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Two up in a Big Boat!
By Steve Cockerill
Last weekend I went offshore sailing for the first time in 20 years. Thanks to a last minute invitation from Richard Elliot we sailed his X412, Blue Bat 2, in the “Molson Cherbourg Double” organised by the Royal Southampton Sailing Club. This is a double/shorthanded race and part of the Molson / Coors Double handed Series.
The race started from Southampton Water at 19.00 on Friday night which was a beautiful evening. The course instruction, repeated on VHF by the committee boat, was “from the start line to Cherbourg by any course possible”. The idea was you could sail around the Isle of White whichever way you wanted but due to the ebb tide the whole fleet went West through the Needles then bore away South. Richard and I had looked at the tidal information and compared wind forecasts from the windguru and windfinder websites and had a fairly strong strategy.
The start was just like most dinghy starts but being a shorthanded race the fleet held back a bit from the start line. The beat / fetch to the Needles was pure boat for boat sailing. Every gust, knock or lack of concentration effected your position. The boats that didn’t hold high enough got sucked down towards the Island and had to tack to make Hurst narrows. By sailing high in the lulls and footing fat in the gusts we made the leg in one. We were near the front of the fleet at this stage but I nearly blew our position by trying to cut too close to the Needles. We were well cleat of the Varvassi wreck but the tidal back eddy produced a vicious short seas and the wind disappeared as it lifted up over the Island. 15 minutes of heading high towards Poole got us into clearer wind and a longer swell before we could bear away.
This is where we broke from the fleet. Everyone else bore away directly for Cherbourg, most hoisted kites and sagged of below the Rhumb Line. We headed 20 degrees high of the Rhumb line sailing faster with more apparent wind.
As it got dark we found steering more difficult. In daylight we could hand steer much faster than the auto-pilot but in the dark the auto-pilot , Ray (for Ray Marine) could steer a much more accurate course. We concentrated on trimming the sail to Ray’s course and kept up the average speed without hitting any great maximums. Having said that we were consistently sailing at 8-9 knots.
During the night the wind slowly back and as dawn approached we were able to sail over the top of fleet, close reaching in to the finish just before 05.00.
Even though it was a beautiful starlit night it got pretty cold around dawn. Thankfully my full complement of Rooster kit kept me warm, dry and mobile. I wore a PolyPro Top and Leggings, Hot Socks with Keen Newport H2 shoes (I don’t like wearing “sea boots”), Hi-Fit Trousers, Coastal Jacket, Rooster Beanie and Arctic Pro Gloves which are amazingly warm. Richard, who normally wears traditional offshore gear, has become a huge fan of the Pro Aquafleece. He says it is warmer than a big offshore jacket, lighter, more flexible and much more comfortable under a life jacket and harness.
Although we were one of the first boats to finish as the highest handicapped boat we didn’t hold out much hope of a great result. We had to wait to the prize giving in the evening but we had a pleasant surprise when we won our class by 7 minutes on handicap. A “small” celebration followed by watching the Champion’s League final in the ubiquitous Irish bar.
Sunday came too early and very windy. Richard and I both had to get home so two reefs went in to the main and we shot of Northwards. The first two hours were OK with Ray handling the steering although I experienced my first ever bout of seasickness. As we got further in to the Channel the waves really picked up and we broached a couple of times. Ray was steering to a mixture of compass course and apparent wind angle but the short, very steep seas made it very difficult. I fancied my chances of a bit of surfing and steered the final 40 miles home. With a highest recorded wind speed of 37 knots we had some lovely long surfs – not quite dinghy sailing but great fun. As we approached the Isle of White, Hayling Bay and Chichester Harbour the sea was deserted apart from the moored ships off Bembridge. As it was a bank holiday weekend we had expected lots of yachts, dinghies and Gin Palaces to be out but the weather forecast and high winds had put everyone off.
Thanks to Richard for organising a great sail and weather forecast (for me it was great) and to Rooster for some great kit. I would thoroughly recommend Double Handed sailing. It is hard work but like dinghy sailing it gives you lots to do and keeps both crew involved for the whole race. What now? The Fastnet, Transatlantic, Round the World!
See you soon,