30 May 2018
Shades of Blue Race report
Just four up on Shades of Blue for this race, and judging by the forecast, that would be plenty, particularly with the race committee's wise decision to shorten the course to the same route as the inaugural Diélette race 3 years earlier. A gentle easterly breeze was blowing in Cowes as we prepared the boat, but when we ventured out into the Solent, this had become a south-westerly and even more gentle. The start was a very sedate affair, with just enough wind to allow the necessary manoeuvres and as the sun set, we drifted slowly west on the tide, with occasional puffs allowing a degree of positioning, rather than actual movement through the water.
Dinner ( M&S Curry, very palatable ) was served and it was well after dark that the tide accelerated us through Hurst narrows, where we somehow managed to avoid being swept across the Shingles bank, unlike a couple of our colleagues, who we watched anxiously on AIS. After the Needles, the wind did fill in slightly, and from the forecast North Easterly direction, and the trusty old purple Relling asymmetric kite was hoisted to speed our progress south. The visibility dropped at this point too, and one 2 hour watch in the shipping lanes was completed without seeing any other craft, either yacht or tanker, with only the little blue triangles on the AIS display, and the occasional rumble of engines, reassuring us that we hadn't sailed off the edge of the world.
Progress across the channel was steady, rather than fast, and as we approached the Casquets, the wind picked up. A couple of gybes later, we were skirting along rocks around Burhou, and then the Casquets themselves loomed out of the fog, with the boat getting close to being overpowered. An early kite drop was called for, as overshooting the mark would have been very expensive, and with only 4 crew, this was a bit of a handful, but was executed without incident, and we gybed outside the most outlying of the Casquets' outlying rocks and hardened up onto a close fetch to the finish.
A few miles down this final leg, the wind increased quite quickly, and we were hit by burst of at least 30 knots, causing us to put in a reef, and to even contemplate a second before it stopped increasing and then gradually decreased to a more manageable level. We paused for breath, shook out the reef, put the kettle on, and should have put some sun cream on ( but didn't ) , as the wind had blown away the fog, revealing a warm, sunny afternoon.
A small split in the mainsail, just below the top batten, gradually increased to something more major, and by the time we finished the race, under the shadow of the Flamanville Nuclear plant, it was only holding on at the luff and leech lines, which didn't help the sail shape. Fortunately, it all came down in one piece as we motored over to Diélette harbour and after tying up in the inner basin, we cleared up in the hot sunshine, opened all the hatches and windows to let out the all Channel fog that had accumulated below, and joined the rest of the crews at the very welcoming bar at the top of the ramp.
After a very pleasant JOG reception and wine tasting ( OK, wine drinking ) session, we adjourned to the charming Le Bouche à Oreille restaurant for an excellent meal. Unfortunately, as we came to leave, we were enveloped by a rainstorm of biblical proportions, with an spectacular accompanying Son et Lumière of thunder and lightning. Not only did we all get drenched walking back to the boat, but when we got there, we found that our plan to dry the boat out by leaving the hatches open had backfired badly, and there were pools of water on the bunks and in people's bags, and everything below was soaked.
We just managed to find enough dry cushions to sleep on, and in the morning sunshine, we started the drying out process all over again, this time successfully. After a huge bowl of Moules Frites for lunch and a walk along the beautiful beach to the north of the port, we set off home early on Saturday evening, motoring all the way across a glassy English Channel, arriving home just after a spectacular sunrise.
The last 3 attempts at an offshore race on Shades of Blue had resulted in retirement and early returns home, so we were so pleased to step foot on foreign soil, and all in all, it was a great weekend. So, many thanks to the race committee for their usual immaculate organisation, their decision to shorten the course, and also to Tim Lester on J-Fever, for donating a big enough Mylar patch to enable us to make an proper, and completely invisible, repair to the mainsail. Who knows, it might last one more race.