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Ready to go, go, go

It’s been far too long since I posted anything, but we’ve been ultra busy over the last few weeks. Qualifying for The Fastnet is now all done! The crew have grown in stature of the last few months having covered more than 600 miles in both training weekends and races since April. The task ahead of them is now understood and having a few weeks off to reflect on lessons learned is probably a good thing.

We’ve had highs we’ve had lows. We’ve been stuck in Le Havre waiting for a storm to pass through and drifted around in thick fog in the middle of the English Channel. The Fastnet Campaign really is a unique way to gain experience and we haven’t even done the race yet.

My task over the next few weeks is to finalise the preparation of Polka. Over the course of this year I’ve pretty much replaced all the running rigging and added sails to her wardrobe. She’ll be coming out of the water in the next few weeks to polish up her bottom. There’s a new Vang (Kicker) going on and the final bits of running rigging will be checked over and replaced where necessary.

And of course, don’t forget, we’re raising money to support Sail4Cancer, so whilst the crew are putting in all the effort, all you have to do is open your wallet! Please do give what you can to this amazing charity.

Ready to go, go, go 1

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Thrown in at the deep end…

Thrown in at the deep end... 2

Budding crew for this years Fastnet were treated to the required pool dunking the other weekend, part of the offshore safety training we put everyone through for the campaign.

And the intensity didn’t stop there with the first race to Le Harve over the bank holiday. This was the first offshore sailing, yet alone race for some members of the crew so trepidation and nerves were fought back with adrenaline alone.

Thrown in at the deep end... 3

With the weather maps fluctuating from the sublime to the ridiculous in the week running up to the start, it had been interesting to follow and certainly didn’t disappoint in terms of delivery.

Thrown in at the deep end... 4Light airs on Saturday morning and tide dragging us towards the startline, the focus was on staying behind the start to ensure we weren’t on-course-side before the gun went off.

As we headed east out of the Solent in what could loosely be described as a beat up to Owers Buoy the wind slowly started to fill in.

A short hop north to Littlehampton allowed us to fly the Code Zero for the first time, whoo hoo! Let’s just say that there are lessons to learn in how to get it down and she now needs a good soft water clean!

Once at the mark just south of Littlehampton, the long leg over the channel and southbound for France! For the novices onboard this was the first experience of a 12 hour leg!

Crossing the finishing in Le Harve at 03:41 BST, 18 hours, 31 mins after the start, we made our way into Le Harve. First time I’ve been into the harbour but little did I know at the time that we would then spend the next 48hrs there! The front that had promised to come across did indeed, slowly moving east and preventing us from making the trip home.

Thrown in at the deep end... 5

We finally managed to depart for home at 20:00 BST, 24hrs after our intended crossing time! Irony is we had to motor due to lack of wind!




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Crew Bonding

Crew Bonding 7

So, the Fastnet 2017 crew assembled for the first time the other weekend and how blessed we were with the weather. Really couldn’t have asked for better. Not only did we have a good breeze on day one to practice tacking up the Solent but we also had perfect conditions for Spinnaker training on the Sunday. All on track for a great campaign, now looking forward to the Cervantes Trophy race at the end of April.


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Ever wanted to experience the start of a yacht race without actually being there?

Ever wanted to experience the start of a yacht race without actually being there? 9

The technology is here, is the capability from the middle of the Solent with 1,600 other boats? We’ll find out this Saturday. We are going to try and stream the start (and possibly the finish) of the JPMorgan Asset Management, Round the Island race. What could possibly go wrong?

Apart from mobile signal, weather, the chaos of the RTI start, this should be a breeze. All we have to do is be ready with the phone and press the button a couple of minutes before the start gun. Being in IRC Group 2 we have a fairly relaxed start time of 0920hrs. What more can I say other than, check out the Polka Sailing Facebook page a around 0920hrs, this Saturday the 2nd July and see what happens! Wish us luck!


You can also track our progress around the course. Using the official tracking site, simply click here and search for Polka, adding her to your list of boats. You can track up to 10 boats, getting minute by minute progress of their positions.

