove the point, the fairly sheltered anchorage we were in, changed dramatically for the worse, when the wind changed direction! In the middle of the night we dragged once again but this time managed to halt our progress by throwing over our own anchor, which must have snagged on one of the cross chain moorings!
With the storm abating, the next morning was spent scouring the shore line looking for our rudder but without success. We met up with the diver who told us that because the burn was at full flood, discharging into the inlet, there was no chance of finding anything in the muddy water, but he would be back at 1000hrs tomorrow if the visibility improved. The rest of the day was devoted to getting everything dried, until after tea, we ventured ashore for more of the black stuff, this time in a less crowded Castle Bay Hotel, as yachts began to get ready for their departures.
It must have been the smell of the bacon sandwiches the following morning that prompted the diver to pay us a visit! ‘Can’t find anything down here’, he said ‘No you won’t’ as we explained where we had been anchored when we had lost the rudder. He started to search, we watched with baited breath as his bubbles rose to the surface, until he re-appeared with his thumb in the air ‘found it!’, he buoyed it off and returned with an air bag which helped us to haul it into the rib and took it ashore for closer inspection. The 2 ½” solid stainless steel rudder stock had been bent 6” out of line and the bottom 12” smashed to bits.
The time,12 noon.
We went to the RNLI Boathouse, where the crew had just returned after answering a pan pan to Vijaya, a Dutch boat, which had been knocked down, smashed ribs in the aluminum hull and loosened the keel. It had actually rolled the Life boat as well! Our problems paled into insignificance. We enquired if there was an engineering workshop in the area, ‘there’s one over the other side of the Island, sling it in the van and I’ll take you there’ Our queries to the engineer there were greeted with lots of head shaking and the sucking of air through his teeth, ‘Can I get some heat on it?’ ‘No it will ignite the fibreglass’ ‘Well I’m sorry but I don’t think I can help’
Pete looked around and spotted a large steel container off a ship, which was now being used for storage, because of the hilly terrain it was mounted on legs at one end and after a little digging out underneath it we managed to wedge the rudder under it, placed a 4” tube over the stock, pressed a couple more people into service and all sat at the opposite end, bouncing up and down until we eventually coaxed it back into line! Quickly putting it back in the van and only stopping at the one and only motor shop on the Island for car body filler we returned to the RNLI workshop to start repairing the damaged fibre glass. We met the diver back at the boat at 2000hrs with the repaired rudder, still sticky with the wet resin encased in a polly bin liner, with him in the water and us in the boat, we slowly winched it back into place, re connected the linkage and made ready for the re-start.
You won’t believe this but we dragged once more before we buoyed the lifeboats anchor off, retrieved our own and motored back into the other bay to pick up one of the mooring buoys, several of the 1 1/2” diameter ropes had chaffed through but we managed find one in good order, had food, said our fairwells and left the now deserted Castle Bay. A little over 12 hrs had passed from finding the rudder, repair and replacing it before setting off.We have never felt relieved to leave anywhere as much, the people could not have been more friendly or helpful, but it was just about the worst anchorage you will come across and not helped by the conditions.
Leg three, Restart time Friday 23rd 00hrs. 25mins
For the first hour, we flew along and unbelievably after all that wind, it died! For the next ten hours we drifted about just off Barra Head. With the job of getting going again, over, the adrenalin ceased and as Emma took control for the next three hours, Pete fell asleep, exhausted but happy to be back in the race. At watch change, Emma caught up with her sleep and we gradually eased back into our one hour on and one hour off watch system.
