Solent Gaffers


The Solent Annual Race report 2019

Start of the Solent annual race 2019
©R Jacobs

The fleet gathered in Cowes Yacht Haven throughout a sunny Friday afternoon. Those coming from the East were helped along by the tide, while from the West it was downwind all the way. From the North, it was the usual business of avoiding the ferries. It was good to see newcomers, such as the Ed Burnett cutter ‘Meagan’ and plenty of old friends. By evening there were 19 boats berthed comfortably together. It’s the first time we’ve used Cowes Yacht Haven for this event and were rewarded with more space than we’re used to.

Then it was along to Cowes Corinthian Yacht Club for the race briefing, expertly delivered by our very own race officer, Alastair Wilson. The briefing was followed by takeaway fish and chips at the club for many, while others went off and did their own thing.

Saturday dawned clear and calm. Perfect for the cricket match on Bambles Bank, that we all missed. Maybe we should have got up earlier! By 8am it was still calm in Cowes, but the wind was reported as 15kts at Lymington platform, with more to come. A new element for this year was the use of the Lisburne Race Box at Egypt Point. The race team trooped down there, while the fleet looked at the forecast and practiced reefing. Egypt Point had been chosen to keep everyone clear of the Cowes traffic, which worked well. Timing was set to ensure that we got plenty of help from the tide heading West. However the tide never stops around Cowes, so a good awareness of local conditions was essential. 

20 boats started in perfect conditions (SW3 and sunshine) at 11:00. By then the tide was flowing strongly West inshore, while still going the other way further out. The leaders (‘Rosenn’, ‘Codling’, ‘Charlotte Elizabeth’) got tight inshore and tacked along the beach. Nobody cut it too close, which was just as well at the top of a high Springs tide. Those that got caught further out had a huge disadvantage. The last boat across the line was 30 minutes late, despite having been in the starting area in plenty of time.

The race team packed up and hurried back to the committee boat in Cowes Yacht Haven. By the time we crossed the start line, we had given the fleet a 1hr head start. The plan was to head down to the 2nd mark ( to pick up the leaders, but by the time we got there the first 2 were already passed it. So on to ‘Solent Bank’ to wait for them. The wind had picked up to over 20kts by now. ‘Rosenn’ was first to the mark, bore away and discovered that it was straight downwind to the next mark. As ‘Codling’ arrived, the committee boat moved off to become the finish line. The fast conditions meant that the finish was in danger of conflicting with other starts from the RLymYC line, so the decision was made to shorten the course at the penultimate mark (Folkboats UK), which had been set specifically for this purpose. Anchoring with wind over tide now gusting up towards 30kts around a band of rain, we waited for the fleet.

‘Rosenn’ arrived about a minute after we settled. We waited nearly 15 minutes for ‘Codling’ and the same again for ‘Charlotte Elizabeth’. The latter still flying their topsail. John would defend it later, despite struggling to keep enough rudder in the water to steer around the final tack (He wasn’t the only one… ‘Ruby’ eventually gybed around instead). The conditions overwhelmed many of the smaller boats and a steady stream of retirees came past, while it took another hour for the remaining finishers. All were counted in and made it safely down to Lymington, with stories to tell. Those that had chosen not to race came down alongside the fleet and experienced the same conditions.

By the time we were all into Lymington and the Dan Bran pontoon, the wind had dropped and the sun was out. Perfect conditions for an afternoon on the Solent, but there was no appetite to go back out. The bar at RLymYC was much more appealing.

Prizes were awarded and a fine meal was laid on for 70 hungry sailors. Thank you to RLymYC. . Click HERE to see the results

On Sunday the sun was back, with wind in the NW and a morning tide heading East. Most of the fleet enjoyed a relaxing morning sail home, in stark contrast to their passage the other way. Those heading West had to work a bit harder, as they are used to doing. One or two with more time went looking for breakfast. After striking out in the centre of Lymington, the restaurant at Lymington Yacht Haven more than met requirements and is recommended.

Congratulations and thank you to everyone that sailed through testing conditions and made the most of it.

A few thoughts:

  1. It’s the first time we’ve organised a major race ourselves, rather than relying on an external yacht club. There’s a surprising amount of advance work putting a race together, including instructions, course options, notification of harbour authorities and risk assessments. That’s all on top of the usual activities of managing race entries, handicaps and mooring requirements. Thank you to all those that put time in to these.
  2. Thank you to Royal Lymington Yacht Club for processing the race results. The magic of smartphones meant that most of this had been done by the time the committee boat berthed.
  3. Where were the bigger gaffers? ‘Aeolus’ was the only boat in the ‘over 28ft LWL' classes. We would love to see you all next year… and at other events.
  4. The passage race format is great for getting everyone sailing and a bit of variety, but limits our options in tough weather. Supper was in Lymington, so we had to get there!
  5. There was some confusion about what was meant by shortening the race. As usual, it’s simpler than many expect. The course is shortened, not changed. So you carry on along the original course until you pass a mark of the course with a committee boat flying an ‘S’ flag. Then you have finished. 
  6. Overall everyone seemed to enjoy the weekend, even if a few might have argued the case half way through Saturday. Please do offer your suggestions on how we can do better next time.

Richard Jacobs

Sailing Secretary

7 Sep 2019