Two-handed Round Britain & Ireland Race 2010

What's the context?

This is a two-handed race with simple principles: two men and a boat, no outside assistance, handling whatever the sea pushes your way.
The course: Britain, Ireland and all their outlying rocks to starboard. Rhumb line distance 2300 nautical miles approx. from 49 S to 60.20 N.

Stopovers: Kinsale (Ireland), Castlebay (Hebrides), Lerwick (Shetland), Lowestoft (East Anglia) back to the start/finish in Plymouth. All stopovers are a mandatory 48 hrs.

The race is run under ISAF Cat 2 rules with formal handicapping . Multihulls must fit inversion escape hatches, liferafts must be carried, AIS must be on, full storm sails must be useable and inversion contrasting colour paint applied.

It is customary to have at least one gale during the race, which is run every four years during the month of June. Competitors are expected to be able to anchor in stopovers and handle a full gale while at anchor.

It has been won by a multihull for the last 6 occasions, I think, but the presence of monohulls in the leader-board has been increasing. A surprising number of boats are purpose-built for this race among the 56 entries, 8 of which were multihulls. There were very few drop outs due to adverse circumstances this year.

The Start and Leg 1: Plymouth to Kinsale, Ireland

Goodbyes and well-wishes done, it was down to the RIB and out to the boat. The RWYC and others had prepared us well for what Round Britain meant so we should be ready, shouldn’t we? Preparation and planning should make it easier but walking down the ramp, you’re on your own. Forgotten something? Nervous? Too bad.

It was strange leaving solid ground with no real clue about what was ahead. The best pointers came from swapping Premier Inn’s finest for the hot bunk arrangement, and from restaurant eating to the single burner and dried food on board, for such were our B&B and fine dining arrangements for a month.

As usual the mainsail was a pig to raise, the bolt rope doing its best to jump out of the track. After three false starts, the clock ticking and nerves fraying further it was finally up and tight. Purpose-built by Hyde for the task at hand it looked good and pulled well and with a bucket of leech tension had us pointing just fine.

In an English summer day of 10 knot winds and occasional sunny spells, out to the tidily organised start, taking up most of Plymouth Sound with spectators held away by an armada of control boats. The planning was spot on, all credit to the RWYC.

With enough wind to get going, the multihulls started manoeuvering at speed, all keen to show off (who to?). This raised another problem.

It’s a privilege having a warship as Committee Vessel but which bit of the warship? With multiple flags and sticking up bits it’s tricky both circling the opposition and avoiding the huge wind shadow of HMS Iron Duke. It’s eyes everywhere all the time. In the end a back-transit on some hotels through the pin end vessel and mid-line buoy served the purpose.

The multihulls had an earlier start to the monos, and a classic day-boat race start had us leading off the line.

 Ease up to the breakwater, drop ten degrees, speed up to 11 kts and leave the photo boats in the wake.

Eddystone stood out as we tracked towards it on a clear day. The route planner had worked out the tides, wind and course, we disagreed with it and went our own way, a pattern mostly followed through the race. We held slightly high off the line, and the fastest boat around was a very big spectator trimaran which was clearly faster than all of us. Make him an offer?

Time to assess the opposition. 'Strontium Dog' made a not-so-good start

but soon had us working hard to keep ahead of her as she went lower and faster and looked amazing with a main hull seemingly out of proportion to the floats but clearly working just fine.

Behind her by a small tail was 'Drama Queen'showing a phenomenal turn of speed for a cruising cat, albeit a near 12 metre one. On this form they might well rub our noses in it. 'Suenos' and 'Cold Fusion Reloaded' forged their own league at this point which continued for 2000+ miles.

By now the Monos were underway, and a sequence of dark rigs and sails came into view marching in lock-step. A predicted lift off the land arrived too late for us multis but was perfect for the Class 40s just reaching Eddystone. They held to the Rhumb line after the right turn west and quickly went hull-down northwest towards Lands End as an orderly queue of carbon sails looking for all the world like a procession of clerics.

Us multis hung on southwesterly awaiting the predicted lift to make the Bishop Rock in one tack. 'Paradox' cracked back towards the Scilly Isles first and made us nervous; they had played this game before, we hadn’t. However, it felt right so we hung on until late evening.

Bang on cue the wind came so up towards the Bishop Rock, reaching the overfalls sometime in the dark all alone at 11 kts. That was when the chart plotter went down.

