Leg one, Plymouth to Kinsale Sunday 6th June 12 noon.
We had a reasonable start and found ourselves sandwiched between Q11 and a class 40, Orca, albeit only for a short time! The race started in about 18 knots of true wind, and by 1423 we are passing Eddystone Light, and decide to stand on, we are tight on the wind and moving away from our rhumb line. But Ruff is going well, then we seem to get a few waves which stop her and we can’t get her going again, whatever we do, we obviously had something caught around the keel slowing us down to 3 knots and less, other boats are going past us now and we have lost the ones we were in touch with, after a couple of non compulsory penalty turns , she springs forward and her speed shoots up to 6 knots and we are off again, but this had taken longer than we thought and cost us dearly.
As we go past the Lizard the wind starts going round so that by the time we are at the Scillies it is nearly aft of the beam, it is raining and the sea is starting to build. We consider putting the kite up but decide the sea is getting too much, the wind is building up to 34 knots true. The boat rolls, the boom dips in the water a couple of times, we decide to put the genoa away and put two reefs in the main. As we are crossing the traffic separation scheme we hear Suroma call up the coastguard and give their position, after a quick plot we realize they are not far from us, which lifts the spirits! We are absolutely soaked in the relentless rain, Emma’s oilies leak, so she has a complete change into her old black ones, but to no avail, as the rain soaks straight through them even though they had just been re-proofed. So she finally puts on, the only dry thing left, her extra warm flotation suit and as if by magic the sun comes out, and the sea flattens off so up goes the asymmetric kite, which we carry across the Celtic sea.
With only 33 miles to go the wind dies and we are becalmed. Urghh. The wind is nonexistent or flicky all night, trying to keep the boat going is very difficult, tempers fray and the humour disappears until at about 0200 on Wednesday Emma throws a tantrum and Pete sends her to bed! By 0500 she is back up and in better humour, we can see 3 boats around us, all drifting backwards on the tide, the wind picks up a little and we make some headway towards Kinsale. We can practically see the finish when the wind goes again, we get out the dinghy oars and row for a bit until Pete gets a blister and we don’t think we are really making much difference. We are side by side with Home Run and we drift around each other from about 0830 in the morning. Over the VHF we hear and see other boats finishing, but just can’t get to the line. Eventually wisps of wind built from astern, a race develops between Home Run and us to see who can get the kite up first, we do, and beat them over the line by about 10 minutes!!!!! Tuesday 8th June at 12.30.23. Arrive Kinsale 257.9 nm gps
The wind then dies again and it is a beautiful hot day. We tie up and chat to other competitors and hear that there has been a lot of damage to spinnakers and poles so we have been quite lucky as we have come through unscathed. We decide to have an hour’s kip before the drinks reception, unfortunately it is 14 hours later when we wake up, and so we miss it.!!! Wave and Dave come for brunch on Wednesday a big fry up cooked by Pete with fresh coffee and orange juice. Yum. They have lost their mast head light, which is rather a shame as it is one of the expensive LED ones, and new. They have also broken the heads so they are busy trying to get replacement parts before their departure on Friday.
Leg two. Kinsale to Barra Thursday 10th 12.30.23
We left the mooring, saying goodbye to those that were left and along with Home Run made our way to the start line. After a short reach we hoisted the asymmetric kite in 20 knots of apparent breeze which we carried all the way to the Fastnet Rock, sailing at its very best, we looked behind but couldn’t shake off Home Run, we were sailing on the edge, achieving boat speeds of over 10 knots but she had become our shadow until off Galley Head their kite blew out, we looked back and watched them struggle to recover what was left. A quick call verified that they were ok, but were now falling back into the distance.
