Jelenko - Fastnet Race Double-Handed

Al Doughty and Ian Cheke prior to the Fastnet raceAl Doughty at the Fastnet RockIan Cheke at the Fastnet RockAl Doughty and Ian Cheke - the morning after the Fastnet RaceJelenko passing the wrong side of the ODM bouy at the start

WSC's Al Doughty and Ian Cheke have just completed the exceptionally tough challenge of double-handing the Fastnet Race. Here is Al's account of the race:

If most of you have been following our campaign to compete in the 2019 Fastnet Race, you will know we had to firstly qualify and complete over 300 nautical miles of RORC (Royal Offshore Racing Club) races. We did this successfully at the end of May by completing the Cervantes Trophy (Cowes to La Havre) & the famous ‘Myth of Malham’ race – Cowes around the Eddystone lighthouse and back.

History

Weston Martyr, a British yachtsman, conceived the idea of the race after having competed in Bermudan yacht races. Entered only by seven vessels, the inaugural Fastnet Race was won by Jolie Brise in 1925.

1979 - Disaster

Over 13–14 August, of the 303 yachts that started, 24 were abandoned, of which five were lost and believed to be sunk, due to high winds and severe sea conditions. The Daily Telegraph 15 August 1979 described the situation, where "Royal Navy ships, RAF Nimrod jets, helicopters, lifeboats, a Dutch warship HrMS. Overijssel and other craft picked up 125 yachtsmen whose boats had been caught in force 11 violent storm strength gusts midway between Land's End and Fastnet". The effort also included tugs, trawlers and tankers. Rescue efforts began after 6:30 am on 14 August, once the winds had dropped to severe gale Force 9.
15 sailors died, at least 75 boats capsized and five sank. Adopting heaving to as a storm tactic proved to be a good preventive of capsize and turtling during the race. Lin Pardey wrote that none of the yachts, which hove to, were capsized or suffered any serious damage, but the official inquiry makes no such conclusion. One Fastnet participant, John Rousmaniere, wrote that if there is a fault in this debate, it is that the factions sometimes say that one tactic or piece of gear is always right, regardless of the boat and the conditions. There is nothing always about a storm at sea except its danger. The disaster resulted in a major rethink of racing, risks and prevention.
WSC stalwarts Ken Roebuck and Nick Massey (Age 17) and Rob Horton’s father “Fast Eddie Horton” were aboard a UFO 34 “Kamisaso” on that fateful night and fortunately survived, as did Jim Mitchell who was aboard “Trumpeter”, a Contessa 32. On the eve of the race a memorial service for those lost in 1979 was held at the Holy Trinity church in Cowes. It is a fitting tribute that 40 years later Ken Roebuck attended.

Day 1 (3rd August 2019)
1115 “Jelenko” slipped her berth at East Cowes marina and proceeded to the start area. A rule of the race is that you must pass through a gate with Storm Jib and Tri-sail rigged, the crew must also be wearing lifejackets and 3-point tether lines. After passing the gate these must be de rigged and racing sails donned. A lot of hard work prior to the start, all the time conscious of the risk of collision.
Weather conditions for the start were Southeasterly winds 5-8 kts a spring tide that was to start ebbing at 1330.
1315 – IRC 3 start, very confusing with so many boats around and a Helicopter overhead drowning out all radio communications. We decided to take the Northerly line close to the ODM to maximise the stronger flow in the centre of the Solent. More of that later! Many pleasure craft and press boats were on course side and much hailing was necessary to clear them out of our path. The A2 spinnaker was hoisted and set, we were on our way in clean air and a building tide and a wind that was filling in quite nicely at 7-8 Kts. At 1445 passing Hurst Castle and heading out to the SW shingles buoy the fleet was beginning to spread out when maxis R88 Rambler and Scallywag majestically passed us to port.
1600 @ position 5035.3N 00149.50W Wind 115deg/11kts pressure steady at 1015 the first of many tactical decisions was made, taking the south Portland Bill passage and staying close to the rhumb line.
2220 @ 5013.13N 00303.15W Wind 107deg/15kts – Queen Mary 2 crossing the fleet at 90 deg’s approximately 7nm ahead.

