Fastnet 2023 - ‘Navige difficile et nihil relinque in aquis’ – ‘Sail hard and leave nothing on the water.’

Posted by Mary Coles on 12 August 2023

For Neil Maher; James Gasper; Kate Bould; Stuart Jones; Ben Hudson; Paul Russell; Alistair Kingham; Richard Swindells; PingPing; Craig Foster; Shirley Gervolino; Ed Osicki [The Crew of EH01 - Ed]

Is here a better place where we could be?

Than awaiting Fastnet 23.

Sailing prep has built a crew,

A bond, a trust to see us through.

And though the challenge maybe tough,

Together we know we’re good enough.


Saturday 22 July

Out of Cowes Yacht Haven at 12 noon the crew were in excellent spirit. Buoyed by the visit of family on a rib out of Hamble. As a sign of things to come, Amelia my daughter said the rib was ‘sick, at one point we were flying’, and so we departed keeping clear of other yachts. Heading for the far end of the line well clear of most boats. Our skipper, Neil, had planned to start wide and a few minutes behind the actual start. Time we would soon make up.

EH01 Crew Pre-Race

We started in rain and 25-plus knots of wind gusting to 35kts, with jib and trysail. We still flew down the Solent. At least until we blew the trysail. Amazingly that didn’t really matter, we still sailed on making 8-plus knotts with just the J3 in growing seas.

We sailed for 18 hours on a J3 without a main sail, in a 30-40kt wind. Water seemed to come at us from every conceivable angle. All bar three of the crew were ill. Some of us hiked on the rail to balance the boat, in the pitch black, the rest in the pit. In the face of this tough start, we functioned as a crew. Neil the skipper and James, first mate, were incredible. This was the period where we really came together. Hugging on the rail to help keep crew warm, protecting them from the elements when they were ill. Still racing the boat and doing very well in the fleet.

Crew that could, went below to sleep on sails, on the galley floor or in bunks fast becoming wet. No complaints just and acceptance that for now it was bad, but it will pass.

Those hugging buckets or getting fitful sleep, were periodically disturbed by mayday calls. Many boats retired.


Sunday 23 July

Daylight, the seas still heavy but the wind had receded. It appears we’d had a good race compared to many of our competitors. We switched to a full main with J2 and progressed at 7-8kts down The Channel. The crew slept in damp bunks and wet oilies. Poorly crew gained colour and EH01 sailed on.

A news helicopter hovered over the boat at around midday (hopefully we’ll get our 5 mins of fame 😊). Meanwhile we recovered our senses, the skipper and mate repaired the cooker, and dried our clothes.

At 4pm the dog watch had everyone on deck. With a fixed cooker we had our first hot meal of the race 26 hours after we started. Heaven in a boiled bag!! 5pm Sunday 23 July let’s see what comes next.


Monday 24 July

At 6am the ‘on watch’ were changing the foresail in a gale. 40 mins later a struggle ensued to drop the main. It took 30-40 mins to get it safely down and lashed. In the midst of this Richard’s life jacket inflated and the saltwater set off his e-purb unit. Neil the skipper notified the coastguard it was a false alarm. Some of the other ‘off watch’ came back up halfway through their rest period to assist their fellow crew members who were tired, wet but still resilient. The camaraderie was amazing.

By 9am Neil (skipper) and James (Mate) tortured us with sea chanties 😊. At 09.30am Bohemian Rhapsody was in full flow – what a crew!! The sea, wind and rain carried on unabated.

Gradually the sea and the wind eased as the current front passed over. Watches came together again on dog watch at 4pm to a reasonable swell and sunshine. Some crew had their oilies off drying out. Others came up from their bunks to wonder at the sun, accompanied by hot boil in the bag meals and ambrosia rice pudding – Heaven!! And on we sailed……..


Tuesday 25 July

Further into the Celtic Sea we swapped watch at 4am. I say swapped, everyone stayed on deck to help balance the boat – sunrise uneventful but warm.

The sun rose, warmth began to seep into our bones. The wind and sea gave us a breather. Too much of a breather, the wind dropped to practically nothing, the sun warmed us up and Fastnet Rock seemingly moved further away.

We could see the Rock but at 0.25kts of wind she teased us, keeping just out of reach. We’d expected to round at 7-8 am. We finally rounded at 1pm to hoots and cheers from Neil the skipper's Godfather and friends on a yacht anchored just off the Rock. We gently sailed away, tidied EH01 and ate the most delicious boil in the bag chilli curry, stew and pasta. Seals popped up to have a look at us, dolphins swam around, aside and under the boat. Then a minke whale stole the show. Rock achieved now onto Cherbourg……..

