Girls on tour in the Womens Open Keelboat Championships

While my mini is getting lots of love and TLC ashore at Yachting Sports I took the opportunity to race for the second year in the Womens Open Keelboat Championships in the Solent this weekend.

Following our win in class 3 of the IRC championships last weekend with a mixed crew, Mike Bridges very kindly loaned me Elaine and I pulled together a crew of talented female sailors for one weekend only.

The organisation of an all female crew is actually quite difficult to do; yes, there are plenty of very talented female sailors out there but the problem is they are busy. They stretch across the sailing disciplines often as the lone woman on a crew and summer is a hectic time, with many events clashing and not many spare weekends.

We started searching early and managed to find ourselves a crew of ten ‘up for it’ girls but had to invoke emergency babysitting when our helm Liz’s husband got stuck out in Cyprus with the army and couldn’t make it home.

So what do you do with a boat load of strong minded, female sailors; surely this is a recipe for absolute carnage, or maybe just a massage scrap?? Not in our case.

We have one rule on the boat and that is there is only one voice (it’s mine!). We have all sailed enough to recognise that the key to winning is harmony and that is definitely what we had this weekend.

Saturday gave us shifty and flukey breeze, and inconsistent results to match. It was a difficult day for all but we managed to come out of it with 10 points and lying 3rd on equal points with the boat in second.

On the way back from racing we made a true girly day of it, opening a Jeroboam of Champagne I had been given earlier in the season, and the boat buzzed with chatter and giggling which had turned to raucous laughter as the last of the bottle was emptied out.

Once on shore it seemed our racing personas melted away and we again became incapable of deciding if we were going for a drink or to get changed, and what time we should all meet later for the legendary frocks and flip flops party, which went off with a bang.

Sunday gave us another three races in very different conditions, and having all races to count in the series we took to the water with a mission on our hands.

The breeze started around 12 knots and gradually built to over 20 in the gusts and gave us an interesting day of racing, the kind of day where manoeuvres need to be tight and controlled and the gusty wind punishes any mistakes.

Together with the crew of Matilda the new MAT 1010, and Red eye a J105 skippered by Libby Greenhalgh, weather forecaster to the British Olympic sailing squad and Journey maker the J105 we battled it out in building conditions, breathing down each others necks on mark roundings and hiking as hard as we could up the beat, trying to use some rather insubstantial weight to keep the boats upright.

On Elaine, we were over the line on the 1st race and had to go back but the second and third gave us two solid firsts, including being line boat in one race. Leaving us a 2,1,1 for the day.

The end results put us in second place overall, one point behind the winners on Matilda, skippered by Colette Blair.

A fabulous weekends sailing and a good result to end with; many thanks to my great crew Liz, Claire, Claire, Lou-lou, Sabrina, Pippa, Sally, Helen and Laura.

We are fully fired up for next year ………… that trophy will be ours!

Photos to follow………………

Sir Robin Knox-Johnston and Tracy Clarke talk to Pip Hare on BBC Radio Solent H2OShow – Live from Cowes

Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, the first person to sail non-stop solo around the world and sailing journalist, Tracy Clarke, talked live to Pip Hare on BBC Radio SolentH2OShow:Live from Cowes on July 15, 2011.

This transcript is produced by kind permission of BBC Radio Solent and all copyrights and other rights are hereby acknowledged.

Robin: Lets now look ahead to the mini transat which starts in September. Pip Hare has qualified for the race and is with us in Cowes this evening.

Robin: Good evening Pip.

Pip: Good evening.

Robin: What is the mini transat?

Pip: The mini transat is a single handed trans-atlantic race. It starts at La Rochelle, France has a stop over in Madeira and finishes at Salvador, Brazil, and is raced in 21 ft boats.

Robin: 21 feet…. so you are all in the same boats?

Pip: Yes, very similar boats. There are two classes. There is a one design class which is the series class, that is what I am racing, and a prototype class where anything goes within a certain rule.

Robin: Just so they can experiment?

Pip: Exactly.

Robin:  …. which is a nice idea.

Pip: Yes

Robin: How long will this take you?

Pip: I am hoping, all up, it is going to be be about 28 days but we do have a stop over in Maderia of about 10 days in the middle where we get to rebuild our boats after Biscay.

(Laughter!! …. lots of!)

Robin: That’s a very pessimistic approach!

(lots more laughter!!)

Pip: Well it’s the Biscay, isn’t it!