Day 2 – 04th August
0100 – Wind started to go light and veer – A2 doused and code Zero set.
0655 - Pos 5001.70N 00336.62W- Autopilot (AP) failed, wind calm, tide started to flood – set kedge in 60m of water. All 4 mounting bolts on the AP quadrant had sheared, fortunately we had spares and were quickly fixed by Ian. For those of you tracking us this is where you saw us heading back to Weymouth.
0900 – Wind started to pick up 200deg/8kts – had problems recovering the anchor had to use the spinnaker halyard on a winch attached to the anchor line to un-lodge the pick. Started to sail.

1400 – Beating up towards the Lizard Pos 5001.60N 00348.50N w/v 250deg/12kts pressure 1012.
1615 – w/v 234deg/17kts – Put in Reef – Changed down the foresail to the smaller No 4.
2005 – Sea State getting bumpy
2220 – Pos due south of the Lizard 3nm – sea state getting rough – w/v 187deg/21kts. Cold front passing, Raining. A sudden change in wind direction is commonly observed with the passage of a cold front. Before the front arrives, winds ahead of the front (in the warmer air mass) are typically out of the south-southwest, but once the front passes through, winds usually shift around to the west-northwest (in the colder air mass). With this knowledge we decided to take the North route up the Land’s End Traffic Separation System (TSS) as we would also have a better wind angle for the passage after the front had passed through. Fortunately this also coincided with tidal gate, from the almanac streams run hard around Land’s End setting N/S and E/W past it, it is truly a tidal gate and one that with careful timing a 9 and half hours of fair tide can be carried out from HW Dover-3 to HWD +5 (HWD was at 0230 on 5th August. Decision made we take the North route. As we approached the Runnel Stone and Land’s End it became apparent from the AIS (Automatic Identification System) lots of other boats had changed their course and were following us up to the North. It was also good luck that I noticed we had a 4G signal on the iPad so I was able to download the latest GRIB files on one of our nav systems iNavX, this proved to be very useful and surprisingly accurate.

Day 3- 5th August
0215 – pos 1nm West of Longships w/v 305deg/12kts pressure 1009
0455 – pos N/E Corner of the Land’s End TSS – Lots of traffic in the TSS which is controlled by Falmouth Coastguard on Ch 16 w/v 260deg/12kts – set course for the Fastnet TSS 151nm leg across the Celtic sea was ahead – sea state started to get rough.
1215 – pos 5047.54N 00644.79W w/v 260deg/20kts pressure 1008- AP failed again, this was the low point of the race. I could not see how a fix could be made and the thought of hand steering for the next few days was daunting. Once again Ian managed to bodge a fix which took about 1 and half hours. AP engaged and we resumed our watch routine and cooked a warm meal which was a great moral booster.
1715 – pos 5051.30N 00739.80W w/v 252deg/21kts pressure 1006
2115 – pos 5102.00N 00812.54W w/v 265deg/20kts pressure 1005 – Hit a big wave and the gimbal on the cooker sheared. Cooker secured with sail ties, can’t use the oven but the hob is OK.

Day 4 – 6th August
0015 – pos 5108.15N 00829.70W w/v 270deg/22kts pressure 1005 Coast guard reported gale F7 imminent.
0320 – AP Failed again, boat immediately hove too. I was sleeping, Ian shouted for me to get on deck. It was raining hard the w/v was 20-25 kts it was a very black night in pretty rough seas. Ironically it was not cold though but very wet. The old aviator adage of:
Aviate -------------- (Sail the Boat) -----Navigate ------Communicate.
I got the boat sailing again and manually helmed and Ian went down below and start to fix the AP for the 3rd time. After approx. 1hr:20 mins it started to get light, the coast of Ireland became visible and we were well clear of the eastern edge of the Fastnet TSS. Ian reported that this was the best fix he had done so far, the AP was engaged and sure enough it was working perfectly. However, we decided to disengage the AP and hand steer in order to use it for the last night at sea.
0530 - The Fastnet Rock was in sight we tacked the boat towards the rock between the TSS and Clear Island.
0711:51 Fastnet Rock was on a bearing of 180 degs – We had rounded the Rock and feeling pretty good. Now it’s all downhill to Plymouth, always aware of the need not to inadvertently enter the Fastnet TSS.

