RORC Morgan Cup Race 2009.
Approaching the line at 1855 it was good to see plenty of boats preparing for the start, unfortunately we were still a mile back hugging the Island shore trying to keep out of the tide having left Lymington extremely late after one of the crew who needed the qualifying mileage arrived very late. We still had the check in gate to do, and to collect a final member of crew from Cowes before starting!
After a fly by of the Parade Pontoon and back out to display our heavy weather headsail, we set off in pursuit of the now distant pack. We hoisted the kite and crossed the line at 1930 along with all the top class IRC boats. It would have been nice to think they’d have dragged us along, but the reality was we were soon on our own watching the big sails disappearing ahead as they caught up with the boats we wanted to be racing. Needless to say the rest of the way out of the Solent, round the Nab and on to Ower Lt was fairly uneventful. By the final turning mark before heading across to Cherbourg we had managed to catch 3-4 boats, but in the darkness it was now impossible to identify any of them. We dropped early and rounded close to the mark and set off to close reach across the channel, and were surprised to find we seemed to have really good boat speed compared to a lot of the boats around us and were moving comfortably forward through the fleet.
About an hour into the leg the lights ahead started to disappear one by one, and fairly soon we realised the visibility was reducing significantly. As we were passing through the west going shipping we were certainly glad of the AIS, at one point a 600ft tanker passed less than half a mile behind us and we could barely see it. About half an hour later a fishing boat (without AIS) loomed out of the fog a couple of hundred meters directly in front of us. But the breeze was still good so we pressed on and by sunrise the visibility cleared yet again.
By 0600 we were still making good progress, the breeze favoured by the tide, but it was clear we would not be inside the break water before the tide changed, which would reduce our wind to sail in, so our main objective was to try to head in to shallower water in the hope of getting close enough in to duck the tide and maybe pick up what looked to be a developing sea breeze, and if that failed at least have a chance of getting our anchor down, but as the tide slackened and turned we were still 12 miles from Cherbourg and in a lot of water!
By the time we had the anchor, chain and warp down with both shorelines also attached we had drifted 4.5nm east, but just as I was deciding what to tie on next the speed through the water shot up to 3.5 knots and we were holding well in 70m of water! It seemed very strange to be holding in that much tide with the line going vertically down from the bow, humming in the flow. So we stayed for approaching 3 hours, a Challenge yacht dragged past, followed by a beneteau with what looked to be the whole crew having lunch in the cockpit, oblivious of the fact they were dragging.
And then finally the moment I had been waiting for the whole race, we spotted another Sigma! Vitesse were under spinnaker heading for the shore about two miles north east of us. Pleasing to know we were in touch with another of the class it was also really useful as we could tell initially that although making progress towards the shore they were loosing the battle with the tide and were being swept back towards us. After about 45 minutes they were half a mile ahead of us, and were not loosing ground as quickly, so it was time for us to up anchor, much easier said than done!
We still had 1.5 knots of tide against us, so I was quite glad I had left enough line to reach the primary winches and we set about some tag team winching until the anchor popped off the bottom, we then switched to a tug of war team formation to heave the remaining line and chain up to the surface, and set about the chase once again.
Once we had the spinnaker up it was clear this was now a winnable battle against the remains of the tide as within a few minutes we were making a good course over the ground in the direction of Cherbourg and closing on the transom of Vitesse.
With a couple of miles to go to the entrance we had overhauled Vitesse and had probably a 200m lead over them when I spotted With Alacrity and Persephone close in to the sea wall making for the entrance.
Now was my time to make the mistake I have regretted in races earlier in the year as my focus now changed from covering Vitesse to trying to find a way to catch the boats ahead, so rather than continue spinnaker reaching towards the shore I dropped the spinnaker and went back to the No 1 in the hope that sailing a heading more directly at the entrance would give us increased apparent wind and boat speed and increase of VMG. But this didn’t work as I had hoped, and with the wind still dropping by the time we had the spinnaker back up Vitesse were ahead once again, and we were in serious danger of being swept past the entrance.
Fortunately we just managed to edge our way out of the main flow of the tide and eventually made it through the entrance and after 4 tacks hunting down the slight patches of wind left, we made it over the line.
The beer and food in the yacht club certainly went down well, made all the better once we realised we had managed to finish fifth of the eight Sigma’s competing. A great result after a rather inauspicious start!
After an early start we were back in Lymington by mid afternoon Sunday, slightly dampened by the discovery that we had been given a 10% penalty unknown to me, I later discovered this was because we had failed to do a 720 penalty having had our engine on after preparatory. Rules are rules, my mistake, at the time I was rather preoccupied with the task of getting back with the distant fleet. Hopefully I will never again be late at a start but if I do at least I’ll know better.
A great if testing race, and good to catch up with friends in Cherbourg. I look forward to seeing you all again soon.