For many people involved sailing to participate in a Fastnet race is one of the big boxes to tick.
The normal bi- annual, fully crewed race from Cowes, around the rock of the Irish coast and back to Plymouth, is renowned for rough seas, tough conditions, pushing people to their limits and tragically at times claiming lives.
Therefore it was not with a light heart that we set off last week to race in these same waters in an extreme 21ft race boat with a crew of just two.
I think I knew at the start it would be a physically tough race, the forecast was looking uncomfortable and this is no stretch of water to take lightly; and my gut feeling was right.
The 260 mile beat to the Fastnet rock was tiring, cold, wet and just hard. Sailing a mini to windward is not a pleasant experience.
Every ounce of weight makes a difference in these boats and before the event I had been down to Andrew Woods sail loft in Penzance ‘Solo Sails’ and profited from his expertise in the class to help me make a new system for stacking down below; so now every tiny item of kit was held up on the windward side to try and keep the boat flat.
To be honest there is little to enjoy going upwind in a mini, other than the fresh air and the spirit of the race. When the Fastnet rock loomed into sight both my co-skipper Ash Harris and I were feeling the strain; the low cloud provided a damp cold that got through every layer into aching joints; the boat had thrown us both around and we were covered in bruises from thumping over waves; moving the equipment from one side of the boat to the other when tacking strains, backs and knees – it’s grim.
We crawled towards the Fastnet like a couple of parched explorers crawling out of the desert ; to turn the boat downwind would be like a first sip of water; instant relief – instant pleasure.
And it was.
The race there after was what mini’s were made for; downwind flying, surfing the waves, pushing as hard as we can.
We shredded our mast head kite halyard doing 15 knots in the middle of the night and had a resultant ‘trawl drop’ where the spinnaker ended up in the water and then broke the pole.
I know this can happen and so always carry a spare and in an impressive pit stop of just over one hour, we replaced a halyard (English Braids had just sent me a new box full of goodies before the race start) fixed a hole in the spinnaker and replaced the pole. Then were off again.
After rounding Connibeg, we peeled to the code zero and then watched the little boat eat up the miles to Land’s End. Ash later commented that it is a really great experience to be able to watch the DTW (miles to go) count down in real time because your boat is going so fast.
All good things must come to an end and sadly the breeze died at Land’s end and we were left to sail the last 60 miles in the light winds I have become so used to.
One of the most difficult things I am finding with mini racing is not having access to information about where your competitors are; keeping motivated and being positive about your position.
The first part of this race had been very slow for ‘The Potting Shed’. We were really struggling to get the boat to go upwind, seeming to fight it all the time and having no rewards to anything we tried.
When we approached the finish line in Plymouth I assumed we were in 6th place or there abouts.
We had seen another two series boats round the rock in front of us and had briefly seen a prototype off Land’s End but other than that had no idea of where we were in the fleet.
It was a total surprise when the race director came out to the finish and told us we were 3rd in Series. We had flown downwind and made up a lot of time, overtaking three boats; I was stunned, there is a valuable lesson learned there; never, ever give up!
A huge thank you to the Royal Western Yacht Club in Plymouth who have hosted a fantastic event and I think inspired classe mini to increase the number of events in the UK next year.
I am now based back in the Solent, where I hope to solve my upwind sailing problems and will be working with John Parker from Quantum East on my transat sail wardrobe…………… yes…….. the transat is coming up fast!!!