Top result for Clemency Williams and Nick Bubb aboard Beneteau First 34.7 Jos of Hamble 9/5/07

Clemency Williams reports on last weekend’s Cervantes Trophy aboard Beneteau First 34.7 Jos of Hamble in which she finished 1st in the double-handed division, second in Class 2 and fourth overall. Williams together with co-skipper Nick Bubb will be racing the RORC double-handed offshore series and the RSYC double-handed inshore series this season.

After a long night finishing off last minute preparations, we started at 0840 on the Royal Yacht Squadron line off Cowes. Being one of the slowest boats in our class and with over 40 boats on the line, we really had to jostle with the bigger boats for clear air but in the end we successfully out manoeuvred the competition and hit the line at speed next to the favoured pin end. A perfect start to the race and the Jos of Hamble 2007 campaign.

With a 10 knot north-easterly wind we fetched out of the Solent heading towards Selsey Bill. We knew the wind was going to be easing throughout the day and going round to the south-west, so we were extremely conscious to stay focused on the bigger picture rather than the boats around us. Initially we were passed by some of the larger boats and it took a while to find our groove as we tested Jos for the first time in anger. We sound found out what worked and what didn’t and we were pleasantly surprised by how responsive she was to our constant sail trimming. We rounded the first mark just astern of Diablo J, one of our main rivals in the 2-handed class. As forecast, the wind was already dropping and shortly afterwards the fleet was becalmed.

The next mark was Rustington, roughly ten miles to the north. With the wind expected to fill in from the south-west, we decided to try to keep left of the fleet as we drifted north and hopefully benefit when the new breeze arrived. Unfortunately, although the wind did come from the south-west, it spread across the course very quickly and those on the right benefited from a better angle into the mark. However, this gave us a great opportunity to test our downwind speed.

Beneteau’s First 34.7 comes with a choice of either bowsprit or conventional spinnaker pole. We choose the former believing that it would be easier for short handed sailing and had great confidence that our sailmakers, Quantum UK, would be able to design us an asymmetric spinnaker that we could run deep with as well as use for tighter angles. We were not disappointed, both the boat and the sails lived up to expectations and we managed to soak low whilst keeping good speed and regain some of the ground we had lost to Diablo J who had pulled ahead.

We rounded Rustington in the middle of the afternoon and set off for Le Havre which was just under 100 miles to the south. By now the wind had filled in again and we had 13 knots from the south-west. The bigger boats, most of who were sailing fully crewed, soon powered past us but again we were very pleased with the performance of Jos as she was well balanced and easy to drive.

The wind slowly dropped throughout the night and veered round to the west. As every short handed sailor knows, it is these windless nights when it’s hardest to stay awake and Nick and I operated a one hour watch system to ensure we both had a bit of rest and maintained our concentration at the helm. After some of our previous boats, we certainly both enjoyed the comfortable bunks of the First 34.7.

By 0330 the wind was down to just a couple of knots. We knew that we would be able to carry our flatter asymmetric spinnaker very close to the wind, another advantage over the boats with symmetric spinnakers. Onto this ploy early, we soon found ourselves ghosting past some masthead lights that were undoubtedly significantly taller than Jos’.

We made our final approach to Le Havre in the early hours of Sunday morning and could not believe how many bigger yachts were around us. The main worry for us though was what had happened to the other doublehanded boats. As it turned out the two top J/105s, Diablo J and Juneau had a fantastic finish, crossing the line just 18 seconds apart. We followed 22 minutes later, which was just enough to give us victory on corrected time, by three minutes.

On crossing the line, we spun the boat around and headed straight for home. It was a rough ride home but we were rewarded with finding out that we’d won the 2-handed division, come 2nd in Class 2 and finished 4th overall out of 122. Not bad for a first race!

We look forward to our next race, RORC’s ‘Myth of Malham’ from Cowes to St Quay Portrieux, starting on Saturday 26 May.