The CSORC Fastnet Crew have now completed their third RORC race of the season on Blue Juice - the Myth of Malham race held over the late May Bank Holiday weekend. We now have sufficient miles under our belt to meet the Fastnet qualifying criteria and what a way to get there. It was easily the most challenging two days of sailing that most of us have experienced.
We prepared for the race in our customary manner; meeting up in Ocean Village on Thursday evening and pre-positioning ourselves in Cowes for the early morning start. On the way across, we made the discovery that the main sail had a small tear on the luff just above the first reefing point. We repaired with tape after arriving in Cowes and, fortunately, it held up to everything the elements threw at us. This left just enough time for a pint and a bite to eat in the Anchor before retiring for the night.
Friday morning arrived with unpromising conditions that proved to be a portent for what was eventually to come - dark grey skies and a fresh NW breeze. After ablutions and breakfast we motored out to register, raised sails and then joined the other yachts jockeying for position at the upwind end of the start line. After a conservative start with one reef in our main, we started the long tack sailing best course to windward all the way to Start Point. This was punctuated by lowering the jib to insert forgotten battens and a makeshift repair to the upper wire of the port guard rail. Equipment failures were to become a recurring theme for the weekend, although the problems we had on Blue Juice were minor compared to some of our competitors. There was one dismasting, one retirement due to a cracked mast, one man overboard - thankfully recovered safely - and several head injuries from swinging booms reported over the VHF as conditions deteriorated on day 2 of the race.
As Friday wore on and we passed Portland Bill the weather improved greatly. The threatened showers did not materialise - except for an impromptu salt water shower for those of us hiking on the windward rail - and by late afternoon we had clear blue skies, albeit with the wind dipping to force 3 Westerly. Our spirits were heartened by Nick's excellent lamb casserole and the magnificent sight of over 60 yachts in our field of view. Start Point was reached around midnight in a freshening breeze, followed by a frustratingly slow beat down to Eddystone in a now choppy sea.
We rounded Eddystone at 06:30 and began the long run home under white sails whilst we got accustomed to the change in conditions and with every intention of raising the spinnaker after gybing round Start Point. The following waves proved to be tricky and wearying for the helm and, by the time we arrived at Start Point the wind had risen to force 6 before eventually peak at force 7 gusting force 8. Discretion prevailed at this point and the kite was returned to the forepeak - a decision that many others arrived at very soon after us.
Arrival at Start Point also demanded a tactical decision; stand on into Lyme Bay to avoid the worst of the opposing tide or gybe out and ride the bigger waves. We went for the Lyme Bay option, gybing when east of Torquay.
Notwithstanding this, we were still proceeding with gritted teeth in very tough conditions and helms were changed regularly as exhaustion took its toll. Special note must go to Trevor for achieving a top speed of 16 knots when surfing a particularly large wave and Brian (pictured top) for dipping the end of the boom into the drink without broaching the boat.
Swanage was passed in early evening and, after gybing into shelter, we fortified our constitutions with some beef stew that had very nearly ended up all over the saloon during preparation. We were all delighted and relieved to reach the finish line at 21:17 in a creditable 85th place out of 113 finishers and sparing a thought for the 11 Did Not Finish entrants.
Andy (bottom picture - awake)