Winning the IRC1 class in the Fastnet on Magnum III

Winning the IRC1 class in the Fastnet on Magnum III

Friday August 16 2013 Author: wouterverbraak Location: United Kingdom


Rolex Fastnet Race 2013


Wow, what a race! This year’s edition certainly didn’t disappoint, as it presented us with all ingredients of what this great ocean classic is about. With the numbers being well up, the  start out of the Solent was rather hectic. What a sight seeing these hundreds of boats short tack there way up the Solent, with the bigger maxi’s blasting through the thickest of the mayhem near Hurst Castle.


I was fortunate enough to be sailing with one of the very competitive boats in the Solent; the Ker 40 Magnum III. I worked with the team both last year and this year, working on pre-race strategy and weather and sailing the Morgan Cup. The team is well rounded with a broad spectrum of skills on board, and a highly passionate owner/driver.


In our class we deemed the main competition to come from the other Ker 40 teams Hooligan, Keronimo and BarakaGP and the Ker 46 Tonnere. The forecast however did look to be favoring the smaller boats in our class, and certainly for the highly desired overall trophy.


Straight after the starting gun, we were short tacking along the Isle of Wright shore, exchanging blows with the other Kers. Intense, fun racing, pretty much as good as it gets.


Out of the Solent, a classic beat along the South Coast followed. I love this beat, as however many times you do it, it is always a slightly different mix of tides and windshifts. What worked well last time, doesn’t necessarily be a winner the next time. Leading at first, and seeing the bigger boats making big gains inshore, we decided to be slightly more inshore, but soon fell into a big wind hole....Time to get it all back again, which we did by playing the tide and wind at the next headland well.


After Portland we worked the anticipated righthand shift, leading our group into it. Afterwards we however ended up too close inshore, and had the others curved around us. Aargh! On the back foot again, and now we were behind all four of the Kers when we reached Lands End.


The Irish Sea was to see a turn of our fortune, as we firstly used the strong current along the shelf of the Scilly Islands to get back in touch with the peleton. The islands provide an absolutely stunning scenery, with gorgeous white sandy beaches set between rugged black rocks and underneath bright green rolling hills. Lots of wild life around, with dolphins jumping around our boat and waves smashing in big fountains of white spray onto the rocks. Amazing!


The next long leg to the Fastnet rock, is were you have to switch gears from coastal sailing, to open ocean strategy. With a high pressure ridge to cross, and then a warm front approaching, there was plenty to get my head around.  We played the game well, going right for more pressure first, then crossing over to the West for the shift and then again footing hard to set up for lifting winds. Big gains as we went from last to first with a substantial lead at the Fastnet Rock. I was very pleased to see that all the hard work from the winter, sharpening my weather and strategy tools was now coming together. Getting a good understanding of what was driving the pattern certainly proved key.


Did anybody mention the Rambler capsize near the rock from the last race in their blogs? I certainly had a thought of all my Rambler team mates, and their stories of being huddled up together on the upturned hull, or worst in the water. A  combination of good seamanship and sheer luck of being spotted provided them with a very narrow escape.


The way back from the rock was a leg to remember. Not only did it get pitchblack dark due to the absence of any glimpse of moonlight, it also started to rain. Heavily. The winds increased and we were going faster and faster. We were taking turns driving, swapping frequently. 


Downstairs taking a break and checking course, I noticed that we were much more lifted than in the predictions. Important as we had to make a choice to leave the Traffic Separation Zone to port or starboard. Earlier calculations indicated that the northerly option would be 7 minutes quicker, but it meant beating upwind for the next 7 miles to the rock. Risky....With the lifted winds however, this was going to be a fast reach. Not being 100% awake after 36 hours of hard racing, I checked and checked and triple checked my calculations and then discussed with tactician Mike the new situation. We decided to go for it.


With the slightly more open angle, boatspeeds went up even more once we could hoist our A0 reaching spinaker. The firehose went on, and we drove right on the edge all through the night. Collars up, hoods down, only a small narrow slit to peer through. The bow was barely visible, forget about the waves let alone a horizon or stars to drive on. Only the bright orange numbers on the displays on the mast provided a guide. Amazing white knuckle, knife edge driving at 13-17kn. Loved it!


The next morning when we finally could see something again, we found ourselves all alone with not a boat on the horizon....a bit nervous, we fired up the Inmarsat satellite phone to download the latest tracker data. Where did they all go? Soon enough it was clear that we were the only one in the fleet who decided on the northerly option...we smashed the other boats, and made a significant 10 mile gain which put us not only at the top of our class, but also gave us the crown for the top position overall.


All to play for, the last 90 mile downwind leg to the finish was going to be key. With winds decreasing, and the current turning against us, we worked the boat hard. The whole team gave 100% right up to the finish line, pumping on every wave. Good stuff.


Once in, we were soon clear on the win in our class, but we had to wait for the overall prize. With pre-race weather analysis already showing more wind coming for the smaller boats, we knew this was going to be close. Would any of the hundred plus boats still out pip us to the prize? It was a long tantalizing wait in the middle of the night, and only early in the morning we saw that five small boats managed to sneak through in time. 6th overall. Aargh, so close! We will have to come back to do this amazing event again. Thank you Magnum crew for an exciting, fun and focussed race. We gave it 100%. Brilliant! 

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