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.