After our enforced retirement from the Eddystone race (for reasons I really don’t want to talk about) the St Malo race was a late addition to With Alacrity’s programme to ensure sufficient qualifying miles for the Fastnet crew with the added bonus that we managed to find enough volunteers who could get time off work for the Nationals to be held in Brittany straight afterwards on Sunday to Tuesday.
The start was relatively mundane. In 10 knots SW we opted for the mainland shore which appeared to have worked better in the Eddystone race a few weeks earlier. Plus there are some ledges on the island shore which we wanted to keep away from….but I said I didn’t want to talk about them.
We ended up leaving the Solent on Festina’s hip and pleased to see the mainland shore was the right call as boats trying to keep out of the tide by the island steadily dropped back in the lighter breeze, Persephone came down to join us a few boat lengths behind and this was the order of the Sigma 38s as we beat out past the Needles with the wind increasing to 15 knots and another stunning view of almost 200 competing yachts spread out down the Solent.
Needles we put in a short hitch on starboard and tacked back onto a 20 degree
lift that took us close to the Needles Fairway buoy, Festina
tacked across towards us but it didn’t look like they would cross and tacked
back onto port below and ahead. This is how it stayed for the rest of the day
as we settled into an 80 mile beat to windward with most boats staying on a
long port leg to carry the current past Portland Bill. Later in the morning the
wind started to drop below 10 knots and we passed the message that it wasn’t so
important for all the crew to be on the rail and within ten minutes the boat
looked like a doss house as people fell asleep draped around the deck and
filling the more comfortable berths below. Is it only on With Alacrity that
people turn up for overnight offshore races already knackered? After the race no-one
was sure whether
evening the forecast veer to the West started with a 20 degree header and Festina tacked to cross quarter of a mile ahead. This
prompted a flurry of activity at the nav station but
we decided the only way Festina would lay
To windward of us were a stream of around a hundred white and red navigation lights as most yachts were giving Guernsey a wide berth, we wanted to be closer inshore to pick up the stronger current but it was quite disorientating with all the lights around. A strange phenomenen then occurred as the on watch started to report a white flashing buoy just ahead which wasn’t marked on our chart, shortly followed by a red flashing buoy. No-one could work out in amongst the background navigation lights quite what the sequence of flashes was and how far off. Now we don’t pretend to be experts at navigation but we have sailed around here a few times before and one thing we don’t like is buoys that do not fit in with where we think we are. The anxiety level raised a bit as we had two people independently check the navigation and we moved the GPS waypoint we were aiming for another quarter mile off the rocky shoreline – at this stage we were doing 7.5 knots boastpeed with another 3 knots of current under us so things were moving more quickly than normal. Anyway we soon reached our waypoint and bore away to reach towards St Malo and suddenly it all started to make sense as we overtook a yacht that was using it’s pushpit navigation light that either had a loose connection or something flapping over it that made it appear to be flashing. Mystery buoy number one identified! Shortly afterwards we identified mystery buoy number 2 as we saw another yacht with someone moving around the foredeck with a red LED head torch that went in and out of view. Feeling a little embarrassed at falling for the old “red LED head torch buoy” deception we concentrated on trimming the sails on the fast reach towards St Malo.
As dawn broke there were no other Sigma 38s in sight and we had no idea how we were doing, though encouraging to see a couple of much faster Prima 38s alongside us. The wind got lighter as we approached the French coast allowing us to fly the spinnaker for a while before crossing the line at . There was a big cheer onboard as we discovered we were first Sigma 38 and we motored in contemplating the unusual position of leading the National Championships as the offshore race counted double points.
Festina Lente finished second Sigma 38 22 minutes later followed shortly by Persephone. Light brought the last of the dying breeze in to finish fourth an hour later but the rest of the Sigma 38s had a long drift before making it to St Malo in the afternoon.