So you’re about to take a close cut past the Bishop Rock outliers on a cloudy, dark and rainy night with enough onshore wind for a first reef, an onshore tide and you have no idea where you are. You have a backup plan but that takes time, with the helmsman saying nervously “are we OK coming in on 350?” Well, no, we’re not, but you’re that close you can’t advise right or left until you’ve done the work. Tense moments but surmounted as the bearing of the light and back marker lights of Round Island and Hugh Town all fell into place on the paper charts – back to those again......

The sea was then empty all night. Nothing behind, nothing in front and anyway, they’d have been invisible in the St George’s Channel’s murk of soft rain and fog. Happily it wasn’t cold. Dawn came slowly and with it a mast from behind inexorably reeling us in. On a shy reach with a symmetrical kite up, he powered contemptuously past us at our meagre 12 knots. Morale plummeted; was he the back marker of the Class 40s? If so, we were nowhere. The only answer was tea and rehydrated breakfast to soothe bruised egos.

Eventually the Old Head of Kinsale came in sight. As we closed from the Southwest, we saw sail to the south and to the east. As time went on it became clear they were indeed 40s, so we weren’t last after all. Phesheya Racing (from the south) slipped in under the Old Head where we knew they would lose the breeze. But they didn’t, and a tense race up to the line ensued ending with Phesheya first over, us next and Mowgli(?) third, with a couple of minutes separating each of us after 260 miles. Astonishingly, on contacting the Marina it transpired we were the first boats in. Whatever had powered past us earlier was big, powerful, and not in our race. Good news. It turned out to be an Open 60.

Into the Marina where Paul the Manager had found us a great spot (not easy with a Trimaran) and off into the fleshpots of the Gourmet Capital of West Cork having delivered a surprise declaration of being the first multihull.

Leg 2. Kinsale to Castlebay, Outer Hebrides

Fabulous, then awful. After a fantastic evening calm water run down to the Fastnet leading the whole fleet of port lights behind us at a steady 14-17 knots, we rounded the Fastnet (spooky on a dark and misty night), Mizen Head (where the first telegraph to the USA was sent) and then Sheep’s Head where it all went pear-shaped fro us.

By this time there was a steady north easterly Force six going against a south-westerly Atlantic swell with a south-west-going tide which kicked up a foul wet stopping sea breaking over us every time we got above about 5 knots. At that stage we had our only routeing disagreement: Mike wanted to go out for better wind and I thought we'd be better off going in for smaller seas. In the end as the fast boats were going out, so did we – mistake. We had a foul couple of days and nights wondering what was going to break next as the dagger-board case and the rudder were both flexing impressively. There is a different shape to the head of the 31-1D daggerboard compared to the original design and it places a high point load on the case just above the waterline. This had broken in our qualifier 300-mile sail and the strengthening work we had done was substantial but it still flexed. It held together well in the end, so I guess we had done the redesign correctly as those conditions would surely have broken it otherwise.

It's not often racers consider giving up sailing, but by this time everything was soaked and the interior was having to be sponged out at every change of watch. We eventually traced the leak to the cockpit floor mounting for the life-raft which we were reluctant to free up and re-caulk in such a sharp sea. Conditions were so bad at one point that I had grave thoughts of taking up gardening and the only recourse was to eat often and count down the miles. Only the arrival of an oil-rig on the scene suggested that we were getting on towards the northern seas.

The hard bit for us multis was that we could see the Class 40's (water-ballasted monohulls) being able to stand up to their canvass and steadily pull away. Not only could we see them as they pointed some 10 degrees higher than us, but as they disappeared from sight we could see their courses and speeds on the AIS which we immediately compared unfavourably to our own. I'm sure AIS is a great safety item but it doesn't do much for you if you're not in the hunt.

At this point it became clear to us that you can't beat size and power, and that the Class 40's were going to be very hard to beat overall. Despite us being light-displacement with the form stability of a multihull, when you apply ¾ ton of water ballast on the windward rail and another ¾ ton on the stern quarter coupled with 3 m draft and a torpedo bulb keel, they are good if the wind blows. With the very flat planing sections at the rear and a big carbon rig, this is a box rule which works and shows just how much multihulls have stood still compared to the monos in the last ten years or so.

Fortunately all held together structurally and mentally for 450 miles and on a weirdly calm and crystal clear sunny morning

we came up in the Southern Hebrides to see two multihulls (Suenos and Cold Confusion) having a tacking duel over the last two miles to the finish in the sun – extraordinary and great, even though we were behind them. We'd lost 6 hours over the other multihulls, all of whom were twice our displacement and who simply had the weight and length to get the better of the short steep sea. As for the Class 40's, they were well-rested by the time we got in and holding a lead of some 12 hours over us as opposed to us leading them.

