So, here I am, exhausted after the RORC Channel Race. Soaked through after a 2 day battle against the British summer weather and the English Channel.
I was aboard a sailing yacht called Rho, competing in the Open 40 Class. The biggest of the classes, with approx. 40 boats. Rho is a 36ft Sigma. A classic cruiser/racer, she was luxurious by my standards. I had my own cabin (‘hot bedding’ between watches), running water, a table in the saloon, a toilet which accepts paper and has a seat (!) and various other ‘luxuries’. As soon as I started exploring her, I realised this would be a different kind of racing for me.
Skippered by Simon Wilson of Equinox Sailing, our crew was made up of amateurs. All (except me) have being competing together as a team, in a string of RORC races ahead of the infamous Fastnet in 2 weeks time. They were a very lovely bunch, and I enjoyed sailing with them.
My RORC Channel Race 2017:
I arrived in Hamble the night before the race. It was absolutely bucketing it down with rain, so on the walk to the pub, I was duly soaked – setting the tone for the weekend. In my Clipper Race crew smock, I stood out like a saw thumb, and it wasn’t long before someone tapped me on the shoulder… I spun round to see a wide smile, and a lovely lady who went on to introduce herself and tell me how she’d competed in leg 8 on the 13/14 edition, and it was the best decision of her life. Reassuring!
My crew arrived in dribs and drabs, and we chatted excitedly about the forthcoming race, about Fastnet, and about my big race next year. A few drinks are always a great ice breaker. Then back to our home, Rho ready for an early start.
7.30am. The sky is grey and it’s drizzling on the Hamble River. Up on deck, I look around, and the marina is bustling, busy with crews prepping their boats ahead of the RORC Channel Race. It feels exciting to be part of something big. Before long we are ready, and we start our motor down river and towards the start line in the Solent.
We are in a line of boats, all making their way to the start. We’re in good company with world class offshore race team, Rambler next to us. Before long, we arrive in the Solent, and it is quite a sight.
There’s 100’s of boats jostling, and getting ready for race start, each trying to find the best position for the countdown. This is intense stuff, avoiding collisions left, right and centre. The COLREGS run through my head, port tack, starboard tack, upwind, leeward, who’s right of way is it?! I’m saying the regs over and over in my head, and I’m pleased that with each decision I make in my head, our skipper is making the same choice. I have clearly learnt a lot and it’s paying off.
We parade past the committee vessel – holding up our radar reflector, and fire blanket – two items they’d asked all boats to display. We get a thumbs up. It’s then time to kill the engine and hoist. We’re now sailing, and constantly tacking, among a throng of other yachts. There are many close calls, various boats shout for water, as do we. And with that, the canon blasts. We’re off!
The race is on…
Phew! Finally all boats are heading in the same direction, towards the Needles. Alas there is still much tacking and we need to keep our wits about us. There is one very close call, and tension builds on-board, but past the needles, the boats dissipate. It’s quite a sight seeing nearly 200 boats beating upwind in to the open sea. I feel alive. I feel at home. I love racing.
Our course takes us round a mark and then over the Channel to an imaginary box near Cherbourg. The sea state is pretty good for the Channel, although some find it too much. The vomit starts to flow below deck, and above deck.
On-board, there isn’t much work to do. I am used to heavy work, pulling on sheets, grinding on winches and coffee grinders, trimming constantly. But this is a small boat with 9 of us splitting the jobs. And even with a couple of people wiped out by sea sickness, a lot of time is just spent sitting on deck, keeping look out. At times I actually find that (dare I say it) I am a little bored.
In watches of 3 hours on, 3 hours off, we round the mark near Cherbourg and finally have some down wind sailing. The crew that had been struck with seasickness resurface, and at day light we fly the kite. We’re well on our way now. But still it is fairly uneventful, and if I’m honest, there are too many hands. Rain comes and goes, we get a soaking, sometimes unnecessarily so, which is irritating… we are not all needed on deck.
On the helm, I finally feel like I’m doing something of use. Perfect downwind sailing, we’ve moving fast, but the wind is shifty. A crew member is sitting straddling the traveller, which makes me rather uneasy. In my head, I can not believe what would possess someone to do such a thing, the risk of sitting on a traveller when we’re running down wind in shifty winds, just doesn’t bare thinking about. After some debate, and a few huffs, he moves. Regardless of who’s boat I’m on, or whether I’m the stranger on board, I will not helm with someone straddling the traveller! One crash gybe and I could have killed him, and I will not let someone put me in that position.
The finish line is in sight
We round our final mark, near Brighton. Put in a gybe and then bam! As the boom comes across, our mainsail rips in half. Unbelievably frustrating. So close to finishing, and yet so far. We drop it, and raise the tri sail. This is going to be a slow trip home. We’re already late. With nothing to do on deck, I head below and decide to get some sleep. I have to admit, I am not in the best of moods. I don’t feel that I’ve worked hard, I don’t feel that we’ve raced particularly hard, and now we’ve sustained major damage that will further delay our return to port.
7 or so hours later, we arrive back in the marina on the Hamble. A quick clean up, and we’re off the boat. It’s late (11pm or so), we’re exhausted through lack of sleep (certainly not through too much work!) and it’s time to head home.
The experience was great. I was lucky to have the opportunity to join the crew and be part of the race. And I’ve learnt some lessons… my main out take is that I think it is important to have aligned objectives when racing, and in this case, I don’t think we did. I wanted to push hard and really go for it, no one else seemed to share that objective. For them this was just another step to doing Fastnet. All in all, it felt like we were cruising the race, rather than racing the race. Maybe that’s not a bad thing though, I met some lovely people, I gained some more experience, I joined a race, I gained some learning’s, and I had fun. So does it matter. No, probably not.