We passed close to the Fastnet, which was silhouetted in the evening sun and dropped the kite as we start our assault on the West coast of Ireland (remembering how absolutely crap it was last the last time we were in this area during the Round Ireland Race.) As we passed Mizzen Head, sailing at 40 degrees, the wind eased. By midnight the wind picked up and we were tight on wind in building seas and we are getting quite a few green ones over the bow. A glance behind confirms that Home Run had sorted out their problems and were now back in pursuit, which pushes us on. We pass Bull Rock, and it looked so strange as the lights on it looked like it’s eyes. By now it is Friday morning and we are putting reefs in and out. It is drizzling and cold and we are getting sick of being bashed about, Emma has banged her head and hurt her back and Pete is fit to slash his wrists as Flair II has just cross tacked behind us.
We get a strong wind warning. And then the dolphins come to play, a welcome distraction and all is well with the world again! By 2130 we have two reefs in and the wind is up. Overnight it is reef in and reef out, we work extremely hard and are both starting to feel knackered. We are cross tacking with two other boats, we think one is Home Run and the other is Flair II. The seas have got quite large and we are slamming into them, but unlike previous years our new autopilot is coping well. We fall off one wave quite badly causing mayhem down below. We hear over the VHF that one of the class 40’s has retired. The batteries are now quite low as we have not dared to charge because of the angle of heel, but as we need the power there is no alternative and reluctantly we turn the engine on as we beat up the West coast.
The wind has eased and we fall into a wind hole and drift backwards towards Clare Island. A new breeze filled in from the South and we hoisted the big kite and left Ireland behind as we headed for Barra. We carried the kite in building winds and seas, as Home Run was still shadowing us, Pete refused to drop it despite Emma’s whinging, until, much to her delight, a wind shift forced a very speedy drop! We pushed on under white sail until mid morning on Sunday when the wind went behind again, so the kite was back up. It was a beautiful sunny morning, the water was so turquoise. We arrived at Barra Head at about 2300, and once again the tide turned foul and spent the next 6 hours short tacking the final 10 miles to the finish line.
Arrive Barra 0455 on Monday 14th June. 784NM
We were greeted with a cheery welcome from the race committee who, to our relief, directed us to moor up alongside QII on a mooring buoy. Flair II had just managed to beat the tidal gate and was in before us, putting us into 4th place……. Bugger!!! Home Run had been hit even harder than us by the tide and came in a few hours later. We spent our 48 hour stopover drying out and relaxing (no rudder to find and repair this time!!!!!) Resolute came in on Tuesday afternoon and we managed to have a wonderful meal and a few pints with them at the Indian/Italian restaurant (now there’s a combination to tickle the taste buds!!) before sailing off the mooring and to the start line.
Leg three. Barra to Lerwick. Wednesday 16th June 04.55.20.
We cursed our bad luck as we set off in thick fog, very little wind and a foul tide in pursuit of Flair II until we rounded Barra Head and hoisted the kite which we carried to just before St Kilda still with Home Run within sight. On the plus side the calm conditions allowed us to witness a marvelous wildlife show of basking sharks, whales, seals and dolphins.
St Kilda was shrouded in mist, as we changed to the asymmetric kite which we carried until the wind went further behind when we peeled to the big symmetrical. About 1715 on Thursday we pick up a boat in front and start closing on her. It is Flair II. The sea and wind start building and the wind goes further forward so we change back to the asymmetric. We passed Flair II about 1930, the wind went further forward so we dropped the kite, the wind and sea continue to build, Flair II and us play a game of chicken to see who will reef first, as it turns out we both choose the same times!! By 1330 on Friday we have the 3rd reef in and a scrap of genoa.
We worry about Flair II as they have not got roller reefing and our last sighting of them was of William hanging on, on the foredeck, changing the headsail, we try to keep an eye on them, but eventually we lose sight of them in the ever building sea. We are in the biggest seas we have ever beaten into, but Ruffian is coping well. We are submarining a lot of the time and taking on quite a lot of water which is washing down the decks and following the halyards down the companionway hatch. There were no off watches as we both fought to keep going, one of us bailing and one of us trimming.
