Mediterranean Madness in the RG650

 

La Grande Huit means literally the Big Eight. It is a figure of eight course, starting from La Grande Motte inFrance, going out around some buoys on the French coast, the centre of the eight is Las Islas Medas, close to the Spanish border, then a long leg aroundMenorca, back through the centre and then straight home to La Grande Motte.

The course is 500 miles long and over that stretch the ever changing face of the Mediterranean will throw at sailors whatever ever weather it can.

Immediately after Cowes Week I was on a plane out to La Grande Motte to take part in this race, in a culmination of partnerships, as a Magic Marine sponsored sailor, taking the helm of a Magic Marine sponsored boat.

We started the course on August 19th and for the most part it was excruciatingly hot with light winds which meant the racing was close and the pack stayed together continually fighting over boat lengths and jostling for position.

For me despite the fact I am no fan of light winds this was good as being the first time in the RG650 I had no idea on settings or trim so with so many boats alongside I was able to try out various things and learn a bit about how the boat handles and where I should be looking for boat speed.

Having spent so many miles in my Pogo 2 I discovered that the feel of the RG was a complete change. The boats underwater profile is radically different to the Pogo, there is a lot more volume in the bow and this alters the feel of the boat, particularly upwind.

As well as learning how to get the boat up to speed I was  getting to grips with the cockpit, using the daylight hours on the first to try and learn where each of the ropes went to so when the lights went out there would be no scrabbling around to make small changes to trim.

The cockpit on the RG650 is to my mind one of the best features of the boat, everything is very well laid out, and just where you would expect it to be when reaching a hand out in the dark. It is much bigger than a pogo cockpit and so a lot more comfortable to helm and to move around. It did not take too long to get to become familiar with my little pod of controls and anyway, Bret Perry from Katabatic Sailing, the European RG650 agents, had been down the week before the race to prepare the boat had labelled every clutch up with ‘glowfast’ which shone so brightly I am sure the boat next door could have told me the third clutch from the left was the outhaul.

So heading into the first night things were going well, I was learning the boat, keeping pace with the front of the fleet, and looking forward to a close and interesting race ahead. There was only one fly in the ointment; my autopilot.

I did not use the pilot much on the first day, for the upwind sections in lighter airs I was steering the boat, trimming the sails and trying to feel as much as possible. When I did engage the pilot to hoist the code zero or the spinnaker it really did not have much to do, the boat was well balanced sailing in a straight line in light airs so it took me a while to realise that each time I engaged the pilot there was a lot of action and noise from the ram working away below decks, but this was not translating into any movement from the tiller above decks.

I worked to get the boat ahead and clear of the others and then set it on a course, engaged the pilot and investigated the problem. After squeezing into small holes below the cockpit, and taking the system apart above decks I discovered that yes, the pilot was working well but the system  to connect the ram below decks to the tiller above was slipping due to one of the parts being the wrong size and so no matter how much tightening I did to try and connect it all together the pilot was not able to steer the boat.

Over the next 24 hours I tried various ingenious and not so ingenious ways of fixing the problem, including wedging a screw driver between the pin running through the boat and the on-deck pilot arm, but no matter what I did the piece worked it’s way free and eventually I had to come to terms with the fact that every time I tried to fix the pilot I was losing places and for no ultimate repair of the pilot.

As the fleet came passed through the centre of the eight at Islas Medas we were all unbelievably close together, with there being a mix in the fleet of single and double handed boats the racing was exciting and I was still in the thick of it but I had a decision to make.

The next leg around Menorca would be a long one and really this was the point of no return, and I really had to decide if I would or could carry on for the next 400 miles without an autopilot.

I weighed everything up in my head, how would I sleep, eat, hoist and drop sails? It was fairly simple in the lighter winds but if the breeze got up what would I do?

Those who read my blog regularly will know if there is one characteristic I have above all it is stubbornness and the absolute obsession with finishing something that I have started.

I have been wanting to race in the RG650 since I first went to see it in Valencia in February this year; this race had been a long time coming. I had travelled a long way to come out and take part; Bret had delivered the boat to La Grand Motte and invested a lot of time in preparing it for me.  Having not been able to race in the Azores race this year, this was the next biggest single handed race available and I needed to take part in it to feed my addiction for solo sailing and just remind myself what all the other hard slog was about.

To give up would be to let down a lot of people not least myself and anyway, I was curious. It must be possible to sail over long distances without a pilot, just a question of management; if the boat is well set up it can mostly sail itself especially in light winds and upwind but if all else fails you can just heave to or take the sails down to sleep. The big question for me was could you actually race and be competitive?

