Monday, July 31, 2023

The Fastnet Race - 51° 23' 21"N 09° 36' 11"W

The Fastnet Race - that doesn't look too bad!

Setting the scene
Emma is a cruising boat,  twenty glorious tonnes of gleaming aluminium with all the creature comforts - air-conditioning, microwave, freezer - that one would expect on well-appointed cruising yacht. She was loaded up with a tonne of spares, lots of warm clothes, cockpit cushions, cosy bedding and a galley filled to the gunwales with tasty food. VERY few race boats would choose to compete this heavy.
Emma's sail wardrobe consists of a main, a furling headsail, a furling staysail, an asymmetrical spinnaker and the mandatory storm sails. This is quite a lean selection, and a slight disadvantage, compared to other competitors who race with far more sail options. For the non-racing sailors, furling sails do not allow trimming the sail to an optimum shape - they are designed for ease and convenience.  The relatively sparse selection of sails would cause most racing aficionados to shake their head in dismay. 
The upside of being a cruising yacht is that Emma can be sailed with a small crew, just six. And the six, as gorgeous and experienced as we all were, had sailed only the qualifying race together. We had limited experience aboard Emma and we could count on one finger how many times the spinnaker had been hoisted!
The likelihood of Emma winning was very remote but she would keep us safe.  We resolved to have fun and be kind to each other - our goal was to finish before the parties did!

Heading down the Western Yar out to The Solent and the start

The Crazy Start

Race day started in Yarmouth.  We all had hot showers, washed and braided our hair. Mark organized coffee and pastries to be brought to the boat while we had a weather briefing with Pete Goss.  The weather did look a little sporty! A quiet start was not in the forecast, instead winds of up to 30kn in The Solent and higher outside. With wind over current, the start was going to be rough. The general consensus was if we could make it through the first night, it would be a great race.
We wove out of Yarmouth and headed towards the identity gates. It was windy, around 25kn and raining. Visibility was limited and there were boats everywhere, many sporting the bright orange of their storm sails. We hoisted ours, received the nod from the officials at the gate and headed away to prepare for the start.

We had three reefs in the main and the stay sail, as we tacked to run for the start our staysail slid down the stay – the halyard had broken.

A sporty start and lots of storm sails flying

Well that's not good! We gathered it in, re-hoisted the storm jib and started the Fastnet Race! The seas were nasty, the wind kept building and we were making limited headway up-wind with so little sail up.  We were seeing 36kn of wind and we were still in the relative shelter of the Solent. Without a staysail, it was going to be a long night.  Boats started to return, a couple with broken masts and then we began hearing mayday calls on the radio.
Under the race rules, anchoring is allowed.  So the sensible decision was made to anchor up, make repairs to the halyard and let this system blow through.  Nearly 90 yachts retired overnight and the Coastguard reported 28 incidents, including one boat that sank.

Howling winds and driving rain - where are my ski goggles??

The English Channel

We solved the halyard problem and were back racing before dawn.  As the sky slowly lightened, we headed out into the confused waters of the English Channel. The southern coast of the UK is tricky navigating with its strong currents and tidal gates. We tacked and bashed and worked our way along the coast, ticking off the milestones as we went.  The Needles, Portland, Start Point, Lizard, Lands End...

It took us days! The first boats were finished before we rounded Portland but we kept on.  Finally, we were out of The Channel and off the Scilly Islands working our way past the Traffic Separation Schemes that were exclusion zones under the race rules.

We did enjoy some glorious sailing!

The calm gave us time to shower and wash our hair - a luxury unheard of on most racing boats!

Should we keep going?

Dead calm, becalmed, drifting vaguely in the direction of the Fastnet Rock. The water sparkling, the blue sky cloudless. Will we ever get there? Hour after hour, the Scilly Islands get slowly closer with their sandy beaches, pretty villages and pubs.

Pubs! Do we really need to finish? We could just start the engine and be at the pub in an hour with a nice cold beer and this yacht racing silliness behind us. We could just do that!

We were not deterred by the strong winds, the adverse currents or the gear failures. It was the calms and the bobbing going backwards that almost did us in! After what seemed like hours of chasing the slightest puffs of wind, Emma started to move. One knot increased to two, then three and before we knew it, we were once again skimming towards The Fastnet Rock.

