Fastnet 2019 - The Race Itself

Posted by Mary Coles on 5 September 2019

Dusty P's Race

By Crew member Allen Busby

Dusty P Crew

Well how was it? How did you do? Did you enjoy it? Questions and yet more questions…..

How was it?

Dusty P on way to the rock

It was good, fast, hard work but enjoyable for most of the crew for most of the time but not for all the time and not always at the same time. We came back mentally & physically spent.

Dusty P having rounded the rock

So how did we do? 

  • We crossed the finish into Plymouth at about 5.50am on Wednesday an elapsed time of 3 days, 16 hours, 20 minutes and 45 seconds.
  • 31st out of 60 in IRC 2
  • 154th out of 333 overall
  • 2nd out of 8 First 40’s from the marina on the Hamble from where Britannia operates

It was a fast race as there was plenty of wind, so it was hard on the boats and on the crews, 57 boats retired – we were on a beat all the way to the Fastnet Rock, although for 30 minutes on Saturday night we were going in the right direction but stern first because the wind died but we managed to turn Dusty P round and creep away to better wind.

The crew worked very well as a team, the training paid off and we were very well skippered by Richard and by Martin our first mate, mention has to be made of the quartermaster, Mark who kept us well fed. Although conditions were sufficiently rough for the 24 hours preceding rounding the rock that we lived on the Fastnet diet – water, bananas and chocolate bars! Mark purchased sufficient bananas that we were able to supply the pontoon.

We will save mention of the Tuesday night mast climbing until later!

We discussed why we did it and decided it was for three things: to get three shirts, sore backsides and a beer at the end – it seemed worthwhile!

Dusty P Celebrates

All or Nothing's Race

By co-boat owner and crew member Simon Dipple

The night before the race, much to Chris’s surprise, was a quiet one spent with the other HOEOCA crew sailing Dusty P in Ye Olde Whyte Harte in the Hamble – nothing to report on this, all very sensible.

AON Crew

We slipped our mooring at 10.30BST and, with the weather forecast we’d been watching develop over the previous week, we expected rather unfavourable conditions with very light wind forecast for the start and first 48hrs of the race and generally light winds forecast for the majority of the course itself, it looked like it might be a very slow race. However, on August 3rd as we headed out to the start line and to sea it was clear the weather forecasts were going to be proved wrong and there was at least enough wind to make steady progress out of the Solent and an increasing confidence that there would be a good amount of wind heading across the Irish sea and North Atlantic for us to make a good time around the course.

With nearly 90 boats starting in class four and more than another 300 boats milling around the start line the risk of collision was high so with such high stakes for Chris and I we took a very conservative start to the race but as soon as the starting cannon boomed it’s call we kicked into race mode and hoisted our light weight spinnaker and headed down the Solent. Challenged by the wind hole created by land and other boats we worked hard to keep AON moving at speed and when we were met by HOEOCA Commodore and the crew of Sea Myth as spectators to wish us well, we had little opportunity to chat.

AON starting Fastnet

As we continued the run down the Solent the much larger, later starting boats of the fleet came hurtling past at great speed, winches squealing under the pressure of their huge sails. As we exited the Solent we confirmed our plan to head off shore to stay in pressure and avoid foul tides as much as was possible.

By mid afternoon of the first day the wind had shifted from an easterly to the west and we were working the upwind sails hard. We’d also settled into our watch system readying ourselves for the long race ahead. For longer races we’ve found that taking individual two hour breaks to ‘sleep’ when there was no significant activity on board worked best for us, though Chris found resting more challenging than myself. What this really meant was that once all of our jobs, sail changes, navigation, cooking, eating, cleaning, personal hygiene and other miscellaneous duties were done, one of us would collapse into a high side bunk and put a timer on our phones for 2 hours but ready to get onto deck if needed in 2-3 minutes – in reality this meant that for the full duration of the four day race we amassed approximately twenty hours rest in total; Goodness only knows how Alex Thompson and the other Vendee Globe skippers keep this up for weeks on end, that is incredible stamina.

With the wind strengthening and shifting forward we knew we’d have our work cut out to hold a decent position in the overall race as the conditions very much favoured larger waterline length boats and full crews, we didn’t let this deter us though and we fought hard down the channel towards the key turning point of the Lizard.

As the second night drew in we passed Lands End and headed north of the Scillies, the wind strength and direction switched around all over the place as we worked against the foul tide. Such were the strength of the squalls we encountered at this point in the race with consistent and gusting winds into the top end of F7 AON had now become awash with water (mainly rain from our oilies) and, with a disruptive current, anytime spent below decks not horizontal was now rather unpleasant. As the early light of Monday morning breached the horizon we set out into the Irish sea and we knuckled down to the hard slog towards the Fastnet Rock.

With the wind having moved 180 degrees in just a few hours the Irish sea was uncomfortably disorganised with the wave patterns constantly changing and hitting us simultaneously from two different directions, unusually for her, AON continued to be a very wet boat. We endured rather than enjoyed the work up the ladder to the rock but despite the conditions the crew remained determined to continue the race.

