I have to admit this race is not exactly going the way we had hoped.
Despite the lack of breeze the start of the Fastnet was an amazing experience. From early in the morning when the first crews in the marina started rigging their storm sails, passing through the identity gate with all the other boats, the noise from helicopters and spectator boats, and then finally that gun.
A complete lack of wind left an amusing spectacle of the incredible MOD 70s starting the race and then just staying put just metres from the line, proving that even the sailing gods have lead boots at times.
With absolutely no wind and a strong tide running our only concern at the start was at all costs not to be over the line. There were tense moments as with a minute and half to the gun we had no steerage and had turned side onto the line but with no hope of stemming the tide. Ash was driving and silently was mulling over in his head whether he could cope with five days on a boat with me had we been over. We weren’t so civil relations are maintained.
Sailing out of the solent took patience and skill however with a few practice days of light wind sailing in Cowes week under our belts we were away and able to pick our way through the boats upwind and be in the first pack of IRC yachts leaving the Solent.
The big boys caught up with us in the Needles channel which included a port and starboard with Comanche, who according the racing rules ducked behind us as the Starboard boat leaving me at the helm feeling slightly terrified as a bow sprit followed by a bow man wearing a headset staring at us loomed over the back of our cockpit.
We all made the most of the dying sea breeze, tacking through Poole Bay until the tide turns and then heading offshore. That’s when it all went horribly wrong.
Life was good until midnight, we had great boat speed and were holding our own against the whole fleet but in the early hours of the morning Flair IV started sailing very slowing and became a victim of the tide.
As part of the course and as a safety consideration yachts taking part in the Fastnet race are not allowed to enter any part of the Traffic Separation Schemes along the course. These TSS areas are where ships converge from all areas to enter a defined channel and all non-commercial traffic is obliged to keep clear.
Onboard Flair IV last night we were left with no wind to guide the direction of the boat and the tide was slowly sucking us sideways into the TSS. For a couple of hours there was nothing we could do, we felt resigned to taking the 20% time penalty that is dished out to any competitors breaking this rule; however at the last moment some breeze kicked in to save us and we were able to make just enough ground against the tide to sail up and over the North corner of the TSS. Though relieved to have missed this fate our great standing in the race to that moment was utterly destroyed as we sailed backwards to get out of trouble while the rest of our competitors made ground to the Fastnet Rock.
This morning we have had to take stock, we are both deeply disappointed to be so far back in the fleet, these places will be incredibly hard to make back again and over the next 36hrs we are expecting more light and patchy breeze and calms with a chance for the tide yet again to have its wicked way.
Trying to race in no wind is one of the most frustrating and heart rending things you can do, it’s not relaxing, it’s tense, it seems unfair, hours and hours of steady work can be undone in a couple of hours. This is some form of torture.
But the sun is shining, we are coaxing the boat along under code zero, we had a top breakfast benefitting from the fact with only two on this boat we do not have to be hugely weight sensitive so frying pans are allowed and we are back on the track and chasing from behind. Even when things are really disappointing, it’s not all that bad.