De Guingand Bowl 2011
Tides looked good for a quick trip up to the start on Saturday morning. Unfortunately a couple of last minute problems were found and we ended up motoring up to Cowes late with Rich still up the mast fixing the steaming light!
As we motored around Egypt Point our warning signal was sounded, and preparatory passed before we got to the check in gate, although with engine mandatory going through the gate it made little difference, so after being given the thumbs up we cut the engine, did a 720 penalty and headed off after the fleet. With the end of the flood tide and a building north westerly it had always been my plan to stick to the island side early on to keep out of the last of the negative tide, and be able to get to the deeper water quickly when it turned, so we were straight into the planned tactics, with frustrations put aside and a race to do we set about the chase. We eventually crossed the start line about 12 minutes late.
As the wind thankfully built we stormed down the fetch/beat to Sconce, we were able to edge ourselves out from the shore on the shifts, but as the tide started to turn we were still shallow and as it was looking likely we would need to tack out to leave Sconce to port we decided to take the tack early and get more of the tide. We laid Sconce perfectly, stayed close hauled till we felt we had the strongest tide then footed off toward Bridge.
The wind had now built to around 15 knots and footed off we were pushing hull speed, flying at 7.6 - 7.7 knots. We had not been close enough to positively identify the other Sigmas clearly but at this point we had passed No Fear and could see Inspiration of Boss about a quarter of a mile ahead. All the fleet ahead seemed to be giving Bridge a very wide berth taking a line well to the north and bearing away late to the mark and taking their time over the hoist.
We had our brand new lightweight, only seen once in the flesh while packing it in the garden the day before so a full on inshore hoist, close to such a tall jagged looking cardinal was not on the cards. We had considered a gybe hoist but felt that would put us too tight to the cliffs between the Needles and Freshwater, so opted to bear away hoist and stand out maybe half a mile before gybing into the tide shelter close to the island shore with a bit of room for breeze. As it turned out the wind had now backed enough to keep the boats inshore comfortably up to speed, so we probably lost some time there. No Fear took the immediate gybe and Inspiration stood on further out than us before gybing.
To be honest I wasn’t taking too much notice of where they were for a while as with 15 knots and building, my new broad shouldered kite was quite a handful. I had intended rigging the sheets with tweekers as I had no idea where the sheeting position was going to be, but I hadn’t got round to that! One thing was for sure with 17-18 true the blocks needed to be further forward. Before and after the first gybe we moved both lazy sheet blocks a stanchion forward and although this helped it was still a handful, so we decided to try sheeting with the Guy and bingo, nicely under control, so back to the race.
We carried on deep into Brighstone bay before gybing back out towards St Cats, gybing was hairy to say the least having to fly the wild kite on the sheets so we wanted to keep it simple and as we were on our way towards St Cats No Fear and Inspiration converged about a quarter of a mile behind us and seemed to be having a good tussle. At this point we thought we could see Galiver II further offshore but couldn’t be sure. We gybed quickly past St Cats and looked as though we would make it all the way to Dunnose, then along came a J109, and we had to go up 30 degrees to avoid them as they had clear luffing rights on us and were driving us straight into the rocks, although over a boat length to leeward, when they couldn’t sail through our wind shadow they started complaining we weren’t going up enough, I’m not exactly sure what they expected us to do, drop our sails to let them past?! They did gybe away before I had to start asking for room to gybe, but we had no other choice, so another exciting debacle with a swinging kite, rolling boat and white knuckled foredeck crew was endured. We did make another gybe back in but with the likelyhood of less wind behind Dunnose we decided it may be better to punch the tide, so didn’t go too far in before gybing back and heading for Greenwich Light Vessel some 50nm up the channel.
I do sometimes question the sanity of setting marks at the end of the exclusion zone of a TSS, but in the middle of a gaggle of yachts, a lot of which are now using AIS transponders we saw remarkably little traffic, that has to be another plus for the system.
So began about a 20-25 knot true wind six hour sleigh ride, mostly fun surfing the waves, although occasional complacency lead to some scary moments, although only one round up. As we cleared the island, Longue Pierre (a well sailed Dehler 38, often the nemesis of us Sigmas) came up alongside us from close into the island, although we didn’t “engage” we did ‘to a fro’ for a while. Inspiration were taking a similar line to us and although we had great speed most of the time with many sustained surfs, one of which reached 14.9 knots and most around 13, we did not seem to be dropping them, No Fear appeared to be going further south.
At Greenwich Longue Pierre had pulled ahead about a cable. We decided on prudence, we hauled the No2 and dropped the kite and pole with almost perfect timing to white sail gybe and round the light ship. As we came up close hauled Longue Pierre appeared yet again alongside to leeward, I can only guess they went braver with their drop and had a problem.
Now beating into 20-22 true we set about the beat back to the finish. A lot of boats stood on into shallower water, as did we, managing to point higher and quicker than Longue Pierre who gradually dropped away to leeward, but with the wind veering it was soon clear the making tack was starboard, and although we would punch tide for a while it was only an hour and a half before it would turn and we would be in deeper water when it did.
Initially strangely elated to be back on a beat, which although uncomfortable, is dramatically less stressful from a helming point of, the long sleigh ride had taken its toll on me and after a couple of hours I was very happy to head down for a few hours rest and sleep leaving the boat in the capable hands of the crew. They did a great job of maintaining height and speed while dealing with the shifts and staying in the better tide, and by the early hours we were approaching the forts.
As seems to be frustratingly usual in races like this the wind dropped to 5-6 knots on the final approach to the line at Darling Associates, now back to the No1 it was a long slow beat from the forts to the finish. We crossed the line 21 hours 38 minutes and 58 seconds after the start. As we motored back to Lymington with most of the crew getting some well earned sleep we quickly discovered from the real time RORC results that we had made it in as first Sigma 38, and as a bonus had managed to get far enough ahead to beat Longue Pierre on corrected time.
We were lucky this weekend. In two weeks it’s the Myth of Malham which should have the majority of the Fastnet boats along. I think we’ll spend the night before in Cowes.