Wednesday, 12 June 2013

The Spirit of Offshore racing

When I started off shore racing, it was two years before I bought Lula Belle, and it was on a Bavaria 30 called "Tyred Dreaming". Needless to say on a Bavaria 30 I was always at the back of the fleet and had some of my best battles with Sarnia back there. While we were always at the back of the fleet, this battle was enough to get me completely hooked on offshore racing to my financial detriment. How much better off I would be had I never met Peter Ryan. Some comments recently have spurred me to, well not put pen to paper but fingertip to keyboard. Recently a Sigma 33 called Polished Manx won a major race from Isle of Man to Dun laoghaire and I heard the comments "well the wind died and a slow boat got the race". As someone who has sailed at the back of the fleet I have to say this is a comment which really annoys me. Likewise in Wicklow at the finish of the Lynx Metmast race from Pwllheli to Wicklow again the wind died at the end of the race and Lula Belle went from a possible winning position to sitting at the finish line to watch our position go from potential winners to second last having been over taken at the end by three Sigma 33's. Is this the boat to haunt us this year.
Again while I cursed my bad luck at having to sit there for three hours and watching the Sigmas appear on the horizon, I felt I lost down to a bit of bad luck, Not that, as was said to me "oh the slow boats got you". However you can not ever tackle this comment as unless you have raced from the rear of the fleet you never know how stupid this remark is. I know everyone who says it does not mean it in any derogatory form or to insult, but its just a throw away comment. Having just completed the Dun Loaghaire to Dingle race (D2D), again I have come across this comment. Again it has been said in a totally harmless way but I still dislike it. I was privileged to be racing this race on a boat that was keeping me at the front of the fleet. While we did notice Amazing Grace ascending the leader board, I was quietly confident, once we got the wind forecast at the fastnet to bring us home, we would pull out a lead to beat Amazing Grace.
I never dreamed of wining a race like D2D but knew Lula Belle was capable of getting a good finish. Even though our last to races were last and second last the boat had gone well and the poor results were down to poor choices on the course. When we passed the Fastnet rock on Sunday morning it hit me we could win this race. We had led the race for 200 miles of the 275 mile course and now wind was forecast to blow us home. Mojito was 1.5 miles ahead of us and quickly Brian and I did our best calculations and we realised on a 30 hour race we just needed to finish within about 40 minutes of Mojito and we could win the race. This in its self was an amazing feeling. At Mizen head now only about 65 miles left the computer showed us as the leaders.
I will be the first to admit i did not give Amazing Grace or Spindrift to much chance. After a few miles the computer put Antix as winners but I knew this was based on average speeds and we would be finishing faster than the computer thought so we could take them, no it was just stay close to Mojito.


As leaderBoard shows with 95 miles left only Mojito to beat and while in light airs notice Amazing Grace has hit light airs also while Spindrift is nowhere to be seen.  
 We will write the story of that race again but for now back to the comment that annoys me, Amazing Grace and Spindrift took first and second places respectively. There was the comment "the race was a light airs affair which allowed the smaller and slower boats fill the leader board". Again no harm was meant by the comment but I felt for these two boats. The winning boat was only one foot smaller that the boat making the comments. The reason I felt for these two boats was as mentioned I know what life in the back of the fleet is like. The great thing about the D2D race is the trackers leaves it there to review the race and this tells a very different story.
I would like to say I do not know anyone on either Amazing Grace or Spindrift and I hope they do not mind me speaking about this, nor have I talked to any of them so i am just guessing what the race must have been like for them.
Looking at the tracker we see the "Bigger and faster" (B&F) boats got out around Muglins at the start while the "Smaller and Slower" (S&S) boats got stuck behind the in the dying breeze. So to start with these S&S boats gave the B&F boats a two hour head start. Imagine starting a 275 mile race and a group of B&F boats are gone ten miles down the course before you even move. Think of how you must motivate the crew knowing you may have 30 hours of racing ahead for nothing.
Then we in the B&F boats (by the way my bigger boat was smaller than the wining boat) got around Tuskar rock just as the tide started to turn leaving the S&S boats to fight 6 hours against tide to round the rock. Yes south of Cork we hit light airs but looking at the tracker you can clearly see this was from 17.30 to 21.00, which was forecast and from 23.30 to 04.00 which was not forecast.  so really we only had 8 or 9 hours of light or no wind but as the tracker shows with tide we were always moving forward.  This I think just about makes the S&S boats and the B&F boats even on bad luck and from then on we all had wind and lots of it to the finish.
So what the tracker shows us is the race by Amazing Grace and Spindrift was not a fluke of light air. These guys from the rear of the fleet having kept their crews motivated, kept spirits up and kept their boats moving must have hit the heavy airs with purpose and sailed with all their powers. As i say I dont know these guys and have not spoken to them but I bet they had those two boats rocketing up that west coast. Kite up, pushing knowing a that thanks to their very hard work in bad luck at the start then now could make amends. And they did. And they got their just rewards and the leader board does not lie. Those two boats are there because given the conditions on the days they sailed faster and better than everyone else. Yes a little light air slowed the front boats for a while but had these guys they given up when left at the start for two hours, or caught at the filling tide at Tuskar, they would not be sitting at Cork to take advantage of the front boats been slowed for a while.
Even then we all got lots of air from the Fastnet and this is still 65 miles to go. Its a good ISORA. The B&F boats here again get a big advantage and we were averaging 7 to 8 knts up the west coast as Amazing Grace Rounds the Fastnet doing 5knts. Spindrift was still 10 miles back. We races up the west coast as I said only worrying about Mojito and I know talking to many of the B&F boats speeds of 14 to 15knts were hit on that final leg. Can you imagine what an effort and commitment it took for these two boats to give a 10 and 20 mile head start and pull out an amazing finish. God if ever a boat was named appropriately surly Amazing Grace was well named.
This race was an wonderful achievement for these guys and well done. While you have took what would have been a win for us away I have absolutely no qualms or quarrels. And I did not lose that position to light airs I lost it to two great teams racing out of their skins. You have my total admiration and to me you are for now the Bigger and Faster boats and the leader board does not lie and the tracker backs it up. Well done and congratulations on a great achievement.
I think it would be great were it possible to introduce a rule that you could not compete in off shore racing on your "Bigger and Faster" boats until you did a year on a "smaller and slower" boat. But alas that will not happen so please just refrain from commenting on those boats on the rear of the fleet until you have raced on one and understand the effort and work that goes in is probably a lot more that up the front of the fleet.

Yours The skipper of a smaller and slower boat who loves to hang out with the bigger and faster boats.

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