Sailing: The Fastnet race


Fastnet: Cowes - Fastnet - Plymouth

Fastnet route (Cowes - Fastnet - Plymouth)

The race starts were from 16:00 onwards on Sunday, 12th August, 2001. With a strong South-Westerly gusting to 27 knots, the 4 Volvo 60s started at 16:00. Next off were the multihulls at 16:10, followed by IRC 3, 2 and 1 at 16:20, 16:30 and 16:40 respectively. By the time IRC Z (our group) started at 16:50, the Solent was full of small yachts battling into choppy seas and strong winds. 23 yachts retired, including Predator with broken steering. Several yachts sustained damage, with at least one collision, together with some serious injuries to crew.

You might ask why RORC decided to fill the Solent with small yachts ahead of the faster ones - behind us were the IRC Super-Z class, including the maxis like Skandia Leopard. All the faster yachts were now not just beating into fairly nasty conditions, they were having to dodge small craft left right and centre in a limited seaway. Just to add a bit of comfort, the RNLI and Air/Sea Rescue were out in force, dashing left & right to aid the stricken.

A quiet start? I think not!

Sunday night was unpleasant; a lumpy, wet, beat into a choppy scend. The slow beat continued all the next day, and we cleared the Lizard at 21:30 on Monday. By this time, the fleet was well dispersed and we rarely had visual contact with other yachts. Incisor is not at her best, close hauled, and we were concerned that we were losing ground to others in our class who may rate better, e.g. Independent Bear.

Crossing the Irish Sea on Monday night and Tuesday, the weather was grey - we had 10 hours of rain approaching Ireland - lovely! At about 18:00, the wind died and we were temporarily left becalmed, until it picked up again from the South... strange... We made reasonable speed to the Fastnet light, hoping to catch it in daylight, but unfortunately it was 23:40 before we rounded it and started the long run home to Plymouth.

With a strong Westerly blowing, we started to make up ground - Incisor is good on a run. We had the kite up from the moment we left Ireland, round the Scillies and back to Plymouth - a lot of hard work, trimming every twenty seconds or so. A wonderful sail.

Just to add a bit of icing on the cake, the sun was out and we were joined by a large pod of dolphins - they raced up from the stern, diving under the yacht and leaping through the waves. At times, they were close enough to touch as they played in Incisor's wash. For most of the Irish Sea, they stayed with us, and as night fell the sea was lit not only with the phosphorescence from Incisor's wake, but also criss-crossed with golden ribbons from the dolphins. Magic! However the mate (Mark) was singly un-impressed: "CONCENTRATE! If you want to see %£%"%£$ dolphins, go to a sea-life centre!". They only left us (temporarily) when Dave peed off the stern!

The "gin & tonic" sailing continued past the Scillies (we left Bishop's Rock at 10:10 on Wednesday) and on to the Lizard at 03:23 on Thursday morning. Most of this time we were making terrific headway - at times we were surfing at 14 knots, but mostly we were zipping along at 10 knots or so.

As we approached the finish, we engaged in a bit of tag with others that we could see - Kirribilli was one of several class zero boats that we managed to identify. In the end, with light airs, we finished at 09:16:48 on Thursday 16th of August, 2001, an elapsed time of 3 days, 16 hours, 26 minutes and 48 seconds. As we crossed the line, Mark remarked that he "could smell the barmaid's apron", and while the boat was tided, a mass scrum developed below to change out of rather "high" foulies and into bar civvies. It must have taken all of 45 seconds from tying up to first orders (about 30 Smirnoff Ice and 14 pints). The tone for the rest of the day was set...

I had to leave the boat at 15:30 to return to London - some of the remaining crew were taking Incisor back to Cowes, but I suspected that it would be a rather badly hung-over trip...

Oh... and we came 23rd out of 233 (with 23 retired)!!


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