With the ROLEX Fastnet race only three months away, preparation is hotting up for the Equinox 2017 Fastnet crew. During April they completed the RYA/ISAF Offshore safety and RYA Sea Survival courses and May saw the first time we took to the water as a crew.
With most of the crew meeting on Friday evening and plenty of wind being forecast over the weekend, pre training drinks were kept to a minimum and we all got our heads down quite early.
After a hearty breakfast we started the safety brief. As we will be sailing offshore in potentially very challenging conditions this was quite detailed and included practising cutting away the rigging, location and use of all the bilge pumps and emergency steering.
The general plan for the weekend was to get to grips with the boat, rigging the spinnaker, sailing upwind, tacking timing, sailing the boat to a target speed, head sail changes and reefing. In addition I wanted to do a MOB drill, set the storm sails and show how we would recover someone from the water. It was going to be a long weekend!
After a short rain shower and a cup of tea we were back on deck to familiarises ourselves with rigging the boat. For some of the crew this was their first time rigging a spinnaker and with lots of nodding heads we started to run through setting up and hoisting the practice spinnaker before we left the pontoon.
With the sun shining we set off into the Solent. We hoisted our sails and sailed towards Southampton to get everyone settled and to practice a few tacks, we had a full main and our no 2 jib hoisted the gusty winds made it interesting and we had soon worked up an appetite. With a quick lunch prepared by Sharon we sailed towards Osbourne Bay, to sail a short windward-leeward course.
We reefed the main and with half the crew resting we practised sailing in watches. Everyone took a turn on the helm, tacking and accelerating out of the tack, sailing to a target speed upwind, then bearing away and sailing downwind with a gybe. The course was about 1.5 miles long and with 8 crew we spent most of the afternoon going between two buoys.
We planned to head to Cowes for the evening and with the tide due to turn we pointed the boat towards Portsmouth and set the spinnaker. We ran through our calls and eventually the spinnaker was hoisted, unfortunately we started to run out of room and with the winds gusting to 20 knots I decided to leave gybing until the following day when the forecast was for lighter winds. A successful hoist and drop, not without drama but we learnt a few lessons.
I guess I must have made everyone work hard as everyone was in bed and asleep before 10pm.
Sunday morning the whole crew were up and about nice and early, so after a short brief on our MOB drill we set off have a go.
Bob, the MOB practice dummy, was recovered with no problems so we turned our attention to head sail changes and flaking sails while under way.
We started on the no 2 jib and peeled to the no 1 as the winds had eased a bit, this I thought was a good opportunity to re hoist the spinnaker, unfortunately the South Westerly breeze veered to the South as we sailed towards Portsmouth, as a result we were struggling to hold the spinnaker on our course. With the Sunday racers scattered around the Solent, we decided to drop the spinnaker again to avoid sailing through the fleets under spinnaker.
On a positive note our hoist and drop were great so we decided to try a bear head sail change and changed to our no 3 or heavy weather jib. It was a timely change to make as the wind build to a solid 16 – 20 knots.
We were close to springs and the tide can make our home berth very challenging once the ebb kicks in so we decided on a late lunch on the pontoon and started to make our way back to Hamble. There were plenty of racing fleets to dodge but it made for plenty of photo opportunities.
Once we had finished our lunch and eaten Yan’s birthday cake (Happy Birthday Yan) we dragged out the storm sails and set them up, lets hope we don’t see them for the rest of the season. Over the course of the weekend we had hoisted our entire sail wardrobe except for our lightweight spinnaker.
Our first race is the Myth of Malham at the end of May. A 260 nautical mile race to the Eddystone lighthouse and back. In reality its more training including sailing at night and in watches, lets hope the weather is kind to us.