Cleaning up took some time, but surprisingly after three and a half day's beating with the floats frequently completely under water, we only got about 5 gallons of water out of each float. Although you can see both the beams, the beam mountings and the floats themselves all flexing as you pound into a sea and get stopped by it, the whole caboosh holds together fantastically well and plainly our nerves were weaker than the boat's structure.

And so into Castlebay in the Southern Hebrides,

the last outpost before the Northern Atlantic. Barra is essentially treeless and with buildings tied down, wind turbines omnipresent and low profile architecture, it’s obvious what dominates round here. Great walking, kayakers exploring the small archipelago to the south and white beaches playing pretend-Caribbean wherever you look.

The Castlebay hotel was fantastic. They took in all these 120 boaties + extras, fed them, washed them, cleaned clothes, found tables for dinner and breakfast and remained happy and friendly throughout despite extraordinary pressure. The girl behind the bar (who had only been away from Castlebay once) said it was the busiest she could remember. However her scale of busyness was coloured by the fact that she had only been as far as Stornoway(pop 9000) and found that intolerably crowded. I didn’t suggest London.

All too soon and with memories of the windward bits of the last leg, it was out into the Northern Atlantic and the Sea of the Shetlands.

Leg 3. Castlebay to Lerwick

After the last few days of battering and soaking, what a contrast! Instead of being anxious about how to make our way to windward without damaging us or the boat, we now have complete luxury but the boat still keeps us on our toes.

On the way out to the start, the dagger-board downhaul breaks so the board keeps trying to come up. The mounting for the downhaul block has caused trouble on my 27, 28r and now on the 31! We're getting used to this and the boathook is quickly pressed into action as a ram to hold it down; Heath Robinson would be proud to know his legacy was not in vain.

A running start to the south under one of Randy Smyth's superb kites means that after 3 miles we have caught up and passed Suenos and Cold Fusion Reloaded (background below) and turn the corner to the Northern Atlantic with them half an hour behind us. That's how we expect to get a 31 to move.

At 9m ploughing slowly along in 3 knots of wind St Kilda is about 30 miles away but clearly visible in this cold crystal air. At these latitudes (58N) there is no real darkness and a night watch becomes a joke as after 3 hours the northern horizon greyness which never quite goes returns as the new day in the east. Behind us the Hebrides run north to south across our stern all clearly visible as decreasing humps above the water horizon. There is some hazy sun, an oily sea and the most enormous slow quiet swell of 3-4 metres running slowly underneath it, so we sail up a hill and down a long hill, with some wind at the top and almost nothing at the bottom. Not too surprising given this is what people talk about, but it’s the first time I’ve seen it.

The game in zero wind is to try and keep the boat moving at all, hard for me as my thoughts keep turning to fishing, but I guess wrong time, wrong place and so the two of us (Mike mostly) continue to tweak furiously and hunt for little bits of wind. Two other multis are still visible behind us (Suenos and Cold Confusion) after 12 hours, and between us and St Kilda is a class 40 who should have been long gone. We are hoping he is having the trouble that the others ahead should have as they sail in to a developing wind hole the Grib files have promised us. The best laid plans of mice and men…

St Kilda is awe-inspiring at 2 am.

A deserted island now, it was evacuated about a hundred years ago when the population dropped below survival and educational levels. The inhabitants lived off eating sea-birds and their eggs, and it still appears to be a sea-bird farm as its inhabitants played last across with the forestay until we were 60 miles or so out towards Iceland. We had time to observe this while twiddling our thumbs in a long period of calm. This hurt all the more because we could see by way of the AIS that the opposition had wind gradually carrying them out of range. As we then eventually got their wind and it was good when it came, I suspect they will all be long rested when we get into Lerwick. We keep going back to one bad choice of tack off Sheep’s Head 6 days ago and that’s your race done!

Whatever, there followed a solid day of 8 hours spinnaker followed by some reefs and a jib as the wind climbed with some uncontrollable Nantucket sleigh rides just on the gybe. It then hardened a little to give close-reaching under code zero for the last 170 miles

up to the tip of Shetland. This is the controllable version of the Nantucket sleigh ride and gave some of the best sailing ever with consistent rides for an hour or more never dropping below 11 Kts and usually around the 14-17 mark over the ground. It's fun for an hour or so but for near 24 hours you just can't beat it for sheer pleasure. Maybe multis aren't so bad after all....

