RORC Morgan Cup - 26 June 2009
Report from With Alacrity
Another RORC race another opportunity to practice anchoring. In the Eddystone race we anchored in 40 metres to stem a 3.5 knot current, in the De Guingand Bowl we got smarter and headed inshore so when the inevitable occurred we were in just 10 metres of depth. This weekend for the Morgan Cup we broke a new With Alacrity record by anchoring in 60 metres to stem 4.5 knots of current !
The start on Friday night was a light air spinnaker leg down the Eastern Solent, once again 8 Sigma 38s turned out making up a third of the IRC 3 fleet. The tide was just starting to turn on the mainland shore at the gun and there was a strong argument for starting at the outer end of the Squadron line to pick up the early favourable current. In the end we decided the extra distance was not quite worth it and with the help of a wind shift to the South our conservative midline start paid off and we narrowly lead the fleet out to the forts. Past the forts some of the faster boats in later starts began to blast past us as well as a few of the IRC 3 boats sporting huge masthead spinnakers. Persephone made a good recovery after heading North off the start and losing a huge distance, by sailing in the stronger current through the forts and finding more wind they caught up to within 5 boatlengths at Nab.
From Nab it was a slight bear away onto a deeper run to Outer Owers buoy just past Selsey. We sailed higher and gybed into the buoy whilst most other boats sailed a more direct course but neither approach seemed to give an advantage. There was a 3 knot current sloshing past the buoy as we rounded up onto a close hauled course for Cherbourg, the fleet quickly compressed as the boats behind scooted down on the tide but by now it was dark and picking out who was who in the mass of navigation lights became impossible.
Now we had a classic strategy decision to make. With just a few hours of East going tide left we would then make most of the crossing with a complete west going tide cycle before the East tide set in just off Cherbourg. Sailing as high as possible would possibly get you up tide enough to finish on Saturday morning. However the wind was due to drop to around 4-5 knots from the west and this means the (close to Spring) tides around the Cherbourg peninsular were going to have a massive impact on the wind we had to sail in. If you have 4 knots of west going tide in 5 knots of westerly wind you are sailing in 9 knots of wind – happy days! In the same 5 knots of of real westerly wind with 4 knots of East going tide you are sailing in just a knot of wind and suddenly a Sigma 38 is not making progress...hmmm. So we sailed slightly cracked off from close hauled and sacrificed height for boatspeed with the aim of being in shallower water when the tide turned so we had a chance of anchoring. If it went well there was always the possibility we could get far enough inshore to cheat the tide to the finish if there was enough wind, maybe there would also be some thermal winds close inshore?
So we had a fine trip across the channel fetching at close to 7 knots. As ever the navigation lights fanned out though most of the fleet were sailing a lot higher as we expected. By morning we couldn’t recognise any boats on the horizon and by 9am we were just 10.5 miles NNE from the finish as the tide started to turn. As expected the wind got lighter but we were still making 3 or 4 knots South just a few miles short of the 40 metre depth contour. We kept going as the tide set into the East, now making a SE course over ground until 10am when the wind suddenly switched off completely – for us this happened at exactly the wrong time as we had just entered a 2nm x 8nm explosives dumping ground to the NE of Cherbourg. We drifted east helplessly on the current unable to anchor and making just half a knot of boatspeed. It was not until 11.30 that we drifted out of the foul ground and were able to anchor in 60 metres of depth. Instantly our boatspeed shot up to 4.5 knots as we stemmed the current. In this frustrating 1.5 hours we had lost nearly 5 miles distance to finish, just another 1.5 miles progress before the wind died and we would have been able to anchor in a great position pretty well as we had predicted the night before - ho hum, guess that’s offshore racing - if it was easy it wouldn’t be so much fun !!
So began the guessing game, with no IRC 3 boats in sight we reckoned we were the furthest inshore but we had ended up a lot further down the coast from Cherbourg than we had hoped. Would the boats further offshore to the West have enough wind to keep making progress? Would they be able to anchor in deeper water? Maybe they were finishing as we sat at anchor? We consoled ourselves by watching IRC2 boats drift past us the wrong way on the current and broke out the ice-creams in the sunshine (we were testing the fridge/icebox for the Fastnet- it passed with flying colours!).
At 14:30 the tide had slackened off so we upped anchor and crept along the coast to the finish, no sea breeze but we were close enough in to get the early turn of tide. As we closed on Cherbourg we spotted the unmistakable spinnakers of class leaders Longue Pierre and Hephzibah with Persephone not far behind, they were further West but a few miles further offshore. The huge masthead spinnakers of LP and Hephzibah were taking them to the finish well ahead but it was going to be close with Persephone. If the wind filled in from the west they would be ahead, if the wind shifted to the West and turned our fetch to the finish into a beat they would sail over us easily. In the event the wind stayed light and if anything lifted us slightly as we carefully avoided the danger of being swept past the entrance to round inside a couple of X332s and lead the Sigma 38s home by another narrow margin – this time 12 minutes.
We heard afterwards that the lead IRC 3 boats did manage to anchor offshore, I guess what we lost by being stranded in the explosives dumping zone was just about made up by being further inshore and getting the early turn of tide.
That’s it for With Alacrity’s Fastnet qualifying campaign, we are back to cruising and inshore racing until the big race in August. Not sure what we have learnt from these light air qualifiers except that we are better at anchoring than we were and it looks like the Sigma 38 fleet is going to be closely matched as ever. With Red Macaw joining the fleet from the East coast and Persistance also entered it’s shaping up to be an interesting week in August – just hope we have at least some wind.....