The Triangle Race

We arrived in Torquay in the early hours of Thursday morning, just before the predicted gales arrived. We were made very welcome by Torbay Yacht Club, particularly as we must have caused them a bit of hassle being a late entry. We rafted up against Home Run who had accompanied us down from Plymouth, to give us moral support if the engine failed again. Fortunately it didn’t.

The weather was absolutely foul until Saturrday night, when whilst we were in the briefing, the wind magically died, and we all were able to have a good nights sleep without the groaning and creaking and banging of the ropes and fenders in the wind! Because the weather had been so awful, we spent the last few days playing Scrabble, cards, reading and sitting on each others boats drinking red wine!!

Leg one, Torbay to Kinsale

This morning (Sunday) dawned beautiful and bright, with about a 12 knot breeze, perfect, as we made our way to the start line. We didn’t have too bad a start, all three members of our team (Brave, Ninjod and us) were over in a group. We reached up to Berry Head and after a few minutes in a wind shadow, started moving again. The sun was out and we cracked on at about 6 knots for quite some time. As we were moving away from the rhumb line, most boats tacked back into shore, but we stood on for a while before we tacked. We stayed quite tight on the wind, and as the wind went round managed to stay just above the rhumb line. Then the wind started to die and we slowed right down, the sun went in and we lost sight of all the other boats – are they just out of sight to the inside of us, or have they benefited from less tide in shore and got away??? We just don’t know, it is a horrible feeling and only time will tell! 

We had a visitor at about 1800, just as Emma was coming up out of the cabin, a swallow decided that he would come in! I don’t know who was more shocked, Emma or the swallow, by her blood curdling scream as he flew towards her head! He tried to come in about 3 more times and then decided that he wasn’t going to be allowed so flew off towards Eddystone light house.

It is now 2000, we have just had stew for supper and have put the engine on to charge the batteries. Oh, and it is raining and cold. But on the plus side, we are sailing the rhumb line and at a little over 6 knots again, hoping to get a good tide to take us round Lands End. What we thought might have been the wrong decision, standing on at Prawle Point when everybody else had tacked towards the shore, presumably to get out of the adverse tide, proved to be a good one as we managed to lay Lands End in one. It was to our surprise, when we started seeing a lot of lights, we thought we had caught up with our class but when their names came up on the AIS we realised that they were class 1 and 2 boats!!! Then the radio went, and we were called up by Falmouth Coastguard who asked us if there was a yacht race as there were so many yachts transiting the Lizard. We informed him that yes, it was the Yachting Monthly Triangle Race. We did query why he had picked on us to ask the question, but then realised that it was because we were the lead boat in the group!!!!

It was a beautiful nights sailing, in close contact with the other boats, the wind dropped right off around Lands End, and we just failed to make it round with a favourable tide, but still very close to the class 1 boats. As we started to cross the TSS (traffic separation scheme) by the Scillies, we all put our spinnakers up and the J105s started to pull away. We flew the kite from 0600 to 1530, by then the wind had climbed to 18 knots apparent and the sea was building, so we decided that discretion was the better part of valour and took it down. Vela Fresca continued flying theirs until they had caught us up, then had several spectacular broaches before they too took it down!

The sky was a flawless blue, and the wind kept building, we started reefing the genoa, then the main, it kept building and so did the sea, where was all the wind coming from? A second reef went in, and the wind was now up to the occasional 32 knots apparent, with water flying everywhere, and poor Ruff being thrown about by the waves, as she bravely beat into them. After about six hours, by which time both Pete & I were soaking wet, it started to ease. The amazing thing was the sea calmed almost instantly the wind dropped.

 At this point the VHF went again, it was Spirit of St George, an Elan 333 who had lost their rudder! It had apparently just sheered off below the waterline. We were too far away to be of assistance, but Showtime went and stood by them, and Star Dancer used their satellite phone to contact Falmouth Coastguard to inform them. The latest we have heard is that a fishing boat went to give them a tow, but couldn’t do it without damaging the yacht, so a fisheries protection vessel went to them, put two engineers on board who jury rigged a rudder and then left them to make their way to Milford Haven.The wind continued to drop overnight, and by 0300 this morning we shook the reefs out, we now have a deck light on our new mast, what a luxury, being able to see what one is doing on foredeck in the dark!

