It is hard to believe that it was only just over a week ago that I made my return to the UKSA during Lendy Cowes Week. Last Tuesday I met with the UKSA’s Patron, Princess Royal, ahead of an afternoon of sailing with students and special guests. The UKSA is where it all started for me and, as both a graduate and ambassador, it is always a pleasure to be able to share my love of the sport and pass on some big boat sailing tips.
Wednesday saw the start of Leg Zero of the Volvo Ocean Race. Comprising four separate races in total, Leg Zero is the official qualifier for the Volvo Ocean Race and the first opportunity the teams have to compete against each other. Although no points will be carried forward to the race itself, it will be invaluable for us all to see what we are up against. Leg Zero is made up of the Round the Island and Rolex Fastnet races followed by two legs solely for VOR 65’s – Plymouth to St Malo and St Malo to Lisbon.
For Turn the Tide on Plastic, the 50 nautical mile sprint around the Isle of Wight was our first race. My goals for the team were to have a clean race, make sure the boat, sails and people got back in one piece, be competitive and, above all else, enjoy it! The conditions were fantastic, with great sailing had by all and just 16 minutes between the first and last VOR 65 across the finish line. We maintained a position within the middle of the fleet and were rewarded with a race time of 3hrs 24mins16 secs. Reaching the dock with the boat and crew in tact and smiling faces all round I felt we had ticked all the boxes for our first competitive outing. You can view some of the action from the Round the Island Race here
As Lendy Cowes Week was winding down, we were gearing up for part two of Leg Zero and our next challenge – the Rolex Fastnet Race. This 608 mile ocean classic is a very different beast from Round the Island and the crew needed to transition from handling an intense 3 hours to keeping that intensity up for 3 days. I am no stranger to this race so fully aware of the hazards right from the start line as you leave the Royal Yacht Squadron through the Solent. It fell to Nico Lunven, Figaro Solitaire winner, to take up the mantle of navigator as it was important to have someone in the navigation hot seat who was experienced and could deal with the challenges along the race course.
To have all the fleet of boats together made the race a perfect training session for us. We could tweak our set ups to make sure we were on the pace and change sails accordingly with the boats either within sight or on the AIS all the time. The whole fleet finished within 39 minutes of each other which shows just how close the racing was and during the race there were many position changes taking place. Once again, this highlights how costly a mistake can be when racing in a one design fleet. We will take our lessons learnt forwards into the next race ahead.
We rounded the Fastnet Rock on Tuesday morning which was great for crew members who had never taken part in this classic to actually see the landmark in daylight. With the fleet still within our sights, we turned straight into some fast paced downwind sailing across the Irish Sea, as we headed back to the south coast. We faced a number of squalls with some torrential rain downpours in them, big wind shifts and huge changes in wind speed. It was a busy day of racing with sail changes and manoeuvres as well as the conditions being so cold. The corner with the Scilly Isles has a mass of shipping lanes and concentration levels were high as we dealt with other boats, currents and the coastline. The finish line in Plymouth was a welcome sight and we crossed the line early Wednesday morning just before dawn.
Some food, a shower and a comfy bed were on the ticket but rest has been short and sweet as we have two more legs in quick succession to complete. The first one starts today and takes us 125 nm from Plymouth to St Malo and the final leg takes us 770 nautical miles from St Malo to Lisbon and starts on Sunday 13th August.
The Volvo Ocean Race itself starts from Alicante on 22 October and will stop at Lisbon, Cape Town, Melbourne, Hong Kong, Guangzhou, Auckland, Itajaí, Newport, Cardiff and Gothenburg before a big finish in The Hague at the end of June 2018.
Main image credit:UKSA