Fastnet 2017 – Blog Episode 5 (THE ELEMENTS STRIKE BACK?!) – FIRST QUALIFYING RACE!

De Gigo … er, Da Gringa … Gringo?  Gringo Bowl?  That doesn’t sound right.  Ah, De Guingand Bowl.  That’s easy to remember (!).  And probably why some sailors simply call it the Ging-Gang!

Yes indeed, the RORC De Guingand Bowl race.  Designed to last 24-36 hours, the Ging-Gang starts and finishes in the Solent and its course changes each year depending on the tides and weather.  We had been expecting to set off south towards Cherbourg but the forecast was south-westerly backing southerly, leaving the prospect of a lot of tacking for boats that didn’t reach Cherbourg fast enough, so this year we went most of the way round the Isle of Wight twice (intentionally!) with a run down to Anvil Point off the Swanage peninsular.

We met in Haslar Marina in Gosport, on a slightly chilly Friday morning.  It was the first time that all nine of us had been together, because James joined the crew after the Sea Survival training weekend and Phil and Woody were away on our first training sail last month.  We spend the morning re-familiarising ourselves with the boat and catching up with each other, and doing various bits of boat maintenance and checks to make sure we had all the right gear for the race the next day.  Perhaps the most challenging task was to get 2 huge sheets of orange sticky-back plastic to stick to our storm jib – James, Luke and Woody passed their auditions for Blue Peter!

In the afternoon we sailed gently over to Cowes Yacht Haven and completed a few more last-minute bits and pieces (the dodgers with our sail numbers had gone missing so Jason and Trevor did their own Blue Peter “here’s one I made earlier” trick) before repairing to a local hostelry to talk race tactics.

Race day dawned and the marina was a flurry of excitement.  By the time we crossed the starting line off the Royal Yacht Squadron at 9.10am, the early morning rain had cleared and we had our sunglasses on and were splashing on the suncream.  Up went the spinnaker with Woody leading the foredeck crew as we headed east up the Solent, leaving No Man’s Land fort to starboard and heading south past Bembridge on our way to St Catherine’s point, the southern tip of the Isle of Wight.

It’s 40 years or so since I came on holiday to the Isle of Wight – Blackgang Chine and all that – and I’d never sailed round the island before, always passing through the Solent, and I loved every minute as Luke, Woody and Mark steered us a steady course past spectacular cliffs and sun-drenched beaches.  We changed watches at 4pm as we approached the Needles and Jason, Phil, Trevor and James took over.

Luke, Woody, Mark and I were back on at 8pm and it was starting to get a bit breezy.  With Jason and Dhara’s help, we worked on getting Jalapeño nicely balanced and, with one reef in the genoa and main and the wind gusting 30mph, we whooped as she comfortably hit 10 knots on a close reach on the way down to Anvil Point, where we turned round for home.  We felt a few drops of rain towards midnight and Jason generously offered to take over early so we wouldn’t get wet before going off-watch.  It turned out to be a very kind gesture as the wind and rain really kicked in over the next four hours, giving Jason and his team an exciting time!  They coped admirably and, despite the worsening weather, sleep came quickly to me and I awoke quite refreshed just before 4am for our next watch.

As chance would have it, both wind and rain had had enough and our 4am-8am watch was actually a little too peaceful.  Unfortunately – and, to be fair, not surprisingly given it was our first time on Jalapeño – we had dropped a bit behind our schedule and ended up bucking the tide for much of the previous 12 hours, but the flood tide was with us now and swept us across to St Catherine’s Point and up the east coast of the Isle of Wight.

The wind picked up and, 28 hours and 13 minutes after starting, we crossed the finishing line in glorious sunshine once again.

Next stop – the Morgan Cup on 9th June.  And this one definitely will be across the Channel, to Guernsey.  May a south-easterly Force 5 be with us!

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