My write-up from the Round The Island Race went up on the front page of Sailing Anarchy earlier this week.
With a start time of 0500, we would have to leave the dock in Hamble at around 0315 to make it over to Cowes in time. We’d debated whether or not to sleep on the boat the night before, but ended up just crashing out at home. So the alarms went off at 0200, I rolled over and went back to sleep while Dan got up and made breakfast sandwiches.
Half an hour later, and we were driving down the deserted streets of Hamble- only they weren’t deserted at all. There were sleepy-looking people wearing foulies slouching along in the shadows everywhere we looked. Kind of like one of those weird zombie movies, with the most expensive wardrobe budget EVER.
By 0320 we were motoring down the Hamble River, first off the dock at HYS, but passed up pretty soon by just about everyone. I’m pretty sure we have the smallest prop ever made… The sky was already brightening up, spring time up north is so awesome.
We’ve done a few starts off of Cowes in the past few months, so have a pretty good routine now. Short-handed racing is all about preparation, and we’ve got a pretty long checklist to go through before we even start putting sails up. Given the wind direction (North for a change- not normal, but certainly welcome for this race course!), we knew we’d be either starting with the code zero, or rolling into it pretty soon after the start, so we put that up before we even hoisted the main.
With over 1300 boats participating, we were VERY happy to be in the first start at 0500. That meant we could get out of there before things got too hectic. It also meant our fleet flag was a weird coppery brownish color, explained in the SIs as fleet “golden brown” -someone on the race committee must have a sense of humor, and I’m sure you can guess what song we were humming all day.
There were 6 Class 40s in total, most of whom we’ve raced against at least once already this season. The only new Akilaria RC3 in the area, Al Bucq (FRA124) was out again. Just last weekend we had a pretty epic struggle against them in the 230 mile Myth of Malham race to Eddystone light and back. In the end, they beat us across the line by just 30-something seconds. We were really hoping to get the better of them this time, but we had our doubts looking at their 6-man crew. Maybe if the breeze stayed light, like it was forecast to do, we’d have a chance.
The 6 Class 40s weren’t the only ones on our 5AM start line. I’d guess there were close to 70 boats lined up with us- the two Open 60s, all the local little weapons, TP52s, not to mention ICAP Leopard. With a lot of positive current in the middle of the Solent, our options were limited to starting at a bad place on the line, with clear air, or sucking it up and starting where we wanted, with loads of traffic. We went for option two, and actually had a pretty good start.
Neither of us are used to being one of the fast boats yet. On a traditional windward-leeward, Class40s don’t really shine. But here, on a cracked off jib reach, we were actually rolling past boats- and as soon as we got our zero out, we were laughing. The breeze was really up and down, so we’d get stuck in a lull, below someone, in their bad air, and we’d be feeling dismal, and then a puff would come through and off we’d go, feeling like rock stars. We were doing well on the other 40s too. Al Bucq was down below and a bit ahead of us, but then they started creeping high, up over our line and into a group of other boats which included a TP52 and some other biggies, and next thing we knew we’d rolled under them. Well, OK, we’ll take it.
As we approached Lymington, we started cracking off, and Dan set to work rigging up the big kite. Al Bucq hoisted while we were only halfway set up, and started stomping down on us. Just as they arrived, we got ours up, and off we went, side by side towards the needles.
With a gybe coming up, Dan was running around with his hands full trying to get the zero down on the bow, while looking at the chart-plotter down below to make sure I wasn’t going to try to put us straight onto the wreck, while I was trying to roll under Al Bucq and trim and set up the cockpit for the gybe- while we both looked ahead and realized we wouldn’t be holding the kite long at all, as the boats in front were all struggling! Al Bucq gybed and crossed just behind us, and then we gybed over, and went straight into getting the zero back up. It was gusting into the 20s now (who said it was supposed to be light??) and we were making quick work of the South West side of the Island. Al Bucq had their zero up straight after their gybe (what we wouldn’t do for another 4 hands!) and we got out aft ballast tank filling to buy us some more time while we worked at changing to our zero. In the end we did a bare-headed change- socked the kite and then got the zero up straight afterwards. It was definitely the right choice for us with only two, and it went smoothly- but Al Bucq legged out on us in the process.
Dan sat down to drive for a bit, and to take a much needed break, and as we smashed down the coast, doing high teens, I realized it was only 0650. Not bad. Dan was still in his shorts and hoodie, getting soaked by every wave over the deck, and I was in tights- changing into more gear had just never happened, there hadn’t been any time. We’d joked about being home for lunch, but now it was starting to look like it actually might happen.
Our delay in changing from kite to zero meant we’d sailed a lower angle for longer, and this ended up helping us as Al Bucq started running out of breeze in closer to land. We started to catch up, but then they put their kite up again, sailed back out away from land, and went back to their zero. Yeah, we were getting out sail-changed, and there wasn’t anything we were going to do about it.
At the South corner, we went back to jib, and set off for a fairly uncomfortable leg- with massive puffs coming off the cliffs, we were taking turns driving and trimming, having to dump the main and then wind it back on a few times a minute. I had managed to give my elbow a good crack on a winch about 10 seconds after the start, and it was still pretty cramped up. We had a Clipper Yacht just behind us, and I was grinding while looking at 10 people sitting on the rail, 8 people in the cockpit on the coffee grinders, a few extras standing around… Not fair.
It was about this time that the little multihulls started to catch up with us too. They went screaming past, powering through the lulls, going forward instead of tipping over like us in the puffs… We were both a little bit jealous!
Al Bucq was really and truly gone at this point- weight on the rail, plus fresh arms to trim won the day here. We were trying not to feel too disappointed- but I’ll admit to having a few dark moments.
At the next corner, we hardened up and started the upwind slog to the finish. Remember how I said Class 40s don’t really shine on windward-leewards? Well, it’s the upwind part that really kills us… we just don’t go upwind like a Ker 40 with 10 guys on the rail. And that’s the way life is.
It was still blowing mid to high teens, so we were all ballasted up with the full main and jib. We had a bit of a debate about whether we could go inside the No Man’s Land Fort- we watched as a few boats ahead of us did, including maybe Al Bucq (we really need some binoculars..), but at 3 meters, we draw a bit more than most of the other boats we race against, and the chart plotter was inconclusive- a big “DANGER ZONE” in red was the most detail we could get… so we opted out, which cost us a few more boats.
At 10:58 we crossed the finish, just behind a Ker 40, and just ahead of a Clipper Yacht- both of which had been on our start line. Al Bucq got us by 20 minutes- a bit more than Dan’s guess of 15, and a lot less than my overly cynical 40. In the end, second feels pretty good when we were double-handed, and all the other 40s were fully crewed. We had a fair bit on with just the two of us!
Given that Sir Ben rolled past us on his AC45 about 12 minutes into our race, and only 2 minutes after he’d started, we weren’t terribly surprised to hear that he’d finished in slightly less than 3 hours. And, given that we’d had a fair bit of breeze, we weren’t surprised at all to hear that ICAP Leopard had broken the monohull record- they were all tucked away and tidy, moored out in front of Cowes when we finished.
We drained our ballast tanks, tacked over and inhaled some sandwiches as we headed back in towards Hamble. We don’t often go and tick off 80-something miles in a morning and then go home for a shower, but I think I could get used to it.