So I decided to carry on, to go and find out what I could do and what the RG650 could do on this course; but one thing was for sure the boat was going to have to look after me.

The passage to and around Menorca was fairly uneventful, the boat behaved well if I set it up properly and the wind was light and often non existent which allowed me to sleep, eat and generally get on with life.

The evening of the 22nd August saw a change in conditions which really was the start of a wild ride and an extraordinary couple of days.

The course back to the mainland was downwind and so with the big spinnaker up I started to chew up the miles. Into the night the wind built gradually to a steady 16 – 17 knots and it was then the RG came to life in my hands, turning from the sheep to the wolf.

I noticed first that we were pulling away from the boats behind me as a look over my shoulder confirmed that the spinnakers that had been haunting me all through the day had faded away to specks on the horizon.

As the night came on the pace increased and I realised this if any time was going to time to make miles. The question was how long could I stay awake?

With still 100 miles to go to Islas Medas I divided the night into 10 mile segments and set myself different tasks for each of those to keep me awake. Sometimes I was singing, sometimes talking out loud in French, Spanish and English; punching the air, moving around, playing word games out loud but all the time steering.

I must have looked like a complete freak but so long as I was moving or making a noise I knew I could not fall asleep.

At the end of the night the wind died away to nothing and I collapsed. Someone was looking after me, the boat could go nowhere in the lack of wind and so I took down the spinnaker and slept, waking after a couple of hours to a beep from my AIS.

Now time for round two.

The wind again built and so with the big spinnaker up I set off again for the centre of the eight, the last check point and the final leg home.

The ride was amazing, the RG was responsive and fast and the wind steadily built to a wonderful 22 knots, perfect conditions to ride with the big kite.

However coming into Islas Medas the conditions became a little more that perfect, the wind started gusting up to 25. Ok I thought that’s alright in the gusts, I’ll monitor things and I mentally prepared for a take down.

In the blink of an eye the wind was up to 30 knots and I was careering off downwind  at over 13 knots with as much sail up as was possible for that boat and wondering where the hell it was all going to end.

‘it’s a gust’ my hopeful side told me. But the gust blew and blew and my realistic side let me know that I was in a bit of bother.

First things first how on earth was I going to stop the boat from wiping out? I decided to ease the kite sheet out to try and dump a bit of the power and this made my life a whole heap easier. As I eased the sheet the spinnaker rotated round, this made the stern squat down in the water and the bow lift clean out and just like a racing dinghy the boat lifted up and sped off even faster, but this time feeling completely in control.

I took my chance made a little prayer to I have no idea who, let go of the helm and went for a kite drop, just hoping the boat would stay on a downwind course without gybing long enough for me to get this monster in.

I was lucky, down it came and off I went through the final gate just taking time to look around me at the two boats I was between.

I nearly fell over! I could not believe where I was. I passed through the final gate of the course in third position overall in the Series fleet, placed between two double-handed boats and as I learned later 10 miles ahead of the first placed series boat.

I was delighted, excited and of course gunning to keep that position. After the gate I hoisted the code 5 small spinnaker and went gunning off into a building breeze and what was to be a horrendous night.

The wind built steadily to over 30 knots, gusting 34 but we were riding steady and fast through the waves with my new found trick of easing the spinnaker to lift the bow the boat was looking after me.

However at this point my body and my mind started to argue about what it is humanly possible to do without sleep and things started to take a very different shape, quite literally.

After four or so hours with the spinnaker I started to wipe out a bit. I really need to put a reef in the main but was not able to because of the lack of pilot. The boat was overpowered and I was starting to get too tired to handle it.

I decided to take the spinnaker down and give myself a break for a while thinking I would put it back up later.

The drop was difficult but I got the sail in eventually but then discovered that sailing downwind in 30 knots, big waves with no spinnaker the boat would not go in a straight line. Without someone steering it was impossible to carry on.

I tried what I had done the night before, singing, moving but nothing worked and then I started to hallucinate.

Staring at the screen of the NKE checking my course and the wind speed the red screen developed a series of dancing green dots, which moved around the screen and jumped around over which ever number I wanted to read. It was annoying because out the corner of my eye I could see the dots were not over the other numbers or on the other screens but every time I looked somewhere else the dots followed.