The next part of the passage had always filled us with apprehension, noted for its bad weather, and not helped by thoughts of the boat dropping to bits, after all she had been through in the past few days! True to its reputation the wind started to build, along with the sea, we passed St Kilda, one of the spookiest places on the planet, it seemed to pull us towards the rocks like a magnet, just like the finger used in the lottery advert, saying ‘it could be yoooou’, onto the Flannen Islands, and past Sula Segir until we eventually arrived at Muckle Flugger, the most Northerly part of the British Isles, we had maintained an average of 7 knots and were very hopeful of putting up a very good leg time. We made a toast to King Neptune and tipped a glass of whisky over the side. This part of the leg had been very wet and extremely cold, we made hot water bottles for each other at each watch change to try and keep warm. JUNE 23rd and making hot water bottles!!
The next six hours we sailed at three to four knots but in reality stood still against the tide, obviously Neptune is not a whisky drinker!, we eventually rounded the corner and in the diminishing wind drifted South down the coast of The Shetland Isles, sometimes clawing ourselves off, in a state of panic as the rocky out crops were far to close for comfort, we rounded Bressy Head, the most southerly part of Shetland and fell into a huge wind hole, drifting helplessly close to the steep rugged cliffs, was this to be the end of the race for us? We were both exhausted, in deep despair at the thought of putting the engine on and having to retire, after all we had been through. ‘Ruffian’, ‘Ruffian’ came the call over the VHF ‘This is Sunbeat Three’, as they sailed towards us with a full spinnaker, bringing with them , the new breeze, we had never been as happy to see a competitor sailing faster then us! We exchanged chat, they couldn’t believe we had recovered to resume the race.
We crossed the line at 0103hrs on Tuesday 27th checked in with race control, downed a couple of glasses of wine before falling into the deepest of sleeps.
Distance travelled 486 nautical miles
Average speed 4.9 knotsMaximum speed 10.4knots
The next morning we met up with the some of the other crews, sorted the laundry, now this is a strange going on: The Shetland Islanders are, as we had found before when we collected Ruffian, so very hospitable and friendly and they are so proud that they are the title sponsors, that each yacht is assigned to a ‘family’, ‘Morning ‘Ruffian’, can I help with anything? I will take you to the super market for shopping and will get you any items you may need, the wife says can you bag up your washing, then I can take it home with me’ Now quaint customs are OK but I don’t think either of us had changed any clothes since two days before our departure!, the proof of which was born out by the fact that when friends rushed to embrace us, then quickly back off! Needless to say we politely declined the offer of the washing bit. That evening we had a super meal with two fantastic ladies who made up the crew of ‘Knights Challenge’, both grandmothers and sailing a Sigma 33 which was just about holding together and invariably had to be towed to the start line, which was of little or no concern to either! The following morning we waved off the remainder of the fleet, secretly vowing that by the time we left Lowestoft, we wouldn’t be the last boat again!
Leg three. Re-start time Thursday 28th 03.42 20secs
Off once again but this time it felt a little less fraught, after all, we are back on the North Sea, our own territory, where we feel more at home but strangely enough, one sea which is given great respect by all the other crews and whilst feeling relaxed, Emma still had her doubts that the keel would still be attached at the end of the race!The next four days were head to wind, tacking on the hour at watch change, constantly changing from two reefs to one and only occasionally none, as the conditions dictated. We slammed off every wave, which didn’t do much to improve Emma’s temper, probably brought on by her anxiety! Pete recalls telling her the boat was as sound as a pound only to observe the table (which is bolted to the cabin sole) lift 12 “ in the air!
We heard a call from ‘Iroquos’ on the VHF saying they had a little damage and were taking in water, not that it was a problem and no they didn’t need help, an under statement if ever there was one! They unfortunately had to retire and were, much to their annoyance, escorted into Aberdeen, with a four foot hole just above the water line! Two other multi hulls put into port on that leg but we slammed on!
We were 60 miles ‘off’ when we passed our home port but with no inclination to pack in, on and on we slammed! It had to ease off and eventually it did, then it died altogether, just as we were entering the tricky navigation inside the wind turbines on Cross Sands shoal, we were both very tired and it was pitch black, we were swept along at three to four knots with the big spring tide, spooked by 20 or 30 red lights we could see, not being able to make out that they were on the turbines!
