The Channel Race was to be our last qualifying race and sail together before the Fastnet Race. A couple of members of the crew couldn’t make the race but a couple of experienced sailors joined us, so we had a complete crew of 9 and we were looking forward to the race.
The course was to be decided on the Friday before the race, with the windward box only being announced on the morning of the race. The course was to sail West down the Solent, leaving The Needles light house to port and then a virtual box marker (there was no physical mark, just a box that we had to sail in to and provide evidence that we sailed into it) was to be set approximately 50 miles upwind, close to Cherbourg, followed by a leg to Littlehampton and back into the Solent between the forts and finishing at Motherbank.
The forecast was for South Westerly winds to build to around 20 knots veering North West early Saturday morning, before backing South Westerly again. Oh and rain, lots of rain
We got a reasonable start and as the wind filled in so did the rain, thankfully it was heavy showers and not constant so we had time to dry out in between showers. As we left the Solent the winds were touching 18-20 knots so we changed to our no.2 jib and before long we were racing along again. The beat to the windward mark was very tough. We put in a reef mid-afternoon when the wind was gusting 25 knots, but the sea state was quite rough making life on board quite difficult. Most of the crew were happier on deck, but even that didn’t stop people ‘feeding the fishes’.
The fleet was split between whether to go West or stay East of the rhumb line. I opted to stay more to the East, as I hoped the tide would have turned when we got to the windward box, allowing us a fast sail West to the turning point. The fleet had spread apart so it was difficult to keep track of the other boats in our class. We picked up the tide as planned and turned at the box around 0130, the crew were glad to ease the sails and make life on board a bit more comfortable for the leg to Littlehampton.
With most of the crew feeling a bit under the weather we left the no.2 jib up with full main as we reached towards Littlehampton. I felt that a few hours sleep to aid recovery was more important that an extra knot of boat speed, leaving the sail change until the morning.
There was a choice of bacon rolls or porridge for breakfast and with half the crew still having not eaten I thought plain porridge was the safer option. The winds had eased making life on board much nicer. Although I had to persuade a few to try at least some breakfast, everyone ate and started to feel much better.
A morning of sail changes!
First we hoisted the no.1 jib and got back up to speed. The wind was from the North West but was due to back West and South West. I got a spinnaker up on deck but felt the winds needed to back a little more. The wind finally backed West so we hoisted our heavy weight spinnaker. This spinnaker is slightly flatter and performs better when the winds are on the beam. As soon as we hoisted it I know we should have hoisted our lightweight as the winds eased and backed even more.
It was at this point we found ourselves next to Errislane, a fellow Sigma 38 and a sailing school. They chose to go further West than us on the windward leg so although we didn’t make any big gains we certainly didn’t lose out and it goes to show how close the racing can be after nearly 24 hours of racing. As soon as they saw us hoist our spinnaker theirs was soon hoisted and they soon were making better speed due to the slightly larger lightweight spinnaker.
A spinnaker peel was in order; we got our other spinnaker on deck, and set up our lines. After a quick discussion with the crew on watch we hoisted the new spinnaker inside the one flying, then dropped the old spinnaker meaning that we had a spinnaker up the whole time. We were soon making better speed and the winds started to increase again making it a great run under spinnaker.
As we approached Littlehampton we dropped our spinnaker, as I didn’t fancy gybing in the 25 knots that had built. We were less than a mile from the mark went the first of our issued occurred. I am not sure exactly what happened but after a gybe and as we were approaching the mark our main sail tore just below the 3rd reef. The tear was the length of the sail so we had no option but to drop it.
We got our tri-sail ready as we rounded the mark and started the 20-mile beat back to the finish. We managed to match the boats around us for speed but we couldn’t point very high. At least we had plenty of wind and the tide in our favour, famous last words!
The winds soon dropped, but the dark ominous clouds hanging over the Isle of Wight promised more wind and rain shortly.
The last leg was long and frustrating with large wind shifts making life very difficult. As we approached the Forts the wind died right off and the tide turned against us. We were making 2-3 knots but not towards the forts, thankfully the winds backed South and finally we were making ground towards the forts and more importantly the finish line.
About 4 miles from the finish there was a ping and the steering wheel went light- on the helm I had no control. I asked Alan to get the emergency tiller, once connected we had control and were able to finish the race. Thankfully the winds were light, although even in light winds the boat is a handful when using the emergency tiller.
We crossed the line at 2025, 3 hours behind another Sigma 38 “Sam”. All things considered not to bad, Errislane as I write this are still to finish officially. I think this is because they haven’t declared yet rather than still being out there.
A lot was learnt during this race. The testing conditions challenged the crew, but they demonstrated that they have gelled together and work well as a team. They are ready for the next challenge- the Fastnet Race itself.
On that note, the steering is now fixed and the main sail is in the process of being repaired. The boat will be ready to go for the Fastnet, in less than two weeks.