We passed the Kinsale Gas fields and were 3 miles off Kinsale by 0700, the wind went and we spent the next two hours putting the kite up, gybing it, taking it down, whistling for the wind, as we crawled along at 1 to 2 knots, with several other boats doing the same thing. At 0936 & 20 seconds we crossed the finishing line, in front of the group we were coming in with and finished second on the water, second in class, seventh overall – result!!

Leg two, Kinsale to Treguier

Our stay in Kinsale passed very pleasantly, as usual being made very welcome by Kinsale Yacht Club. Everyone’s eyes were permanently on the weather situation for the next leg. Two lows were forecast to be moving over the area with a lot of wind in them right over the time we would be racing. The morning of the race arrived and the weather was beautiful, but with a building wind so by the time we got to the start line the majority of yachts had put one reef in.We circled round the pin end of the line and crossed in about third position being the windward boat in constantly building wind and seas.

We raced away from Kinsale, side by side with Imarra the winner of the last leg, both of us refusing to be the first to put another reef in! The seas became quite large and Pete helmed as he could do a better job at surfing the waves than the autopilot, although one rather large breaking wave did catch us, filling the cockpit and sweeping the horseshoe buoy off the pushpit!  

We battled on, and saw Home Run power away from us, whatever we tried we could not hang onto her, and by Saturday morning she was out of sight. We were having a very wild ride with the wind not dropping below about 24 knots on the beam in a very lumpy sea and decided to put on the runners, this simple exercise soon turned into a small drama, as the knot had come undone from the end of the runner purchase, therefore enabling the runner block to make a bid for freedom, flying wildly from the mast trying to take out any bird that came within striking distance. Eventually it very neatly wrapped itself round the topping lift finishing itself off with a very neat knot round the third reefing line. We watched it for a while wondering if we could leave it as it was, but listening to the impending gale warnings for our sea area on the VHF, we realised we were definitely going to need the third reef, so we had to get it back under control. This was quite a scary proposition, as we had to go head to wind, lower the main sail, and with Pete standing on his tiptoes, on a winch, in a pitching sea, he managed to grab it with a boat hook, untangle it from the third reef and backstay and pass it back to me. It was quickly reconnected and we carried on racing, but this had taken at least half an hour to do and the boats behind were now closing quickly.

After crossing the Scillies TSS (Traffic Separation Scheme) at first light we were rounding Bishops Rock, a whole six hours before we expected to, and bore away towards Treguier with about 100 miles to go.  At midday we recorded a 24 hour run of 177 nautical miles through the water, Ruffians best ever 24 hour run.

All the time the VHF kept repeating the gale warnings for our area, and checking the latest grib files we reckoned if we could carry on at these speeds, occasionally hitting 9 & 10 knots through the water, and get enough South into our course, with any luck the worst of the gale would pass to the North of us.

At 2100 hours we acquired a pigeon, I asked Pete to get me something to feed and water it with, to give it it’s strength back before it could fly away, Pete readily agreed and shot off to find suitable containers and food, his motive being to fatten it up and have fresh pigeon for supper. It stayed for a while, sitting on my knee, being stroked, but when we decided to put another reef in the main, it decided the cockpit was too wet and slippy and with us moving around, it noticed the big spray hood on the class one boat behind us, and flew off to a drier place!

Shortly after he left we got our first sight of France, and continued our wild sleigh ride towards it. We crossed the finishing line at 00.50.15 hrs Sunday 24th June, beating the gale, second class 3 boat in and are now waiting to see our position on corrected time.

Just as we were finishing the VHF burst into life with a Pan Pan from Bombadier, an Elan 333, who reported loss of steering, they think the steering linkage had failed. Star Dancer went immediately to their assistance, standing by them overnight, until the French lifeboat got to them at first light to tow them into Treguier.

