Thursday, 25 August 2011

Ramsgate, Cowes and Fastnet

This last month I feel like I've pretty much been living on boats. I've been
racing continually and have only had 2 days off the water this whole month!
I can't really complain though as I've learnt so much from spending time with some great sailors.

This month started with Ramsgate Week Regatta over on the east coast. I was
invited to sail on a First 35 called Stiletto as navigator on board.  The
navigator’s job is effectively to get the boat around the course and give the
helm and tactician as much info as possible about distances, wind angles and
also what the next leg will hold. There is a lot of thinking required for
this position on board and I relished it. The week went fantastically and
I'm very pleased to be able to say that we finished 2nd overall which is a
terrific result. On my last day there, the organisers of the regatta very
kindly donated £200 to the Tall Ships Youth Trust who I support. Thanks a load for that guys!

Immediately after the last days sailing at Ramsgate I drove along the
South Coast with Pete and Leigh who were also sailing on board and we jumped
on the First 40, Carpe Diem to race in the RORC Channel Race. This year’s
course was from Cowes, around the Isle of Wight, then off to a marker by
Brighton and then back to a finish in the Solent. The race was never going
to be a long one but as the wind shut down by the needles it proved very
hard to inch out any lead over our competition. Those who got the wind first
took off and had a huge advantage over us who were still stuck in the wind
hole! We eventually got away form the Needles in a fairly good position
which we were pleased with and then it was a race around the island and then
a close kite run to the marker off Brighton before turning back towards the

Rounding the mark was pretty exciting with loads of boats around us and we
were really fighting for each position and boat length that we could gain on
the water. The crew were pretty shattered as we crossed the finish line in
the early hours of the morning and so the ‘on watch’ put the boat on a buoy
and we all slept soundly until pretty late in the morning. That was one of
the best sleeps ever!! We later went about rigging an emergency rudder in
practice if the main one was to fall off. This was all good training as the crew were all about to compete in the Fastnet on board Carpe Diem.

After this race, Pete, Leigh and I jumped on a train in the evening and made
our way back to Ramsgate as we were to deliver Stiletto along the south
coast to Cowes. We were departing nice and early in the morning. No rest
for the wicked! This delivery gave us a small chance to relax, however as we
were sailing along in one of the busiest stretches of water in the world, we
had to keep our wits about us. We arrived in Cowes 2 days later and I jumped
off to head home for two days of little rest, meetings, and office work! I
also headed home for the most important duty of all…. to get my washing

After arriving back on the Isle of Wight, I was once again straight back into
sailing. I was down in Cowes as I was racing in one of the largest regattas
in the world… Cowes Week! Once again I would be sailing on the First 35
Stiletto as Navigator. Cowes Week is a fantastic event and also a thoroughly
confusing one for navigators as the are so many marks and so many boats
around on the race course. Day 1 started off well for us in the light
conditions as we scored a bullet, however as the wind properly filled in for
the bulk of the rest of the week our results weren’t quite as fantastic. We
still managed to finish 4th in Class by the end of the week which the whole
crew was pretty pleased with. No doubt they'll be back next year!

After Cowes Week it was the Fastnet! This race is one that I have
always wanted to compete in and this was my first big opportunity to do so.
A little while ago I was invited to do the race on a Challenger 72 with the
Tall Ships Youth Trust.  I leapt at the opportunity to sail one of their
charity boats. One of the big attractions was that we would be teaching
novices how to race and this really appealed to me. The Tall Ships Youth
Trust were sailing all their 4 Challenge boats and so it was always looked
upon as a race within a race as we could only ever really compete against
our one design counterparts. I was sailing on board Challenger 2 and the
crew that we had on board were all fantastic. It was very rewarding to see
everyone learning so much during every watch and always giving it everything
that they could.

At the start of the race there was a real buzz amongst all the crews and you
could feel it on the dock. The excitement was electric! We were racing in
IRC 1 and we had a good start and lead all the other Challengers out of the
Solent which was a really nice feeling. I was calling tactics for our start
and the initial beats out of the Solent, so I was pretty chuffed with this. We
later went on to lead the 4 boats almost all the way to Lands End where
frustratingly one of the Challengers sailed just around us as they weren't
pushing as much tide as us. This was the problem with being the lead boat,
as all the others could see where you were getting stuck and they could use
that to their advantage.

I was amazed at how close the racing was and being the navigator, provided an excellent game of trying to outwit the others on the water.
It was a fantastic experience, rounding the rock in the dead of night and
playing the tide for all that it could give us was an excellent feeling.
Right close to the finish we had caught up on the leader substantially and
all four boats were within 2 miles of each other. After 700 miles of racing
a lead of two miles is nothing! Amazingly the boat in last place who had a
deficit of 10miles or so actually saw all of us stuck in a wind hole and
sailed right inshore and took the win! We ended up coming 4th out of the 4
Challenge boats, but I'm still very happy with our result as in the final
bay, it really was anyone’s game.

Looking back at this month I've had such a fantastic time and I've learnt so
much which I will take into further sailing campaigns. I'm now planning on
spending a few days resting and catching up on some sleep!