… for the Max from your sailing!

In August this year, father and son Matt and Matthew Findlay took part in the Rolex Fastnet race in their Maxi 1100 Superted. The race was the culmination of a great deal of preparation which involved completing RORC offshore qualification races, meeting the strict offshore special safety regulations, as well as preparing the boat and crew for five days of non stop racing.

The end result was very satisfying, not only in achieving our goal of competing and finishing, but finishing second overall in the two handed division, and third overall in class two.
Superted crossing the finish line of the 2003 Fastnet race
2nd Two Handed Division and 3rd  overall in Class 2

The story started one evening back in April when my son called me and informed me he had discovered there was a two handed class in the Fastnet race. Fancy doing it? Yeh OK!
There followed a fair bit of research with the RORC to find out what we had let ourselves in for, and to  establish entry requirements. It soon became apparent that for two handed entrants the qualification criteria  were not insignificant. Apart from submitting CV’s to demonstrate adequate experience, we were required to  complete 300 miles of RORC offshore races two handed, we both had to have current sea survival and first aid  certificates, and the boat had to comply with ORC category 2 special regulations, including a 406Mhz EPIRP –  Since we did not have a 406 EPIRB, we hired one from Premium Liferaft Services – http://www.liferafts.com
The safety aspects of the preparation were given a lot of emphasis both by us and the organisers.  I was impressed by the RORC’s commitment to enforcing the standards set. This was done not only in the usual  manner of declarations, but more pragmatic requirements were also adopted. Before the start of the Fastnet, we  had to sail through a registration gate with storm jib and trysail set, and during the qualification races we were required to display such items as fire extinguishers, flares and waterproof handheld VHF. On top of that we got a surprise visit from a scrutineer about three evenings before the race, and were audited for compliance against the 13 or so pages of special regulations. One minor point on the Maxi 1100 which did not comply, was the fact that there is no intermediate height guardwire across the transom. However a sail tie firmly attached addressed this problem. The special regulations are well worth a read. Then sit down and think through how you would actually comply with them. Can you rig an emergency rudder, is your grab bag adequately provisioned, can you really stow and launch a fully extended dan buoy “instantly”? You can find out more about the offshore special regulations and other safety tips and well as the race itself at: http://www.rorc.org/
The race started on Sunday 10th August at Cowes and finished at Plymouth after leaving the Fastnet rock  and a further turning mark to port. The Scillies are left to port on the way out and the Bishop rock to port on the way back. Total distance ~ 608 miles. The race itself was one of two distinct halves. The first half was characterised by light winds during the day and good breezes at night. Not ideal for our sail plan with 105% jib. However with lots of concentration, and constant sail changes between spinnaker, code zero and jib we held our own against many of the similarly rated boats on all points of sail. (Class 2 included a subclass of 20 Sigma 38’s, which rate one point less than we do, so it provided us with close class type racing throughout and a good yardstick on our performance).
The race attracts a wide variety and size of boats. The figure below illustrates the range of handicaps together with the split of the classes and the number of boats per class. As you can see, class 2 is the largest class, and  Superted was at the lower end of the class split.
The fastest boat, Alpha Romeo at 90 ft, finished in 2 days 9 hours and 2 minutes, whereas the last finisher,  a First 38, took 6 days 13 hours 45 minutes. We finished in 4 days 22 hours 43 minutes.
After a very long beat across the Celtic sea it was great to see the “rock” coming into view. On previous occasions like the Triangle race, the approaching coastline signalled an impending pint of Guinness, so it was strange to think that we were about to simply turn around and head back home. As we approached during Wednesday morning the wind again went light and the pace became painfully slow. We finally rounded about lunchtime and immediately got the code zero up for a close reach to the next turning mark located about four miles to the south. There were a lot of boats around and the hunt was on!
          Leaving the Rock behind -not even a pint!           Preparing to swap code zero for spinnaker
Wednesday afternoon and evening became the most crucial of the race. After rounding the turning mark we changed to spinnaker and spent the rest of the day sailing high angles to avoid the dead run back down the rhumb line. The forecast was for a force 4/5 from the north east, so it was tempting to go with the pack off to the east on port gybe. However we were getting better breeze going south on starboard gybe, and within a few hours and about seven miles south of the rhumb line, were able gybe onto port and broad reach straight for the Bishop.  We had the most fantastic sunset to close a great day.
                                                          Fantastic sunset, wind picking up, ideally placed and looking good.
During the night we had a very fast run and passed dozens of boats. By Thursday morning the wind was blowing in excess of 20 knots and we were hard pressed on a close reach still flying the spinnaker.. We were by now almost back up onto the lay line for the Bishop, and with the sky now lead grey for the first time in the race and the wind rising we decided to drop the kite. The Maxi was now it its element and before long we had to put a reef, and later in the day we threw a couple of rolls into the jib. All day we reeled in the boats ahead and  realised we were starting to mix with some good class 1 boats. It was around this time we heard on the VHF that a Sunfast 40 had lost its mast a couple of miles ahead.
We rounded the Bishop early afternoon on  Thursday and came hard on the wind along the south side of the Scillies. This stretch, all the way in to the lee of Mounts bay was very rough and windy. Our normal watch pattern of 2hrs on and 2hrs off had to be shortened to one hour as we had great difficulty keeping the boat going fast through the waves. We devised a strap/loop made from spare safety lines and attached this to the weather  pushpit stantion. This allowed the helmsman to “hang” in position on the weather side and provided much relief from the strain of trying to stay in one place.
       Thursday morning and some proper sailing.
This was also the one day we did not have a hot meal, simply because it was too awkward to cook. In  general however we ate well every day, having a mix of pre-cooked and frozen curries and stews and the odd fresh pasta. Water was the most difficult thing to judge. The Maxi water gauge appears a bit erratic, so we were surprised when the tank which was supposed to be half full, ran empty while rounding the rock. Fortunately we had plenty of bottled and container water, which is not only convenient, but can be stored in less weight sensitive places than the main water tank.
By far the most frustrating part of the race was the last ten hours from the Lizard to the finish. We  rounded the Lizard just after sunset on Thursday, and immediately the wind went dead on the nose and proceeded to range in strength from 10 to 20 knots all night. There was the most dreadful short chop which made the boat slam and bang, making sleeping impossible. You don’t get much sleep sailing two handed at the best of times, so this situation coupled with the “certain knowledge” that everyone is now passing you, made for a very stressful night. In the event everyone had the same difficulties, and when the finish line hove into view around 9am on Friday morning, we were very satisfied to have passed the leading Sigma 38.
In the event he just beat us by a  minute on corrected time, but we were delighted to finish third in our class of 76 fully crewed boats. At that stage we were lying first in the two handed division comprising  ten boats from all classes, but were eventually  beaten into second place by the slowest boat in the race, a Contessa 33, who sailed a sterling race to finished 15 hours later. The Maxi stood up well. Obviously we did a lot of preparation, checking absolutely everything and had sails overhauled before setting out, but nothing broke, and the boat performed flawlessly.
      Crossing the finish line – The faces tell it all.
The race was a great experience for us both, and again the adequacy of the 105% jib versus the large  genoa was proven in this type of racing. I am more convinced than ever that the large headsail is unnecessary, unless your tipple is the fully crewed round the cans stuff.
Happy sailing and best regards – Matt and Matthew Findlay – Superted IV

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