The Channel Race, the last RORC race for the Puma Logic crew before the Fastnet at the beginning of August, was full of many surprises. Jo Cackett - our Fastnet trainee - reports

We did it! What started out as a race we thought we’d never finish ended up as something much better than we had imagined. The Channel Race, the last RORC race for the Puma Logic crew before the Fastnet at the beginning of August, was full of many surprises. Ranging from no wind to a manic Force 6-7, close encounters with a cruise liner in the night, torrential rain, sunshine and a relentless team spirit that at times needed a kickstart?but carried us through to win first in our class – IRC 1.

A 0850 start on Saturday 23 July with only 2.5 knots of wind, there was expectations of a postponement – but the start gun went off and the tide practically pushed us over the line, until we hoisted the kite and began a painstakingly slow journey east of Cowes to Horse Sand Fort. As we hugged the inshore areas expecting the wind to swing through, we were reaching a mere .5 knots of speed until the tide started pushing us backwards around No Man’s Land Fort. Dropping the anchor out, for the first time I heard our enthusiastic skipper, Philippe Falle, contemplate retiring. The course seemed to be quite long. Set at 155 miles for IRC Class Super 0, 0 and 1 but an alternative shorter course for IRC 2 and 3. At the rate we were going we might not have finished until Sunday night. But as he later said: “If it’s one thing I’ve learnt in offshore sailing it’s never give up.” And his prediction of the wind picking up once we reached the Channel was right. Picking up to five knots, we raced on towards Owers Light Buoy.

The wind continued to build and we headed south-east on a downwind beam reach at eight to nine knots of speed. In the melting sun, we rounded the waymark to head north-east to Rushington Outfall Buoy and back again. ICAP Maximus, the 100ft Super Maxi, passed us on our way down, already well ahead of the pack and gliding along the water like an Albatross. While Annie complained of her sweaty bum from her new Henri-Lloyd shorts, we kept our sights on trying to work out what boats were around us.

There were a few mishaps throughout the race that cost us invaluable miles. Rounding Rushington we had to drop the kite and go bareheaded because we were too slow on the gybe and had to get the jib up – which I was a bit too eager on sheeting in before the halyard was made. Another occurred later in the night, which involved an unprepared guy, a strong wind, and inevitable shouting – but I won’t be mentioning names?

As we sailed into the sunset and ate Philippe’s mum’s awesome Moroccan dinners we discussed the lessons learnt so far and the importance of communication – the relaying messages from the cockpit to the mast and bow. One thing I have learnt is that no matter how much you think you know something, there’s always room to learn more, and it’s important to talk out manoeuvres.

At this point we were heading to Nab Tower and only one third of the way. But things started looking up as we went into our watch systems, we had the spinnaker up and were hitting eight knots of speed. In the wee hours of the morning, I went on watch with Mark as our efficient leader, along with Jonboy and Brian – otherwise known as ‘Schoomy’ for his likening for speed on the helm. To stop ourselves from falling asleep we swapped jobs to keep up the boat speed. There was one hairy moment when the ocean liner Oriana was coming across on our starboard and it seemed to fail to see us as it veered our way. We bore away and flashed our spotlight at it before it came close to bowling us over.

Sara’s watch was a lot noisier than ours, as they changed the headsail from heavy to light and back to heavy again. During which Annie cheekily recalls: “Richard slipped and crashed on the low side and nearly went over. Luckily I grabbed him but not before his girth stopped him slipping under the guardrail.”

In a fitful sleep we awoke to lots of rain and 20 knots of wind – much more than forecasted. With two reefs in we were heading upwind to the Needles Fairway Light Buoy and my record achievement of 24 hours without being a ‘Vombat’, was broken as the boat bounced my stomach around. Unfortunately I had stopped taking Stugeron thinking I had my sea legs.

We were surrounded in hazy cloud and rain on the downwind stretch to Poole Bar Buoy, and the wind was too strong for the initial intentions to put the kite up. Seeing top IRC 1 boat Maverick 2 struggle with their kite Philippe opted for the poled out No.3 headsail. At this point we noticed two other boats in our class pass us having rounded the waymark and realized we may just be in a better position in the race than we thought. Sitting on the rail feeling like zombies and completely soaked, Philippe perked us up as he does with his motivational cheers and at times silly little dances.

With Philippe helming us at top speed across the finish to arrive at 10:57:51, we happily collapsed onto the deck and cruised into Shamrock Quay in time for a Sunday roast where we found out we’d won our first RORC race. With hugs and cheers and Champagne and beers all round, we gloated in our glory of No. 1 position and fourth on the water in our class of 19 and 25th overall in IRC. Allie Smith, Director of Sailing Logic said: “Awesome – I’m proud of every single one of you.” In the series we stand in third position. Fastnet here we come!