Cowes-Cherbourg-Cowes Race Report Pt 1

“My first offshore race… and my second!” The following Race Report has been kindly written by Emma after her first time aboard Marta.

Thursday – Preparations

I woke up with butterflies. Today I travel south for a few hours to meet Marta, the Sigma 38 yacht I’ll be spending the Easter weekend on, and the other 6 crew members. I met Brian, the skipper, during a Sea Survival course the month before, but have no idea what to expect this weekend. Do I have the correct gear, and will I remember anything from 3 years ago when I was last on a yacht?

I meet Brian and his wife Susanne and walk down with them to prepare the yacht. As we do this more of the crew arrive, until we are all aboard and ready to motor across to Cowes. During the crossing three of us introduce ourselves as the ‘novice with no offshore experience’ mentioned in the Skippers’ pre-race email, so I feel less like the odd one out, but do wonder how we will manage in the race!

Suddenly I’m being requested to helm, it’s getting dark, and I’m given various cardinals and buoys to aim for. I’m constantly pointing out ships in the distance and checking movement on the horizon to check we aren’t on a collision course, but get told ‘we aren’t close unless we hit it!’. Heading into the Marina I’m still at the helm and suddenly we are in a minefield of buoys. Will takes charge of checking we don’t hit anything and once we are near the entrance and through the buoys, Brian takes charge of the helm again. I’m relieved I didn’t hit anything and surprised I was allowed to helm that close into shore in the dark, but I’m happy. Safely moored in Cowes we have dinner, beers, and then head to the pub. The atmosphere is relaxed and we all confirm our start time (7am) and lots of talk of Easterly winds before heading to bed, thankfully Marta has a heater on board!

Good Friday: Cowes – Cherbourg

It’s the morning of the race and we are all getting ready, Susanne is making sure everyone has breakfast and I help to prepare sandwiches for lunch, as no-one will want to go below during the race to make them then. I put on 2 pairs of socks, 2 base layers, my new mid-layer, salopettes, a jumper and coat and then my new MPX Musto outerwear, along with the boots I hope will keep my feet warm. Up on deck I find that I’m one of 3 girls all in the same Red Musto Jackets, we have team wear without planning it!

The next bit is a little bit of a blur as I sit here a few days later trying to remember it, but we head out to join the other boats near the start line, we are manoeuvring around, and are all shown the start line. I can’t remember if we were still trying to organise sails, or just waiting for the start, but the radio is silent and suddenly we realise the rest of the boats in our class have gone! We have missed the start by about 10 minutes… being used to the motor circuit and 20 minute races, this seems a major setback and although the crew are disappointed it doesn’t affect the atmosphere onboard.

Still a blur all I remember is that my feet and hands are freezing cold, despite all the layers I put on, Brian, the skipper says it’s ok to go below and warm up if I want. Everyone is sitting around, so I go below where Susanne passes me a seasickness tablet as she takes one herself. I’m told to go up into the pilot berth (a bit like a top bunk bed) on the high side of the boat, so that my weight is in the correct location. Embarrassingly I fall asleep and wake up to find my feet are even colder than before. I slowly peek out and look on deck to find everyone more or less where I left them and go out to find that Susanne and Liz are also asleep below suffering from seasickness. I take my place up on deck, weighting the boat and the 5 of us sit there for the journey across, on the same single tack, for a further 4/5 hours, whilst Brian and Will take it in terms to helm the boat.

During the conversations on deck to find out how we are doing I learn that a boat in our class has turned back and retired, I think it is due to the weather conditions; visibility isn’t very good, there are quite a few white horses about and the wind is gusting. I hear 27 knots being mentioned and later learn we were in a force 6. Towards the end of the race, the battery power falls below 75% and the instruments go off, so we can no longer see the boat or wind speed. We still have navigation, but head into the marina with the sails as they were even though the wind seems quite strong. I later learn that most other boats had reefed the main due to the winds, which we might have done if we knew the wind speed.

We look around for a berth, I hear discussion about holding a place for the yacht that moored up next to us when we started, they are yet to arrive and we have beaten them in, even though we started late, and it appears we just sat there doing nothing on the way over, how does that work!

Paracelsus arrives whilst we are below drinking coffee, it is another Sigma 38 from our class and has a much smaller crew, including the skipper Neil, who used to crew on Marta. It’s nice to see how friendly the racing is and we all head to the yacht club for beers, to find out that we came 3rd!

Written by Emma Newman.

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