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Broken pole and holes…

Our first race of the season, The Cervantes Trophy race taking us from Cowes to Le Havre, approximately 135m was definitely an eye opener for the crew. For half, this was a first; long distance non-stop through the night passage. For all; doing it under racing conditions was a first. And fabulously handled by everyone I must say.

We started in 20 knots of South East wind and headed out to the DZB Buoy southwest of Worth Matravers. Shortly after the the start the wind settled and the Asymmetric was hoisted. Straight up and filled we started to cruise at around 7knots, taking advantage of the tide in the middle of the Solent we were well and truly on our way heading west at around 9 knots over the ground. As we settled our boat speed started to increase and the work between helm and trimmer started to get into a groove. Heading past New Town and BANG! Sail everywhere, flapping and flailing. Pole snapped! A clean break straight through the carbon, no choice but to lower the sail. Slightly more complicated than under normal conditions but a little off the wind and she depowered and flew forward to allow a companionway lower via the lazy sheet. Well, that was that. Boat speed now down to 6 knots. ETA at the DZB Buoy now and hour later than planned!


To continue the issues of sails (or lack there of), the new sails for the boat have yet to materialise so this race was being done with the old (and I mean really old) cruising sails. It became a game of ‘count the holes’ as we started the long beat towards Le Havre.

As night fell and the predicted veering wind started to make its move, we managed to pick up a few places. Nighttime is the best time to catch other crews snoozing. Having been down to two reefs and a third of the jib going into the night hours, we were very conscious of the changing conditions and were quick to shake out reefs as the wind speed dropped. We also took into account the likely movement of the wind earlier than most and freed off a bit to gain boat speed, especially over the 6 hours of westerly tide when Cherbourg seemed to stay put for an awful long time!

Come the early hours and were now being carried to the finish line. The wind had eased and we were under full (albeit baggy) sails and the finish line was in sight. All things considered, this was not my finest race but  it was all about finishing, gaining qualifying milage for this years Fastnet. In that respect, job done!

Next race to come is the Myth of Malham. This’ll be our first proper test. Please, please, please can the new sails be ready by then! (Oh and the minor problem of the broken pole – not proving that easy to fix.)

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Cervantes Trophy fast approaching

Cervantes Trophy fast approaching 10

Less than two weeks to go until the start of the Cervantes Trophy race. Starting from Cowes at 1000hrs straight across to Le Havre, the 120mile race is the first training race for the Fastnet crew. The campaign slowly builds from this 120mile race followed two weeks later by the Myth of Malham Race essentially doubling the course miles. This is a great buildup to the eventual dash across the Celtic Sea to the Fastnet rock. The boat preparation has been good with the one notable exception of the new sails. They’re not ready!

Trying to look on the bright side, it’s probably not a bad thing as we can focus on all the other requirements for offshore racing without the distraction of learning how to trim new sails. That can come later!

We still have a space available for this years Fastnet so stop thinking about it and start your adventure. Great value package, click here for more details.

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The campaign has started….

The Fastnet 2015 campaign has officially started! Budding crew assembled for the ISAF / RYA Offshore safety training last weekend and were duly thrown straight into a swimming pool! The two day course covers a range of topics all focused on remaining safe at sea and, in the event of disaster, how to survive in extreme conditions. You could argue it’s not the most upbeat of courses, however one’s first experience of launching, righting and getting into a liferaft is better done in the controlled conditions of a pool rather than trying to read the instructions in a storm halfway across the Celtic Sea.

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Whilst some time was spent doing practical  sessions, a lot of time was in the classroom learning about ISAF offshore regulations and talking about various scenarios and what we might do faced with a particular issue. Students were split into small groups and asked to discuss each scenario presented and what we’d do in that given situation. Broken into immediate and long term actions, decisions were made as a group with the ultimate question; Would you carry on racing given the problem faced?

What would you do faced with a broken mast, 250nm short of the finish line in Falmouth and a steady southwesterly blowing you straight there?

