From The Deck of Prospector 1100 BST 19 August 2015

From The Deck of Prospector 1100 BST 19 August 2015

The Decision

As with most decisions, if you wait long enough, our decision on which route to use exiting the English Channel around the Land’s End TSS was made itself.  We preferred the southerly exit through the Scilly Islands.  It is shorter and positioned us better for the left shift we were expecting on the other side.  The first four monohulls to get there, Comanche, Rambler88, Leopard and MOMO all chose that route.  So did all of the fast catamarans. Fortunately for them, they got there with the current running with them.  Unfortunately for us, we got there with the current against us.  Despite the foul current we were still thinking of giving it a go.  Just ahead of us Tonerre and Sorcha, two very well sailed boats with pro crews were facing the same decision.  We watched on AIS to see what they did.  When they headed north along the coast of Cornwall our decision was made for us.  We followed close behind them and picked up a two knot push from the current and began short tacking between the coastline and the TSS Zone.  Tactically it was the smart thing to do because it kept us in the same water as our competitors. In the short run from a routing perspective given the favorable current on that route it was also the smart thing to do.  We hoped the other boats in our fleet just behind us would make the same choice.  We worried that the boats further behind would pick the southerly route and make gains.  The other risk we faced in choosing this route was that the light northerly wind we were sailing in would die and that the current would turn against us before we got over the top of the TSS.  We didn’t love the decision, but didn’t love the other choice either.  

Anchored

At first the choice to go north looked golden.  The northerly strengthened we had a push from the current and it looked like we would be over the top of the TSS in two hours, well in advance of the next foul current.  Also, the boats closest behind us, in particular our sister ship Venomous, followed along behind us.  Then the northerly began to fade away and it all began to unravel.  We spent the next several hours milking what we could out of the last of the wind and current to get north.  The boats in our class that were further behind us decided, as we feared they would, to take the southerly route to the Celtic Sea, and began to gain on us.  It was painful.  The only good news was that we were drifting better that the boats in front of us and were gaining on them.  After several hours we were well north of the north eastern tip of the TSS and tacked to the west towards Fastnet Rock.  But the current had other plans for us.  As the wind shut off altogether the current turned against us and started carrying us back toward the TSS.  We tried to tack back to the north, but that didn’t change things as we just drifted backwards rather than sideways.  At 00:30 BST, in imminent risk of entering the TSS we decided to anchor.  In 200 feet of water.  The gear was rigged and the anchor and nearly 1,000 feet of line went over the side in a desperate, last ditch attempt to avoid incurring a 20% penalty for entering the TSS.  At the last possible instant the anchor dug in and brought us to a stop exactly one tenth of a mile, almost 500 feet from the TSS.  Having miraculously avoided a nasty penalty we settled down to wait for either the wind to come back or the current to change so that we could resume racing.  From what we could guess from the tracker a couple of other competitors, including Venomous, anchored too.  The boats ahead of us that we had been gaining on were slowly being pushed away from us by the current they were in.  We could also see the boats that had selected the route through the Scilly Isles making slow, but steady progress and moving past us on the leaderboard.  We were not a happy bunch. Two hours after we anchored, still without wind, we noticed the current beginning to carry Prospector away from the TSS.  Desperate to get back in the game, and perhaps too optimistically, we weighed anchor, hoping to drift away from the TSS while waiting for the wind.  Collectively we held our breath as the anchor came up while we waited to see which direction the current would carry us in.  The anchor and its makeshift supersized rode were readied to be redeployed if necessary.  After a nervous few minutes we all began to breathe again as Prospector began to move to the north, away from the TSS.

The Celtic Sea

The trip out across the Celtic Sea and back again is 320 nautical miles.  We began our crossing drifting to the north away from the TSS, waiting for the wind to show up so we could turn west towards Fastnet Rock.  Eventually the wind picked up from the northwest and we were on our way.  It was a warm sunny day and everyone enjoyed driving in a building breeze after 36 hours in very light air.  We could see several boats around us including SCA, BancPopulaire, Camper, Caro, Tonnere and Black Pearl which gave us a yardstick to measure our performance against.  We picked up a pod of dolphins who kept us entertained as we sailed on towards Fastnet Rock.  The wind built and backed to the south as we sailed the 160 nautical mile outbound leg to Fastnet.  The crew was kept very busy as we changed headsails multiple times to keep pace with the wind.

Fastnet Rock

As we approached the turning mark of the race the weather steadily deteriorated.  The wind built in to the mid 20s and it began to drizzle rain.  We rounded Fastnet Rock at 00:46 BST and turned for home.  It was a bit of a disappointment to round the rock at night.  All of us had been hoping for a daylight rounding so we could get a good look at the classic old lighthouse and if we were really lucky a picture from a photo boat of Prospector with Fastnet Rock as a backdrop to memorialize the race.  All the same we were happy to see it, seemingly passing near enough to touch it as it appeared in framed in silhouette by its powerful light.

 Homeward Bound

Fastnet Rock receded quickly into the dark, drizzly night.  We had a short upwind beat to clear the Fastnet TSS and then bore off on to a reach on the 152 nautical mile leg to the southwest edge of the West Scilly TSS.  These TSS zones have become more than a little tiresome haven’t they?  We sped along at nearly 12 knots and covered the distance in a little more than 13 hours.  Prospector enjoyed the sportier sailing conditions, though her crew had become a bit spoiled by the extremely gentle weather we have had for most of the race.  The TR2015 veterans in the crew remembered the weather today, the worst of this race so far, as the best they experienced in their Atlantic crossing.  

Toward Plymouth

Early this afternoon we turned towards Plymouth after we cleared the West Scilly’s TSS.  We set our newly repaired A6 and began the just over 90 nautical mile final stages of our Fastnet Race.  We are currently in 6th place in IRCZ.  13 boats started in our class.  Three have retired.  Of the five boats ahead of us, only one, Snow Lion, is a heavy displacement racer/cruiser.  The other five consist of a 72 foot maxi and four lightweight modern planning boats.  Those five are nothing like us.  Most importantly we are well ahead of our sister ship, Venomous, in what we have decided is the Farr 60 World Championships!  We have had none of the carnage to the boat and her sail inventory that we experienced in the much rougher TR2015.  All in all in line with our pre-race expectations and something to be proud of.