We crossed the finish line on Tuesday 4th July at 05hrs 15mins 48secs and were ecstatic to find all our endeavours worthwhile as we were not the last boat in, by a long way. We had overtaken ‘Knights Challenge’ and ‘Chimp’, the latter being devastated that they had also been beaten by the two grannies!
Statistics Distance 604.3 nautical miles Average speed 5 knots Top speed 9.1 knots
This time we were able to join in the parties and with Emma’s parents joining us, we all enjoyed the company of this, now close knit group of like minded people, but sadly without Mike and Peter from ‘Iroquos, everyone had a tale to tell, and we laughed and joked our time away only pausing to replace the head (sea toilet) which had decided to retire half way through the last leg!
Leg four. Restart time Thursday 6th 05hrs 15mins 48sec
Good news, because of all the light winds the race time limit had been extended, we now had a good chance of ‘getting a finish’
We resumed our race, once again, hard on the wind but this time with the knowledge that we were not the last ones to leave, we couldn’t express just how good this feels.
One of the highlights of this leg was meeting up, mid North Sea with good friends Alan and Alex Campion and crew onboard ‘Triple C’, they were on passage in their gin palace to Holland and after a few calls caught us up, circled around and disappeared into the distance greatly adding to the carbon footprint!
Murphy’s Law states: if it can happen, it will and usually at the worst time and sure enough as we crossed the busy shipping channels of the Thames estuary and later Dover harbour entrance, we were shrouded in thick fog, with little or no wind, it certainly helped us appreciate the full value of the new head! We passed each of the major headlands, Dungeness, Beachy Head, St Catherine’s and Portland at the worst possible time, tide wise, often drifting backwards until the wind eventually filled in, once again with vengeance, still on the nose but forcing before it ever building sea’s, coming from the Atlantic and funnelling down the channel. We would have loved to have shortened sail but with little wind in the bottom of the trough, daren’t risk not having the drive and hence the steerage to power up the other side. It was inevitable that ‘a big one ‘ would catch us, it threw us through the tack and we ended up hove to in the middle of Lyme Bay, in absolute darkness. After the initial shock and not knowing quite what to do, but in the calm of being hove to we just had a nice cup of tea!
At the first signs of day break we reefed and carried on our way, past Start Point, once again knocking tide.We eventually rounded the corner into Plymouth Sound and realized another error, we had forgotten to enter the waypoint for the western breakwater light and were totally confused by all the hundreds of unfamiliar lights surrounding us, but after a nervous few minutes, fixed our position. One last twist of fate and one more bloody wind hole! Emma paddled with the dinghy paddles once again but only managed to soak Pete to the skin! The Lord rewarded our efforts and the tide turned in our favour as we drifted over the finishing line at 00hrs 04mins and 22secs on Monday 10th July
Statistics Distance travelled 428 nautical miles Total distance 2283.1 nautical miles Average speed 4.7Maximum speed 9.6 knots
After the Race
The story doesn’t end there though, we can’t begin to describe the depth of some of the friendships which were made and perhaps a perfect illustration of this was an offer, at no cost to ourselves, to take ‘Ruffian’ to one of our fellow competitor’s boat yard, to lift her out and have a thorough check over, along with the use of his Land Rover, an offer which we gladly accepted.We made our way to Baltic Wharf at Totnes on the River Dart, Simon Ellyatt the owner met us in Dartmouth and guided us up river where we lifted out and stayed for a few days, improving the repair to the rudder, touching up the anti-fouling, and using the yards crane to check out the mast and rigging. Once complete and after a reunion lunch with other local competitors we said our goodbyes, vowing to meet up at the presentation evening and made our way slowly back to Scarborough.
One more surprise
To our surprise at the re-union/ presentation evening we were awarded the Centenary Trophy ‘For Special Endeavour’ an award made even more special as it is voted on by the competing skippers. Perhaps it should have been for ‘the inability to anchor correctly!’