Fastnet 2011 - Race Report for No Fear
The crew assembled in Haslar during the Friday evening and Saturday morning (8 of us - John, Phil, Begonia, Deborah, Peter, Ian, Steve and myself). We opted to stay in Haslar until Sunday morning giving us plenty of time for last minute preparations, crew briefing and a decent meal in Gunwharf with other crew support members. There was a definite buzz in the marina as a number of the Extreme 40s and a couple of 60s had moored up. Iromiguy was also berthed on the next pontoon doing her last minute preps - what a reputation she already had.
We attended the Skipper's briefing in Cowes after a complex link-up of ferries and taxis from Portsmouth to Fishbourne and picked up our Tracker and Decals from the Race Office. The briefing was interesting (my first) but the key take-aways for us was the very windy start expected past Hurst Castle and into the Needles Channel and then the developing cold front around the SW coast of Ireland and the Rock which was expected midnight Monday/Tuesday. This seemed a long way off for us and somewhat irrelevant as we would be nowhere near there at that time. Hearing about the jet-stream was also interesting.
Our expectation therefore was of plenty of wind to start, a chellenge to get past Land's End within about 36hrs and up to the rock before the winds lightened by around Wednesday. Beyond that - difficult to tell except that a fine day was expected Friday.
We had a great meal in Blanc's Brasserie and a (relatively) early night. We cast off at 07:45 Sunday morning and headed for the South Gate with a number of other boats and our stormsails set up. We were well provisioned for the week catering also for our one vegetarian on board (Steve). Phil had already pinged the RYS flagstaff the day before in Cowes so after our check-in at the gate we pinged the other end of the line.
We opted for a start in clean air to try and stay out of the crowd and ended up making a relatively good start (but not our best) approx 2/3 of the way down the line - full main and No 1 on Starboard - in a good strong breeze. We settled into the run out of the solent keeping a sharp look-out for crossing boats on Starboard. We had a good run out keeping up with the fleet and keeping more to the Island side to try and make best use of the current. Phil did a great job of keeping us on track, Ian did a brilliant job of trimming the main and calling the shifts.
The wind stayed fairly constant but as we reached Hurst you could tell the wind strength was increasing - along with the sea-state. At the back of my mind I was considering a change down to No2 but our progress was still good and there were no signs of other boats changing so we ploughed on. We had been tacking reasonably well but almost parallel to Hurst Castle we tacked from starboard onto port tack. The No1 seemed to catch a little around the front of the mast - the bow came thru the wind before the slack sheet had been taken in leaving the sail to flog a little in the strong wind. Phil noticed a small tear in the sail and before we knew it - disaster - the sail just split from the upper leech into the middle and then from top to bottom. We lost all our speed and steerage and continued to drift out at over 3kts with the tide. We took it down and brought up our No2 and got that hoisted. At the same time I decided to put a reef in the main. We lost about 15mins overall and watched the rest of the fleet plough on. We had no end of spectators on the beach who had also watched a dismasting a few minutes earlier.
On through the Needles channel and concentrating to catch up. Phil took us close in the Shingle bank to just under 1m of water but we rocketed out of the channel. Lots of water over No Fear as we settled back into the race. We had already decided to stay out away from the headlands and keep sailing with the wind as far west as we could and hoping to cross Portland about 8-10miles out. Judging from our track after the race we did a pretty good job of this. Day 1 continued with west wind and bright sunshine as we continued to push west noticing that the fleet was spread fairly widely around us. We settled into our watch system, a new one allowing us to rotate 2 new crew every 2hrs with 4 crew always on. No-one felt very much like cooking that evening so we opted for Begonia's delicious Spanish Tortilla.