Once we crossed the finishing line, we thought we could relax, how wrong we were! Coming into Treguier in the particularly dark night with over 20 knots of wind blowing was quite tricky, as you have to wind about seven miles up the river, which is buoyed, but there are a lot of boats on mooring buoys, and fish pens, all unlit, which would suddenly appear out of nowhere, which resulted in me standing on the bow with a search light so we could manage not to hit any! We had managed to time our arrival perfectly at slack water, although it was also low water, which gave us a few hairy moments with lack of depth, but because the vicious cross tide was not too strong we were able to get straight into the marina, to be greeted by fellow competitors who took our lines, which was a great help, as the marina is very tight, with short bouncy pontoons, with the cross tide trying to make life difficult. But by 0530, we were able to get to our beds, having helped the next lot of competitors who finished to berth up and had a glass of wine with Home Run.

Leg three, Treguier to Torbay

After sampling the fantastic hospitality of the French/Breton people of Treguier, which included copious amounts of lovely French wine and food, we left the marina for the start of the race back to Torquay at nearly high water to discover the sheer beauty of the fast flowing river with all its drying heights to navigate around in broad daylight contrasting with the fearful trip which we had had up at low water in the dark, passing the unlit fish farms and moored boats!

 The talk on the pontoons before we left was for light winds from the east, eventually going to the south west. During the morning we could hear the ominous sound of the fog horn, even though we were in clear skies.

This was a race we knew we had to win, to improve our position and win our class. The leg is just under 100 miles and we were absolutely determined to be totally focused on sail trim, speed and direction, and to this end we both stayed up for the entire duration of the race. The race started in the mouth of the river, in decreasing visibility, between a green buoy and James Jermaine’s Dazcat Belladonna, from which the starting cannon was fired. Once again we had a good start, hoisting the asymmetric spinnaker as we crossed the line as windward boat. Very quickly we lost sight of all the other boats, not because they had left us, but because the fog came down thick and fast. We dropped the kite as we rounded the last buoy on the river entrance and hardened up onto the wind under white sail.

There was no sign of the predicted veer to south westerly winds and we continued to keep high on the pack gambling on a fast crossing and no wind shift and that in addition the leeward boats would eventually have to harden up onto the wind giving us a slight edge.

After about six hours the fog slowly lifted, to give us moderate visibility. There were several scary moments, as big ships entered and left the Casquets TSS, we could see situations developing on the computer and several of the fleet calling up the vessels (including us on one occasion) as the CPA (closest point of approach) reduced to one cable, and the alarms kept ringing all night.

 As we approached the English coast the sky was lit up by lightning and we were treated to a most fantastic electric storm, which put us both into slight panic mode as we wondered what would happen with the wind when it blew over. In the event, it headed us and then the wind, which had been pretty consistent at about 15 to 19 knots just forward of the beam, started to die.We had not seen Home Run, who was the one we needed to beat, on the AIS, on the computer since very early on. Two miles from the finish, he popped up on the computer again, well to leeward of us but about a mile ahead. We saw his light turn from white to green and so knew he had tacked out from the shore to make the finish line, which was confirmed on the AIS. If we could lay it in one we stood a chance of catching him, stress levels now were even higher, as it is a very fine line between sailing high and pinching. Sadly, the dying wind headed us even more and we finally had to put a tack in to clear Berry Head, and Home Run romped over the finishing line, we crossed the line 23 minutes after him, with Imarra only minutes behind us.

Whilst we were gutted, in reality we have once again finished 2nd in class in this race, and 2nd in class over three legs, and 9th overall and don’t really know what more we could have done, we had given it our best shot, and you can’t do any more.

The year hasn’t gone as we planned, coming second in a race we never thought of entering has in some way made up for the bitter dissapointment of not fulfilling our dream of racing the Atlantic. There is of course the positive side and that is, with your incredible generosity we have helped to raise nearly £5000, much needed funds for Saint Catherine’s Hospice and for that we are eternally grateful, and we thank you from the bottom of our hearts, Pete & Emma