Round The Island With Ivy Green

We make the most of the late start time and slip our mooring just after 7am. The forecast is for strengthening WSW wind, peaking off St. Catherine’s this afternoon, but it’s not cold and we should miss any rain. We go for a single reef and the working No. 1 jib and staysail. It looks like the topsail and asymmetric will be staying in their bags. The starting area seems calm compared to last year. The super-sized gaffers are not here and the big multi-hulls have been sent out beyond the ODM. ‘Leopard3′ still puts on a show nearby. We learn later that the small multi-hulls, Division 3 gaffers and the sports boats behind us have all been cancelled, due to the weather forecast.

At 08:40 we start in clear air on the middle of the line and head towards the island shore. The bigger gaffers, ‘Jolie Brise’, ‘Aeolus’ and ‘Thalia’ all went for the pin end. The smaller boats are inshore of us. The ebb tide is running close in to Cowes and we get a good lift from it. We make a couple of tacks inshore, with ‘Rosenn’, ‘Susan J’ and ‘Sophie’ doing the same. Then we head out to beat down the main Solent channel, as the IRC fleets chase us down. We still can’t point as high as them, with their hi-tech sails, but we’re making good progress. Once again the Solent is solid with boats. There’s a lot of ducking and quick tacking, but no scares this year. It looks like we’ve got the sail plan right too. The smaller boats are all reefed, ‘Jolie Brise’ and ‘Thalia’ are not. ‘Aeolus’ seems to be struggling and, as we pass Yarmouth after just over 2hrs, we see them turn back.

Hurst Narrows is predictably bumpy, with a strong ebb tide and a good F5 westerly blowing. ‘Ivy Green’ makes light work of it, as lighter boats bounce off the waves and come to a standstill. We’re passing some bermudan boats again. We stick to the Northern side of the channel and find that we’ve also caught and overtaken ‘Thalia’. We lay a good tack to the Needles, as Yarmouth lifeboat stands by a trimaran that’s heading home. We bear away at 11:45, as the chop turns to swell and we’re rolling along right beside ‘Susan J’. There are very few spinnakers on show today. It’s a moment to breathe and break out the sausage rolls. The steady flow of homemade flapjack continues to keep everyone fuelled up. ‘Jolie Brise’ has long since disappeared over the horizon. Online photos later show us how, with the 100 year old Fastnet winner the very picture of power, adding topsail to full main. Ahead of us we see ‘Sophie’ rounding up to shake out her reef, as a few others do the same. We do not follow their example.

‘Susan J’ takes the inshore route down the back of the island, while we’ve been scared offshore by the weather briefing. ‘Thalia’ soon blasts past us, further offshore. At St. Catherine’s the fleet seems to be ignoring advice to go inshore or stand off, so round we all go. It’s 13:50. The short chop we were expecting isn’t there, but big waves are. The wind is gusting up to F7 now, as we bear further off the wind. Eventually we summon up our courage and put in the gybe. ‘Ivy Green’ ensures that it is not an exciting manoeuvre, while others feel the need to tack round. We’re now on a direct course for Bembridge Ledge, so ‘Ivy Green’ and I focus on practicing our surfing. 10kts flashes up on the GPS occasionally, despite the adverse tide. Then the waves settle back down as the wind eases back to the F5-6 realm.

‘Susan J’ has got back past us, inshore, but we arrive at Bembridge Ledge at 16:10, with lots of sea-room. We harden up and it’s a fetch. We’re steady over 7kts and overtaking boats old and new, including another pass of ‘Susan J’. Once past the ‘Ryde Sands’ beacon we make a couple of tacks inshore. There’s a line of breakers along the edge of the sands, so we don’t see anyone going aground this year. ‘Sophie’ is way off on the North shore ahead of us. ‘Thalia’ has also gone that way and seems a long way down wind/tide. ‘Sophie’ looks to be the boat to beat. She’ll have to give us a little over 5 minutes on handicap. We decide not to follow them, but are lured offshore by a wind shift. By the time we realise our mistake, it’s a long tack across the tide, back towards Ryde and ‘Susan J’ is past us again.

Now we’re making good progress up the island shore. ‘Thalia’ comes back too and eventually slides past us. When ‘Sophie’ finally crosses, she’s behind us and not gaining! The wind is lighter here and we can’t point at times, as we’re underpowered. We consider losing the reef, but there are still plenty of gusts and we’re expecting more as we approach the finishing line. Finally we have to abandon the shallow water and get out to the finish line. The line is heavily biased against us. We watch ‘Thalia’ go wide, tack back, then tack again for the line and still not make it. ‘Susan J’ goes inshore and beats her to the line. Clearly we need to do the same. We tack in close to Castle Point, then head out for the line. An unexpected duck leaves us just short, but there’s plenty of wind and two more tacks get us across at 19:23. ‘Sophie’ crosses a couple of minutes behind us, so we’re optimistic!

We bear away and head for home, narrowly avoiding making a spectacle of ourselves on the Brambles Bank, after the skipper relaxes a little too early. The wind is still touching F6, so we’re back at the Royal Southern quickly enough. Declaration by text message and the results show that the only gaffers to finish were our group of four. All within 20 minutes, after 10.5 hrs of hard sailing. Congratulations to everyone involved. ‘Susan J’ is in Division 2, so we’ve successfully defended our title! We celebrate with a meal at ‘Slipway’, before collapsing into our bunks.

Thanks must go to Louise, Alex and Janice for their efforts and enthusiasm over 13hrs on the water. The conditions at both Hurst and St. Catherine’s were distinctly exciting, but everyone remained positive. ‘Ivy Green’ was magnificent, showing her capabilities to go far beyond what the crew would choose to do. She’ll clearly be up to defend her title next year. And there’s room for further improvement. We sailed 4.5nm further than last year, which is a good chunk of an hour. ‘Susan J’ showed us the advantages of the inshore route and ‘Ivy Green’ showed us not to be scared of the odd wave. As long as the flapjack keeps coming, we can do even better.

Gaffer results:

  • Division 1
    • 1st – Ivy Green
    • 2nd – Sophie
    • 3rd – Thalia
  • Division 2
    • 1st – Susan J
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