Last year I took a break from Ocean Racing; I needed some time out to take stock of the rest of my life which had been hanging around the peripheries of one race or another. Between 2009 and 2013 I was lucky enough to run a major racing campaign of my own every year but that required a unique kind of single mindedness and sacrifice, a ridiculous level of multi-tasking and often the need to stick my head in the sand about life in general and just move towards the goal.
2014 for me was about tidying up and trying to bring life back to some level of normality (though my kind of normal might not meet a dictionary definition). I enjoyed some excellent inshore racing, managed to get to the end of a 50 mile ultra-marathon and paid back my outstanding debts with the sale of my much loved class mini boat ‘The Potting Shed’. I even had a holiday.
But with no surprise the Ocean started eating away at my heart and my head by the end of the year; following 16 years of owning an ocean going boat (a couple of years of owning two!) it feels like imprisonment not just to be able to go out there.
Britain started out as the home of the epic offshore race. We have kicked off the first ever Single handed round the world race, the single handed transatlantic race, the ‘Mini-Transat’ started in the UK as did the original version of the ‘Volvo Ocean Race’. These races have now been either superseded by other bigger events of the same kind or are hosted in other countries but there is still one revered and classic offshore race which will remain forever British.
The Fastnet race this year sold out its full entry list within 25 minutes of opening on January 12th this and Ash Harris and I are lucky enough to have one of those entries. We have borrowed Flair IV from our good friend and sailing legend Jim MacGregor who himself will be competing fully crewed aboard Premier Flair.
The Fastnet, has a fearsome reputation and the sad tragedy of the 1979 race changed the way offshore racing is managed worldwide forever, and taught the whole sailing industry many hard lessons about yacht design and safety practices. But still sailors from all over the world will line up to start this race on the 16th of August having sailed many miles and jumped through many hoops to meet the qualification requirements.
The course will take us from the start line at Cowes, along the South Coast of the UK around the Fastnet Rock off Southern and then to the finish in Plymouth. It is 600 miles of water that can dish up the most brutal conditions a sailor may ever face.
Ash and I will be among a class of 30+ boats (numbers still to be confirmed) who have decided to sail the race two up, pushing ourselves and our boat as hard and as fast as our bodies will allow.
Race preparation for us has been more than just the qualifying races and safety training, over the past six months we have been working to adapt Flair IV, originally designed to be raced by a crew of ten, to a boat that can race these 600 miles with just two on-board.
Among other modifications we have needed to fit an autopilot and once again the amazing team at Raymarine have stepped up to support my racing. I signed up as a Raymarine Ambassador in 2011 when they supplied the entire electronics package for my Pogo 2. In fitting out Flair IV I have required a trustworthy autopilot that could be integrated with existing electronic systems already installed and the Raymarine Evolution Autopilot has exactly met our needs. Many thanks to Raymarine for again supporting British Short Handed Racing.
The next two weeks leading up to the race start are of course complicated in a manner that only my life seems to be with travels to the Isle of Man for work, visits from Parents, a full weeks racing on a different boat in Cowes Week and then a one day rest before the Fastnet.
This weekend has been a frenzy of organisation, I have packed four separate bags for different events, we have run through the safety checklist on the boat including deployment of storm sails, I have cooked and frozen meals for five days of racing, written endless lists of things I must not but surely will forget and mapped out a crazy schedule of moving around on cars, boats, trains, ferries and other boats to make sure that at least most of our kit does not end up abandoned on the Isle of Wight when we start on the 16th.
For most of this year the Fastnet just felt like something in the distance, it was not the same as my other campaigns which have been the main focus of everyday life, this race has been just a detail. But now having pulled out my charts with so many stories and had them in my hands once again, having planned and thought through repair kits and spares galore and tried to think through every detail of the race, I can visualise it and feel the excitement starting to build. I am bursting to go, It is less than two weeks to the start of the Fastnet race and I cannot wait!