Flight Lieutenants Marcus Wilson and Richard Steel back on Round Britain and Ireland race track following Leg 4 gear failure 4/7/06

The Royal Air Force team – Flight Lieutenants Marcus Wilson and Richard Steel – competing in the Shetland Round Britain and Ireland Race aboard the RAF J/109 Red Arrow have completed Leg 4 – the 470-mile sprint down the east coast from Lerwick to Lowestoft but gear failure forced a detour to Grimsby. They are now back on track lying in 29th overall. Wilson sent this report this morning just before departing on the final leg to Plymouth?

Lerwick to Lowestoft via Grimbsy

The scenery around Lerwick is absolutely wonderful and the people are the very nicest you could hope to meet. We arrived just as the Bergen to Shetland Race departed on the return journey and the Visit Shetland festivities were still in full flow when we berthed.

Lunchtime the following day and Red Arrow was off again, closely followed by our rival from the tacking duel a couple of days previously. As the day drew on the big spinnaker gave us about 10 hours of very enjoyable downwind sailing before the breeze moved round to the nose and we settled down to a long beat into the wind.

And the beat continued for the next day. And the next. Our weather files were becoming less and less accurate and the shipping forecast offered no respite. That said, nothing concentrates the mind like a problem and a headsail change from the No 1 down to the No 2 provided a major problem for us.

The headsail track had split about five feet from the top and a section was now jammed at the top of the mast – preventing us from putting up any form of headsail. After a visit to the top of the mast we tried setting the smallest jib flying free from but couldn’t get sufficient halyard tension to point upwind. Grimsby it would have to be.

Fortunately we were well west on the race track and only had about 20 miles to do to the Humber Estuary. The 20 miles were quickly done, downwind with the spinnaker and by just after midnight we were tucked up in Grimsby Fish Dock at the Humber Cruising Association marina. And very nice it was – although it wasn’t where we wanted to be. Saturday morning was spent with one of us up the mast and the other cutting screws to the right length and sending them up to the repair. Finally, at about 1100, we were ready and motored back out of the dock and rejoined the race having lost somewhere between 18 and 22 hours. Very, very disappointing.

The final miles from Lerwick to Lowestoft – via Grimbsy – seemed to take forever as the wind teased us and the tide fought us for every yard. We anchored, we drifted, we drifted backwards and anchored again but we finally picked up enough of a breeze to carry us over the finish line almost a day after restarting at Grimsby. And what a relief it was to finally finish the leg. The longest of the race and made so much worse by our detour.

Having departed from Lowestoft this morning Wilson and Steel are enjoying a pleasant run down the east coast. Chatting from the boat earlier today Wilson commented: “The conditions this morning are perfect with a Force 2-3 northerly which is pushing us swiftly towards Dover. We are currently lying off the Norfolk coast and hope to reach Dover tonight sometime between 1200-0200.

“We were very disappointed about our gear problem which forced us to make a pit-stop, cost us 20 hours and third place in class. However, the breeze this morning should allow us to claw back some time on those who set off yesterday in less favourable conditions.”