NIKKI CURWEN: My first Class Mini event

NIKKI CURWEN: My first Class Mini event

Monday March 18 2013 Author: Artemis Offshore Academy Location: United Kingdom

The Solo Roma-Solo Race was organised by Achab Yacht Club, a tiny little club near Fiumicino, Rome with a small beautiful harbour. Fifteen Minis gathered for the race starting on 15th March at midday. The original race course was 190nm in a figure of eight course around two local islands Ponza and Ventone. However, the evening before the start there was an update to the sailing instructions and a course change was put in place due to high winds forecast on Sunday and large swell of up to five meters reported in proximity of the islands. Two options were given and a decision to be made at the briefing at 08:30 CET the morning of the race.

So, with the course then set and an hour postponement in place, we set off at 12:00 CET on a shorter 120nm course around Palmarola, another local island. In true Frensham Pond style (my home dinghy club) it was a downwind start, I prepared my kite before and hoisted shortly after the gun. Much to my disappointment we weren’t allowed to set our pole or hoist before. After a late start due to my own watch confusion and no one minute signal, I set off chasing the front pack. Using my big spinnaker, I picked my way through the fleet.

For the first leg we had winds speeds ranging between 10-22kts, gradually shifting round to the north. It became difficult to hold the big spinnaker so I chose to peel to the Code 5 quite early. I lost a bit of ground on the fleet while changing, but with a better sail choice I was soon catching up sailing higher and faster towards Palmarola, 56nm away. We were cruising along at 10/11kts, surfing down the waves, which was great fun and all the while trying to avoid floating driftwood in the water. All week at the yacht club we had watched hundreds of large branches and logs flowing out the river into the open water. I saw countless objects while racing, unfortunately hitting one quite hard on my leeward rudder. The whole boat shook and panic flooded over me. I quickly checked the boat, everything was still attached – PHEW! On closer inspection once ashore, I have a little damage to rudder and a bit of movement in the pintails, but it’s nothing too drastic and an easy repair.

My first disaster of the race happened while I was down below putting an extra layer on. While doing up my lifejacket, I think I must have hit the autopilot stop button on the remote hanging round my neck. The pilot turned off and the boat spun round into the wind and then tacked. I ran up on deck to find complete carnage, with the spinnaker in the mainsail and spinnaker pole folded in (where it normally is stored). I quickly assessed the situation, first I tried to tack back, but the waves and wind made it impossible to turn. I dropped the kite down the hatch and set the boat on course again while I checked the boat to see if everything was ok. During the carnage the spinnaker pole turning fork had snapped off the pole. It is a triangular piece of metal used as part of a purchase to swing the pole from the cockpit. At first I thought the pole had also been damaged and I was now limited to white sails for the rest of the race, but thankfully this wasn’t the case and I could carry on with the spinnaker by swinging the pole from on the bow.

I reached Palmarola at around 20:30 CET in the evening, with the wind at a constant 15/18kts. The weather is very unpredictable in the Med. and you have to be ready to react to anything. Palmarola is a small unlit island, very mountainous almost volcanic looking (from what I could see in the dark) and it is only a mile or two from Ponza, another a nearby island. The course sent us between the two islands, in the dark it looked somewhat ominous and I had to triple check the chart before I braved the darkness. Above Palmarola there was a big black cloud with lightning, so I put in a reef in preparation. As I approached the most northerly point a squall came through of 28kts, it was very short, lasting maybe 20-30 seconds, then dropping back down to 15kts immediately after.

Once round Palmarola, it was back to Ostia for the finish. I hoisted my medium spinnaker as I cleared the island. The leg back was dead downwind and I think I put in three or four gybes. A couple of hours later at around 23:00 CET it was pitch black, but I could see a navigation light getting closer. As I got nearer I could see it was a Mini, going in the opposite direction. Very confused, I couldn’t see why they were heading that way, and so far off the main course to Palmarola. Shortly after, the wind spun 180 degrees and I was in the same position! The spinnaker came down and I set off on a beat all the way home for 48nm. CRAZY!

Tacking towards Ostia I chose to take a course a few miles offshore, as I had expected the wind to die inshore. I had kept an eye on the boat I’d seen when the wind shifted so drastically and we crossed close by again at around 04:00 as they headed inshore. Once on land I discovered the boat was a Proto, Jeff, who had then went on to finish at around 8:30/9:00 CET and win the race. Unfortunately as I was nearing the finish, with mere 10nm to go I lost all wind and sat drifting for hours!

The wind finally filled in enough to get me moving forwards and slowly make progress towards the line and I finished the race at 14:00 CET in 7th position.

Read the Artemis Offshore Academy report on Nikki's first race of the season here


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