There was lots of debate about this and the main lesson people came away from this was just how hard it is to actually cut away a rig. Doing these sorts of things in the classroom is hard enough so multiply it by the complexity of being out sea and you start to get a feel for what people really face. In just about every case, prevention is definitely better than cure!

I’ve done this course before and whilst I didn’t need to do it for another couple of years as my certificate is still in date, I think it’s a great course to do with the whole crew of a particular campaign as it gets you all thinking together. The RORC regulations for crew doing the training are for 30% of the crew (and no less than 2) to have completed the course. Again, my view is it’s a great way to start some of that team bonding that’s important for any offshore race crew to campaign successfully together.


Big thanks to the guys at Stormforce coaching for running yet another great course. We look forward to racing with you in the Fastnet this year!

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Modern art?

Modern art? 11

Doesn’t matter how you wrap it up, telling your better half that the rudder needs to live in the dining room for a couple of weeks doesn’t go down well!

I’ve read a few articles about rudder bearings over the last few months as the bearings on Polka were decidedly wobbly. There was a least 5mm of play where the stock came out of the hull. From the research it seemed that the manufacturers fixings on mass produced boats had a less than desirable shelf life. What I hadn’t been prepared for was the whole process being seriously flawed. Let’s just say that I’m going to be happier now knowing that I’ve fixed the bearing case and flange on the rudder stock myself!

The rudder stock has two metal rings fixed to it that are supposed to give the bearing a smooth running surface in order to do their job. Beneteau’s method for fixing these? Stuff a bit of epoxy in some holes and hope it sets.

Granted, assuming the self aligning bearings are installed properly, this will probably work for a few years, however for all the forgiving properties of self aligning bearings, they’ve only got so much give before they fail to align properly. My guess is that for the last two or three seasons the rudder has worked by turning the entire bearing case and flange in the hull cut out, surprisingly well as it turns out! However, the bearing had completely seized on the metal flange. The only way to free it was to cut the casing to relieve the pressure.

Next step; polish the metal ring and secure properly to the rudder stock. The bearing case itself should be adhered to the outlet in the hull allowing the stock to run through and the bearings to align themselves to the metal ring. Rudder stock re-inserted and fixed back in place and…. voilà!

Well that’s the theory, now I’ve just got to put in into practice!

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Fastnet entry secured (and that’s no mean feat)….

Fastnet entry secured (and that's no mean feat).... 12

Entry to the Fastnet race is sold out with a record number signing up. 300 registrations were received in the first 24 minutes matching the number received in 24hrs for the 2013 race. RORC members were given priority so paying membership fees really does have a benefit!

Having secured entry to the race I’m now faced with a todo list as long as your arm. The process of Coding (bringing the boat up to safety standards for commercial use) last year was a walk in the park compared to the requirements for ISAF racing regulations!

Plans are coming along nicely though and the schedule for the campaign has now been published.

Crew Training:
Of course safety is our number one priority and part of the purpose of the two training weekends prior to the first qualifying race will be to get the crew up to speed on all the safety kit. We’ll also be practicing safety drills such as Man-over-board. Preparation is key as in an emergency every second counts.

Safety, safety, safety:
The team have been booked on both the RYA Sea Survival & ISAF Offshore safety courses. These training days provide an invaluable insight into he reality of offshore sailing. With both classroom and pool based sessions, these are a real eye opener, most of us have never had to use a liferaft and the pool session provides as close to simulation as you ever want to get. RORC requirements are for 30% of the crew to have attended this training, however my view is that we all do it. It’s a great way of bonding the team with a focus on safety and working together.

AIS (Automatic Identification System)
The AIS kit is being installed today by Hudson Marine. Again a RORC requirement, however it also gives anyone the ability to follow our progress during the races. I’ll post a separate update on how you can follow us.

Boat’s generally coming together nicely though. Wheel’s off to be re-leathered, Engine service complete she’s looking pretty tidy right now. More stuff to do in preparation which should keep me out of trouble! And of course we’ve got the 6 Nations kicking off tomorrow night!