Every day until I leave for my second qualification attempt I will be posting a new video and photo on the Hewsonracing facebook site. Check it out and become a FB friend of Hewsonracing!
With the RG650 all packed up with race-prep gear and changed from racing to delivery mode I sailed from Yacht Club Italiano for Palma with the option to continue on my qualification passage if we were making good time.
The forecast was light, but I was expecting some strong winds to take me across the Gulf of Lion across to Mallorca.
I had a good breeze as we sailed down the Italian coast line, but as we reached the boarder of France the wind dropped out, and we sat bobbing around for most of the first night. A flock of birds gave me some unexpected company as they flew into the cabin and roosted on the stacking lines, chirping away to the music that was playing from the ipod.
As the sun set, the birds flew off once the wind died off, leaving me bobbing about laughing at the only bird who remained behind. As I was only relying on solar for the passage, my limited power did not warrant leaving the autopilot on through the night of no wind, so making sure we were far away from any navigational hazards, I put on the AIS and navigation lights and went below for a rest, with my trusty egg timer waking me up at one hour intervals to ensure we remained safe.
Early in the morning the wind increased from the south, and I made good miles towards St Tropez throughout the day, with winds gusting above 30kts at times. By the next night the wind had almost died out again, and I coasted along peacefully making my way to the Porguralles Islands – first island of the qualifier. Light winds made approaching the Porguralles harder than predicted, but once finally around I set the auto pilot on course and went below for some rest.
The wind veered and increased through the next night, and by midnight we were experiencing a steady 30kts. With two reefs in the main and one in the solent the RG650 raced along surfing at speeds of over 15kts.
At sunset that night I was welcomed with the most amazing surprise as a pod of fin whales surfaced and breached around me. Fin whales are one of the largest whale species, and can grow up to 70ft long. The whales who joined me were between 40 and 50ft long, and when a whale that is over twice the size of your boat breaches only metres in front of you it can be a rather scary thought. One whale surfaced only metres from the boat, another breached and then slapped is tale only 50m off my bow. I remained on high alert while in the company of these beautiful creatures, and while the whales made amazing company, the thought of one hitting the boat kept me on deck well past midnight.
At 4am the next morning I was struggling to stay awake, and went below for a short rest. I awoke to find us planning down wind a fantastic speeds and went on deck to join in the fun. Minutes after getting on deck as I had my head down tidying up sheets and halyards that had found their way into the cockpit throughout the night I heard a loud bang followed by a ripping sound. I looked behind and saw a sunfish surface in our wake and realised that it was the cause of our unexpected collision. Immediately I realised that the sun fish had hit the port rudder and I moved to the back of the boat to inspect any damage. I was relieved to find the rudder still in tact, and the gudgins still securely fastened to the back of the boat, but as I took the boat off autopilot I knew that something was wrong.
There are many stories of yachts hitting sunfish and loosing their keel or rudders, and as we were planning at over 15kts at the time of the collision I was quite impressed that the boat was still intact. I went below to inspect the transom for damage from the inside only to find some delamination due to the collision. I was expecting the damage to be a lot worse, and was relived to realise that it was still possible to continue sailing. Infact, it gave me great confidence in the boat that we could hit something so hard and only receive minimal damage. If this had happened in the Mini Transat it would have been more than feasible to continue racing, however, as it was not a race and only a qualifier, the prudent thing to do would be to sail to Palma and make repairs.
The course was diverted to Palma `150nm to our south, and I managed to arrive into port by that afternoon, sailing straight up to Club Nautico and finding myself a berth in the club where I knew there would be other mini sailors to help me arrange repairs the next day..
In light of disastrous results of mini qualifiers over the past week, my decision to stop in Palma was a good one, as the yachts who sailed past only days later were severely punished by strong winds and rough seas. Mini 716 sailed by Jeff MacFarlane is currently being towed to Menorca after the boat lost its keel and rig forcing Jeff to be airlifted off late last week. Thoughts go out to Jeff who I hope can rebuild his campaign over the next few weeks.
Many thanks to Hugo and all the Palma crew who have made it very easy to get things done in this beautiful city and to Jason and my sister Amanda who have provided 5 star accommodation in the best part of the city. It is hoped that repairs will be complete by Wednesday and I will be able to re-start my 1000nm qualifier with an amended course before finding work for the season to fund my expensive sailing habit!
Pic. Styling along in my first qualifier attempt in my Zhik hoodie and boardies
The forecast was light to very light winds ahead of the second Mini regatta of the season – the Gran Premo Italiano which was to be raced out of the famous Yacht Club Italiano in Genoa Italy.
The double-handed race beginning and ending in Genova, Italy had an initial courser of 540nm passing the islands of Capria, Gigilo, Giannutri towards Pianosa and then heading south to Lacetta in Sardinia.
Conditions were not looking good for us as a large high pressure system settled over the Mediterranean, which would mean light winds for the race. We focused on preparing the boat and making it as light as possible for the race, thought the light winds and expected sunny conditions meant we needed to bring more food and extra amounts of water for drinking and cooking incase we became becalmed five days into the race.
