30 May 2018
Race Report St Malo Purple Mist
With the weather reports all showing light winds, interspersed with no wind at all, St Malo was always going to be a very long race. However what Purple Mist lacks for in speed, she makes up for in endurance. The crew was all determined that, unless the boat was falling apart, we were going to finish the race and not going to retire.
Purple Mist is new to JOG this season so by way of an introduction here are her vital statistics. She is a Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 36i Performance and very much a cruising boat. I’m still looking for what justifies “performance” in the name. She is most definitely not a “Sunfast”, rather more a “Sun Lounger”. We affectionately call her “Hotel Purple Mist”. The boat and skipper started racing at the end of 2016 and in 2017 we did a RORC season including Fastnet.
The start line had reasonable wind, with 10kts or so from the East. Trinity House had clearly not received the message that 120 boats would be starting on the RORC line as they had moored Galatea, their buoy maintenance vessel, right in the start area. We had a reasonable start, it would have been better if the Red Funnel ferry hadn’t chosen that moment to exit the Medina river as we had to take some avoiding action which cost us some time.
As the wind had been a bit shifty I chose the code zero then, wishing I had chosen the A2 from the start, switched over to the A2. At Beaulieu the wind shifted 180° and we were then in a SW 8kts. Tacking down the Solent we made good progress, even after a French Class 40 tried to mow us down at Hurst Narrows… silly old me thinking starboard tack had priority! … seems the technique of this boat on port tack was to make no move, forcing us to tack, then shout that we tacked first…. Umm yes Mr Frenchman that is because you were going to collide with us if we didn’t tack. Anyway, after some mumbling aboard about protests, we exited the Needles and stayed west until St Albans as we had seen some weather models suggesting the breeze would be stronger in the west.
Overnight the sea breeze died away leaving us in 3-4kts of tide going east, just where we didn’t want to go. Out came the newish kedge for its first race deployment. Knowing the last time I kedged it never came back, I chose some sacrificial lines and we started to lower the anchor to try to catch the bottom 35m away. 3 lines down, about 80m of warp, and we were still travelling east at 2.7kts. Another 60m of warp was added and the boat speed slowed to 1.5kts but the anchor was still not dug in. We watched with some satisfaction as a couple of other boats slide past at 3.5kts. Then after 5NM of anchor dragging we stopped. The warp was bar tight and the sea was rushing past the hull. We were not going anywhere. I imagined the kedge hooking into some underwater object, never to be seen again. Checking the AIS I noted Queen Mary 2 heading straight towards us, this was going to be interesting as there was no way we could retrieve the anchor and move. However, a quick call on the radio reassured us we had been spotted and they slide past at a safe distance.
Once the tide turned west we could start to pull up the kedge and miraculously after some serious lifting all 6 lines and the anchor were retrieved, and we were off again … well we were drifting west at least.
Saturday morning brought us into the shipping lanes. Helpfully Eurotraffic was issuing a useful new navigational warning in the Casquets TSS that an obstruction of 120 boats in a race to St Malo were drifting about. The big boats took heed and avoided us, so we could concentrate on squeezing 0.5kts boat speed out from the 3kts of wind and drying out 140m of warp.
By Saturday afternoon we were heading towards Casquets where we just squeezed round the lighthouse on the last of the westbound tide. This left us in a reasonable position north of Guernsey for the 6hrs of foul tide and no overnight breeze. Whilst others tracked north on the tide we were sheltered from the worst tide by Guernsey and as the wind and tide turned in our favour at about 1am we were off again first creeping towards St Malo at 2kts then during the night picking up to an SOG of 6-7kts.
Sunday was another mixed day of some breeze, some calm, some 5kts boat speed, some 0kts drifting north on the tide. Crew morale was good, after all we were on a boat, there was plenty of chance to get good at light airs trim, it was warm and sunny, we had all prepacked a book to read and we had 5 days of food and water. We were further boosted by a spot of fishing and catching a mackerel. All the boats behind us had retired… and many of the boats in front as well …. so I figured the drag of a fishing line was not going to make a material difference to our final position.
Sunday afternoon a miracle from the wind gods appeared in the shape of a really decent sea breeze from the NW and we were off. At 19:30 we were doing 9-10Kts SOG with the A2 with only 9NM to go… all was looking good. We were within 30mins of beating our friends on Bigfoot J105, we were going to make the Sunday night lock into Vauban and we could celebrate the football with the French. However, in that cruel twist that is so often found at the back of the IRC 4 fleet in a RORC race the sun set and the sea breeze turned off. 6NM to the finish line and we had 0Kts boat speed……how could it be? So we regrouped into the watch system and prepared for the worst – drifting outside St Malo until the sea breeze on Monday. Luckily the wind gods were not that cruel and by 10pm a light NW had filled in allowing us to progress to the line at 3kts, crossing at 11pm Sunday.
In the final hour of the race we watched as a red flare rose into the sky NE of St Malo. The French coastguard called up Purple Mist and we confirmed we had seen it. We were asked to keep a look out for anyone in distress. The next day in St Malo we learnt it was football fans celebrating the win.
Monday we enjoyed the hospitality of the beautiful city of St Malo. Even though the French waiters were a bit hungover and tired after celebrating the world cup all night, we had a delicious lunch and dinner within the walls of the city. Then it was a good wander to restock Hotel Purple Mist supplies for the long trip home … though for the return trip Purple Mists secret weapon of the 29HP engine could be used to full effect. Only 3 GBR boats finished in RORC IRC4 and 2 finished in JOG Classes 4 and 5. Well done Bigfoot, Jangada and Longue Pierre for sticking it out.