Will Sayer wins doublehanded Fastnet

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Former Ostar class winner Will Sayer almost missed this year’s Fastnet Race completely... instead he walked away with a decisive doublehanded win on his Sigma 33c ‘Elmareen’… he tells the story through all its ups and downs…

The reason for entering the Fastnet for me was to back my the OSTAR win two years earlier. I had been out of the racing scene ever since and I desperately wanted to prove ‘Elmarleen ‘and I weren’t a one trick pony and we had been preparing for the race all year.

However, the decision to go on the morning of the race was an agonising one. Tamsin my partner had given birth to our first child Harrison [16 days late] only 14 days earlier via a c-section. How could I be a good father leaving my 14-day-old baby on his own? Did I really want to miss a week of my son’s life so early on? And to top it all off, looking at the weather forecast it didn’t look like it was going to be a small boat race! Tam told me to go but on one condition; I brought back Harrison a trophy!

‘The squadron start line was particularly familiar this year having sailed the qualifiers, RTIR and now the Fastnet. The winds were ideal for ‘Elmarleen’ and she was sailing to her handicap. We had a reasonable start, starting at the Squadron end of the line. Being the slowest boat in the race, it is always easy to know how well you’re doing – everyone should be in front! We raced down the western Solent in the middle of the pack trying to hold onto the faster boats for as long as possible. The wind picked up as we reached Hurst and we put our first reef of the race in the main and carried on sailing towards the Needles. In an effort to get further to windward and use our shallow draft we went very close to the Shingles Bank, which was particularly choppy and rough.

We took the advantage of the fair tide for as long as possible and beat our way towards the St Albans head. As we got nearer the turn of the tide we tacked and started to lay a line to clear Portland Bill and get us further offshore. At this moment we got our first position report and ‘Elmarleen’ was leading the two-handed class.

Early part of the race
Our tack to clear Portland turned into a long offshore leg which we followed though the night. In the morning of day two, the forecast south-westerly came in and we tacked in a Falmouth direction. Throughout the day we were lifted and lifted towards the Lizzard. Later that day we picked up phone reception and got our second position report. Our ‘theoretical’ lead generated by the tracker’s position had eroded and we were now very much mid-fleet. We had dropped to 16th Two-handed, 26th in Class 4 and 171st overall. There had been little to get or do wrong so far in this race and we seemed to have thrown our advantage away already.

As we approached the Lizzard we ran the engine to charge our batteries and to add insult to injury the alternator mounting bracket sheered leaving us with no means to charge batteries. Some quick thinking and a dismantled saloon table soon had a temporary fix in place but we didn’t know how long would that hold.

The wind built to 25 knots as we sailed towards Land’s End and then on past the seven stones. The reefs went back in and we settled in for a rough night. The wind eased by early morning and by mid afternoon we found ourselves becalmed mid Celtic sea. Eventually the wind filled in and we started a light air beat toward the rock. Eventually the wind filled in and we started a light air beat toward the rock.

Rounding the rock
Having been out of any communications since clearing Land’s End we were desperate to pick up phone reception and confirm our position. After our last report at the Lizzard and being becalmed for a few hours on the way to the rock our hopes weren’t that high. To our amazement we were leading the Two-handed Class and had moved into third in Class 4. Also came the shocking news of ‘Rambler’s’ capsize. The wind freed us and we flew the Hyde asymmetric with the apparent wind at 60 degrees right into the lee of the Fastnet Rock where we gybed and peeled to the brand-new Hyde Code 2 Spinnaker. Unfortunately the forecast looked like this seven-mile leg to Pantaneus buoy was going to be the only opportunity to use our newest sail.

We reached the rhumb line course to the Bishop Rock lighthouse off the Scilles keeping track of all the boats around us. Being one of the smallest and slowest boats in the race you don’t expect to have many around you at this stage, but to our surprise we were well amongst the fleet. We rounded Bishop Rock late morning on day four of the race and sailed close-hauled back to the Lizzard. Now in constant phone reception we were able to monitor our live position as the boats ahead of us finished in Plymouth. We had increased our lead on the last leg and now were leading the Two-handed Class and Class 4, and were in the top 10 overall. We calculated that we needed to finish the race by 0800hrs on Friday to maintain these positions.

With the conditions we had, our ETA was more like 0300, but we didn’t want to get too excited. The reports coming back were of the fleet parking up in the approach to Plymouth and the forecast suggested this was only going to get worse. We did everything we could to maximise our speed as we approached the Lizzard and entered the last 40 miles of the race, but as we got closer to Plymouth the wind dropped until we were totally becalmed.

By sunrise we were 11 miles from the finish, but the sea was like a mirror. There was no way we were going to make it in by 0800. We recalculated the finish time required to win the Two-handed Class which was 1300hrs and all our efforts became focused on achieving that. We ghosted across the finish line having seen our eight-hour lead in the Two-handed Class diminished to just one, we lost our Class 4 win and our overall position dropped to 41st.

As the race was offshore with some potential for heavier winds we made the decision to run with the bullet-proof Hyde’s sails I used for my 2009 OSTAR - it’s always nice to know you have a third reef that works. This suit of sails has done four Atlantic crossings and in the region of 20,000 miles and still seem to be able to deliver results.

We also made the decision earlier in the year to improve ‘Elmarleen’s’ downwind performance and added a large Hyde Code 2 Spinnaker. It proved to be invaluable in the later stages of the race when we ghosting for the finish line.

If you had told me before the start I would have walked away with the Two-handed Class win, a fourth in Class 4 and an overall IRC position of 41st, I would have chewed you hand off. But having been first in Class 4 and sixth overall 11 miles from the finish I feel a little cheated by the weather and in mixed minds about the result, but hey that’s yachts racing!

For more information, contact Paul Austin (T: +44 (0) 7801 907458).

Hyde Sails Ltd, Harbour Building Office A, Hamble Point Marina, Hamble, Southampton SO31 4NB

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