It’s an odd place the Irish sea, you can go for hours seeing nothing other than the odd sea bird like the Gannet and Auks with the odd dolphin pod and then within minutes you can find yourself in a tussle with another yacht for wind and boat speed as paths cross.

As we headed into our third night and neared the rock our spirits rose again as we hoped for a rest from sailing close hauled and that the run from the rock would be a drier leg. We rounded the rock in the dead of night and with a brief chance to check our position we knew that we were holding our own.

Our hopes of a drier run home were dashed though, with the wind speed increasing again we had to run under J2 and main as the waters gushed over the boat from all angles at times washing the driver off his position. During one particularly hairy watch I was drenched by one ‘Wrong un’ coming over amidships and as the remains of the great wave washed over me I felt the unusual sensation of something ‘flapping’ across my lap. When Chris came on watch as dawn was breaking I asked him to check the cockpit for stowaways when he found not one but a brace of garfish expired on the decks of AON. For those who have not been brought up fishing, it would be fair to say that garfish are not the most attractive of fish looking like a cross between a swordfish, eel and mackerel so they were unceremoniously returned to king Neptune’s lair.

During the same watch, I have to admit to a very uncomfortable period (boxer changing conditions had I had a dry pair) when I could hear numerous calls over the radio between racing yachts and fishing boats when from a long way off I could see the ominous red, green and white lights of something very large heading directly towards us. The wind conditions were so fierce that the auto helm was unable to hold a course so careful vigilance on our AIS monitor was not possible, so I waited keeping my fingers and toes crossed for the lights to change colour as fishing vessels invariably do change course to follow their prey. When the boat was almost on top of me I decided I had to take the pain and jump from the helm to the plotter I found the vessel was omitting no AIS signal and in my very tired state I still knew it could not be a legitimate fishing vessel but sadly couldn’t be certain what exactly it was. As the pressure abated I realised that almost certainly meant the vessel was military of some sort and that certainly it would be avoiding me, it was a few uncomfortable minutes before the ship passed ahead of us, its darkened silhouette burnt into my memory has subsequently helped me identify it as the Irish Navy’s Le Eithne a helicopter patrol vessel.

The rest of the run from the rock passed without much of note, at some point during the passage the starboard side B&G display decided to give up which meant we had to drive a good part of the race by feel alone, Chris and I battled to put on our soaked clothing, dolphins appeared and went, phosphorescent seas bubbled and boiled around AON but we ploughed on eating up the miles and gradually closing in on other boats.

As we closed on the Scilly isles on Wednesday evening we tucked into our third fine meal of the race which gave the crew a boost of energy and readied us for the final run into Plymouth. Working our way as close as we dare to the TSS we turned north again but sadly with the wind remaining resolutely from the west which significantly favoured the symmetric boats. After a few hours continued sailing under main and jib we decided to hoist the code zero once again. We sailed happily for a while but before too long it was time to gybe back towards land. During that manoeuvre in around 22 knots of wind the C0 got friendly with the forestay and refused to fully unfurl, we now had a huge sail, unfurled at the top and only partially unfurled at the bottom – not cool! A good few minutes of exhausting wrestling passed but eventually after a quick wash the C0 was back on board with the three of us involved in the fight only incurring minor flesh wounds.

Back now under main & jib, we agreed we couldn’t stay like that and although the wind was still blowing over 20knots with the likelihood of the wind abating as we passed the lizard into Plymouth bay the A2 was again called into action. Spinnaker up jib down we put the kettle on for a hot drink for the first time in 3 days, before the kettle had boiled a large bang reverberated throughout the boat and the spinnaker deflated like a popped pink balloon falling unceremoniously into the sea along side AON. More heaving and strength draining work was done to bring the sodden A2 back on board adding more water to the floor of AON but as we repacked the sorry looking kite we were amazed to see she was fully intact. Luckily, we have two spinnaker halyards so without further adieu the jib went up again, we re-ran the spinnaker lines, hoisted the A2 and dropped the jib again.

Mid morning of Wednesday we felt confident we’d enough easting in that we could make our final gybe for Plymouth and in the warmth of a sunny morning we ran towards the finish line at speed. By this point the crew were feeling the burden of the race and lack of sleep, unusually (it might be said) the only thing on our minds was hoping to finish the race in under 4 days and to get some sleep. As we crossed the finish line relief ran warm through our veins as we knew we’d achieved our goal to complete the race two handed in a respectable time.

So how did we do?

  • 161 from 337 boats in IRC overall
  • 22nd from 82 boats in our class IRC4
  • 26th from 63 boats sailing double handed

AON Celebrates

The postscript…..
With the weather conditions set to deteriorate to such a degree with ferocious winds due to lash the south coast we agreed that sadly this year our celebrations would have to wait for another day and we set out at 06:00BST on Thursday morning for a brisk sail back. The weather though much wetter was somewhat reminiscent of our first Fastnet return in 2013 but thankfully lessons learnt from that year the return was far less eventful and we arrived intact in the Hamble shortly after 4am on Friday 9th August.

As we’ve done so before Chris and I would like to thank each of our families and friends that have helped us on this journey which is now coming to a close but not before our few last races of the season in an attempt to make a top five place in the overall RORC rankings again this season.

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