We had some sporty weather heading across the Irish Sea.  But Emma loved it and kept us safe and dry.  In rainy, windy and foggy conditions, we closed in on Ireland and The Fastnet Rock.

The off watch stayed snug and warm and just look at those smiles! 

We're nearly there!!

...finally, The Fastnet Rock!

No drone photos showing Emma rounding the Rock in sparkling conditions!  We could hardly make out a blob through the mist!  Getting caught on a fishing net brought us to a complete stop.  In the time it took to raise the centreboard and shrug off the net, the fog vaguely parted and gave us a glimpse of The Rock.  We were around and heading for home!

The Fastnet Rock - can you see it??

A downhill run back to Cherbourg

We had the spinnaker up for about half an hour before the halyard broke (what is going on with the halyards??) and the spinnaker was shredded.  With just the main and headsail, we were much slower than we had hoped.  To brighten us all, Marie served up a special treat. Just delicious.

Thanks Marie, that's exactly what we all needed!

Despite the valiant efforts of Clothilde and Rebecca repairing the spinnaker, we were unable to fly it for the rest of the race.  The wind picked up and died off and picked up and the miles slowly, slowly ticked down. It was frustratingly! The nights were beautiful with a sky filled with stars.  And a sight most venust that I had never before seen - dolphins with a bioluminescence trail.   

Repairs to the spinnaker took five hours - and ALL the repair tape onboard!

The Alderney Race or Raz Blanchard

Back in The Channel and nearing the Cap de la Hague (the northwestern tip of Normandy) and we faced one more challenge - The Alderney Race or Le Raz Blanchard as it is known in French.  We needed to hit this on a fair tide as the currents can get up to 12kns!! We were counting down, needing an average of 8 knots of boat speed to make it. 

We came up with some unique ways to fly the headsail, staysail and storm jib all at one to get up a little extra sail and a little extra speed.  We missed the tide by about half an hour and found ourselves jibing north to avoid the worse currents.  Oh the frustration.  We were so close!

The Finish

Finally, finally, finally at 12:10:00 on Saturday 29th July, Emma crossed the finish line.  It took us six days, 21 hours and 55 minutes to complete the course.  But finish we did!

The finish line is in sight!

Still smiling after almost seven days of racing

Adriano and Marissa loaded Voyager with 'the husbands' and they cheered us on the finish line.  As we came into the marina, Clothilde and Marie's families were lining the breakwater cheering.  There were cheers and congratulations from by-standers and those on their yachts in the harbour.  You would have thought we had won!  As we were a local boat and the winners had left days ago, we were taken to the berth which usually reserved for the race winners.  Rolex met us with champagne, Garcia with cameras, friends, family and other crews gathered to congratulate us.  Rolex interviewed Marie - read all about us here

Fastnet Finishers!

Who needs to make the party - we had our own!

The race finishers' sign

Our prime position - usually reserved for the race winners!

Team photo by Rolex

The Crew

Clothilde, Rebecca, Marie, Sylvia and Fi, a huge big thanks for your friendship, laughter, bravery and skill. I am privileged to have been part of the Team Emma and this awesome group. And thanks to Mark and Rebecca for making this all possible by trusting us with your beautiful Emma.

So Girls, what are your thoughts on a Sydney to Hobart??!!

Tuesday, July 25, 2023

Stow-on-the-Wold - 51° 55' 45" N 01° 43' 14" W

While Kate was busy with the Fastnet race, I was left free to explore.  Seeing as I was in England, I decided to turn some acquaintances into friends.

First, I had a few days in Portsmouth.  After doing some administration (finding the Customs office and working out where to pick up my hired car in a few days), I walked all 'round the port area.

It's always good to know where you are starting from.

Portsmouth is very much a working port, as well as hosting a huge naval base and international ferry terminal.

Good use of space for pleasure craft storage.

A waterfront promenade made it much easier to ensure
I was still as close to the waterfront as I could be.

Found the sailing club!

Still seems weird to have ferries regularly chugging past sooo close to the sea wall and footpath.