The next watch was uneventful, no sail changes but fast sailing touching 13kts at one point. Subsequently Neil the skipper adjusted the sail plan to match the conditions, flat racing seas with 15-20kts of wind. Down came the jib replaced by an A5, shortly afterwards we changed again to an S4. We were making 10 -11kts. As time passed, we joined by a pod of dolphins, distracting us, playing across the bow and stern – truly amazing!!

When the dolphins sensed distracting us was no longer a good idea, they disappeared allowing us to concentrate on dropping the spinnaker and raise the jib. It wasn’t our most efficient manoeuvre, the jib kept sticking. We progressed towards The Channel with growing wind and an increasing fetch. EH01 was sailing nicely at 8.5 - 10kts on a close reach, with 15-20kts of wind under main and A2 foresail We changed watch at 10pm. 94knm to go.


Wednesday 26 July

Lying in my bunk post the watch changeover I listened to the laughter and banter drifting down from the deck from the ‘on watch’. It made me smile. I wondered if they felt the same when we were on, I’m sure they did.

While one watch slept as best it could the crew on watch from 10pm to 4am had a torrid night. Paul Russell captured his account of that watch: The sea was very rough, wind gusting to 35 knots as the crew put 2 reefs in the main followed 15 minutes later by a full mainsail drop and boom lash. The urge in the off watch to go up and help was strong. The problem was we would give the skipper more things to worry about, more people to keep safe up on deck. We awaited ‘the all crew on deck’ call…..

EH01’s stern was swinging nearly 180 degrees from East to West as she surfed down 4m waves. The boom end whilst on a preventer frequently skimmed through the water and the overspill of sail coursed through the surf, there was concern it would collect water and impact the handling significantly.

Paul Russell’s overriding memory of the whole trip ‘…… was getting to the mast when the sea was making the yacht behave like a bucking bronco and looking back at Neil on the helm fighting like a devil to gain some control to stop a broach, his hair flying wildly in the night gales!! I knew at that moment that if anyone went overboard or the yacht suffered a knock down then lives would be lost, no question.’

Kate struggled to attach Paul’s harness whilst he and Richard struggled to pull the mainsail down. All they could do was get it as low as possible and then use sail ties to lash the last 5ft to the mast before tidying the boom. After dropping the main, the watch huddled on the rail as both sea and rain pummelled them relentlessly. 

At watch change the ‘off going’ watch asked for an extra hour rest given their shift from hell. The oncoming watch didn’t hesitate to agree, indeed we decided we’d let them rest as long as they needed. In the event, they  just took the extra hour, credit to them!!  This was why we asked for the extra 1-hour rest as it was for some the shift from hell.

Paul dramatically illustrated how lucky he felt to be there to take the experience and tell the story with Shakespeare’s Henry V's Agincourt speech

"And gentlemen in England now a-bed

Shall think themselves accursed they were not here, And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks"

At 4am the watches changed over. EH01 was sailing once again on jib alone. The ‘on watch’ were cold, wet, and exhausted. We made them a hot chocolate and ensure they were looked after prior to getting into their bunks. Afterwards we found out tiredness was probably due, in part, to them singing and acting out ‘oops upside your head’ on the rail towards the end of their shift’ …. courage in the face of adversity…😊.


Thursday Morning 27 July

Wind 18kts gusting 28, mainsail still down, sailing solely on the jib we made our approach to Cherbourg surfing the boat across 3m-plus waves.

We spotted the French coast at 7am in poor visibility. We were all very wet and cold, but still in great spirit. We remained on jib only – a couple of boats overhauled us on the run-in but given what we had achieved that didn’t matter. We were justifiably proud. We crossed the line a few minutes before 11am - 4 days 20hrs 56mins and 33 secs after we started.

Fastnet23 Course Sailed

A couple of hours later my favourite photograph (see below) was taken as we veered off course to the bar en-route to the heads. These people some unknown just six weeks prior to the race will live long in my memory, in what was a life changing week.

‘ Navige difficile et nihil relinque in aquis.’ – sail hard and leave nothing on the water…..

EH01 Crew Post-Race

Fastnet 2023 – Weathered Friends

Windy and wet for our Fastnet crew,

On the day the race was suddenly due.

Wet to the skin but set to the task,

We breezed through the Solent incredibly fast.

Blew out the tri-sale, carried on with the jib.

Still smiles on our faces, trepidation well hid.


Something was building not just the weather.

A bond was evolving a stronger together.

We we’re not strangers, an unknowing few,

We were sickly, compassionate, a blossoming crew.

Each watch brought a challenge that we took in our stride,

We faced them, and beat them, with developing pride.


That day at the rock was a page in our book,

Where we need future assurance that’s where we’ll look.

Whenever we’re down, whenever we’re sad.

We’ll look back to Fastnet to see what we had.

A bond amongst people previously unmet,

A dream an achievement – how good did we get!



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