It’s now been gloomy and rainy since dawn and it feels like the solar panels are drawing power out to keep themselves warm rather than putting it in, it’s been that dark at midday. We missed the Flanan Isles, Sule Sgeir and Rona because the visibility was only a couple of hundred metres but the fast sailing on what felt like a 250 mile wave made it all worth it. Navigating your way up here before GPS must have been really tough, with no sight of land, sun or stars for two days.

Foula (huge, steep, forbidding, well-named) emerged from the mist and we are now on the last 10 miles to the Muckle Flugga.

We’ve gone from jib to Code 0 to kite and are hoping to ride over the top of the three Class 40’s out of whom we have just taken about 6 hours in the last day – the revenge of the trailer-sailer is sweet!

Round Muckle Flugga, the furthest point away and celebrated with a call home in the first cell-phone coverage for 6 days or so. The thing was abuzz with messages from people kindly spurring us on, although spurring on was the last thing we needed with a fierce determination to have cooked food and a stationary bed available as soon as possible. However after the Flugga it’s still 60 miles or so of beating to get down to Lerwick, so it’s just like doing a 400 mile race and then adding the Round the Island race onto the end for good measure. We hauled in two of the Class 40s along this stretch and sailed through them just to windward, provoking them into a burst of activity to try and keep ahead but we were in relentless form. They were left exhausted and cross and tacking back and forward looking for the lifts but to no avail. When they arrived they were completely knackered whilst we were socialising happily. Maybe multihulls aren’t bad after all….

Lerwick greets seemingly all comers with a soft rain and a refusal to get dark until about 12.30 am for an hour. At the dock was Annelise and her husband Andrew who simply took us off to the club (arguments not accepted) and fed us pints and then took us home to their house for a Chicken Pilaf then returned us to the boat replete. Protestations about keeping them up till 2am were simply turned aside – ‘we can sleep all winter’ – and they could not have been more charming. Tonight we are guests of the Sherriff (Chief Justice) of Shetland so best behaviour in order, and that explained why the club commodore when telling us of our billet did enquire if the law was after us at all, as it may be a little embarrassing if so?

The boat continues to surprise by making us think structural disaster must surely come but it is clearly stronger than us. Despite pushing it way beyond its design envelope it is coping with it all. Lots of trivial bits (shackles, etc) have given way under load but all the major things appear unembarrassed by what we’ve done to it; today has therefore been cleaning and tidying. There is a boatyard scene for many others in Lerwick Harbour with hammering, drilling, grinding, glueing, riveting all going on as people rebuild their boats and repair ripped sails and smashed gear. This wasn’t possible in Castlebay – no supplies and no facilities – so this is the repair part of the last two legs, the Irish one of which was a boat-breaker. Suddenly we don’t feel so unusual in carrying a full repair kit although we've not needed it yet.

The couple of days in Lerwick were great. The people are wonderful, regarding us as pleasant eccentrics who need to be befriended and kept safe until they are put back to sea, hopefully not to return for 4 more years. The language is very Norwegian as are all the names and it is hard to tell them apart when talking. They are quick to point out that the nearest railway station to Lerwick is in Bergen, Norway. It so happened that the Bergen Race was on while our event was there, bringing a couple of hundred Norwegians to a town of about 10000, and it was hard to tell them apart. With alcohol a quarter the price of Norway the Bergen Race was determined to prove the point while making the most of the Simmer Dim (correct spelling), when the nights never grow dark. At those latitudes, they make the most of summer light with activities going on till midnight and starting again at 3 am.

The Sherriff’s wife Sandra very kindly picked us up from the dock and took us and our washing off to her house about 10 miles south of Lerwick on a promontory overlooking some headlands and the sound of Bressay. It was a new build and like most of them is Norwegian in style and distinctly Shetland in having anything outside being fixed down and double-fixed. She took us through the history of Shetland which was gifted to Scotland in around 1500. Princess Margaret of Norway was being married to a Scottish king, and as her father had no dowry, he gave the Scottish King Sutherland, Caithness and Orkney. As an afterthought he threw in Shetland. One local claimed that made them the original BOGOF land and they should have collected royalties on the idea. Since then Shetland has come and gone in prominence and is currently all about oil which pays the bills.

