We have always enjoyed entering Rho in Cowes Week, sunshine, sailing and plenty of socialising. But as with a change of lead sponsor, this year was the first time there was no specific Sigma 38 start. We were instead in the IRC 5 group, which was a mix of older boats like the Sigma and much younger J boats.
There were 4 Sigma 38’s entered, three as one design and one not in class. This is far fewer Sigma’s than usual, hopefully this is due to it being a Fastnet year as the annual pontoon party was sorely missed.
A big change for the first days racing was also the weather, light winds and lots of rain! Our first race start was on a Committee boat start line just East of Bramble Bank. We left early as the winds were so strong for our training day we didn’t get the chance to hoist the spinnaker. We decided to fly it to the start line and get some practice gybes in along the way.
Our start was at 11.20, there were 25 boats entered in IRC 5 so plenty to do at the start. We decided to not be too aggressive and elected for a mid-line start in clear air despite the bias towards the pin end (outer distance marker) of the start line. We had a great start but the second hooter and a general recall due to a number of boats being across the start line before the start, gave us a second start of the day. For the second start we decided to do the same as the first, again we had a great start but there was a second general recall. At this stage the fleet was warned and a black flag was hoisted, this meant disqualification to any boat if there were early over the line again. So our third start was a bit trickier as the fleet spread themselves out and to ensure a safe start. Finding clear air was a bit more difficult than the previous two starts, but we go off to an ok start.
We had a good first leg and arrived at the windward mark and rounded in 4th or 5th place. We hoisted our spinnaker without issue but as the winds were quite light we were soon losing ground to the lighter, newer boats. The rest of the race was uneventfully, the winds dropped further as the race went on so it was pretty slow. Unfortunately this meant that we spent more time in the rain. Sigmagician, a fellow Sigma 38, had been behind us but we were slow to react to a wind shift on the last downwind leg allowing them to sneak in front and they finally finished 4 minutes ahead of us with Nuance the other one-design Sigma 38 retiring. In IRC 5 we finished 21st with Sigmagician 20th, Sam the only other Sigma 38 but which has been optimised for IRC class finished 19th and 8 minutes ahead.
Day two produced a lot more wind and with gusts of 25 – 30 knots at the start line we opted to reef the main. Our start was on the fixed line and the course set had us beating into a strengthening tide up the mainland shore just West of Bramble Bank. It was a tough first leg, with little rest bite on the short downwind leg before another beat, this time up the island shore. It was just as we approached the windward mark went one of our running backstays broke. Although not essential to sail, the loss of the port-side backstay greatly reduced how close we could sail to the wind and decreased the power of the jib, essential in strong winds. We elected to retire, as it was a trip to the rigger to ensure that we had both backstays in place for the following days race.
Day three we had an early start to fit the new runners. As our start was at 10.30, we made it to the line in plenty of time and with a steady 16-17 knots of wind we went for full main and our no 2 jib. The first windward leg we had some tide with us so a different challenge for our navigator, but the tide soon turned and we were hunting the shallows to stay out of the worst of the tide again. We were playing ‘cat and mouse’ with Sigmagician, they had elected to go with their no 1 jib, so faster in the lulls but struggled in the gusts, sailing with our no. 2, we had the opposite so concentrated on our tacks as we it could make the difference. The course was a number of windward legs tacking up the shallows to stay out of the tide, followed by some fast downwind sailing with the tide. We managed to pass Sigmagician on a few occasions, but some small mistakes saw us lose the place back to them. The final downwind leg to the finish would be a fairly long spinnaker run we rounded just ahead on Sigmagician. Unfortunately there was a miscommunication and we spend too long getting our spinnaker up and flying. Sigmagician didn’t have such issues so managed to pull out a small lead that we could make up on the last leg finishing a few minutes ahead.
All in all a great weekends racing, we had a few great races with Sigmagician but they were a little more consistent and came out on top.
After the racing ended on Monday, we headed back to Hamble.
With only a few days to the Fastnet, we are busy preparing the boat so don’t forget to follow us on http://www.rolexfastnetrace.com/Spectators/spectator-area-overview.html