Trip on Shropshire Lady II starting 2014-06-22 in BSAJuly14

RTIR weekend Thurs 19th – Sun 22nd June 2014 – report by skipper Jeff Birkin

Crew of Dave Lloyd, Jade Barnes, Bill Barnes, Brian Adams, Alan Gray and Dougal Matthews and Skipper Jeff Birkin.

We all arrivedMap on Thursday afternoon and began the task of de-kitting the boat of excess weight removing over 400kgs of weight before getting our kit and belongings on board. This process took several hours in the blazing sun and high temperatures that blighted (yes I said blighted) the weekend. Once completed we all settled for a drink and meal in the local pub in the hope of stronger winds and better sailing on Friday, our final practice day.

Friday dawned another bright sunny day with the windex barely able to settle on an ENE of 5-8 knots. We slipped at 10:30 and made the most of the available winds with more sail handling and trimming practice. We had a late lunch in Osborne Bay then stowed the anchor ready for the race before our final afternoon session of practice in freshening winds. By 7:30 we were moored in Port Hamble in time to enjoy the game between England and Uruguay and a meal in the Victory. There was then an early night in readiness for the big day.

Up early, we slipped at 06:25 in bright sunshine, clear visibility and zero wind before heading out through a mass fleet of yachts to the Island side of the start line to take best advantage of the tide. At 07:50 the gun fired and, in winds of WNW F1-3 we were off – 1m10secs later we crossed the line. Finally, all that crew training was put to the test as we repeatedly tacked through the moorings at Gurnard Ledge avoiding the moored tenders and yachts on starboard tack that started after us. 

We worked our way along the Solent trying to position for either the best advantage with tide or wind. This allowed us to do some serious overtaking as we neared Yarmouth and produced an advantage over many boats in our start class. Unfortunately, at Yarmouth the skipper failed to position to make the very best use of the West going tide, effectively ruining our day.  However, we were far from being alone.

We went through the Needles close to the lighthouse at 11:15 in very light SE winds barely making F2. Tacking from shallow water we had a very close encounter with another yacht on starboard who determined to retain his course despite the yacht to our port slowly overtaking us and refusing to tack. This forced us to steer to the stern of the oncoming yacht passing port to port. At less than F2 winds the steering was extremely slow and the gap was unbelievably small – made worse by the fact the same yacht was now steering to avoid hitting the boat that was previously to our port. The closest pass I’ve ever had and, despite a closing speed of about 3 knots, the least (for us at any rate) avoidable.  Had the yacht on starboard merely steered to port a few degrees and let us continue, a lot of stress could have been avoided. Still, it is a race!

Throughout the afternoon, the fleet made painfully slow progress towards St. Catherine's Head in the blazing hot sunshine and feeble zephyr of a breeze from the south. By 2:30, radio transmissions beginning “Island Link Island Link Island Link this is”, followed by the yacht details and notice of their retirement had begun a trend. Yachts behind us began speeding past as the tickle of retirees became a flood. During this period, one boat managed to stop the flood of radio traffic by asking if they could go for a swim?  Several minutes later, the answer came back, “yes as long as all the crew get back on the boat.” Soon after, the flood of retirements continued.

At 3:15 we finally rounded St. Catherine's but there could be no celebration as nothing was moving other than the East going tide. The skipper then raised the question of retiring which seemed to galvanise the crew into a session of determination. With the spinnaker jury rigged as a cruising chute poled out on one side, the main bagged up and held on the other and the jib held out to the end of the boom, we were catching every last drop of available wind. Finally, at 18:44, making 1.2 knots with 1.2nm to go to Bembridge Buoy and the tide about to change, the skipper made the call “Island Link Island Link Island Link.....” it was all over.

As we motored back the crew overruled the skipper determining not to go to Cowes - the feeling was that, as we had not finished the race, it was inappropriate. By 9:15 we were moored at Port Hamble and downed a glass of the bubbly kindly provided by Kathy Cole, the boat owner. The rest of the evening was spent at Banana Warf bar and various other establishments and included an exercise in emptying the fridge.

Sunday dawned with little enthusiasm from anyone.  The boat was cleaned and problems like the fuel gauge were fixed as the majority of the RTIR crew made their way home early to try and avoid the worst of the traffic.

To put our efforts into perspective, over 1535 boats took part but only 714 finished - only 46.5%. Of the 149 that started with us at 07:50, 89 did not complete the race –only 40% finished. In our class only 9 finished with 32 others retiring or not finishing meaning only 21% finished.  In total there were: Retired 821, No Declaration 136, Did Not Complete 29, Wrong line 2, Disqualified 2.  That’s 998 that didn’t make it and 2 that fell at the last hurdle. In stronger winds I know we would have produced a good result and I thank the crew for their efforts.  Maybe next year?

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Port Hamble  50.8608,-1.3118