Normandy Channel Race – The Start

 

It’s great to be back. The race village is buzzing with people, the 21 class 40s are lined up obediently in the old dock in central Caen, the commentator drones quietly in the back ground and all the amazing electricity created at the start of short handed offshore race is charging the atmosphere.

 

It’s been different for me, to be a co-skipper; to turn up late in the day to a boat that is already sorted and not feel the weight of the million and one non-sailing things to do before a race start.

 

Instead I arrived on Friday to a sorted boat sitting in a fully functioning race village; yes we’ve had a few jobs to do but nothing major and Phillippa and I have spent the last couple of days working on navigation, I’ve been learning to use the systems onboard the boat and we have generally been paying attention to the details with the big stuff done. What a pleasure.

 

And so we start today, at 11.45 we will leave the dock, line up with the other competitors and make a 1 hr procession out of the town of Caen and down the canal to Ouistreham to then lock out for our start at 17h00 tonight.

 

I don’t think I’m nervous; in truth I have no idea what to expect. With only three days of practice on the boat and never having sailed overnight with Pip we will be taking it as it comes and gently upping the pace as we go along.

 

The course is great, second best only to crossing a massive ocean it will be challenging and busy and the sort of challenge I relish.

 

I have walked the course on paper charts and on the computer, reviewed the tidal gates and monitored the weather. According to the routing we will see some breeze later this week and inside I am jumping up and down about this and grinning already, imagining roaring down the front of waves with a rooster tail behind…..

 

But maybe I am ahead of myself.

 

For now I must come back to the matter in hand, Pip is on deck rigging the lines, I am at the nav station (a massive step up from a soggy chart on my lap in the mini) and we think we are ready to race.

 

Watch us on the tracker at http://www.normandy-race.com/index/carto and http://www.normandy-race.com/index/classement2013

 

 

Getting to grips with a 40

 

Time is tight for our newly formed crew on Phesheya Racing and so Phillippa and I made the most of every hour this weekend to get some form of training under our behind us before it all gets a bit serious on the start line for the Normundy Channel Race, later this month.

As Phesheya is not long back in the water the programme was pretty tight; not only did I need to get to grips with racing a Class 40, but Philippa and I needed to work out how we will sail, communicate and get along on the boat and having been moth balled for eight months this was the shake down for the boat, there were new sails to look at and electronics to test. All in all a pretty full programme.

Luckily when she was packed away after the Global Ocean Race last year Phesheya was left in good condition and after arriving from South Africa a couple of weeks ago Phillippa has really grafted and the boat is in good working order.

Exciting new packages arrived just in time from Quantum sails in South Africa and with fingers already numb from the biting North-Easterly winds we hanked them on, on Friday morning and went out to have a go.

My first impressions of the 40 did not disappoint; she is powerful and solid slicing though the water effortlessly upwind. Inevitably I would make a comparison to sailing my mini and in some ways the 40 is easier to handle as it sits nicely in the groove to windward and does not buck around on the waves throwing you across the cockpit as the smaller boat does.

The ballast is all new to me, so Phillippa took me through step by step, filling and emptying tanks then transferring from side to side.

We were lucky enough to have a training partner for the weekend in the form of Rogers designed Swish with fellow NCR competitors Rod and Paul on board. This allowed us to make upwind speed tests, allowing me to get to see in real time the difference, sail trim, steering modes and use of ballast makes; but also providing good motivation to get on and get out there into the biting winds.

We will be the only all-female crew in the Normandy Channel Race however are pretty sure this should not be what defines us as a team but there are some challenges that might be harder for us being physically less strong and we when we popped the kite in 20 knots of wind on Sunday Morning we were made aware of one of those situations.

Hoisting in the socks is fine, it’s a case of co-ordination and preparation; the spinnaker is held captive in the sock until you need it and short of a bit of fumbling and stumbling as I found my way around the foredeck everything went smoothly.

Gybing however proved to be a lot harder; I ended up stuck hanging onto the new sheet every muscle in my body straining an not budging the rope and inch, while the sail fully powered up flopped around in front of the forestay threatening to tangle up.

Determined not to be beaten Philippa and I sailed 12 miles downwind gybing every couple of minutes to find a solution. After one hour, with very sore hands and only one wrap in the spinnaker we had come up with the solution; a combination of carefully times steering by Phillippa on the helm and quick use of winches by me when my arms won’t work.

The weekend has flown by all to quickly and now we are in the final preparations for the race. This weekend was way to short but hopefully will be a good grounding for the start of the race.

Of course we will have a lot of scope to improve as we sail more together on the course, however we are realistic about how competitive we will be and perhaps to start the race a more conservative ‘get it right’ strategy will be the one that suits us best.

But we are looking forward to pushing each other and the boat ever more as we grow in confidence during the race and this Easter we have established that good communication, honesty and using our heads as ever will be the key to success.