Trip on Dehelerious starting 2012-06-29 in BSA2July12

53rd Helford River to L’Aber Wrac’h Race 29th/30th June 2012

A Dehlerious perspective – report by Bill Thomas

For the 3rd time in 4 years, Tim and Sarah Sandford’s Dehler Optima 101 – “Dehlerious” set out from Helford River in the Annual pursuit race to L’Aber Wrac’h in North West Brittany. In 2009 and 2010, Dehlerious had run out of wind in mid-channel and was timed out. Last year Tim was unable to get out of the Solent, as a result of a succession of strong winds from the Southwest and West in the weeks leading up to the race. As a result there was a large element of ‘unfinished business’ for the 2012 race.

I travelled from Bath on Thursday to meet the rest of the crew, Tim, his son Tom and John Robinson who were already in Helford. Between them, Railtrack, First Great Western and Cross Country conspired to make me over an hour late and despite leaving the office at 1500, I didn’t arrive at Helford Passage until 2200, when Jeff Birkin kindly came over from the clubhouse to collect me in the tender to the Sigma that Alan Howells was skippering in the race. Most of the fun was over by the time we got over to the Clubhouse, but I met my crew mates and after a quick pint of draught Bass, was more that ready for my bed.

Friday was overcast and the wind was gusting from the South/South West. We had to get the sails on board and finish off a few last minute jobs and were then able to cast off from the mooring buoy at about 1315. We lunched on some delicious pasties, cooked by the chef in the Shipwrights’ Arms and collected fresh from the oven by Tom that morning. Our start time was 1415Map, which we felt was fair. For those who have not come across this race, it is a pursuit race. Unlike a conventional race, where all the boats start at the same time and finishing times have to be statistically manipulated, taking into account the various boats’ handicaps, to give a corrected time for each finisher, in a pursuit race, the predicted corrected time is deducted at the beginning, with the intention that all the entrants will (in theory at least) finish at the same time. Consequently, the slower boats start before the faster boats. Our starting time was somewhere in the middle.

We were slightly sheltered in the mouth of the Helford and started on Starboard tack – pretty much on time. We were soon out on our way to the Manacles, an east cardinal, protecting ships from the highly dangerous Manacles rock and associated reef, which runs out from the shore. The wind was a steady 15 knots from West of South. We had 2 reefs in the main and a small battened headsail, which sheets inside the shrouds and helps Dehlerious point a bit higher. We were doing 5 knots + through the water and moving well. Over the next 5/6 hours, the wind stayed pretty steady in strength, with the occasional stronger puff, but the sea state became steadily worse, until the wave height was generally 3 metres, with occasionally larger waves and it became quite wet. The set up of the sails suited the boat and we were making up ground on the boats in front of us, overtaking 3 before dark.

About 2100 we tacked onto port to take advantage of the slack tide and to gain some westing, as our course had taken significantly east of the rhumb line. We were then making a good course (over the ground) of almost 240 degrees. About 2330, a fierce squall came through and the wind veered to the SW and suddenly we could only make a course of 285+. It was time to tack, which we did. It was also about the time that the tide changed and became west flowing. We were able to bear way from the wind a few degrees and ease the sheets slightly. Dehlerious, like Alison ffortescue-Jones in the Mothers’ egg and spoon race, picked up her skirts, tucked them into her knickers, and put her very best foot forward storming away to the Libenter (the cardinal outside L’Aber Wrac’h), which marks a very nasty granite reef and the finishing line. The squall just before midnight was probably a front passing through and the clouds disappeared and it was a beautiful starry night. The wind stayed steady in force (about 15 knots) and direction (just south of South West), although the sea was noticeably less rough. The sun came up at about 0445 and we couldn’t see any other boats but continued to crack on – the GPS showing speed of 7+ knots over the ground.

