In 2006 I took part 2 handed in a Westerly Fulmar and we missed the tide gate. We made it round without the engine, but were disqualified on time. 2007 saw me entering solo in Delyth my Hunter 19. That gallant little ship brought me home second in Class 2. I missed 2008 as I had no boat, but I was determined to enter Merlin, again solo, in 2009.
The day dawned with a very light NNW wind maybe F1-2. I had a good start and, once the engine was put away and the plug inserted, set her up for light wind close-hauled sailing. This was the first time I had sailed her against any other boats and it was only my second sail in an Achilles, but right away I could see how, if I kept a relaxed hand on the tiller, I could point as high as any of the boats and faster than most. I began to really enjoy myself. The beauty and peace were perfect. I love sailing on my own. I can do exactly as I like, when I like and this time was no exception. I drank plenty of water, ate lightly having had a good breakfast and steered and tweaked and tweaked and steered. Getting closer to the island the wind steadily backed until it was a light westerly. Those with less windward ability were quite a way north by now. As we rounded the north end of the island I was just ahead of a Contessa 32. She boldly stood in towards the rocks and managed to take me on the inside. We fought neck and neck all the way down the west side of Lundy without changing position. I could not reel her in but nor could she lose me. In an ever lighter wind but still with a fair current we continued down the island. Towards the bottom end, in spite of the fact that it was past LW Ilfracombe I found myself with a ground speed of over seven knots and boat speed of four. That tide again; still running south hard at 3 knots. Coming round the southern end I genuinely thought my race was over. In an effort to get a better handicap I had elected to take the 4% bonus of not having a spi. The wind was dead west and the other boats were raising their kites. My aim then became to make it home before the 8pm deadline.
A couple of hours later I could see that many of the boats I thought were ahead of me were in fact retired having failed to make the tide gate. I kept going, moving around the boat as gently as possible in order not to upset her progress. We were on a dead run doing 2.9 knots. I could not feel a breath of wind but she just kept going. Ground speed picked up as the tide took us, but we still had a miraculous 2,9 knots boat speed. We were going to need to get everything exactly right to make the finish before the deadline and I doubled my efforts, gybing whenever there seemed to be any chance of advantage, and all the while fiddling. With the northerly set of the tide up the west coast past Croyde and Woolacombe there is much to be gained by putting in a bit of southing after rounding Lundy as the tide carries one along at quite a lick. In spite of having been pretty bold with my southing, I saw that we were running the risk of getting to far north and not making it over the narrow finish line between the two buoys. To make it in time and then miss the line would be too much. I had to make as much southing as I could along the north coast back to Ilfracombe. With real joy I crossed the line at 19.43 with just over quarter of an hour to spare. My elapsed time was 10.58:32 to cover the 50 mile course.
After sorting out sails, getting the outboard in the hole and motoring into the harbour, I had a quick baby wipe wash and went to the clubhouse for supper and prize giving. Suitably fed and enjoying a glass of Guinness, I was delighted to be presented with a trophy for 1st in class 2. This was bigger than my second in class 2 of the previous time so it felt really very good indeed. I also was given a very nice Guy Cotten rain coat. More prizes were presented, when suddenly there were hands clapping me on the back and cheering faces as I heard Merlin's name being called as overall winner. My gamble with the spi had paid off handsomely as, on corrected time, I had only won by 12 minutes.
Blasting home two days later in 30 knots of wind against tide, snug and dry in my beautiful new Guy Cotten foul weather gear given me as 1st prize, I was thinking about how incredibly important it is to really pay attention when racing. A few duff minutes can be the difference between having to be wet and cold in my old Mustos or snug and dry in the new gear.
Of course, the only problem now is whether or not to enter with a spi next year. May 30th 2010 by the way for anyone who is interested.