Cherbourg for half a beer

What a mad couple of weeks.

The Shed has been out of the water having her bottom sanded, anti-fouled and then sanded and sanded and sanded and sanded (get the picture) until she is as smooth as a sheds bottom. Thanks again to the great Flag Finishes for supply of anti-fouling.

Last sanding finished 1000 Friday 31st and before I knew it she was out of the cradle, flying rather height through the air and back in the water. Good job really as Phil and I had decided our first race together would be that evening.  2000 start off the river Hamble and heading for a finish line at Cherbourg.

This was to be Phil and my first two handed race together. We have trained and made the qualification cruise but really there is nothing quite like a race to understand how someone will perform, and though we have raced together fully crewed for half a year now; for me this race was going to crucial in the build up to Round Britain and Ireland.

The start was breezier than expected and grey with spatteringsof rain, promising a grim night. But a chance for us to use the code zero and we blasted our way out of the Solent, hanging onto the tails of the faster boats and jostling for position all the way down to the forts.

We rounded the corner, put the Shed on the breeze and set off for a beat over to France.

I was reminded of the first night of the OSTAR when all the fleet were close together sailing along the Cornish coast. We were surrounded by nav lights a silent armada of crazy yachtsmen, racing into the dark and the rain, all in competition but all company.

Phil and I easily settled into a routine, not on strict watches but taking it in turns to steer, look after sail trim and monitor our progress.

It may be a suprise to those that know me but I am not a chatter when racing at sea. All thoughts other than the race in hand leave my head. In a life that is so busy the rest of the time it can be hard to switch off to that extent but my love of sailing and obsession with making the boat go faster, takes over from the rest of life and I easily slip back into the racing routine.

This seems the same for Phil and during the night we seemed to work well and sailed the boat to an astounding position off the Cherbourg harbour entrance.

As dawn broke masthead lights became mainsails and we had a great game looking around to guess which boats were which. As the light increased, so the tide turned and the wind died and we realised we were in a fantastic position.

We had come out upwind and uptide of most of the fleet, ahead on the water of 75% of the boats in our class at least, which would put us in a strong winning position.

With this realisation and less than 3 miles from the finish the wind died, the tide turned and so did our good fortune.

When we set out on the race we knew we were taking a gamble; I have two headsails on the Shed, a number 3 which is the largest for the lighter winds, and a number 4 , for stronger winds. Both sails were new for the OSTAR last year, but evidently I was not kind to the number 3 and when I took it to John Parker at Quantum east for a pre race bit of TLC, he pronounced it Dead on Arrival and so I am having another one made.

Many thanks to Contender sailcloth for providing the material for the new sail.

And so we entered the Cherbourg race with a number 4 only, which meant so long as the wind was strong we would be ok but once the wind died away we did not have enough power to make the Shed go and we struggled against a building tide to make any ground at all, while other boats unrolled their larger sails and cruised past.

What can you do?

Nothing, is the answer and though there was a tight feeling inside my stomach, the end and a win being so close, it was time for us to look at our performance as a whole and how we had sailed with the equipment we had.

In general we were pleased. We had kept the boat up to speed, communicated well and kept up focus over the night.

A few lessons were learned. I noticed for both of us, the difference in performance at the beginning and end of a 2 hr was noticeable, by sometimes 0.5 knot. Perhaps we would be better of with 1.5 hr watches as concentration seemed to lapse in those last few minutes.

Our route was a lot more up tide than our competitors which gave us a huge gain. This decision was made without the use of routing software and we guessed that perhaps other were following a route prescribed by the computer so it was comfortingly nice to think the human mind may still have an edge over the machines, and we should carry on working our grey cells as well.

Overall a good race, not a win, but success is not always measured in quantitative terms.

With the wind due to change to the North, we took the Shed into Cherbourg, met with our competitors and were treated to breakfast on Mowgli. Bacon butty for Phil and the gourmet delight of Cheesy beans for me. Up to the bar for half a beer then back home again.