As the time for departure drew closer (11.30 Friday evening), the weather came to call. For the Thursday and Friday, the wind in the harbour had got steadily stronger to about 30 knots from a constant northerly direction. Now maybe that made it easier as we were going south, but it also meant that it was easy for the swell to get up as it has a 1000 mile fetch from the Arctic in the same direction. It wasn’t looking good and as Force 9 was forecast, there was a little doubt. Initially with thoughts of the '79 Fastnet at hand, the Race Committee was minded to postpone departure for 24 hours and let the blow go through. However the Race is all about seamanship so if you don't want to go, you don’t go. As we were having trouble hearing things in the harbour with the wind, cue for some advice from Darren Newton, designer and builder of multihulls with many hundreds of thousands of miles under his belt.

If you flip it in this, you’re ******* dead, so don’t flip it. Watch me.”

Off he went to the local garage and raided some tires from the scrapheap, roped them on to the back of Paradox (the leading multihull) and said “if it looks bad, chuck ‘em over the back”. With that Paradox set off into a full gale in the harbour, with the aid of three RIBS to manoeuvre her out. She disappeared in a cloud of spray and we realised we were to follow her in a few hours with the weather forecast deteriorating. A thoughtful time. Back at Sandra’s house we asked her about tires, and within moments she had located the man from whom we would collect two matching Toyota tires. Being the Sherriff’s wife has its perks.

She took us by way of the garage and dropped us, our washing, our tires and our bags of nerves at the dock. Preparations were made, everything lashed down, the tires deployed on the nets on 50m warps for launching, food made, dry suits on, last weather files from the boat club and farewells to those who had helped us through it all. Can’t put it off any longer…... We got out without the aid of the RIBs and got the full weight of the wind straight off.

Although at 30kts constant, we were under the shelter of the land and keen to try with a scrap of mainsail and a heavy weather jib. At first this was OK and then oddly even though we came out of the shelter of the Shetlands, it felt underpowered. We then were passed by a Class 40 which had left after us. What they had done was decide to rely on the length and extra bow buoyancy of a large planing stern with up to 1.5 tons of water ballast at the rear and simply go for it. With a reefed main and a chicken chute they went past at about 25kts to our 8, simply blasting through the waves in a manner we never could equal. It was a fantastic sight and we simply hoped they wouldn't pile into the back of one so steep that they would stop abruptly and lose the rig (they didn't).

Swapping to a normal jib and reducing the main to an 8 foot hoist, the boat picked up to about 12 knots with reasonable stability. It was past midnight and not quite dark, and the waves were clearly visible with their white tops until they broke over you when it all went briefly dark. Another 30 mins passed and the waves became enormous as the tide turned against the wind, our real speed slowed, and the apparent wind increased.

It was calm in the swells at the bottom countered by a brief but wild surge up to 15 knots as we reached the top of each swell that overtook us. This was the problem as should we pile into the back of the wave in front we would flip, and Darren’s wise words sprang to mind. When the bowsprit dug into the wave in front a few times in succession it was time for all sail down. While thinking this through, it was partly solved by a wave breaking over us from the rear and ripping the clew off the jib. Not for the first time I wondered what I was doing aged 59 on the foredeck in these conditions?

The other thing you very quickly learnt on the helm was not to look backwards if you heard a noise. That the pooping waves were heavy enough to come over the back and yet still have enough power to tear the clew out of a string sail which had just been reinforced gives some idea of their weight. So if you heard a roaring noise behind and looked round you would be in nice time to catch a faceful of wave and have trouble breathing until the cockpit had emptied (love that aft-draining cockpit!). Floating around, it was good to know you were shackled to the boat....

So the jib was down, and the main came off altogether at the same time.

So there is a boat with no sails, the boom about to come down on the cabin-top, rotating mast centred going dead downwind, just its mast and bodywork for power, and yet it was still taking off down these enormous steep waves determined to commit suicide at the bottom. To give the height of waves is a hopeless task because there is nothing to compare them with but in a following wind, the wind-vane was pointing forwards in the troughs, and that is 13 metres+ above sea-level. I knew the North sea was legendary for steep waves, being both a bottleneck gradually closing and shallowing where we were, but however big they were, it was time for the next stage of slowing things down, trailing warps.

Lunch, bare poles, warps, 40 kts wind.

About 100m in all of warps were lashed together and deployed off the rear beams in a bight. It worked; instead of being a runaway lunatic, as the next wave rolled up behind us the warp cut through to the back of the wave and slowed us right down, so it either broke harmlessly all over us (heavy water.) or simply passed underneath while we worked our way southwards at about 6 kts. When a breaking crest falls all over you, you are really glad to be hooked on, an agreed rule we had rigidly enforced throughout the whole of this race. Apart from the danger of being washed overboard, picking someone out of the water is just plain slow! The surprise was that the canvas spray wall we had built for the hatchway was supremely effective at keeping the cabin interior dry despite fending off crests heavy enough to tear the clew out of the jib. We had long before given up the idea of normal foul weather gear and had moved into dry suits as the only way to survive this and very effective they were.