We made the decision to give Muckle Flugger (the North of the Shetland Islands) a wide berth as we would be beam on to the huge waves and on a lee shore. This decision proved to be costly, as Flair II stayed inshore, taking a big risk and regained the lead. The seas became very confused as we came across the top, but once we turned down the other side to head south we put the kite up and had an exciting downwind sleigh ride to Bard Head on the island of Bressay and a beat up to the finishing line in Lerwick.
Arrive Lerwick Saturday 19th June 20.53.41 Log 1271 NM
We arrived to tales of damage and mayhem in the unsheltered and overcrowded Lerwick Harbour due to the prevailing conditions, giving thanks that we had been stuck out in the middle of it!!
Flair II had beaten us in by 2 and a half hours,and had broken their spinnaker pole, which had bashed William in the face, Ned, William’s son said he thought his father was going to go overboard as he was taken out by the pole. William looked absolutely dreadful, and could only see out of one eye. Fortunately after 48 hours rest, his vision was coming back and he looked a little better. With sadness we then heard that Home Run had had to put in for repairs at Scalloway, we were glad they were safe, but sorry that our shadow which had been pushing us so hard all the way was now nearly two days behind us.
We heard tales of lots of damage, but again we had come through relatively unscathed, with only a broken loo, which Emma had shoulder charged after being thrown across the boat!
As we tied up, a call of ‘Hi Ruffian, Pete & Emma’ greeted us, we wondered who it was until Chris came aboard and re-introduced himself, he had been in Scarborough on a sail training boat that had tied up next to us and as we knew the skipper and we were short of crew, we invited them to race with us that evening, which they did. He was in Lerwick visiting his mother and as he had a car, he very kindly ferried us around to get spare parts and took us to the supermarket to re-stock for the next leg, even returning the following day with some double decker bars, which had been forgotten! Small world and all that.
Today we received more sad news that a close friend of ours Guy Waites had had to retire from the Jester Challenge in Red Admiral, a Contessa 26 with a cracked main bulkhead. (you will recall we first met Guy in Lowestoft during our return passage home from the Azab 3 years ago.)
Leg four. Lerwick to Lowestoft Monday 21st June 20.53.41
We watched with envy as first, Santana left, followed by Suroma in down wind conditions, a few hours later, the wind died. Could this be our chance to catch up?Resolute & later Home Run crossed the finish line, we didn’t have chance to have much of a chat, Flair II left soon after and then it was our turn, just after we crossed the start line we had a call from the Fisheries Protection vessel, Jura, ‘Hi, Pete & Emma, I have you on AIS and will meet you off Bard Head’ It was an our old friend, Martin Donnelly who was in charge of the Jura and as we sailed out into the North Sea, he very skillfully maneuvered Jura in a full circle around us, taking great care not to take our wind, before, along with the rest of the crew, bidding us fair well with a cheery wave. Once again prompting us to think, what a small world!
The next few days were uneventful and spent tacking down the rhumb line in the awful left over sloppy seas in varying wind strengths, sometimes drifting along in windless, foggy conditions and others managing to achieve 5 or 6 knots. To add insult to injury on one occasion we were actually overtaken by a huge chest freezer that had somehow ended up drifting around the North Sea!! We notified one of the rig protection vessels who put out a rib and retrieved it. We sailed on in some of the strangest conditions imaginable, with the glassy sea blending with the low lying fog, giving the illusion that we were suspended somewhere in between. Most weird!
As we hadn’t seen another race boat for days we were becoming paranoid with the fact that we were the only ones who were locked in these conditions. We were really quite tired by this point and needed to have our wits about us as we navigated inside the Haisborough Shoal and through the Cockle Gateway and on to Lowestoft.
As we were sailing past Yarmouth, a call on the mobile from Guy Waites confirmed that he was ok and safely tied up in Lowestoft awaiting our arrival!