Days before the race were focused on preparing the boat, and sourcing items in the shops of Genoa that were unexpected safety requirements for this race, such as a HF receiver to obtain weather forecasts.
Another big investment in time before the race was making some modifications to the RG to experiment with some new gear and design features. As the boat is still classed as a Prototype it allows us to do such things as make bigger outriggers, and modify bowsprits to find the best combinations for the RG when it becomes Series (not far off now as the 9th boat has now been sold!). So before the race I was busy sourcing aluminium to modify the RG outriggers to make them stronger and longer and hence gain better control of the pole when running square down wind.
One large part of race preparation for me is usually focused on study of weather and local conditions. Sadly as my laptop was recently ‘acquired’ by a group of people who apparently needed it more than me, I was unable to do the research that I would have liked for this race which would prove to be a great loss during the race – "A tactical race is only good if you know the tactics".
In the briefing before the race, we were given the meto forecast, and told that there would be four possible course options for this race that would be determined as we sailed to each mark so as to ensure that all boats were able to finish on time in the light conditions. The race committee were very helpful I the briefing, ensuring that race instructions were translated from Italian to French and English so all competitors could understand.
We were towed out to the start line, and it was a surprise to find a nice fresh breeze to start the race. As the start gun went we found ourselves in a great position, and lead the fleet off the line, with a plan to cover the rest of the fleet by sticking on the eastern side of the course.
As we raced down to the first mark of Capria, we found ourselves in a very good position, with a couple of local boats, some proto’s and the other RG 838.
We made good speed throughout the night, working the shifts as best we could to try and cover the fleet. My crew for the race Crazy John, who is a gun dinghy sailor, found conditions a bit choppy and fed the fish before sunset prior to taking some medication for the dreaded sickness. Unfortunately for Crazy, the medication was a little "strong" at change of watch at midnight on the first night, we were heading away from the fleet, with Crazy a bit dazed and confused, stating "I think these seasickness tablets make me hallucinate".
Thankfully by morning we found ourselves still in a good spot cover the fleet, and as we match raced the other RG to Capria the entire fleet was sitting below us near the coast of Cosica. While my instincts told me to go for speed and try to make ground on the fleet, plus follow the local knowledge that was focused on Cosica, my pride kept me above the fleet. A few hours later we were stuck in a massive wind hole next to Capria watching almost the entire fleet sail below us. Those who were not below us, were sailing close to the coast of Capria, and had found some local wind there.
We sat becalmed for over 6 hours, and by the time we finally got some breeze the fleet leaders were well ahead. We made fantastic gains over the next few hours playing the shifts between the islands, and almost had the leaders in our grasp when alas, another wind hole left us bobbing around.
This was the pattern for the rest of the race. Sit in a wind hole and wait for wind, then work our way back up to the front of the pack only to make another tactical error/have some bad luck, and find ourselves in another wind hole. I wish I had studied the local conditions with a fine tooth comb, however talking to the locals after the race they too were bemused by the local conditions.
The course was shortened to from 540 miles to 300 miles due to the light winds and the most southerly mark of La Cetta removed, taking the fleet north after passing the island of Giglio and Giannutri towards Pianosa,and instead of heading south to Sardinia we returned on the same route.
Three days of light wind and frustrating racing passed, and we finally rounded the bottom mark, and began making our way back to the finish in Genoa. The last two days our tactics began to pay off, as we stuck to the east of the course close to the Italian coastline to get the most of the katabatic wind during the night and make the most of a possible light sea breeze during the day. We worked our way through the fleet, and after 5 days of racing, we approached the finish surrounded by some very competitive boats even after being becalmed for 12 out of the last 24 hours! I began to get excited as I realised that we were still very much in the game.
We finally coasted across the line after over 10 sail changes in the last few hours of the race. Our mid fleet result was not exactly one to boast about, but it was better than I had expected two days into the race, and we achieved the main goal – I had now over 1000nm or racing under my belt I the RG650 816 and consequently had ticked one of the qualification boxes for the 2013 Mini Transat.
With 1000nm of racing now complete, all that remains is the 1000nm qualifier.. stay tuned!
Pic – Trying to keep the kite full in light conditions!
The view of the fleet of Mini 650 from the famous Yacht Club Italiano about to start the Grand Premo Italia.
Light winds are forecasted for the race from Genova around a number of islands and as far south as La Caletta.
The course for the race will be set at tomorrows briefing and the RG 650 Zhik is ready to race!
Sailing from Talamone to Genova for the Mini GP Italiano was fraught with danger as I navigated my way through uncharted rocks as I sailed the RG 650 up the coast of Italy. As forecasted the wind dropped off early evening before filling in from the East to give us nice reaching conditions up the coast to Genova.
I arrived in Genoa with light winds and pouring rain, and coasted my way to the Harbor and into the marina only to be told that yachts were not allowed to sail in the port limits, this may explain the patrol boat that "escorted" me to port.