The wind decreased overnight - we took out our reef. By morning we were definitely missing our No.1 AND we had our second catastrophe - a non-functioning toilet! My first job coming on watch? Luckily, and from previous experience, I always keep on board an entire replacement part of the head as it's usually the pump mechanism that gets destroyed from over-zealous pumping of some desparate crewmember. The entire pump assembly is quite easily replaced as long as you can remove the old one. With assistance from Peter and a request to John to keep the boat as level as possible we got on and replaced the part (Peter is a doctor by the way!). After 2 attempts - success. A newly functioning head. We cleaned up the mess and then On with the race!
Day 2 we definitely lost pace by not having the No.1. We did keep going though and made reasonable progress. We expected the West wind to back to the SW enabling us to make our NW up to Land's End but this shift never arrived. Later in the day we decided to climb up towards the Lizard eventually getting up into Falmouth bay on a westerly track onto the Lizard. With hindsight we should not have done this as we did lose some ground - we should have kept going west. We did make a spectacular rounding of the Lizard in the dark however as Phil tracked us close inshore between the Dales and the Overfalls - well not quite between. Glad I was off-watch as the sound of the water over the boat as we clipped the overfalls was loud and impressive. Ian helmed us through this part - then it was on to Land's End in a strengthening breeze which was now firmly in the SW. Our expectation was for the wind to stay in the SW but no more than F4-5.
We rounded Land's End fairly close but not too close. We tracked NW to the TSS and I piloted John thru the lanes as we firmed up to cross each lane at right angles as per Regs. I kept a close eye on the true wind strength. It had been a steady 14kts up to that point but it was steadily increasing. The sea-state was also fairly challenging with large swells coming on to our port beam and at times taking our stern around and pointing us closer into the wind. Once thru the TSS we cracked off a little but it became difficult to keep a steady track as No Fear veered from between 300 degrees to 0 degrees and back again. On the plus side we were literally flying with a SOG constantly above 8-9 kts and sometimes more. True wind had now edged up to 20kts and we were starting to feel over-powered. Our third catastrophe now loomed.
We did not have a 2nd or 3rd reefing line set up. As we changed watch with 6 of us up we set about putting in a 2nd reef. This was incredibly difficult and resulted in us losing a lot of time, expending a huge amount of energy and frustration and also flogging our mainsail to bits. John finally got the 2nd reef in. No Fear settled back down to a fast track. John and Deborah went off-watch and I continued to helm upwind with 20+kts and the same difficult sea-state. Peter and I went off-watch at 4am and Ian and Phil took over. By 6am John and Deborah came back on as the dawn was breaking. John then woke me up just before 6am - we had a problem.
In the early daylight, clear to see was a sizeable tear in the main just below the thrid reefing point. The leech was parted held together only by the leech-line. The tear then progressed about a foot into the sail underneath the thicker and stronger part of the reefing point and then slightly vertically down an inch or two. What to do? We were about 130nm from the Rock, still in relatively strong winds and we were expecting this to continue through Tuesday possibly getting stronger as we headed North. We couldn't conitnue as is without a high risk of losing the entire sail. We also now had no light wind sailing capacity either. It didn't take very long for all of us to agree that our race was over. We reluctantly took the decision to retire. On John's Birthday too.
We turned around and after a few hours when the wind had eased were able to reduce the main to secure it at the third reef above the tear. This made us safe and prevented further damage. We headed back the way we came. It took us over 18hrs to get to Plymouth which included another close inspection of the Lizard rocks (directed by Phil 'Nav Dude' Sugarman) during which a Swiss cruise yacht desparately tried to warn us away from the in-shore route! We tied up in Plymouth just after 2am Wednesday morning alongside Abu Dhabi. We headed for the bar and swapped stories with the RORC Commodore - Andrew McIrvine whose boat La Reponse suffered steering failure also on the way up to the rock. At around 5am and after a few beers it was back to the boat for hot pasties and a couple of hours sleep on a delightfully flat boat.
After looking at the tracker, and up to the point of our retirement I think we had a really good race. Sure we made some mistakes but we were definitely on our way to the rock, up with the fleet and not that far behind some very capable sailors. After thinking this was my last Fastnet I am now not so sure. What about you guys??