Robin: How many are you up against?

Pip: There is a fleet of 84. It is a big race. It is a well renowned race and out of those 84 I think there are 19 different nationalities and only 2 british entrants.

Robin: Now… well I am glad you are there representing us, but tell me something …. you are out there in the Bay of Biscay,very close together and people decide they want to sleep and ……. we have 84 boats cross tacking!

Pip: Yes, it really is quite an experience. In my first big race with the mini fleet we had 72 boats and that was a 300 mile race coastal race in France and the briefing we had before the start for all the new comers was that we must get on the radio and tell the boats next to us if we are going to sleep because two boats near to each other must not sleep at the same time… it is all very very close.

Robin: How much of this racing have you done before?

Pip: I did an OSTAR in 2009 which was my first single handed racing.

Robin: In a similar boat?

Pip: No, in a very very different boat. It was in an old Oyster Lightwave 395, my much beloved boat called The Shed and then I raced double-handed around Britain and Ireland in 2010. But for me the next step was to go smaller rather than bigger.

Tracy: Let me ask you which you prefer. Do you like sailing on your own or are you happier with people?

Pip: That is a really good question I have actually been competing in the IRC champinships today with a fantastic crew all really good friends, I have had a great day but…. I think I probably do prefer being on my own. I really like to push myself and I probably do not like pushing others as hard as I would push myself so I think overall I prefer being on my own.

Tracy: Do you talk to yourself?

Pip: I do. When I have a problem I need to talk it through and I get quite cross with myself and I will tell myself what I should be doing or where I should be going.

Robin: When did you know you were going to do this because don’t they limit the numbers?

Pip: They do, yes, and I actually had a real struggle to get into the race because a normal mini campaign is at least 2 years. I got my boat less than a year ago and decided I wanted to do the race.  To qualify you have to do 1000 mile passage on your own on a designated course and then a thousand miles of racing and I did my qualifier in the med in February which was very very cold and I did the first 3 races of the season which involved towing the boat by road all over Europe and I was absolutely shattered but so many people helped me and I finally qualified at the beginning of May.

Robin: Well…Good luck with the race, We are on the air until the end of September so hopefully we will be able to report on how well you have done!

Robin: Go well, go fast and go safe!

Tracy: Very good luck.

Pip: Thank you!

(This transcript is produced by kind permission of BBC Radio Solent and all copyrights and other rights are hereby acknowledged)

On Sail selection

It’s time to make a few decisions on my sails for the transat and at last month my sailmaker John Parker, from OneSails GBR came to sail my mini in the solent and help me with a making my mind up.

John has a massive amount of knowledge and is easy to talk to, listens to me and what I think I want, occasionally putting me straight on my crazy misconceptions and combined with his experience with other single handed sailors, and his racing as co-skipper for Nick Bubb in his mini; I feel I am in safe hands.

The mini class allows 7 sails for the transat and these must include a storm jib, but can be any sail you like, and so the decisions begin.

If you go to any mini sailmaker they will give you a transat package; the seven sails that they have decided are optimum for the race and for your boat – having a pogo 2 the most popular series class, there are several sailmakers to choose from.

But me being me, I am not prepared to just go with what other people prescribe for me. Yes, I freely acknowledge the skill and time spent in designing a transat sail wardrobe by the sailmakers in France. But I need to look at all the options and make the decisions for myself. Not just follow the herd, right or wrong I want to own this decision so a bit of thought and probably far too much deliberation has gone into my end wardrobe.

The first two are easy, a storm jib and a mainsail. The storm jib must be a racing sail, I already have one and I use it in breeze over 25 knots and fly it from the baby stay. All the storm jibs must have a reef in them; one of my co-skippers looked at this reef and the resultant size of the storm jib and commented that you really shouldn’t be sailing if that was the appropriate size of sail for the conditions!

We have decided the mainsail should be no bigger than the one I already have at the moment, this gives the boat enough power, but is easy to handle and forgiving enough for dopey girly skippers. It has a satisfying fat head on it which still makes me smile when I look at it; the only change will be the material, laminate mainsails are no longer allowed in the series class, so the new mainsail will be Dacron.

Next comes the headsail which has given me no end of deliberation.

I, like every one else do not see the point in taking more than one upwind headsail; the transat is supposed to be a downwind race and so downwind sails are the most important.

