The weekend began on Friday night. Gordon McBride and Rob Parsons as crew
The start the next day was at 0330 so an early night was an essential part of our game plan. It was therefore a total surprise when we found ourselves tucking into the Talisker at half past ten after a couple or three pints down the pub. Pre-race nerves had clearly got the better of us.
Rob's alarm clock went off at 0330 which was lucky because mine didn't. Still no harm done; one of the biggest challenges of the race was behind us; we had woken up at roughly the right time on exactly the right day. The Good Ship was fully prepared, tactics were agreed and skipper and crew were physically and mentally as sharp as razors. Apart from a mild and developing hangover the good ship Brimble was transformed from long distance cruiser to ... a racing machine ready to compete in the biggest race in the world. We were ready.
We donked down Southampton Water whilst I knocked out bacon sandwiches. Already, a mass of boats was gathering; it was really quite exciting. The first start was off the Royal Yacht Squadron at 0430. Our Group, Purple, were last to start at 0640.
At 0400 the VHF radio squawked and Tony Benn came on with a time check. Not absolutely sure it was Tony Benn but it definitely sounded like him. Watches were synchronised, bacon was frying, the BRAND NEW GENOA was unfurled and all was well with the world. We could smell victory ... assuming of course that victory smells like smoked bacon cooking.
As we mooched down Southampton Water the fleet grew bigger. Overall something like 1640 boats entered the race and even spread out over the whole of the Solent the sight was simply awesome. Check out the website.
We milled around the prescribed waiting area and checked out the startline even to the point of finding ourselves sailing backwards through the whole of the blue fleet as they started. Also quite exciting.
As our start time approached we finalised tactics, Gordon took over the helm and Rob prepared the spinnaker. A downwind, downtide start meant that there was a distinct risk of crossing the line to soon. Equally it was essential not to be too conservative and hold back. We needed a good start against the 50 or so yachts in our group and the other 1600 or so that had already started. This meant being in the right part of the line and sailing at best possible speed when the cannon fired.
At exactly 0640 the start signal sounded and we were off. Maybe not quite on the line and maybe not quite hull speed but it wasn't bad and we weren't last. The spinnaker was up a few seconds later and Brimble surged forward keen to catch up with the show offs that had left 2 hours earlier ... tarts.
The first leg was great fun with a lovely broad reach and 15 knots of wind. Brimble's very slightly patched but still very lovely green and red spinnaker gave us a great turn of speed and we were typically making between 7.5 and 9 knots over the ground.
A quick cup of tea (the first and last of the race) and we started focusing on rounding the Needles and in particular the Brimble Master Plan To Victory also known simply as 'Plan A'.
Over the ground at least we made some significant gains on the first leg up to the Needles but a great challenge lay ahead ... the inner passage. The west end of the course has no defined mark other than to pass round the Needles. These can be left as wide or as close as you choose. The shortest route is within a few metres of the Needles passing through a gap of 50m or so between the end of the rocks and and the two funnels of an old wreck, the Varvassi. The tricky bit is to miss the needles, stay east of the wreck but also miss another submerged rock called Goose rock which sits NNW of the Needles. With 3 knots of tide sweeping you onto the wreck this can be quite tricky which is why a host of lifeboats and observers gather close by to pick up the people and boats that get it wrong and no doubt pass on helpful suggestions. This said we were quite keen to give it a go and applying the little known saying 'faint heart never sailed fast round fair needles' we had explored the previous weekend before and successfully motored through the inner passage. What we had never done before was sailed through as fast as we could go. But Brimble is brave and we were ready. With buttocks tightly clenched we approached the rocks. Rob was on the foredeck rock spotting, Gordon was manning the sheets and I was steering. The GPS was next to useless because we were going so fast (sideways) the first thing we would know about the rocks or the wreck would be either Rob shouting 'ROOOOOOOOCKKKKKKK' or alternatively 'WREEEEEEEEEEEEECK' or the most obvious telltale sign of something seriously amiss ... FUUUUUUUUUUUUUU .... and inflating the liferaft.
On the day our research paid off and we slipped through the gap without incident although I have to say that it was all a little nerve racking. Still we made some awesome gains on the rest of the fleet overtaking literally hundreds of boats that had started in earlier groups and made useful gains within our own fleet as well.
The long leg along the south coast was a tricky beat in fluky winds which gradually increased to a good F4-5. Brimbles new Genoa was great but I must admit that less sail earlier would have made a big difference to boat speed and wasted boat speed because of being over canvassed.
This said we at least held our own and made ground against many of the boats that don't sail as well to windward as the Good Ship. By 1400 we were passing Bembridge Bouy and the eastern end of the IOW. Once again excitement mounted as the fleet bunched up to stay close in and miss the foul tide. A few exciting moments on the approach to the bouy but we successfully made it round and enjoyed a fast run home along the NE coast of The Island. We finished at 1553 in just over 8 hours which we were delighted with.
That night we slipped up the River Medina to The Folly Inn in search of table dancers, food and beer, in no particular order. By 2000 hrs words had been replaced by grunts and no coherent conversation was taking place. The sun, an early start, a days racing and 4 pints in quick succession were too much and with a warm glow we returned to the Good Ship - the table dancing would have to wait. That night we were able to confirm our final position which proved to be really quite good: 9th in our Group but as a result of some incredibly favourable winds and tide we were also 11 th out of the 850 or so yachts in our rating. Not bad we thought ... we couldn't say it because our mouths had stopped working.