Old trolley tracks along the waterfront.  It wasn't always this touristy.

Pub lunch.

Loads of museums and ship on display.
I could have stayed three more days to poke around.

Robert Scott, Antarctic Explorer.
We have plans to sail south to see his grave
on South Georgia Island.

Nature adds its beauty everywhere.

... and a good message to send to the world.

After a few days of pottering around Portsmouth, it was time to get further from the water.  I rented a little car (an MG) and did my best to drive on the side of the road that everyone else was using.

Once I left Portsmouth, I was on my way to visit to the Harley family.  Martin, a musician, would be staying with us in a month or so in Canmore for the Canmore Folk Fest.  He dangerously offered that "if you are ever in the area, drop in to visit."

The lovely Harley family

The Harley family live in Cholesbury, Gloucestershire, on a little farm and have offered up their granny flat for me to stay.  They lovingly call it the Hobbit House because, as beautifully appointed as it is, the flat in the finished attic of a garage on the property and has a ceiling clearance of about 170 cm (5 foot 7 inches) - a bit challenging for someone close to 6 feet tall.  I truly enjoyed staying in such a well-set-up guest accommodation but did have to be careful not to spring out of bed.

Top-end accommodations ... for a person of a certain stature.

Great kitchen facilities. Next time I may stay for the winter!

Lucky me, it wasn't just great company I was in for.  Martin had a mountain bike that he kindly let me take it out for my first day there.  He even furnished me with a helmet and directions to one of his favourite rides.

The Harley Homestead

Touring around the area had me on roads AND trails.

My steed.

Nice day for a ride in Wendover Woods.

23 kms over 3 hours.  Very leisurely.

... and a Gruffalo.

After hosting me for two nights and sharing some delicious meals and delightful conversation, I was on my way with plans to see them all back in Canmore in less than two weeks.

Jo and Ed met us while Kate and I were snowhosting at Sunshine Village.  With just the two of them touring with us, we did enough chatting on the chairlifts to find out that they were sailors, too!  We mentioned that we were going to be spending a year or two in Europe - specifically in France/southern England.  They quipped that we should look them up when we are in the area so once again, I took them at their word!

Their lovely farm in the Cotswolds.

The view going down their driveway to the main road.  So very James Herriot.

Ed has lived in the area his whole life.  He still farms, but has found it is increasingly less sustainable to just work the land, due to industrialization of the agriculture industry.  Many of Ed's old neighbours - some generations into farming - have decided to sell their holdings and leave farming.  Their properties - too small to run as stand-alone farms, have centuries-old barns, animal sheds and other structures one them that Ed knew needed to be preserved, as they define aesthetically the look and feel of the region.  Ed and Jo have purchased the farms and are slowly converting the buildings into funky, well-appointed holiday rentals. They let me stay in one of them for the night I was visiting and took me on a tour of one of the old milk sheds that was being remodelled.

One of the old farmsteads they have converted to holiday rentals.  Ed and Jo will have five separate rental units (sleeping roughly 10 people each) on this farm when it is complete.

Ed and Jo are creating some cool holiday rentals.

The Drying Shed.

The old livery.

Amazing details that add to staying there.

In one of the outdoor dining spaces, he has suspended the chassis of an old
Jaguar E Type that was found in the barn. Now it is a light fixture.

Ed manages to find great items that have been left, and turn them into funky architectural details.

An old silo becomes a centerpiece for a courtyard.

As they are keen sailors and have lots of experience, we hope to see them on Chinook.

After Ed and Jo took me to one of their local spots for a lovely pub meal, I was treated to a good sleep in one of their holiday houses and the next morning a hearty farm breakfast at their home.  During breakfast, they recommended I introduce myself to the Cotswolds by exploring Stow-on-the-Wold.  Little did I know what a quaint town I would find ... complete with the oldest continuously operating pub in England!

Some of the shops are tourist-focused, but many are the standard baker/butcher/barber shops you would hope to find in a farming centre.  I happened to be there on Market Day.  What a treat!

Of course I had to have a beer here ... but just a half-pint (after all, I was driving).

Next stop: the ferry back to Cherbourg, France!