The current fashion within the mini fleet is for a sail called an ‘inter’. This is a hybrid, between a solent and a genoa; taking the shape of a solent high up but then flaring out at the bottom to overlap the shrouds and so take and outboard lead on the sheets.

I have trained with both a solent and an inter and at the moment the decision between the two is giving me a headache. This is an area where I am not prepared to just do what everyone else is doing, I have other ideas but I will write about it in another blog; it is a topic on it’s own.

So allowing for a headsail, storm jib and mainsail, that leaves me with four more sails to go and they will all be loose luffed sails to be flown from the pole.

First is the code Zero, which I already have. This sail has been designed to get the boat moving to windward in very light airs, and we have used it to great effect in the fickle breezes of the Italian Grand Prix. This sail also doubles up as a bullet proof monster breeze downwind sail, as it’s laminate construction is tougher than spinnaker cloth, this sail is the Duracell bunny of the sail wardrobe.

Next on the list is what the rest of the mini world is calling a ‘code 5’. A flat small reaching spinnaker, this is something I have not yet had in my wardrobe and have really missed. I currently have a big mast head spinnaker and a medium sized fractional. The fractional is fine reaching in up to around 12 knots, but over that the boat just falls over and I have had to resort to white sails (not wanting to abuse my code zero which is after all a transat sail and so must be looked after) which are of course a fraction of the power.

Only two sails left and they both have to be down wind sails.

My initial thought was to have a big and a medium as I currently have, but after sailing with John I have taken his advice and changed my mind.

My current big spinnaker is big (78 square metres) and it does make the boat take off in the light to moderate airs, but I have been struggling to use it in over 18 knots of wind if there is swell as it collapses very easily and is unforgiving to trim and to drive to; so I have been finding single handed I am changing early to the medium spinnaker and gaining a better overall speed, as have more control of the boat.

The problem with this option however is that if you blow out the big spinnaker and then have sub 18 knot winds for the rest of the race you are pretty well stuffed and slow with only a medium size spinnaker left.

John came out and sailed with both the spinnakers and suggested that we worked on instead going for two big spinnakers but of a different design that is more forgiving and I can keep up for longer, and lets face it, bigger sails downwind should mean you go faster, so long as you are upright. So all I really need is help to keep the boat the right way up!

The second of the big spinnakers will have a reefing system in it with a zip foot, so that if it really is breezy, but not monster enough for the code zero, I have an option of a medium kite as well.

There is one more sail I am allowed as a cheeky extra, and that is a storm try sail. In the past clever sail makers have designed systems where these zip together with the storm jib to make another sized headsail, but this has now been banned by classe mini, so I will be going without this extra sail.

Here’s hoping I won’t need it or that reef in the storm jib!

Finally I’ve made a friend in the Solent!

Though this week has been incredibly productive for my training, I have still been suffering from having no other mini’s to sail against in the Solent so I was over the moon to receive a message from Jake Jefferis and news that after recovering from a back injury he is just about fit enough now to come sailing.

I met Jake first at the Southampton Boatshow last year, it was just after English Braids had agreed to sponsor me with rope for my campaign.

Jake has designed and built his own prototype, all carbon with a canting keel, in his back garden in Bosham. He has funded all himself and made all himself, even to the extent that when he broke the Aluminium mast he had taken off an old Mills prototype, and he did not have the funds to buy a new mast, he built himself a new one out of carbon.

As I had just had my boat completely re-roped with English Briads and I knew that he did not have the funds to buy new rope for his new mast, Jake left the show with carrier bags full of the ropes I had taken off, which are now part of the running rigging on ‘Mad Dog’.

Yesterday afternoon, I drove with Guillaume Rotee, who has been coaching me for the last week in the Solent, to a leafy garden off Chichester harbour to take a first look at this crazy beast that is mini 794.

The first thing I saw in the garden was Blue 2, which is an old Mills design that was built by my friend Paul Peggs – the mini world is small!!

On the slipway was an all black, full on looking carbon mini, which was pretty different from my little red boat; a truly distant cousin with little family resemblance but the give away characteristics of being only 6.5m long with a stupidly tall mast.

It was great to see the boat and though it is different to mine, it will be invaluable to go out on the water and train together; to line up against each other and compare relative speeds and course; to make little adjustments and see what relative change they have.

We have agreed to two boat train this week and will be competing in the Double handed round the island race next weekend; racing the boats under the IRC rule will be painful as we are rated the same as some 40fters, but to us the others are irrelevant – there will only be two boats in this race.