The rain has been intermittent and it has been unusually cold over the past few days but i have been kept warm and dry in my Zhik gear. As I have prepaid the boat for the race but the raining hours have been well spent searching the city of Genoa for equipment for the boat required for the ever stringent safety inspection. Mini 650 is very strict with safety requirements. The recent sinking of a prototype sailing from France for the race brings safety into realisation. Thoughts go out to the owner who has spent the last 5 years building the carbon prototype boat – this was to be his first race!
The good news is that my safety inspection is almost complete with only a few additional requirements for this race including a SSB radio receiver that I have spent hours trying to find but so far have not been able to source dispute new found friends helps me trying to find the require items. It has been a lot of fun exploring the streets of Genoa and meeting the local people while also socialising with the other Mini sailors in the fleet.
Tomorrow hopefully we can go for a quick training session in the morning before final race preps and a quick trip to Milan to get a new passport. It will be fantastic to get out for a sail tomorrow and test the modifications and new kit before the race and tune the rig for the light wind race that lies only days away.
Charging down wind in the RG650 with two reefs in the main and the code 5 flying proud from the pole ahead of the boat in 22kts of wind in the med reaching speeds of over 16kts in a 21 foot boat is one of the best feelings in the world. Rain, flying spray, and cool autum temperates were forgotten about as the boat planed down the face of the steep mediteranian chop.
After a crazy few weeks I finally have time to sit down, have a beautiful italian coffee, escape the rain, and catch up on emails and write some blogs. Even to get to the start line was a challenge for this regatta. Talamone is situated half way up the west italian coast, and is not the easiest place to get to, let alone to organise trasportation of a mini 650 and all the gear required for the regatta. I arrived on Sunday, and was straight away getting stuck into boat preparations. After ten days in Talamone the boat has had a full make over, and has also participated in its first race of the season.
The Talamone race was a chance to test modifications to the boat made over winter and in the previous week before the start. It was also a great opportunity to trial weight configerations and sail combinations while racing against a good compedative fleet of minis that included for the first time ever another RG650 – the new Russian owned 838.
On Saturday the first of April the a fleet of Mini’s lined up off the beautiful Talamone yacht club. The course for this race would be was Talamone yacht club, a short windward work before rounding the top mark and sailng down to the Islands of Grosetto then up to the Giannutri Islands around Elba Island, Capria Islands and then returning to Talamone.
After a few pre start delays the gun went and my co skipper Bret Perry and I put the RG650 into gear, charging up the first leg of the course in the top half of the fleet. We had fantastic speed on the first leg which was proving our modificaitons were working. We rounded the top mark and set the kite and hammered down wind reaching some fantastic speeds in the mid teens. The boat was nicely loaded up, and we were side by side with the other RG650 838. Halfway down the second leg of the race some modifications proved itself too light and the new running backstay system let go with a bang.
Straight away we dropped the kite, and as bret crawled into the back of the boat, removing the emergency buoyancy and a plether of sails and gear stacked in the back we started to re-rope the backstays as many other boats sailed past, and we unfortunatly lost our good position in the fleet. Half an hour later the running backstays were fixed just in time for us to round the second mark of the course and start heading up wind again.
As we worked our way back to windward with nice 15kt winds and we began to catch the fleet again. By the time we were at Giannutri we were again in a good positoin but a poor navigation decision took us too close to the island, where we found gusty winds making the boat hard to control. Again some boats slipped by underneath us, and we were playing catch up as the sun begain to set.
By the time we rounded Giannutri we were again in a good position, and the real fun began. As the wind swung around and picked up we had a fantastic downwing run of around 80 miles with some blistering numbers recorded with boat speed in excess of 14 Knots – extremely quick for a mini.
The tables turned when we reached Capria and we went from planing down wind in beatiful consistant winds to dropping the kite and reefing the main in preparation for the dark clouds at the northern end of the island that indicated the predicted cold front was about to hit. We had just got our reefs in when the first squall hit. This squall smashed us with so much force the boat was knocked down flat with the spreaders touching the water! The weather did not imporve on the other side of the island, and we were forced to drop the solent and hoist the storm jib. Stay tuned for some awesome GoPro footage of 816 smashing our way upwind in some horrific conditions. Thankfully I had my Zhik gear to keep me warm, and Spinlock vests to keep us safe, as the temperature dropped to a freezing 5 degrees and the waves continuously crashed over the boat. The next 65nm were extreemly tough as we saw winds consistantly over 30kts and some large waves making tough going for life onboard a 21 foot boat.
Navigation for the rest of the race was tough and the conditions proved benificial for the locals who hugged the coast with more consistant wind that we experianced further offshore. Due to this being the first race of the season, and our inabilty to hoist our lightweigh kite, I decided to remain further offshore to protect the boat against the unmarked reefs and hazards that can be found closer to shore. Unfortunatly this move allowed a few yachts to take us on the inside, and we finished the race drifting across the line at Talamone in 5th place.
Since the finish I have not had time to rest until now. The mast came straight out of the boat the day after the race to repair a damaged top spreader, and I have also utilsed the opportunity to fit a new autopilot ram, move the electronics and re’calibrate the instruments in preparation for the next race and my 1000nm qualifier. Tomorrow I sail to Genova to prepair for the GP http://www.gpi-mini650.com.