Co-skipper Phil Stubbs reflects on an experience much bigger than he'd ever anticipated

A co-skipper’s view of the Shetland Round Britain & Ireland Race:

It was around four months ago that Pip first mentioned having a go at the Shetland Round Britain and Ireland Race. ‘Is that non-stop?’ I enquired, before being reassured that there were stopovers, and that furthermore, being in the middle of summer, and two handed it was in fact most “un-offshore” like.

Offshore sailing, in my limited experience, involves sitting on the rail thinking heavy and protecting the rock stars at the back from the elements for days at a time.

Having enjoyed the Royal Southampton Double Handed series last year, the RBI seemed to offer a challenge for 2010 and preparations commenced.

A rigorous training programme was developed and implemented – a jaunt across the channel on the Cherbourg Double, the 300 mile qualifier and a days gybing practice had us on top form and fully prepared – well as fully prepared as we were going to be.

Fortunately Pip and I sail together as part of an inshore crew so we know each other’s abilities pretty well. This left the challenges of racing for longer distances to work out on the course – balancing sailing fast with sleeping, eating and navigating for three or four days at a time, as opposed to a couple of hours.

The race has been good, in fact awesome. Most recently we have been surfing down North Sea waves, bow buried to the forepeak hatch, hoping that The Shed will pop out and take off, (she did, every time). Previously, it’s been getting a result after a 40-hour spinnaker trimming session on the way to Barra, then rounding Muckle Flugga at 11 knots on a tight spinnaker reach.

The beat up the west coast of Ireland in glorious sunshine, with plenty of wind, a rolling sea in a boat the sails to windward on rails defines what makes sailing so rewarding.

Seeing our tactics ultimately pay off on the way to Kinsale was a huge relief, a good result from the start set us up in the right frame of mind for the rest of the race.

Good has also been wrestling on the bow with spinnakers at 03:00 in the morning, not perhaps immediately fun, but rewarding when it works. It’s been a years worth of sailing experiences crammed into 3 weeks.

Beyond the direct sailing experiences, good has been the camaraderie and attitude of fellow competitors; being shorthanded encourages much more interaction between competitors than in fully crewed racing. People are much more prepared to help one another sort issues and work together to keep racing.

As an example, Chris and Steve on Ding Dong set off on the final, leaving with a good luck and see you in Plymouth for a beer. We know we are fighting for an overall IRC place and there’s only two hours between us, with plenty of others still in contention.

The overall result is something of a lottery with boats sailing so far apart on the race course, but the bit of luck needed to win it won’t happen without hard work. When we saw them on our arrival in Lowestoft they looked shattered, we knew we’d made them work for their deserved lead.

Chris and Kim on Taika who we went for dinner with in Lerwick, whilst aware we were competing in a very close class, were more than happy to share advice and experiences.

Sailing this race with Pip has been a sharper experience than I’d imagined; the calm and patient Pip stays ashore and is replaced by a highly driven and focussed competitor.

From our inshore racing I’ve always known she’s had that streak in her, but it seems magnified when competing under her name; with a point to prove after a rig failure in last year’s OSTAR.

Ultimately this event is a race and we’ve proved what can be achieved in an older boat if it’s pushed hard, and we’ve pushed it pretty close at times. I’m sure people are wondering about our rating, I’ve heard the word bandit mentioned a few times, I’d happily swap anyone of the more modern boats, with Gucci sail plans and full time internet access for a leg and see the results.

Obviously it’s not all been what I would call fun – a night on the leg to Barra after 7 headsails changes in wet and bitterly cold conditions with confused seas and 25 knots of breeze whilst both too tired was not great.

Leaving from Lerwick into a forecast 30 knots and big seas was a little tense; entering and leaving port can be a little anxious due to The Sheds love of spitting the prop off the back of the gearbox!

My hands feel like they belong to someone else, and seem to have developed an allergy to wet rope, wire and GRP – The Shed’s major components!

Sailing along at 7 knots in fog too thick to see the bow; its hard not to consider the reasons the liferaft and flares are in the cockpit, especially with the RTE going off on all 4 corners!

Lack of sleep is hard to deal with. My automatic reaction to the 4th shout of Phil is now to run up to the foredeck ready to battle a flogging sail!

However, in the usual way, memories of the difficult parts will soon fade, we made it through the tense moments in good shape, hands will recover, and there’ll be plenty of time to sleep in Plymouth. The good parts will stay much longer, and in another year or so I’ll probably consider another off-shore event!

So the final leg has started, it was forecast to be a light airs leg, not The Sheds favourite conditions, but we’d put ourselves in as strong a position as possible and we just need to sail the best we can to Plymouth.

And we’re now sitting off the Isle of Wight, in virtually no breeze with no more forecast for the next couple of days. The pack has closed the gap to 11 miles, and it looks all too likely we’ll be snatching defeat from the jaws of victory in the most spectacular fashion.

After the way we’ve sailed so far, losing out due to the fortunes of the weather would be pretty hard to take.