The Brewin Dolphin Commodores' Cup fleet came ashore today after their high scoring offshore race with war stories.
These were not about wrestling on the foredeck in gale force winds, but of repeatedly anchoring in a flat calm to prevent themselves being whisked off down Channel by the powerful spring tide.
YHesterday before lunchtime the fleet headed east down the Solent from Cowes. The boats then had to head out into the English Channel, down to a virtual mark 17 miles south of Bembridge. After passing this virtual mark late yesterday afternoon, the westbound tide was so strong and the wind so light that they were unable to get back to complete the mark rounding. The entire fleet was forced to anchor for most of the evening until the tide turned. This 'kedging', they managed with mixed success.
'We were first to the virtual mark and were tempted to do a hand break turn and whizz round, but we were concerned we were going to cross our tracks, so to be sure we did what everyone else did and kedged,' recounted Jonathan Goring, skipper of the Ker 40, Keronimo, in RYA Team GBR Red. To kedge they paid out 140m of line and chain in 40m of water as the spring tide sluiced past them at up to 3.6 knots. And they stayed like this for five hours...
'We had to keep someone on the helm the whole time otherwise the boat would have ripped the anchor out,' continued Goring. 'We were lucky to get our kedge back. We think it got caught around a rock - literally the stern of the boat was out of the water as we winched it up.'
Around six boats weren't successful and ended up dragging. Among them was Premier Flair, Jim Macgregor's Elan 410 racing in Team GBR Blue, which was washed five miles west down the Channel before their anchor finally bit. 'We had plenty of anchor equipment - two anchors, two cables and loads of rope, but that didn't hold,' said Macgregor.
Late into the evening, even once the tide had turned, the rounding of the virtual mark wasn't over for Dignity in RYA Team GBR Red having been unable to pass the correct side of the mark before the tide changed.
The boats then made good headway north back up to the Outer Nab 2 mark where they were again expecting to anchor in the early hours of this morning with the tide turning west once more. Around this mark there was another mass fleet park up as the wind once again died on the tide turn.
With the second park-up, Premier Flair had managed to make up the ground she had lost on the first but rounded the mark straight into a busy parking situation. Having laid anchor to kedge, their anchor line began to foul the Hong Kong team's Grand Soleil 43, Team Ambush Quokka, to the extent that, after some 'discussion' with Premier Flair's crew, they were able to cut the line, take it to the other side of their boat and successfully tie it back together. For this Flair was awarded a 120 second time penalty.
Overnight the course was changed, eliminating the CS1 mark to the south of Brighton, and then shortened requiring the boats to finish at Bembridge Ledge. After the Outer Nab 2 mark, the boats reached east towards the Owers mark off Selsey Bill before reaching back to the eastern extremity of the Solent and the finish, where the leaders experienced another park-up before they were able to cross the line.
Ultimately with three re-starts the results favoured the small boats and it was the Paul Worswick -skippered A 35 CNBC that came out on top for RYA Team GBR Red. Their result corrected out to win the offshore race (with its 2.5x points weighting) two and a half minutes ahead of the lowest rated boat in the fleet, David Aisher's British Keelboat Academy-crewed J/109 Yeoman of Wight in GBR Black. 'We are pleased as punch, really happy,' said Worswick, standing in for the boat's owner Mike West.
'It was all about the tidal gates, but it turned out that every time you got to a mark everyone just anchored and the slow boats all caught up. There were three re-starts and we thought we were winning at each stage before it all compressed again.' But the CNBC crew also sailed well, and for example arrived at the 'virtual mark' ahead of many faster boats.
During this 24 hour race the CNBC crew kedged four times, twice within half a mile of the finish line when the wind disappeared.
First boat home on the water was the Benelux Ker 40 Baraka GP owned by the de Graaf family, which overhauled Keronimo on the water in the final park up. This was despite the Dutch big boat being one that suffered when her anchor dragged yesterday evening.
'We dragged for 3.1 miles,' said eldest son Dirk, however they got their kedge up earlier and were able to sail back to the competition as the tide turned in their favour again.
According to de Graaf, Baraka GP managed to get pass Keronimo when they hoisted their Code 0 allowing them to lay the finish line directly. 'It was nice for a team that has only been sailing the boat for one month now,' de Graaf concluded.
However the most consistent team in the offshore race was France with a particularly strong performance from Hervé Borgoltz's Grand Soleil 44 R Eleuthera, which finished among the Ker 40s on the water leaving them third overall on corrected.
Eleuthera, along with Premier Flair, got off to the best start and was among the leaders on the water exiting the Solent. But this hardly mattered. 'It has been a very strange race because we had three restarts,' said Eleuthera's owner Herve Borgoltz. 'We are in better shape even than after Cowes-Dinard. We know that the boat goes very fast, but it is the first time we have raced against Ker 40s - they are two generations of boat design ahead of us, and to have some of the Ker 40s behind us is a great satisfaction.'