19 July 2020
As Great Escapes go, this one started badly - trapped above the starboard layline by a wall of boats we were forced above Gurnard and had to tack, gybe round and wait for a gap before we could actually cross the start line. Our only consolation was that we weren't the only boat to do so... From there it was a case of never give up, as we fought our way up the Solent working hard to get clear air and stay in the strongest tide. Tacking was physically tiring in the strong winds, but the marks along the Solent en route to Needles Fairway added interest. The wind built, and we needed to depower our full mainsail and number 3 jib as we bounced over the waves to Fairway, trying to maintain our slender lead over Scream 2. As we approached the Fairway it was a case of holding on for dear life on the bow through the bigger waves in order to clip the spinnaker on ready for the bear away.
After Fairway we were one of a handful of boats to brave a kite, hoisting our smaller A5. After a bit of excitement setting it and wrestling the jib to the foredeck it was nicely under control and we enjoyed surfs of 14-15 knots, with big grins on our faces. We worked our way through the fleet, with a wary eye on the Shingles Bank to leeward. After North Head we reached under white sails to Hurst, losing out to Dusty P who was further inshore out of the foul tide. We decided to go close inshore at Hurst itself, to make amends, only to have to luff sharply when the depth alarm went off - the depth fell to an alarming 0.9m before we escaped the Trap and made our way into the Solent.
We had debated tactics at Hurst. An early gybe followed by a spinnaker hoist felt too risky with so little time before the shallows. Did we white sail gybe out of the tide or bear away and get the spinnaker up straight away? When it came to it, Rob called for a spinnaker hoist and by the time we'd wrestled the jib down we were mid-Solent and too late to seek tidal relief on the mainland shore. We headed for the island, sailing deep under our S3 symmetric. On the run we had a very civilised crossing with Emily of Cowes - they found themselves to leeward, wanting to go high under asymmetric but unable to sail through our lee; we wanted to go deep. We had a quick chat and agreed that we'd sail low, allowing them to cut behind us, so we could each sail our courses. The wind was kind to us, allowing us to lay the finish line without gybing. We finishing tired but happy after a tough race, and certainly felt we'd earned our post race beer. COVID provided one more hurdle - the need to jump through hoops, download an app, navigate various menus and pass through layers of security before we could actually order a beer - but my it tasted good.
Thanks to JOG for getting us racing, and for setting a fun and challenging course that certainly made the most of the conditions.