Despite 40kts of wind outside and these huge waves, all was now calm so it was time for supper and sleep while the autopilot coped with the reduced load. The tires remained poised and ready, requiring one slipped knot each to be pulled and a swift kick overboard if it approached 50kts. The oddest sight in the middle of this was a dolphin calmly working its way upwind some 20 yards to port completely unconcerned by us or the waves. We settled in for the long haul, hoping that our colleagues were as comfortable as we now were.

That continued for Friday night, Saturday and most of Sunday by which time we had got down to about Edinburgh, some 250 miles south. It is weird that the faster the winds blow beyond a certain point, the slower a sailing boat goes and we were going really slowly. It was only on Sunday that it moderated to about 25kts and the waves lost their steepness when we could begin to put up normal sails and begin to make 8-10 kts. This we did and started making progress until a collision with a huge area of flat calm below the Dogger Bank over which I am typing this now. Typical: if only some of this could have averaged out.

Having circled the gas platforms around the Dogger and the Amethyst fields, we covered about 20 miles in all over some 8 hours. Nothing whatever to do but secretly hope that others had been even more squashed than us. The gas platforms are mostly deserted and eerie being now just pumping points with a single light flashing Morse 'U' – “you are standing into danger”. They look like horses standing in the sea from a distance with their 4 legs and derrick with hoisting gear as the head – perhaps I’ve been at sea too long?

Certainly the young seal which circled us for a while at midday looked doubtful, and the dolphins we videoed gave up as we were moving too slowly.

Eventually some ripples filled in allowing a course to be set for the Wash and then in along the Norfolk Coast to Lowestoft where a really old-fashioned but delightful yacht club made welcome noises and housed and fed us superbly.

It is clear the winds were just right for the Class 40s who had romped ahead and were just big enough to keep it all from going pear-shaped. Much in the way of broken gear and a minor head injury on one boat but overall, very little damage and everybody very pleased apart from us with our position.

However, light winds are forecast; that’s what we want.

A great couple of days in Lowestoft with everyone gathering and swapping war stories. Many tales to tell, all of undying bravery against appalling odds but happily no injuries and clearly therefore not much in the way of real drama. Lots of broken bits of boats, a lot of wildlife seen, much irritation at having to spend a day drifting in and out of the gas platforms in the North Sea and frustration at tidal gates closing within sight of the finish line. The honours appeared to be about evenly shared and it looks as if a close finish among the multihulls may be in order.

Leg 5: Lowestoft to Plymouth

Time to leave this gorgeous old yacht club with its panelled rooms, black ball voting materiel, elevated observation platforms for the ladies and in general a real hark back to former times, all determinedly run by a catering lady who just had it totally wrapped up and left everyone happy.

Out of the B&B at 6am for the dock on a cloudless sunny morning, slightly bleary from a yacht club dinner the night before. All well until the centreboard jammed in the half down position. Dilemma: do we go looking for a piece of 4x2 and something very heavy to smash it down and risk breaking something thus ending the race, or as it is the last leg is it better to accept we only have 2 ft of board and go for it? We go for it. Tension++.

A spinnaker reach started off stormingly well with 14 kts on the clock and helping the

catch up plan as Drama Queen was ahead by 3 hours. High hopes faded away with the wind. The sandbanks of the Thames estuary were treated as moving bulwarks against the ebbing tide which pushed the boat back to Lowestoft. Slow and careful progress past Orfordness, Aldeburgh, Felixstowe, whose cranes and queue of ships are visible for miles. Then into the Estuary with banks like Kentish Knock and Black Deep, places that you read about in Dickens but never really expected to be cheating the tide around by crawling along the slopes of these underwater tumuli. Gradually over the mouth to the Kentish side to a field of aliens in the shape of the Thanet Windfarm, a huge and eerie place of turbines in the sea covering about 5 square miles and comprising 140 of the machines. All are currently stationary awaiting commission but look like an upside down convention of HG Wells War of the Worlds.

