The Centenary Chase is not until this afternoon, so we enjoy a quiet morning in Yarmouth, with a few more gaffers appearing including “Betty II” and “Dirk II”. Nigel Irens turns up in his motor launch ‘Wilhelmina’, which has remarkably clean lines. He’s particularly pleased to have made passage from Dartmouth to Beaulieu on 22lt of fuel. The 12:00 briefing is straightforward and we’re glad to find our crew, Tim and Lyn, there. ‘Nomad’ arrives from Poole during the briefing, so it looks like a good turnout for the race.
Back aboard the question is whether to put a reef in, or get the topsail out. The forecast is above where we would normally fly the topsail, but the wind’s not there yet and the alignment between wind and tide keeps the Solent flat. The expected course will be downwind, then a reach, then back upwind. It should be easy to drop the topsail if it’s too much for the beat, so up it goes. Others are doing the same, so we soon all make a fine sight in a good breeze. A healthy fleet of 20 boats turn out for the race, including 9 gaffers and 6 XODs. ‘Dirk II’ looks particularly good with her jib topsail up as well. ‘Mirelle’ is also looking smart, but loses her jib halyard before the start.
The Crabber 26 ‘Charlotte Elizabeth’ is first away, with ‘Hester’, ‘Carlotta’ & ‘High Barbaree’ next to set off, followed by ‘Furstin’. Then it’s our turn. ‘Charlotte Elizabeth’ is already round the first mark as we cross the line. It’s straight downwind and down tide. We’re not far behind ‘Furstin’ at the mark, with ‘Nomad’, just starting after us. Now it’s straight across the Solent and we’re touching 8kts on a beam reach. We pass ‘Furstin’ just before the mark and head up after the next group. Now we’re beating against the tide, so everyone heads inshore. As we tack out, the lazy backstay jams. With crew out of place on the outhaul, R tries to fix it, resulting in the boat coming to a standstill in irons for a minute. We get going again, but ‘Nomad’ is now storming up behind us. ‘Dirk II’ is looking threatening not far behind them.
We’re keen not to go too far out, but cover ‘Nomad’. We’re pointing slightly higher, but she’s going faster. After the next tack she sails through underneath us. We shouldn’t have let her take us out so far. Now we head all the way in again. We’ve made good progress against the smaller boats and duck ‘Hester’ as we pass. She tries to tack on top of us, but we’re clear ahead by the time she’s through the tack. ‘Nomad’ heads back out, to avoid the ferries, we continue right into the mouth of Lymington, with just a moment’s wind shadow from a ferry. We’re beating past a dinghy fleet, with just ‘Charlotte Elizabeth’ and ‘Nomad’ in front of us to the windward mark. ‘Dirk II’s jib topsail was a step too far and they’ve dropped away on the upwind leg.
Now it’s the usual problem of getting across the Solent tide to ‘Black Rock’. ‘Nomad’ and ‘Charlotte Elizabeth’ go straight out, with ‘Charlotte Elizabeth’ ahead and well to windward. We put in another tack, in the shallow water. When we tack out, our line quickly starts to look tight again. ‘Nomad’ has had to tack back against the tide in the main channel and we’re back ahead of her. ‘Charlotte Elizabeth’ goes all the way across, but isn’t quite laying ‘Black Rock’. The rest have dropped away behind us, although the XODs are coming up. ‘Charlotte Elizabeth’ appears to tack early. Is this our chance? We head for the same spot and find out why they tacked. The island’s window shadow leaves no choice. We tack towards ‘Black Rock’. ‘Nomad’ hasn’t made the mark either, needing a final short tack. At the buoy ‘Charlotte Elizabeth’ is still ahead, with ‘Nomad’ close behind and then us. Now it’s downwind to the finish line. ‘Charlotte Elizabeth’ desperately tries to keep clear of ‘Nomad’s wind shadow and luffs her towards the pier. The size difference is just too great. ‘Nomad’ passes her less than 200m before the line. There isn’t time for us to do the same, so we’re 3rd. Then there’s a substantial gap before the XODs and single folkboat follow us in. The other gaffers are still battling the tide.As we’re packing up ‘Carlotta’ comes across under full sail, but retires. We’ve had a great race, with a good turnout, everyone pushing hard and perfect weather. One less mistake and 3 of us would have been on the finish line together!
Back in the harbour, it’s time for tea/beer. Marion joins us and Julian Hicks also looks in. He’s been sailing on ‘Dirk II’. Then there’s just time to get to the prize giving. As well as ‘Nomad’ picking up two trophies (first overall and first gaffer), ‘Mirelle’ takes the trophy for last to finish. They had rigged a new halyard, but started 20 minutes late, so seem pleased enough. We all enjoy a good steak pie at the Royal Solent.
- Pursuit races can be fun!
- Try taking in the slack on the lazy backstay when preparing for a tack to avoid it jamming.
- Start getting the mainsheet in earlier before marks leading to a beat.
- Watch the COG (Course Over Ground) all the time, when beating against the tide. (dedicated navigator/tactician?)
- Minimise distractions for the helmsman.
- It’s almost impossible to go too far up-tide before crossing the Solent.