1000 – Pos 5109.80N 00918.90W w/v 276deg/20kts pressure 1005 Big seas, too much to deploy the spinnaker and hand steering was the plan till it gets dark. Conserve energy, get in some sleep and eat a meal. 128nm to run to the Scillies TSS

1415 – Pos 5050.29N 00830.60W w/v 275deg/25kts pressure 1006 hand steering making 9-10 kts SOG
2040 – Pos 5075.70 00727.90W w/v 282deg/20kts – starting to get dark – AP engaged.

Day 5 - 7th August
0243 – Pos 8 nm SW Bishop’s Rock w/v 258deg/15kts pressure 1006 – having to do the angles to avoid Scillies TSS
0800 – Pos 4945.20N 00600.80W w/v 280deg/11kts pressure 1008. A2 Spinnaker up.
1210 – Pos 210 degs Lizard 8 nm w/v 285deg/14kts. Champagne sailing at last a beautiful sunny warm summers day. Racing J109 Jengu to the finish line

2019:25 Crossed the finish line 2 nm ahead of Jengu still fling the kite. Jubilation.
2359 – Pos Rolex Fastnet 2019 – Beer tent. 4 x pints of beer, feeling pretty knackered a good sleep required.

Disappointment
8th August – The morning after the race we discovered that we had received a 20% time penalty for a TSS infringement. This was incorrect as we had sailed the correct course which was quickly acknowledged by RORC. However, we did receive a 20% time penalty for going the wrong side of the Outer Distance Mark (ODM) at the start. Harsh to take but at the end of the day we cocked up. We should have left the ODM bouy (which is not on the start line) to starboard. As you can see from one of the photos this yellow buoy is on our port side. RORC conceded that we drew no advantage from this but applied the penalty. If we had not made this mistake, our corrected time would have been as per the email extract below. Basically this mistake cost us just under 24 hours which would have dramatically changed our result.

“Hi Al,

I calculate your corrected time without penalty to be 4-07:29:12.

You can check against the results to see where this would have placed you in the respective categories.

Thanks and best regards,

Tim

Tim Thubron
Deputy Racing Manager
Royal Ocean Racing Club”

Conclusion
We have completed a Fastnet race double handed (DH), 17 DH Boats did not finish. Overall 333 IRC boats started and 55 retired.
We had breakages, namely the autopilot (AP) that cost us time. We lost a batten on the mainsail and one on the No4 headsail. The broken gimbal on the cooker meant that we could not use the oven.
On the positive side, our watch system of 1 hour on 1 hour off proved very successful and we were disciplined enough to enforce that. Without sleep you get fatigued and therefore make poor decisions when the elements are against you. I am sure this approach helped us through not having an AP for two thirds of the race.
Of note- Ian forgot his sailing boots and did the whole race in his Musto trainers. On the last day the trainers came off and nearly walked their way to the finish line.
Q: Would we do it again – A. Probably?
Thank you
It would be impossible to undertake a task such as this without support – Ian & myself wish to thank the following for helping out with deliveries, transporting people around and helping prepare the boat: Kenny Roebuck, Trevor Marston, Becky Ewart, Mick Church, Mike Street & Jack and most importantly Jacquie and Gail (Wife & Partner). Lastly to all of you who tracked us on the yellow brick and the numerous amounts of “Well done texts” we received after we had finished – thanks it made it all worth while. The first two full members of WSC to successfully complete a Fastnet Double handed.

Submitted on Thursday, 15th August