I could no longer see my course so I decided to try and look to the sky to get a fix on where I should go and then my friend the dinosaur appeared. He was an inflatable diplodocus I believe, red, smiling and just bobbing along beside the boat keeping and eye out for me.

I looked down below and could see some ones legs, lying on the bunk. Lazy so and so! Chilling out down there while I struggled on deck; I go single handed sailing to get away from people like that.

In amongst all this I managed to fall asleep at the helm and crash gybed the boat, waking up as the boom landed on the backstay right in front of my face. It was frightening and the final straw. I had to admit defeat. I had got as far as I could, there were only 50 miles left of the course to sail but I had found the limit of what was physically possible without sleep and it was time to back off before I did some serious damage.

I hove too with the boat, put a reef in and went down below taking 30 seconds to have a whimpering little cry while I imagined all those boats sailing past me before I passed out.

And so the wild ride and the glory where over; after a couple of hours I got back up; the wind had dropped and so I hoisted the big kite and made a calmer approach to the finish line, still fighting the nodding dog as my brain tried to send me back to sleep.

I eventually finished the course at lunch time on the 24th August; though officially the RG is still a prototype I would have been classed as the 3rd place Series solo boat, and though my initial reaction was disappointment at everything I had lost with a little perspective this a result to be proud of.

I did not just sail but I raced 450 miles without an autopilot in a boat I virtually no previous knowledge of.

I have discovered a lot about what I am physically and mentally capable of, I have pushed the boundaries as hard as I can and now gained more experience of the unknown.

The RG was an incredible boat to sail, to have been easy enough to handle and to allow me to do what I did is surely the sign of a forgiving boat. It was a great experience to sail it and I have been really delighted with the way Bret Perry and designer Nico Goldenburg have been so supportive of my race and are eager to hear my thoughts on the boat and all my feedback as this was the first solo race that the boat has completed.

One thing now because with me there is never an end to the story…………. I want to race it again, to ride those waves and scream off over the horizon; but this time with a pilot.

Go Go Go

This is going to be the quickest Pip post in history.

Cowes week mad and busy but 3rd overall in Class – I am delighted with that so a massive thanks to all of the crew who put up with me nagging them for the whole week.

I then jumped on a plane and am now sitting in the familiar and friendly setting s of the Yacht Club de Grande Motte where i trained over winter in 2010.

I have teamed up with technical partners Magic Marine and Katabatic Sailing to give the all new RG650 a spin around the med and will be racing single handed in boat from here round Menorca and back.

I has been too busy to write more but you can follow the race here

 

A massive thanks to Bret Perry and Guillaume Rottee who have helped me prepare the boat.

I promise to come back with lots of stories pictures and videos

Teaming up with the RG650

 

I am excited to announce my entry into the next mini race later in August. The 500 mile Grand Huit; a single handed course starting from La Grand Motte in the South of France and racing around Menorca and back in a figure of eight course.

This race is the largest single handed race in the Mediterranean with a current field of 27 entries.

However the news from me is that I will be competing as the skipper of the new series boat on the block the RG650.

Designed by Argentinean Nicolas Goldenburg and commissioned by Katabatic Sailing in Spain this beast is the next generation on from my own much loved Pogo 2.

I first went to sail the RG in February this year, having seen the boat first when Bret Perry, Director of Katabatic Sailing brought it to the start of the transat in 2011. Even with little breeze on a sunny day in Valencia it was obvious the boat had speed and since then I have been trying to get out for a race to see what it could actually do.

It is going to be odd racing a boat that is not the Pogo 2; I am so used to the way that boat handles, I understand intuitively how to make it go faster and what the boat needs to keep it in balance. In effect I have tamed it.

I imagine that racing in the RG will be akin to jumping for the first time onto a wild stallion. We know it is a fast boat, it has raw power and it wants to go but I will have to work hard to understand how to make the most out of the boat; to think on my feet and try to learn its handling characteristics. No doubt at some point I will get thrown off. (That is a metaphor by the way – I have no intention of ending up in the sea….. ever!)

The course for the Grand Huit is technically demanding; the Mediterranean at this time of year can throw up many different weather conditions and local effects. It will be an ideal opportunity to really get the boat going and see what it is capable of.

I am excited. Many thanks to Bret and Nicolas for allowing me to skipper the boat in this race; its game on!

Solent 650 preparation

The boat is prepped. Lunch is on the table and I am sitting next to my co-skipper Christa ten Brinke waiting to go.

The course for the Solent 650 is over 200 miles of the best sailing the south coast can offer. Strong tides, fickle winds and seven mini’s who all want to win.

