08 May 2019
Well, that was very interesting!
We are still learning about Sapphire and the differences between a design originating in the 60’s and one from the late 90’s. After the excitement of Friday night we can truthfully say that what was testing on Sapphire would have been truly frightening on Ariane. The assertion that you can still have directional control down the face of a breaking wave, and that you can hit speeds of 15 knots just under a double reefed main and no headsail would have been met with sarcastic laughter from Ariane’s crew this time last year. To reinforce the difference between the two designs, throughout the night Seb was able to keep the on-watch crew supplied with hot drinks and snacks, even whilst your correspondent was driving (a man known far and wide for his incompetence at helming downwind); that would have been impossible a year ago.
With winds forecast to veer from the west to north-east after the start, possibly rising to force 4, we planned accordingly. Choosing the small spinnaker was dictated by the likelihood of the heavier winds being at night and deciding not to ship anything smaller than a no.2 (apart from storm sails of course) by the expectation that anything smaller wouldn’t be needed – how wrong can you be?
We had one of our best starts ever, crossing the line a close second to Virago and we stayed at the head of the fleet some way past Bembridge Ledge, but as the wind veered and the sea became unpleasantly knobbly we failed to gybe early enough. When at last we gybed it took five minutes and a couple of wraps, so dropped the spinny put in one reef and put up the Code 0 which took us through the growing breeze until about 3 a.m. when the sheet decided it was drop time and released itself. It must have been prescient, because almost immediately the wind added a couple of forces and left us having to sail bareheaded, having no sensibly sized headsails on board. Quite soon a second reef was needed, but our speed didn’t drop, quite the reverse, our highest speed and longest surfs were recorded under this rig.
Like many boats we suffered some damage; in our case splits to a couple of the mainsail’s panels and loss of the main’s luff tape, but fortunately no damage to the 28 day rib-eye steaks that our new fridge has allowed us to carry as survival rations. We would not have chosen to in those wind speeds in the dark and rain, but having done so, we have gained confidence in the ability of Sapphire to look after us when things get tough – a great result in its own right.