Jo Cackett, our Fastnet trainee, is put through her paces in last weekend's lively Cowes-St Malo race
What a brilliant race! With variable conditions it was a déjà vu to the Myth of Malham race that went from Cowes to Jersey. But this time going further to Saint Malo made it ‘bonza mate’?or I should say ‘tres bien!’
The Fastnet Puma Logic team had a late night navigation briefing with skipper Philippe Falle. The RORC race was to lead us east round to Bembridge Ledge point, and then heading across the Channel past Casquets and onto Guernsey and to St Malo. It was really interesting to collate the various weather forecasts and tidal patterns, and by using the Expedition electronic chartplotting program, try to work out the shortest and best possible route. As Philippe said: “When we’re doing any sort of offshore race, the biggest factors are tide and wind.” We even had expert sailing meteorologist Chris Tibbs, giving us the final forecast low down the next morning – so Philippe was confident with our passage plan.
Under gloomy skies, IRC Class 1 set off across the starting line in a south-westerly of 12-14 knots, gusting at 16. Hoisting the spinnaker right on the line we set a cracking pace, and it wasn’t until I settled into the trim that I noticed most of the fleet behind us. It was a great start and a great sight to see a kaleidoscope of colourful kites in the Solent.
A hard beat upwind, we passed the Forts to go round the back of the Isle of Wight and the seas got choppier and boat got bumpier. On port tack, we had to put our westing in before the tide turned. We had the No. 3 jib up expecting it to get windier than it did at first, and so dropped it for the bigger No. 1 headsail. Richard and Mark helped bowman junky Jonboy up on deck with the change, and Richard later commented. “Jon was on the bow and it was completely underwater – he was shouting for his scuba gear!”
Into the evening the wind was relentless, and a few of us starting feeling the effects. Annie perched herself on the transom to try to ease the queasiness and even Richard’s eyes were glazed over as he sat quietly on the rail – unusual for the jovial Clapham banker. But I am happy to report that my previous Stugeron consumption had kicked in for a good 12 hours and I was happily munching away on sandwiches and cheddars? at least until about 2100 anyway!
On the first watch with Mark (an obvious watch leader with skippering experience and multiple enthusiasm), Daddy Brian and Jonboy we made our second sail change in the dark on a bouncing wet foredeck. Sliding all over the place it seemed to take forever to hoist the No. 3 jib, but with waves crashing over the foredeck the adrenalin rush keeps you going. I held out until we finished before I rushed astern to be sick. And I wasn’t alone as even hardcore Jonboy was feeling a bit shoddy.
There are two things that are inevitable in offshore sailing, long stretches of sailing on the same tack and seasickness. Neither of them is particularly very exciting but the former at least gives you a chance to ponder out in the open seas – a much nicer experience than being at work in an office. When I asked the crew what they think about on these long hauls, they answered: “What their friends or family are doing.” at the same time, or the conditions ahead, tactics, eating Philippe’s mum’s scrumptious meals, sleeping or lewd things better left unsaid. Alex said fittingly: “That you won’t throw up on us!”
Sleeping for three hours and up again for another three at 0500 is a shock to the system but the conditions had lightened up a little. We tacked from port to starboard at Anvil Point so we could skirt the edge of the TSS (Traffic Separation Scheme) north west of the Casquets. Those on watch before us witnessed a massive naval frigate passing by, a freakish experience to have looming out of the darkness.
I have to admit that I was a bit of a clutz on this trip. Any sailor would know that making your way around a heeling saloon is like dancing on a mechanical rodeo horse. During my watch I tried to climb down the hatch and fell into the galley stove. When I dragged myself out of the heeling bunk in the morning I cascaded into the chart table and whacked my shin – swearing profoundly. And coming up the galley way I smashed my head on the side, jarring my jaw and causing my front tooth cap to come out later in a baguette! My collection of bruises makes my body look like a satellite map. It’s no wonder Philippe says I’m amusing to have on board.
In the morning, poor Annie was still out for the count below with sore kidneys – probably caused from dehydration. With sunny skies and lighter winds, we sailed with a number of other boats around us – but unaware of how well we were doing.
Past Guernsey the winds dropped to about six to eight knots and it was time to hoist the spinnaker. Out came the sunscreen and hats, particularly endorsed by Sunsmart Mark, with his floppy hat, quarter length trousers and face lathered in cream as he trimmed the kite. Alex made a joke that the rest of his trousers were used to make the hat! As I trimmed the guy, Philippe went through the finer points of sail trim, highlighting the need for constant communication. Trimming is a difficult thing to get right but integral to keeping up the pace. And also important when the kite collapses and we want to avoid hearing Philippe’s screeches of “trim, trim – come on guys, you must have one hundred per cent concentration!”
We all placed our bets on ETA in Saint Malo – with the odds ranging from 2000 to 2130. My guess of 2000 was about right when we tottered across the finish line (only just shaving the committee boat after a slow gybe) in a puff of breeze at 20:14:44UTC.
Saint Malo was amazing. We had missed our time slot in getting through the lock, but moored up until the next opening at 0200UTC. Thankfully first mate, Sara awoke Philippe when she noticed that the sun was rising and we nearly missed our chance. Unlike boats behind us who were left drifting in the Channel Isles, we were very lucky to spend that day drinking coffee, eating crepes and tantalising seafood, and wandering around this quaint French seafaring town with a history of shipping trade and pirates.
As we gunned it home flying along in up to 20 knots wind, we revelled in our result of sixth place, and 29th overall. That’s our third top ten result so far, so things are looking good for the Fastnet. Annie navigated us back home, and Jonboy was on the lookout for porpoises. Across the Channel we all took turns on the helm, in competition for the fastest speed, with Annie clocking it at 14.2 knots.
Rounding the Needles in the Solent we tried to outrun a threatening squall with the kite up and winds gusting up to 28 knots. My knuckles were white as I gripped the guy, but we dropped the kite in time for the onslaught of rain, thunder and lightning. Further along, up the spinnaker went again on starboard but this time the winds kicked in too strong and we made a vital mistake on the drop as the kite sheet got tangled in the block, and the kite went flying to port, dragging in the water until we managed to heave it in like a wet blanket from astern. A dramatic end to a long but satisfying four days.