Round the top end of this the boat passed into the gap between the Goodwins and Ramsgate, Deal, Broadstairs and so on, with the tide again running strongly against us and the most intense concentration of shipping of all kinds. Then suddenly round the corner and into the Channel to Dover after midnight. It’s a game of last across as a ferry passes about every ten minutes even in the middle of the night. AIS allows you breathing space as you know they have seen you but do you really trust them...?. Just as suddenly, Folkestone appears, Dungeness, Hythe etc and dawn brings us to the gentility (genteelity?) of the Sussex Coast. Feels like home again, although the complete absence of wind means close acquaintance with the lobster pots meandering past and frustration at knowing the Class 40's have got past this calm bit.

Then Drama Queen comes in sight in the mist ahead. From having a 30 mile lead and a tidal gate over us, it’s down to 2 miles. They see us too and their performance rockets. There begins a 40 hour drag race at 3 knots in zero wind. They go in, we go out. They cover us, we break away with a flyer which makes no sense but works. It’s all now down to who gets the wind-shift (what wind?) first as both boats run down-channel more or less in parallel when we can track them on the web and we have to have an hour over them by the end of the leg.

And so to the end, after a rowing race off Salcombe where we ended up crossing tacks under oars (allowed in the race rules) with Spliff and Drama Queen right down to the wire after 2000+miles of racing. A Kite reach up to the line off the RWYC saw us lead the group of three home and after all that way, Drama Queen lead us by some 4 minutes corrected time. Who says handicap racing doesn’t work?

Do it again? Who knows? An F-36, anyone?

Modifications to a 31-1D for this two-handed race


Cautious shimming of the beam pressure pads to the maximum possible

Rudder cheeks stiffened and strengthened with inserts to maximise rudder contact with the cheeks and hence better load transfer. Rudder brackets removed and reset.

Daggerboard case foam cut away and replaced with high-density foam and a carbon wrap for most of the distance from floor to ceiling.

Daggerboard case junction with floor cut away and extra carbon wraps given from case out to outside skin of hull.

Daggerboard case faired to inside floor of hull with extra layers of carbon to spread the load more widely across the floor

ISAF escape hatch hole cut and strengthened to ian Farrier's spec. The cut-out was then rebuilt as the hatch itself such that a flush-fit was then obtained.

Liferaft strapped to cockpit floor behind mainsail track while the strap retainers were bolted through the floor with adequate backing plates.

Boarding/recovery ladder added

Strong points for harnesses added

Modifications to tiller such that the boat could be helmed from forward of the main track

Autopilot (Raymarine ST60 Tillerpilot) was all under the cockpit floor with the ram mounted on a bulkhead track pushing a car to which ropes were attached which operated the tiller via a pulley system. I thought this was an atrocious plan at first but it worked brilliantly. To engage the autopilot, pull one rope into a jammer and press 'auto'. To disengage, press 'standby' and pull out of the jammer. All the workings kept dry and didn't fail us despite some awful loads. Current usage was 0.3-1.5 amps depending on load. Brilliant, and the single most important piece of kit on board.


One bunk only used (starboard). Port bunk converted to a very simple galley with draining sink and ply construction. Total weight about 3 kilos. Water held in a flexy tank under the bunk with a whale sink-pump to deliver to the sink. About 10 gallons in that, and two spare 5 gallon containers.

Flush toilet installed in the centre of the bow cabin, inlet though base of hull, outlet through R lateral wall.

Canvas spray flap over hatch attached with velcro which worked brilliantly, and a sort of canvas shower curtain cum lee cloth for the berth in use which kept it dry except under severe provocation.

Drip-seals were arranged around the chart table lid.


1 65 watt fixed solar panel

1 25 watt flexy panel. This was by far the most valuable as it rapidly became clear that the angle to the sun rather than the size of the panel was the most important factor at this scale.

The outboard can charge at 20 watts but we only used it once in harbour to that effect. Otherwise we used a shoreside car charger when plugged in at the stopovers. The batteries (2 x 85 AH ordinary sealed lead/acid wired in parallel) coped fine. They were mounted to port of the daggerboard case on the floor in a locker.

We used a digital ammeter and charge indicator to give a better idea of what was happening.

The AIS used about 1.5 amps and was relatively power-hungry. The Netbook with the routeing software used the same but was only on intermittently when we had a wind-shift decision to think about. The instruments were Tacktick which worked just fine once I had got the Tacktick to Serial interface worked out for the Netbook.

Routeing software was Seatrack ( which worked well although required more user input than I would have expected. Grib files were from USGrib which became real works of fantasy as the various areas of low and high pressure shuffled around.