We start off Lymington at 1500 this afternoon and the course will take us East around the isle of Wight, back to the Needles Fairway bouy, over to Poole and then a long stretch to the end of the world as they knew it – Wolf Rock, perched just off Lands End.

We round the rock to Stbd and then leg it back into Plymouth and the warm welcome as always at the Royal Western Yacht Club.

I am as ever, nervous excited and looking forward to sailing, this time with a great friend.

Many Many thanks to Keith Willis our race organiser and PRO, and Lymington Town Sailing club. Also to my sponsors who have also sponsored this race, namely Flag Antifouling, Barton Marine and Fuel Cell Systems. Thank you guys yet again for supporting our fantastic sport.

La Demi Clé Race

The Atlantic mini season has kicked off with all the promise of a wild year ahead; a closely competitive fleet, a demanding course with tide, rocks and some interesting navigation, all topped off with a wind which built to over 30 knots through the night. What more do you expect this is mini racing at it’s best.

As those who follow my blog will know I was not racing in my pogo 2 for this race but instead teamed up with another British mini sailor Jake Jefferies to race in his prototype ‘Mad Dog’ a super lightweight carbon machine that he has designed and built himself in the UK.

It was a fight to get to the start, measurement and Jake’s first time at a mini event meant that there were a lot of extra jobs to do pre event, kit to buy and rules to comply with. After a last minute dash to my boat to borrow some equipment and a late night inspection by the committee we were off the dock a little late in the morning but never the less ready to go.

The wind at the start was light and variable. The fleet remained close together and positions changed often.

When the wind filled in and we eventually got to bear away to do our first tour of the Ile de Groix I had just about got to grips with the canting keel and the winchless system for sheeting the jib onboard; and was then treated to what it is that makes you sail a proto.

Weighing in at just over 700 kilos the minute Mad Dog is off the breeze it flies – quite literally flies. The easy speed is incredible and made me laugh from the start; I could go miles like that.

As the night arrived the wind started to build and the temperature dropped to a bone chilling 3 degrees. As we hacked along the volume of ice cold water coming over the decks rose with the waves and toes, fingers, noses were all frozen and aching. It really is a struggle to find any sort of clothing that will actively combat conditions that wet and that cold and yet will still allow you to move around and be as physical as a mini requires you to be.

Problems onboard with halyards gave us a frustrating stop start race, we shredded the outer on a jib halyard at the beginning of the race which then got jammed in the mast meaning we had to do slow bare headed changes with the one remaining spinnaker halyard, losing places all the while, only to accelerate when we had the new sail up, overtaking boats with an easy long stride until the next sail change.

In the dead of night and at the coldest wettest moment we then lost the mast head spinnaker halyard as the block it was lashed to, to avoid chaffing on the forestay broke away from the jib and leaving the halyard free at the top of the mast.

The only way to get this back was to climb the mast which would have meant dropping the main and drifting rapidly out to sea in the building offshore breeze; not a sensible option and far from ideal conditions to attempt such an exercise.
We opted to sail bareheaded again until the dawn came and so still making 6 knots under main but watching the little mast head lights of the fleet behind us catch up and bob past us; we waited cold and wet for some glimmer of light.

In the end we new we had to find a way of hoisting the jib or returning to Lorient while we were still in striking distance. The offshore wind was building and forecast to get stronger and Mad Dog was slipping slowly sideways through the water so safety and a port of refuge getting further away.

I’ve never abandoned a race; it’s not in my nature and neither is it in Jakes. Not to mention completing this race was a vital step in his qualification process for the mini transat in 2013. So we worked together, cutting away small amounts of the outer jacket of the shredded jib halyard and trying to pull it and winch it out from the mast.

Eventually after an hour of graft and numb fingers we had the core of the halyard stripped and free and we were ready to sail again.

We came from nearly last and managed to overtake around 15 boats in the final run into Pornichet; picking our way between the islands of Hoaut and Hoedic through the rocks to gain a tidal advantage and overtaking boats all the way.

We arrived into Pornichet happy to be at the finish, the last prototype to cross the line but feeling like we had made it to the top of the mountain. First race done; and what a race it was.

Due to lack of battery I am photo negative from this race but take a look at the event photographers website for some fantastic photos of the event.

For me though I loved the speed of the Mad Dog I am looking forward to getting back to my own pogo 2. The series class is hotting up and it was interesting to listen to the race unfold over the radio, Justine Mettreaux, skipper of Team Work winning but the chasing pack hot on her heels.

