Pip Hare's insight into what it takes to win your class in the Round Britain & Ireland Race in a cruising yacht
13 June 2010
Castle Bay Hotel
Second leg of the Shetland Round Britain & Ireland Race over. We (Phil Stubbs and I in my Oyster 395 The Shed) have another 1st in class and still unbelievably lying 1st overall in IRC.
I am exhausted! What a leg. We have been pushing The Shed and ourselves as hard as possible and gratifyingly the results show the effort has paid off.
Yesterday was tough. We started the day under the grey solid sky of a passing front in changing and shifty conditions with lumpy seas. Life on The Shed was tough and tiring.
The combination of wind and seas made it very difficult to find a sail plan that allowed the boat to drive along comfortably.
The balance between the jib and the main seemed impossible to find, too much mainsail causing us to round up uncontrollably with every wave and gust skewing us from our course and wrenching the helm from your hands.
With too little main, the jib took over and an uncomfortable amount of lee helm made it difficult to helm. Natural intuition was out of the window.
I struggled with it all morning and eventually went down for some sleep, and while I was down Phil managed to find a balance for the boat by putting two reefs in. It punctuated a lesson we should all remember that less is sometimes more and bigger sails don’t always make the boat go faster.
We had not had a lot of sleep. Phil has been struggling to find a good sleeping pattern. I feel I have not been very helpful on this matter as I decided that working a conventional watch system would not necessarily be the way to race the boat hard in this race.
On the first leg we just sailed hard and took a couple of short naps when we hit the wall. For this leg, it has been mostly the same, I have been pushing as hard as I can and could really see the benefits of us both working the boat, particularly with one steering through the waves and the other trimming the main to adjust balance in the gusts.
In single-handed style I have been napping when I need it but as this is Phil’s first offshore experience it has been a tough thing for him to do and yesterday he said he wanted to go onto 1hr on 1hr off and get some sleep, I could see he was wrecked and starting to really suffer from lack of rest.
He went down for a couple of longer sleeps and returned a new person, and since we got in we have decided that he will sleep in that pattern for the rest of the race as his performance is much better that way.
In the second half of the morning the front that was giving us the stronger westerly winds started to blow over and we were left in soggy and light winds.
This was excruciating. We had managed to keep our lead over the rest of our class but with Fastrack only 10 miles behind we started to worry about whether others were experiencing the same light winds as we were or they would be sailing around us in more breeze.
There was nothing for it, we had to keep sailing forward, but as the hour passed the wind started to changed direction and so not only were we sailing slowly but in the wrong direction as well.
We could see the end of the clouds and knew that a change was coming. According to the weather file there were favourable winds on the way and it was a question of just keeping cool and waiting for the new wind.
We emerged from the edge of the cloud into a new world.
All of a sudden the water changed form a sloppy grey chop to a pristine aquamarine with a rolling swell.
The day was stunningly beautiful, the colours sharp and you could have been forgiven for thinking we were sailing in the Caribbean and not the west of Scotland.
We hoisted the code zero and the Shed started to move. The wind steadily built and with 80 miles to the finish the chase was on again.
The only tactic was to go straight to the finish as fast as we could. Accompanied by dolphins and a couple of whales, we changed between the code zero and the A4 and then back again, eyes glued to the instruments, always reading the numbers, assessing our speed, wind strength and wind angle, making judgements about which sail would be optimum with the current conditions.
Eventually an island popped into view on the horizon, and with it a sail, then another, but who were they?
Time for the last push to the finish. Out came the Lucozade, chocolate and sweets that our friend Helen had supplied for emergency use (among the other emergency goods we have supplied by friends is a bottle of red wine and a bottle of champagne – not required at that very moment!).
After not eating much for the last three days, I filled up with chemicals and glucose and was bouncing off the guardrails.
We set the autopilot to steer and then I trimmed the kite and Phil ground the winch for me.
I was hyper, the kite sheet was going in and out, in and out and we trimmed like that for three hrs; leaving positions only to check the navigation.
This tactic seemed to work and as the rest of the island of Barra came into view we seemed to be gaining on the boats ahead, but the wind was patchy and it looked quite possible we could sail into a hole and would stop, with the boats behind gaining time on us.
Phil suggested that I climb the rig and try to spot a path through the wind holes to the finish. With the spinnaker up and flying I climbed up the windward side of the rig, using the mainsail as steps hanging on when we went over a wave.
When you are at the top of a mast while the boat is sailing, all the movements of the boat are accelerated and if you let go you will swing out past the sail onto the lee side of the boat hitting the rigging on the way.
My friend Ash had that experience a couple of weeks ago and is suffering now from badly bruised ribs. With that on my mind I was hanging on with legs and arms hugging the top of the mast like a koala.
The tactic was worth it. I shouted down to Phil and we mapped out a route to the finish between the flat patches on the water, all the time gaining ground on the boats ahead, one of whom I could see from up high was Elixir, who were lying 3rd overall in IRC. That must mean that we had moved up to 2nd overall.
After a manic last few hours, we crossed the finish line in Barra on 12th June at 21h 28m 25s and received a message immediately from Marco and Paul on Sunguard Front Arena. They had won the class 40 class and were in the bar celebrating.
The little island of Barra will not know what has hit it.
We stepped ashore into an amazingly different world from our isolated life on the boat. A heaving bar, jammed with people and a ceilidh band playing loudly, with drums, fiddles and bagpipes. People were laughing and shouting, dancing on the tables. It was almost too much to handle.
We had won our class on the water and on handicap and by the skin of our teeth have hung onto 1st place in IRC overall.
The Shed is lying in the middle of a stunningly beautiful bay, the water is clean and clear, the beaches are sandy white, there is a castle on a rock in the bay. The boat needs some love and we need some sleep before the next leg starts, only 48 short hours, and 15 of them have gone already.