What a race, a real mixture of highs and lows!
Before we left, as I posted the weather was looking great and it lived up to it. We left Plymouth with a short upwind dog leg out of the port, then cracked off about 30 degrees heading for Edistone light house. We were 2nd round the windward mark and alot of the boats started to prepare code zeros, after some deliberation I decided this was the wrong choice as the wind was around 20 knots and bouncing around the cliffs. We power reached with just the jib and sailed really well, the boats with zeros couldn't hold course and dropped to leeward. We ended up getting to the lighthouse first.
Then began the long beat passing west of the sillies and heading to Fastnet 2 days of bashing upwind in medium-heavy breeze slamming our way to Ireland. As painful as it was there was a huge decision to make about when to tack in order to lay the Fastnet. The wind was forecast to veer and lift us to the rock, so the decision was tack early and risk underlaying and being on the wrong side of track on the non-making tack or tack late and risk overlaying in 2 days time! We tacked first and nailed it, sailing our desired upwind angles and arriving 2 days later at the rock, in first position. Very happy
Just before the rock we had a call from a cable laying vessels support boat who told us to alter course which would of taken us far off track and missed the Fastnet. I explained the importance of us staying on course, so for half an hour we had a escort from a very large ship, very grand. As we passd the rock the fog roled in and the visablibty drop to virtually nothing, it was strange as you don't oftren get fog with that much wind. We hoisted the big kite and started to race down wind across the south of Ireland to the next mark Conningbeg to the East. After an hour or so we heard again from our friends on the cable laying vessel, we were again crossing pathes again but this time behind rather than in front, this is normally good news but not when the are towing a 2 mile long cable just below the surface.... They suddenly got very heated on the VHF telling us we were in "immanent danger" (never something you want to hear) as they panicked to explain the situation, bearing in mind the fog was so thick we couldn't see the cable ship. It was a nerve racking few minutes involving two fast gybes but the the ship appeared on the horizon and it was clear that we were past the ship and any danger.
The wind continued to build from 15 up to around 30 knots from behind, perfect mini
conditions, the waves were quite step and the driving was tricky but very fast, through the day we had to change to the medium and then small kites, we had a few wipe outs but nothing too bad. (I caught 1 on video and I will post it soon.)
Rounding Conningbeg was tricky as we were approaching fast, at night and in fog. The sailing instructions, charts and my previous data for the marks position were all slightly different, we agreed to play it safe and take the furthest mark (being the charted mark) to defiantly cover ourselves. We did these maneuvers under white sails (jib and main) so lost a little time but we found the mark. A few of the others went for the shorter mark, then ended beating upwind in tide to reach the real mark, loosing hours.
We started heading back towards Lands End flying along under main and jib, then as the sun rose went to code zero, I think this was my biggest mistake of the race, I went with the polar number but should of gone with my instincts and put up the code 5, as the boat didn't handle well in these conditions with the zero. We change to the 5 as the day went along and arrived speedily to the Fastnet taking our desired course through the tide. Its hard place to race and pre-plan, the speeds the mini does are very wind dependent you cannot make a fixed plan of when you will arrive but for somewhere like Land End you really need to because you need to know where you want to be for best tide. We got it right and rounded the corner and put up the big kite for the run home to Plymouth.
We had a race now to beat the tide to round Lizard Point before 10pm and make the tidal gate with good tide before it changed and we ended up sitting still for 6 hours. The weather had said on the Thursday morning the low would move and the high would bring low winds, but from the clouds and the way they were moving you could see it was starting early. We made the Lizard just as the tide changed, the waves got very step and we got a sunset bit of breeze up to 20 knots it was the hardest part of the race but we made it.
The wind continued to drop through the night on our final approach to Plymouth and as the sun rose it shut down completely, we ended up drifting around in the harbor meter from the finish trying to cross deja vous! We even had a ship on stand by so we could cross the finish and get out of the channel.
We though we had done well but got the radio call we were second, any excellent result but I have to admit I was disappointed, I really wanted to win this one. The French boat Festival de Pain number 800 had beaten us back by a few hours. We had seen and battled them all around the course but they had pulled away with the more modern hull design in the power reaching back from Fastnet and had missed the light breeze at the finish. Congratulations to them, Great sailing.
This has been the best race of the season, the course had a little of everything and really tested us, it would of been great to have more of the French protos here to battle it out. Thanks to the Royal Western Yacht Club for being great hosts. I hope to do lots more racing here in the future! And thanks to Keith Willis for being a great co-skipper.
We have had many congratulation and even got told by a French coach we sailed a "beautiful race", it doesn't get better than that. This result has bumped Soitec to 2nd overall for the 2011 season!