Solent to St Vaast
With a gusty SWly wind of 12-17 kts, 12 boats set off for the race to St Vaast, the gusty wind and strong tide conspiring to make the start exciting. Despite this, all boats got off cleanly, with Fastrak, Bellino, Rare, Exocet and Anticipation well placed. With the wind further aft than predicted, the SORC skippers hesitated for a while before Frederic Waniart sailing Maeva was the first to hoist his spinnaker, shortly followed by Rob Craigie on Bellino and visiting Frenchman Nicolas Pasternak on Jaasap. Rob took the early lead, and Jaasap (pictured) was overtaking Exocet to leeward when it all went wrong and he broached, hitting Exocet with a sickening crunch. Deb protested, and Nicolas subsequently dropped his spinnaker, did a 360 turn and rehoisted. The boats with spinnakers were going well, although on the edge of control. Fastrak and Rare cut close to Ryde Sands, and suddenly Deb spotted Jaasap well inshore. She radioed Jaasap to warn Nicolas, but too late - a minute later he came to a gradual halt, but managed to drop his spinnaker and escape the sands on the rising tide.
The boats dropped their spinnakers at No Man’s Land fort for the close reach to Bembridge, Tony Rowe on Fantasea taking the opportunity to do a bit of trawling, and James Hardiman sailing Fluke being unlucky to hit a yellow racing mark whilst packing his spinnaker. Bellino led the fleet around Bembridge ledge, making a short tack West before heading South towards St Vaast. The rest of the boats continued on starboard, having fun avoiding the anchored ships with the strong cross tide. As forecast, the wind eased, making it challenging to keep the boats moving. Rare took the lead, and the pack of big boats - the Sunfast 3600 Fastrak, Bellino and Ninjod and the Figaro 2 Rare - started to pull away. As forecast, the wind dropped and headed the boats. Bellino was the first of the leaders to tack West on a wind shift, gaining 1.5M to the West before tacking back.
In the Sunfast 3200 fleet, Exocet, Roxanne and Fluke enjoyed their usual close racing, with Simon showing the others a clean pair of heels and gaining a slight lead which gradually built as Simon managed to get into stronger wind. The race then became a tale of the rich get richer, as the leading boats enjoyed stronger winds and arrived at Barfleur with a South-going tide, while the smaller boats were frustrated by lighter winds and a building foul tide. The two French boats, Jaasap and Maeva then appeared on AIS almost 10M West of the fleet, having tacked West much earlier. Carried by the strong tides and with a hotter wind angle, Jaasap appeared from the West like a rocket, while the 3200s hoisted spinnakers for the run down the coast as the wind continued to veer.
Rare took line honours. Behind him, Bellino’s move West had proved crucial, positioning Rob in the strong tides at Barfleur and allowing him to finish next, closely followed by Fastrak and Ninjod. Jaasap was next to finish, followed by Roxanne, Exocet and Fluke. On Fluke, James tempted fate by calling the Race Committee to say that he was an hour from the finish and would turn around and go straight home, only to finish several hours later as the tide continued to build and the wind to ease. The race then became a race against time to finish before the lock closed. Fantasea decided to retire and motor at high speed in the hope of making the lock. Unfortunately, in his hurry, Tony turned inshore at the wrong cardinal buoy, and motored aground at 6 kts on a rapidly falling tide. Fortunately he had hit sand, and resigned himself to drying out and waiting for the next high tide. Maeva finished next, followed by QII who deserved a medal for sticking it out until after 1600 (overheard on the radio - “If I had a gun on board I’d have shot myself by now”), before anchoring to wait for the evening lock.
The fleet enjoyed a superb meal at the yacht club, where we were very well looked after - special thanks to the chef who cooked a fine steak and chips late at night for a tired Tony, who finally made it to the restaurant at around 11 pm French time. Overall, it was a Sunfast 3600 1-2-3, with Bellino taking victory and the right to fly the massive yellow ‘Winner’ flag, with Fastrak second and Ninjod third.
Full results can be found here.
St Vaast to the Solent
With light winds forecast and the largest tides of the year, routing was always going to be critical in this race. Rob Craigie did a great job as competitor committee boat, setting a gate start with Gavendest as an upwind mark in the 10 kt NEly wind. All boats got away cleanly, with Exocet just managing to make it across the line before the gate shut. Exocet and Bellino benefitted from their position offshore, taking the early lead as the boats tacked out before setting off North along the coast, with a building favourable tide.
On Exocet, Deb had run SimSail which was adamant that the best route was to avoid the strong West-going tide along the North coast of the peninsular like the plague. Deb was the first to tack East, a few miles before Barfleur, shortly followed by Roxanne and Fantasea, but the rest of the fleet continued North, engaged in their own private battle. The tide then became a massive influence - Ninjod, Fastak, Bellino, Rare and QII were set West by the tide, which also reduced the wind strength. The three 3600s and Rare managed 2.5kts SOG to the North. Handicapped by 25-year old dacron mainsail and 15-year old jib, QII found himself being set strongly SW towards Cherbourg, unable to make headway with just a few knots of breeze, and Colonel Mills, OBE, was the first to retire, prompting comments on the VHF about the lamentable state of the British Army.
Further East, Exocet and Roxanne were neck and neck for a while, with a well-sailed Fantasea hot on their heels, before Deb managed to creep ahead going well under her light number one headsail. The three boats gradually gained ground to the North and East of the Western pack as the boats struggled to make ground North towards Bembridge Ledge. The wind continued to ease, reducing to 5 or so knots for several painful hours, with wind shifts of up to 60 degrees in just 20 minutes. With the tide making the boat’s COG up to 60 degrees different from the heading, it was tricky deciding which tack to be on, but the optimum strategy seemed to be to sail free and fast and try to maximise VMG over the ground towards Bembridge. Fantasea was next to retire, Tony needing to get back for family commitments.
As they approached the Isle of Wight, the remaining boats were treated to lightning, rain, and a building wind, with poor visibility adding to the challenge of negotiating anchored ships and fast-moving ferries. Deb reefed when the wind reached 20 kts, while Simon was glad of his sprayhood! The wind eased once in the Solent, and Deb was delighted to take line honours, finishing just before 0130. The race was then on for the second boat to finish, with Roxanne and Rare finishing at exactly the same time after 15 hours of racing and a brief luffing match. Ninjod followed, then Fastrak. Bellino retired just short of Bembridge, with light winds, a building foul tide and frustrated by autopilot problems. Rob finally made it back to Hamble at 0530, cold, tired and soaked where it was time to reflecting on the ups and downs of yacht racing...
On handicap, Exocet took the overall victory, with Roxanne second and Ninjod third, and full results can be found here. Competition is hot for the magnificent British Beagle trophy for the offshore series (provisional standings here), with Ninjod in the lead on 15 points, and Fastrak and Exocet tied on 19 points. Bellino is the event’s dark horse, counting two firsts and a fourth, which could yet allow Rob to lift the trophy if he can get good results in both of the remaining races - there is everything to play for in the races to Alderney in 4 weeks time.
SORC would also like to wish QII a happy 25th birthday!