Radio was a DSC set which worked off the old GPS 72 which became our prime source of navigation. Put in a waypoint 300 miles away and follow the arrow on the coachroof! Worked brilliantly using near-zero power and contained the MOB function as well.

We have a Raymarine C70 which has an unbelievable number of functions on it which we very occasionally turned on to check AIS positions and speeds of other boats and which of course had all the charting in it as well. Although fun to play with, we used it relatively little as it was hungry for watts and we had few to spare.

Autopilot was a Raymarine ST60 which worked brilliantly.

Nav lights were LED, interior lights were head torches. You don't need them much when it hardly gets dark.


Normal 31-1D but with 18 inches cut off the front end of the boom. We established early on that for offshore racing two-handed, the 1-D is overpowered. We therefore lost a lot of roach as can be seen from the pictures and ended up with (we think) the right balance of power/weight.

There was some weather helm when hard-pressed but mostly very little. Helm loads were again light until the boat was over-pressed when you had to fight – time to reef.

We used the normal roller furling but used the cunningham to haul the reef tack down and a sail-tie at the rear to take the rotational loads off the boom.

We removed the mast canting gear standard on a 31-1D and instead used that to make the shrouds instantly adjustable for downwind or upwind. Easy, cheap and quick.

Shrouds were original PBO(?) but we used a steel forestay.


The standard Solent jib was cut down slightly, and a smaller reefing jib was added but hardly used, usually going straight to a smaller heavy weather Smyth jib (such a good sail).

We had a new main built for the task with about 18 inches off the foot and the whole of the roach up to 90% height and it was worth it, never causing a moment's trouble once we had got it cut right, and providing plenty of drive with minimal drag.

The furling Code 0 was useful because although it lost a couple of knots over the big kites, you could carry it longer and launch and recover it as a single-hander, which meant the off-watch could sleep.


Based around windshifts. Tides are usually a strong element in UK sailing but not this time. The winds were either strong and steady or light and completely flukey. That meant that the Grib files were often misleading. Your guess with routeing software is probably not as good as the man with a Cray in his back pocket, but your guess with is Grib file and your single observer status means you can do a lot better than him and his Cray. We put too much faith in Gribs and not enough in what we could observe and should have edited the Gribs much more than we did.

Otherwise navigation was pretty mechanical and as intense or un-involving as you wished. The star of the show was undoubtedly the old GPS 72 if only for its minimal power consumption and excellent display telling us where to go.

Heavy weather

Always have your next move up your sleeve. Good for morale (very important with just two of you) and good planning. Things you don't expect will happen to you with heavy weather and a light boat, so you need to have a number of plans in your head.

We staged our power requirements:

  1. Full main and jib

  2. Reef and smaller jib

  3. Reef smaller jib

  4. Reef main further and use heavy weather jib

  5. Drop main

  6. Drop jib and now just use mast

  7. Centre up mast

  8. Drop boom to cabin-top

  9. Stream warps

  10. Stream tires on long warps

We reached stage 9 rather appropriately for a Force 9 and although the tires were ready to launch, we didn't feel the need. Paradox (33' purpose-built Tri for this race) did in fact launch their tires (as did all the other multihulls in the leading group) and take to the centre hull (it's normally sailed from the floats) as they thought they were about to be overwhelmed. We didn't have that fear at any time. Perhaps we are just insensitive.

We had arranged methods of keeping the interior quite dry and kept rigidly to cooking timetables made easier by using dehydrated food (not as bad as it sounds) and doing a fairly firm 4 hours on, 4 off. Sleep was the main activity of the 4 hours off.

At no time did we race without being clipped on to jackstays or U-bolts and life-jackets on at all times. We were washed around the cockpit from time to time and the sheer weight of a wave descending from behind on top of you is impressive.

Otherwise the boat was just great. It wasn't designed to be a heavy weather offshore racer, yet that's what we did with it. It simp[ly looked after us.  When you're on top of a breaking wave with neither ruddeer nor bow in the water, you're in the hands of the designer at that point.  We just didn't worry.  It flexed a lot but is clearly designed to do so and hasn't suffered from it and the winter's preparation for leak-stopping worked brilliantly. Farrier designs are prone to leaks above the waterline (as my 27 and 28r lead me to discover) but we have this one nailed down well. The only real leak was from our fixing the life-raft (52 kg) to the cockpit floor but we had little choice about where to put it.

Nothing else broke apart from the dagger-board downhaul so a great time was had by both of us. We even managed a reasonable result considering the longest race either of us had done before was an 80 miler.

Our wives still think we're mad.

Grant Kelly