At about 0600, we became aware of a sail way over to the eastward of us, sailing hard and close on the wind. Their bearing stayed constant and it was clear that we were now in a straight race to the line. We thought that our distance to the Libenter was shorter that theirs, but they were sailing closer and had more benefit from the tide. It was obviously going to be a very close run thing. At about 0715, we could see the Libenter and realised that the opposition, which was a big cutter rigged yacht, was clearly going to finish before us. The wind strength moderated and we also realised, a bit too late, that we could and should have shaken out a reef earlier. We did so just in time to repel a very fast French boat ‘Carpe Diem’, which also came up from the East, like a runaway train, getting over the line about 50 yards ahead of them – amazing when you think we had been sailing for 17 hours. Our official finishing time was 0756Map.

We then sailed up into L’Aber Wrac’h, dropping our sails just outside the area opposite the Marina and were given a berth right inside, underneath the walkway down to the pontoon. We were all wet and tired, but unanimously agreed on a croissant, coffee and Calvados in the Café du Port, followed by a quick kip, before a good tidy up. There were a number of other boats already in and we weren’t sure where we had finished. After the sleep and tidy up, we attended the Reception and discovered we were 5th, which we were delighted (not to say Dehlerious) about.

We were able to book a table in the Captain restaurant, which not only serves excellent food, but also has a breathtaking view down the harbour to the Libenter, where the sun sets into the sea. We had a very good meal and just before dark, a large gaff-rigged ketch came in, lowered her sails and picked up the mooring buoy right in front of the restaurant. Despite the temptation of a bonfire up at the Semaphore Station, we were happy to head back to our bunks after the meal.

John Robinson, who is working on his house in SW France, went off after breakfast in the Café du Port, and Tim, Tom and I sailed back to Helford. We passed the Libenter at 1030 and then arrived abeam of the Manacles at 0030, on Monday – 14 hours - averaging over 6 knots for the trip. The wind was between South and South West, starting at 10 knots and finishing up at 19/20 knots, with occasional squalls, when the wind speed increased to 27/28 knots. There was rain for the last 2 hours, with reduced visibility – particularly as we came into the Helford. Despite the poor vis and the dredging works on the port side of the channel, Tim brought us in with great aplomb and we picked up a mooring above Helford Point at 0200. After a celebratory horse’s neck, we were very pleased to dive into our sleeping bags.

Next morning, we were woken at 0900 by Sarah, who had rowed out in the tender, to see how we were and to make sure that the tender wasn’t stuck aground by the falling tide. We tidied up, had breakfast ashore and I started back from the Ferry Boat Inn at 1230, and enjoyed a much better trip back to Nailsea on the train, arriving just after 1800. It was a tiring, but most satisfying weekend. At the time of writing this, I am still catching up on my sleep!

Two points of seamanship which arose during the weekend:

1.During the night I heard Daring, another yacht in the Race, on the radio, Channel 16, calling a Russian ship asking if the Russian had seen him and pressing for confirmation that he would change course. The only reply – repeated twice was a very laconic “I see you”. I spoke to Daring’s skipper after the race. He said that their AIS showed a the Russian passing 0.1 mile behind them and he felt that was too close a margin for comfort. We used Tim’s AIS on numerous occasions – out and back, and it is a brilliant tool, allowing you to make an informed decision, as the range narrows. But there has been comment in the yachting press, pointing out that if the Ship broadcasting the information is using a different GPS datum from the receiving yacht, there may be significant error. I thought at the time that he was being a bit pedantic, but, on reflection, in the circumstances, Daring’s skipper was probably correct to ensure that the Russian had spotted him

2.We were moored up against the pontoon on the western side of the Marina in L’Aber Wrac’h. Another boat, which was in the race came and rafted along side us. The wind was blowing strongly from the West – so pushing us off the pontoon. This new neighbour didn’t have any fenders out and without asking permission, ran some ineffective lines across our deck, so that they were likely to have chafed part of our deck moulding. They seemed put out when this was pointed out to them and they were asked to redo them and take effective lines ashore so that their increased windage didn’t result in extra strain on Dehlerious’ cleats. The skipper on the other boat has been involved in this race on many occasions and should have known better. Nobody minds (too much) when someone rafts up alongside, provided they do so with courtesy and in a seamanlike manner, taking into account the conditions.

Helford river  50.0969,-5.1289
Libenter Buoy  48.6212,-4.6555