Never mind the rhumb line, speed is King

It was a varied leg, we had an idea that it might be before we started but it turned rather more tricky than we thought it would, but we were exactly the same speed as Spirit of England [the leading multihull] for the leg from Castlebay.

We started on a run, and the spinnaker was up within a nanosecond of us crossing the start line. We carried the spinnaker to Barra Head and we were then able to aim at St. Kilda on starboard tack. 20 miles from St. Kilda, the wind went light. By then, we had caught FPC Greenaway which had started an hour and a quarter ahead of us, but we looked behind and saw Victoria Group closing on us. The wind was in the north-west and we had a dead beat to St. Kilda. We overtook FPC Greenaway, I think simply by superior mast height – we caught the breeze high up and it wasn’t there down low. In the choppy water and no breeze, their three hulls made the boat bounce and shake all the wind out of their sails. With one hull heeled, we were able to keep the wind and move.

We sailed straight for the Flannen Islands on port tack. All the time Mark in Victoria Group was catching us. From 2100 on the first night to 0300 we were going very slowly and at 0300 there was zero wind and zero boatspeed. I went to bed! For an hour and a half, Andy tried to get some movement and hoisted the Code 0 ghoster. There was three knots of wind at the top of the mast, glassy sea, and the boat started to move. The wind was from 90 degrees True and it became 45 degrees Apparent; we were doing 3.5 knots. Mark was a blip on the horizon ahead, but we caught up with him and he started to go as well.

We were 1.37 miles behind him (on the Radar) at Sula Sgeir and he went high on port tack, we stayed low, going for boatspeed. We just scraped around Sula Sgeir about a mile and a half to leeward of Victoria Group. The breeze freed slightly and we were doing six knots and we began to work up towards Mark and came out half a mile of him when we crossed his line. We then went cutter rigged. Andy tried to hoist the spinnaker when I was below and broke the snuffer line, so the whole thing had to come down. Just as well, the wind headed and we wouldn’t have been able to carry it.

We remembered what a friend had put in an E-mail to us – ‘Never mind the rhumb line, speed is King’ – and we lost Mark in the gloom half way to Muckle Flugga as the wind increased. We had 22 knots from the north-west up there and it felt like more because it was cold and dense. We gybed and set the asymmetric spinnaker on the way south to Lerwick and did the last 65 miles in five hours.