I can’t wait to get back in the mix.

2012 Race Calendar

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2012 from whatever angle you look at it is going to be a massive year for sailing. The finish of the Volvo, the start of the Vendee and of course the Olympics in the summer polarising the focus of the world on two short weeks of competition that have been fed by years and years of dedication.

Though the mini’s are in their ‘rest’ year from the bi-annual transat race. Rest is far from my mind when I look at the race calendar for the year ahead. It’s full, in fact it is bursting at the seams and my foot is hard on the gas looking forward to a year of learning, development and hard competition.

The season starts for me in the Atlantic with the Demi Cle, a double handed coastal race which is notorious for Spring storms and tricky navigating. It is the first race of the season for the Atlantic boats, a chance to flex muscles after the two months of training in Brittany fog we are putting ourselves through at the moment; bravado has lead to boats on the rocks and the fierce competition sets the scene for the season ahead.

Where the Demi Cle ends, the Select starts and Pornichet hosts one of the biggest single handed races of the season. A fleet of close to 70 boats battle their way around Belle Isle, down to Les Sable d’Orlonne, up to ‘the poxy’ Isle de Groix (as some know it) and back home. This race is a floating test of your stress levels; as if it wasn’t hard enough to navigate 300 miles of tidal and rocky coast alone; to race with close competition breathing down your neck at your every move sets the heart rate thumping and will punish those that sleep!

After the Select we have a choice and of course I am going all British.

This year is the first year that Britain will host two official classe mini events and it is a really important progression in the development of the class in our country.

In early May the new Solent650 will depart from Lymington via the Needles Channel, race down to the Poole fairway buoy and then on to Wolf Rock and back into Plymouth as a feeder race for the UK Fastnet.

This new cat C race will allow British boats to qualify for the UK Fastnet cat B race without leaving the country and runs at the same time as a Cat C feeder race to Plymouth from La Trinite in Brittany. Anyone curious about mini’s should catch us rounding the Poole Fairway buoy on the 6th May in the afternoon. I will be sailing with fellow transat skipper and great friend Christa ten Brinke; come and give us a wave!

The UK Fastnet is one of the favourite races in the mini Calendar due to the hospitality of the home club The Royal Western. Well let’s face it; the race wouldn’t be a favourite for the course. Slogging upwind from the Eddystone to the Fastnet rock in grey cold, bone chilling damp; the British weather at it’s worst, but at least we should have a blast back via Conneberg (if we can find it! Some had trouble last year) under spinnaker which made it all worth while last time.

After all this double handing I think I will be ready to bin my co-skipper again and the MAP out of Dournonez is the next race on my calendar at the end of May, and it’s single handed. This course is shorter than the Select but just as competitive, last year I did not manage to enter but this year my form is in and I am on the list already. No hesitation!

Next another crack at the Fastnet; it’s a shame I can’t do it with RORC as well; just to make sure I was properly familiar with the form of the lighthouse.

Again it’s a new race for me but the buzz around the mini Fastnet race is legendary; it’s simple. A full on drag race across the approaches to the English Channel from Douarnenez to the Fastnet rock and back, accepting along the way whatever the weather sends at you. Last year the poor forecast changed the course and kept the little boats on the French side.

And then the Ocean race of the year, to the Azores and back from Les Sables. This is the race I am really looking forward to. Single handed ocean racing, facing the Atlantic fronts in all their fury. The last Azores race saw a front pass over the fleet and continued wind speeds of over 30 knots for a few days. Record speeds were recorded and rigs were lost.

After the Azores things tail off in the Atlantic so I shall be heading down to the Mediterranean where there is still some great competitive racing on offer in the back end of the year.

All new this year is the AIR race which stands for Around Islands Race. Starting from the incredible Americas cup Village in Valencia, this is a drag race out to Mallorca, round Ibiza and back again. Like the Solent 650 this is an important progression in the mini calendar for Spain as it’s their first Cat C race and will feed directly into the mini Barcelona Cat B race a couple of weeks later.

The race organiser is promising a massive welcome and strategically this race will be important in the scheme of qualification for anyone coming into the Classe later this year to get their miles in ahead of the Atlantic boats and so get onto the entry list for the 2013 transat.

Anyway can you see a down side from racing from Valencia around the Balearics and back?? I can’t!

So after that the mini Barcelona……….. or maybe not…….. other plans may be afoot…….

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