2018 ROUND THE ROCK - Mark Thompson on SYZYGY
Mark Thompson tells us how he got his Contessa 32 around the Rock

As I now sit at home, drinking a beer and reflecting on my Solo ROUND THE (Fastnet) ROCK, the first thing which occurs to me is the excellent organisation and execution of this event.  Huge thank you to all involved with the planning and running of this superb race, great work, thank you all.  

The race offers so many challenges, all on different levels.  The challenging course, critical tidal streams, changeable wind and weather conditions, collision avoidance, boat handling and fatigue / personal management.  On top of this is the actual racing! It really is a demanding race on all levels and I have been hugely impressed by the standard of all skippers taking part.  

For me, I had a great start, I was very happy with my initial position until I made a silly error releasing (or not) my headsail during a tack, the result was a torn leach tape, this  wrapped around the spreader and prevented any further tacking.  I had to drop the headsail and cut it free, all before I had even cleared the Solent! So a good start but not a great first leg!

After clearing the needles, we were all planning for the wind shutdown that evening as the tide turned foul off Portland. I had intended to push south as there looked to be more wind in this area, however, my earlier delay resulted in me not getting as far south as I had intended.  I was mid way between the fleet (north to south) as the wind shut down for the evening.  I anchored in about 45 to 50 metres of water, using almost 200m of warp.  This was physically very demanding, it took about half an hour to set the anchor and then over an hour to recover! However, I think it gained me a place or two and also allowed a good rest on the first night.

After this, from Portland to Scilly was wonderful downwind sailing, spinnaker flying all of the way.  The breeze died a little off Plymouth, however, the next morning provided perfect sailing as I weathered the Lizard towards Scilly.  

From Scilly towards Fastnet was an incredible sail, I passed Scilly just after sunset on Monday evening, after a slow start, the breeze built and I had an awesome reach all the way up the Irish Sea.  The stars were out, the boat was beautifully trimmed and we achieved speeds of up to 7 knots (quite good for a CO32).  

As I approached Fastnet the wind shut down, this was terribly frustrating, there was just enough wind to keep the boat moving, but only at 1 to 2 knots.  It took a huge amount of concentration, just to keep the sails filled with the remaining zephyrs. I worked for about 12 hours to eventually pass the iconic Fastnet Rock on Wednesday morning, however, by the time I arrived I was exhausted.  My fatigue detracted from what should have been a highlight!

After gaining a little ground to the south on Wednesday afternoon, the breeze shut down again!  I totally stopped and dropped sails to prevent damage as they flogged in the swell.  I remained drifting for hour and hours!  

After sunset, the breeze filled a little and I made great progress towards Bishop Rock.

Once clear of the west of Scilly exclusion zone, I was heading in to very variable winds from an easterly direction.  The wind shifted in strength and direction and presented very challenging conditions.   The tide was also foul at this time. I made very slow progress to the east over the next two days.  This was a very frustrating part of the course, it really felt as though I was making no progress at all.  This was the most challenging part.  I was working hard and using energy to make very little ground.

On Saturday I rounded the Lizard heading for Plymouth.  The conditions were less than favourable, strong winds (25 to 28knots) and big seas.  After 10 hours of punching in to the sea and wind, Eddystone was in view.  The conditions improved and I made good speed towards the finish line.  Unfortunately, when just 6 miles, and in sight of the breakwater, the breeze shut down again!!!!  I remained drifting, with no wind until 12 hours later, this was the most difficult part of the race in terms of mental aspects.   I was then able to catch some small gusts in order to carry SYZYGY over the line.

The extended light conditions were not ideal for heavier boats, however I was out sailed on a number of occasions.  Unfortunately I remained close to the back of the fleet.

After crossing the finish line I felt elated and pleased to have finished the course!

In Summary, a very challenging race but overwhelmingly rewarding.

Kind regards,
Mark Thompson


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