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The Round the Island Race

Just back home from a fantastic weekend racing on the Challenge 72 yacht Big Spirit. Off to a bit of slow start Friday as there was a distinct lack of wind in the Solent, anyway we did some spinnaker (otherwise known sailing boats as kites) drills at the dockside then pottered off to Cowes under power in the hope the breeze would build through the afternoon. It did a bit and by reversing using the engine into the slight breeze we managed to produce enough wind for one one practice hoist and drop of the kite. Only about  3Kt of real wind though, the Challenge yachts needs about 6 or 7 Kt to get moving and about 13 to get them really powered up and going at there best so no point trying anything else. Not exactly the ideal training day for a crew who had all sailed before, for the most part had at least one or two races in a big yacht behind them but had never sailed together before but thats the nature of the game we play. So back to Southampton, dinner in the pub and an early night for all of us, hoping for a bit more breeze come the morning or the beer fridge might have been open well before breakfast time!
3am Saturday and assorted iphones, blackberries and other such devices are making their wakeup calls and the sound of wind blowing through the rigging .  5am start time and the line about an hour from our moorings meant leaving the dockside at 3:30 so everyone up quickly, the kettle on, bacon into the oven and making ready to get under way in the pre-dawn light, windspeed indicator showing 10Kts northerly so good job we managed that practice launch of the kite yesterday as that meant a spinnaker start. 3:30 we slip our moorings and motor off into Southampton water and then the solent accompanied by mugs of tea and bacon butties.
Although its a handicap race so in theory everyone is on a level footing for the corrected times there is a problem with the rating for our class of boats putting us at a disadvantage in the final results based on adjusted times, (its based on us weighing about 38 tonnes when we actually weigh about 52, heavier = slower ) so our real race was against the other 4 boats of the same design as us.
So instead of the start I experienced last time which was day into wind so everyone was tracking up  the line ready to slam the helm over into tack in the right direction as the gun fired this year we were all lurking about a few hundred yards back in a position calculated so we could hoist the kite on the 2 minute warning and hit the line at full speed very soon after the start, over the line a fraction of second early would mean disqualification so we all erred slightly on side the side of caution, we crossed the line about 30 sec after the gun, a pretty good start! Saw both Valsheda and Leopard up very close before they powered away from the fleet. Was a bit busy on the spinnaker trim winch to take much notice but the folks out on the water watching the start must have been treated to a rather spectacular sight a most of the boats in our class (and I think the later ones) made the same call as us on how to play the start so all those kites went up in a few seconds of each other.
Then all was set for a fast sail down the Solent.  Last time I did the race it took us 3 and bit hours and literally dozens of tacks (zig zagging across to travel in the direction the wind is coming from) to reach the Needles, this time we were round them by 7am gybing (turning so the wind direction goes across the back of the boat) and then dropping the kite and hoisting the two sails in front of the mast a Number 2 Yankee (the one for second lightest winds) and the staysail. Kite put away so my job shifted to looking after trim on the staysail and main. Winds had picked up to 10 to 15 Kts here so just nice for the boat but after a little way the skipper  decided we were a bit underpowered so time for a racing sail change to the No 1 Yankee for the reach down to St Catherines, three and half hours to St Cats and the class record of just under 7 hours was looking an outside possibility but as we rounded the point the wind dropped a bit and shifted to north east so slowed us down as even sailing as close to wind as we could bushed us quite a way out, still it was the same for everyone so the race was still on! Took another 3 1/2 hours and about to make our way to the eastern end of the Island so no class record but still on for a good time, as we rounded the fort at the end of the island the wind came back to northerly so all set up for a fast close reach back to Cowes, 50 min later we were across the line, 7hrs 50min and 17sec after the gun. Sails packed away and moored up, beer in hand by 1:30pm and lucky for us our mooring buoy was right on the finish line so we sat watching the rest of the fleet come in while we ate lunch and waited for the rib to come and take us into Cowes for a drink on two!
As I said at the start our rating is is wrong so no surprise we came towards the bottom of the class but some rather pleasing reading in the result table nonetheless:
Sail No              Name                                Handicap           Finish time        Elapsed     Corrected  Overall Position
GBR1807L   BIG SPIRIT                1.211   12:50:17   07:50:17 09:29:31 529
GBR1R        ICAP LEOPARD                1.869 10:10:06   05:10:06 09:39:35 530
GER6003        POGO 2                        1.203 13:11:34   08:11:34 09:51:21 531
FRA50        TECHNEAU                   1.269 12:47:13   07:47:13 09:52:54 532  
GBR8873R TALL SHIPS CHALLENGE 1.198 13:15:12   08:15:12 09:53:15 534  
GBR8872R TALL SHIPS CHALLENGE 1.198 13:25:11   08:25:11 10:05:13 536  
GBR8871R TALL SHIPS CHALLENGE 1.198 13:32:34   08:32:34 10:14:03 537
GBR8874R TALL SHIPS CHALLENGE 1.198 13:44:30   08:44:30 10:28:21 538

The other 4 yachts of the same design as us were the 4 Tall Ships ones so we easily beat them both on actual elapsed time and corrected for handicap time (they were rated slightly slower than us as they don't carry spinnakers but their base rating is the same wrong value as ours) and 1 place below us on corrected time (even with our wrong rating) despite being one of the first boats to finish is  Leopard 3. Think we can class it as job done for our random crew beating the pro crew on one of the fastest racing yachts there is!

That sounds like and exhausting, exhilarating weekend

Yep, only problem with my love of racing big yachts (the 72 in Big Spirits class name is her length in feet) is it has put me off playing with sailing dinghies which are rather more accessible living about as far from the sea as you can get on this Island!
Here is a bit more about the yacht which may be where the info for the wrong handicap comes from , the makers measurements plaque in Big Spirit certainly say 52 tonnes so not sure where that site gets its displacement figure as all the Challenge 72s are identical

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