A very British Bank Holiday

I spent my May Bank Holiday of course racing in my mini; competing in the first edition of the Solent 650 racing from Lymington, around the Isle of Wight, around Wolf Rock and back into Plymouth.   The race was double handed and I teamed up with my good friend and fellow Mini-Transat skipper Christa ten Brinke.

The course was challenging and passing many of our most notorious South Coast headlands, exactly on the peak of spring tides, however made all the more demanding by a complex series of weather fronts, which bought ever changing conditions including never ending rain, drizzle and freezing temperatures.

We decided from the start the best way to sail together was to be totally honest; when sailing in a pair where one is not at all acquainted with the boat I think it is easy for the relationship to become dictatorial, more like skipper and crew rather than two co-skippers.

We made a deal that Christa should voice her opinion on everything, tell me if I thought I was going wrong, suggest different ways to trim and sail the boat and we would monitor each other performance, making sure we were not too tired to steer well, and remaining focussed.

Overall entire plan worked, we pulled into the lead around the back of the Isle of Wight choosing to stay close in shore out of the tide and gaining some miles.

However, we were not alone onboard, the gremlins had embarked in Lymington onto what I had considered a well prepared boat and they struck first at around 3am when my windward guy slipped slightly through it’s jammer allowing the pole to fly down to leeward, dragging the fully powered up code zero through the water and bending the pole in half.

The brakes were on for a while as we retrieved the sail and pole from the water, then changed to the spare pole, allowing the rest of the fleet to catch us up and setting the scene for a close battle until the end of the race.

We spent the next 48 hours or so in constant sight of the Artemis Academy Pogo 2 skippered by Becky Scott, battling it out in the ever changing conditions, at times being exactly neck a neck as the weather passed over our heads, winds rose, fell, changed direction and tides pushed us which ever way they fancy.

Christa and I fuelled by gallons of tea set into a great routine, it was interesting to see that we sail in very different styles however we seem to compliment each other on the race course.

45 miles before the end of the race course the gremlins struck again and put an end to our chase for first place.  My bottle screws are normally secured while I am sailing by a piece of string tied through the three to stop them rotating and coming undone while they are slack on the lee side.

At some time during the race the string on the port side had come undone, I am not sure when and the worst happened in the dead of night in sloppy seas, Christa spotted that the port lower was flapping around in the wind and had no bottle screw on it at all.  I was gutted and furious with myself – this is a stupid mistake, I had no spare bottle screw and the missing rigging could easily lead to our losing the rig.

At this stage Plymouth was dead upwind – could we even make it in safely?

I made a jury rig by tying a strong dyneema line in a figure of eight around the lower spreaders, taking that down to the chain plates, through a turning point and then back to a winch where I wound it on as tight as I could.  We nursed the boat the rest of the way, feeling sick watching the S bend shape in the mast, trying to strike the balance between getting closer to our destination not daring to push the boat at all.

Eventually our luck changed, slowly the wind turned around to the East and then the South east, putting the weight on the port side rigging and allowing us to hoist a spinnaker to finish the course as we cut our way through thick fog into the Plymouth harbour entrance and on to a finish line I know so well.

We were so relieved to make it in, in one piece. All feelings of stupidity aside we are immensely proud of the fact we managed to sail under jury rig for 45 miles, still managing to take a second place in the series class and third overall and only being 45 minutes behind the leaders.

Lesson learned, The Potting Shed is now equipped with a new bottle screw on the port side and a spare in the kit.

This was a fantastic race, cold wet and everything I would expect from a British May Bank Holiday; made all the more enjoyable by my co-skippers patience and ready laugh.

Read the full race report at http://www.open650.co.uk/

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