Arrive Lowestoft Saturday 26th June 13.04.03 1878NM
The wind gods had not been kind to us on this leg and we were even more disappointed when we saw that Santana, Suroma and Flair II were already snugly tied up although we later discovered that we had pulled a little bit of time back on Flair II. We spent a pleasant 48 hours stop over hearing all about Guy’s Jester attempt and catching up with Santana, Suroma and Flair II’s news.
Last leg Lowestoft to Plymouth Monday 28th June 13.04.03
As we approached the start line we spot Home Run who are just finishing. We give them a call but there is no time to talk as we hoist the kite and set off on the final leg of this race. Our main aim on this leg was to put 100% effort into overtaking Flair II. With only a couple of hours, we try to beat this vicious tide, but fail and end up having to sail very close to the shore for the next 6 hours till the tide turns again.
Remembering our last encounter with the Thanet wind farm we decide to leave it to starboard which proved to be a good choice when once again the wind falls and leaves us drifting around the worlds largest offshore wind farm!
It was under white sail in light airs that we entered the Goodwin’s at Kellet Gut and picked up the full strength of the strong tides that carried us through and on past Dover, towards Royal Sovereign where a text from a friend of ours, Keith Worsell lifted our sprits telling us that Flair II were going slower than us and were only 1½ hours ahead. The fog descended and visibility fell to nothing. We had a very stressful night as we could hear a big engine nearby, we resorted to sounding our fog horn and lighting up our sails and kept a constant watch with both of us on deck all the time. When it suddenly lifted at about 9 in the morning, we were just under Beachy Head with a yacht going the opposite way just inside us. Scary that she was so close and we had no idea!
We calculated and made the decision that we had to go close inshore if we were to avoid the strong tides around the Isle of Wight. This meant going over the Owers Bank, only possible because the sea was calm, we would have just enough depth, but Emma still refused to look at the depth sounder until we had crossed it! As we crossed the main entrance channel to the East of the Isle of Wight, the fog made a reappearance, as thick as before, but this time with 17 knots of wind! The AIS alarm went off, alerting us to the fact that we were on a collision course with the yachtsman’s worst nightmare, The Pride of Bilbaou! A quick call alerted him to our presence and he assured us he would alter course after he had avoided another yacht in front. (Could this possibly be Flair II?)
We feel quite positive about our inside route, even though it is a greater distance, the weaker tides should be in our favour. Our next main target is Portland Bill, bearing in mind we have never had the bottle to go close in, we decided to respect the advice of the almanac and give it a wide berth. Another text from Keith told us we were still gaining on Flare II, a great boost to our spirits and we spent just a little more of our off watch checking and double checking we were taking the best options. We were about four miles off Portland Bill and knocking a lot of tide, but still manage to make good progress in quite lumpy seas, thanking our judgment that we had stood well off, when we spotted another yacht, but then once again the fog closed in and we lost sight of her. Another call from Keith told us that it couldn’t have been Flare II as she was only two miles to our port! And as we recorded in the log yab a dab a doooooooooooo!
Tiredness disappears as we trim to the changing conditions, we double check on the predicted wind and decide to stick to the rhumb line, the tide starts to turn and carries us across Lyme Bay, there are strange lights in the sky, we call the coastguard and he tells us that there is some military exercise going on, Flare II’s AIS comes on and we figure they must be in the thick of it. Even better we have now pulled ahead of them; a fact which was confirmed by another call from Keith, who, like us can’t sleep for the excitement!
Not long to go now, we come up to Start Point, unfortunately the tide turns foul but we are buoyed by the fact that we can now see Flare II in the distance behind us and we are closer to shore and thereby in less tide, we hoist the kite, which we carry into Plymouth Sound, we pass a few of the faster yachts which have already finished the race and are on their way home.We drop the kite as we change course, a big cruising yacht, motor sailing, threatens to take our wind, we call out and he bears away, the wind picks up and we sailed across the finishing line to the sounds of horns and cheers from spectators on the balcony.
Thursday 1st July 12.17.23. Arrive at finish line in Plymouth Log 2396NM
Fantastic, we had once again circumnavigated the British Isles!