2018 soloFASTNET - Conrad Manning on Pocket Battleship
Conrad gives us a blow by blow account of his soloFASTNET experience

The 2018 Solo SlowestNet of them all!

 

Pre – Start preparations

 

Saturday – 02/08/18

With the gun to go off at 1420 for the Class 3 boats (the racers are broken down into classes so that the startline and subsequent few hours are less crowded and so fewer mishaps are likely to happen) the was much to get done. Personally as I’ve been getting up at silly o’clock for the past week it was easy to have the alarm set for 0700 (a lie in)!

1st on the list was to ensure that breakfast was on the go before Dave arrived incase he needed a hand with anything. Then, whilst the oats were cooking set about kitting her out to go racing (stowing food, sails I wasn’t going to be using, putting the sheets through the right blocks, etc) and a final check through of the regulations to check I had done everything. What I hadn’t worked out was the fuel rate during charging and therefore how much fuel I needed, so opted to be safer and got another 5l can… just needed to fill it and the boat up and I was penned in!

Breakfast no2 was a bacon baguette before the weather and race briefing where the realisation about what I was going to undertake (despite the mild if challenging weather) was really starting to set in –I used different words but not family friendly, lets just say it would have been a painful toilet experience!

In the final few hours it was great to wander around the boats saying good luck and the like, even spotted some uni friends working on another boat who swiftly commented how insane I was! Before long though, it was engines on and a quick pitstop (not the prettiest of parks I must add) at the diesel pump.

Crossing the identity gate at 1400 meant that the usual preparations were cut short slightly so the quick decision to go for the smaller jib was made (it felt at that time I was overpowered with the J1) which I’m still not sure was the right choice. Still, not enough time to change it back or do anything, the gun had gone off and the race had begun!

Beating out of The Solent was an experience as always, but thankfully the tide was with us so although my struggles to get the boat singing into the wind hampered progress, it wasn’t too significant. By the time we reached the Needles I had gotten into the swing of things and progressed smoothly through tacks and port/starboard situations.

Off on the open road now and I was surprised to see Meva behind at this point which lead to a hard push to keep up with her in the dying breeze, as expected though the wind had decided it had done enough for the day at around 2300 leaving the whole fleet doing a merry dance in circles! Still, like a naughty child who kept coming downstairs for midnight snacks, the breeze kept teasing us with its brief existence. That was until probably 0130 when I had slept through my alarm, the wind came back taking the fleet with it!

Sunday 03/06/18 – Anvil point to Salcombe

Waking up in a dazed slumber, like when you take a nap and it makes the whole tiredness thing worse, pointing in the wrong direction with the wind filled in and no one around me was a horrible start to the day.

Things did get much better though with a great thermos of hot porridge and some chocolate… Then the long trip to get around the rock really began! The wind was consistent, there were competitors on the horizon and my belly was warm again (the quick 2nd nap also helped).

It was great as I was sliding down the coast to come across two boats so the competitive spirit kicked in and gave me something tangible to work with (instead of calculating handicap with boats I couldn’t see). Over the next half day I worked to bring them closer and closer till at last we were side by side and had a great conversation with Mark (who kindly also brought out his drone to grab a few fantastic shots of Pocket Battleship)!

As the day was slowly turning to night I was fortunate enough to have a whole dolphin pack encircle the boat leaping and dancing around. It was a sheer delight and even managed to capture them on film! Finally though it was even time for them to disappear (not least because I needed to start considering massive container and cruise ships)!

Donning the head torch, multiple thermal layers as it’s still pretty Baltic out here on the water, and the thought of a warming a green chicken curry from Expedition Foods I pushed on to find Salcombe!

Monday 04/06/18 – Salcombe to mid Irish sea

Not sure if you’ve spotted the trend yet, but the day as it always does started with a hot thermos of oats and a chocolate to fill the arteries and warm the belly! At this point I had slunk past the Salcombe headland and was on my way to Lizard and Land’s End headlands. This is where the race gets really tactical though as there are multiple different routes that can be taken to head to the rock.

As I had phone signal and could download the latest weather files (we use things called GRIBs that contain wind and other data information for the area at different times) to work out what to do. Big dilemma here… I was doing great stuff on the course I was on, reaching the intended mark with a little change I hand and the routing was saying in big words GO NORTH! (As in, all the optimal courses for the weather files thought it was quickest to the rock if I went the northerly route).

So, taking a gamble as I had no idea how I was doing and wanted to explore that route dropped the kite and headed up wind. All was going well at this point though, I was making the corner at a good enough speed and some space to turn at the corner to go north.

Boom, slap and expletives later I found myself in a wind hole with the sails flogging, floating mere metres away from some wind, watching as that route slowly shut its doors to me and open the realisation that I had to somehow make my way back to the original mark… This was a tough move mentally as I could have done so well if I stuck with my guns and continued forwards!

Still, I told myself, it’s a long old race (over 600nm and with more than 2/3 left) and much can happen. Thankfully enough wind did fill in to allow me to get round the mark where I met with Nirvana a Sunfast 3200 who had it much harder than me… That was quite the reset button as we both headed upwind past the Scilly Isles, him taking a more southerly route with the bigger sail and me taking the more direct route with the smaller sail.

Tuesday 05/06/18 – Mid Irish sea to Fastnet TSS

It was a glorious start to Tuesday morning. Not a single light, boat, land or anything but stars to keep me company in a chilly morning. One of the reasons why short handed sailing really is the amazing sport it is, is one of these mornings and certainly what most of the day ended up being!

As I was explaining the day before, I had chosen a slightly higher route which meant I kept the J1 (the sail more designed to sail to where the wind is coming from) flying for most of Monday and Tuesday. As predicted though, the wind started to veer (go clockwise) so started to peel sails from the J1 to the Code0 (which really was lively and was off like a rocketship as it was getting a little too windy for the angle I was sailing at) where I spent a good deal of time before nearing the TSS and putting the A2 up gliding me around the TSS corner and towards the famous Fastnet Rock (and lighthouse)!

Along the way though I was really in for a treat with wild life on a quantity I’ve never really seen before in this race. Initially I was joined by multiple pods of dolphins leaping and playing in the bow wave; even a tiny little baby one that was being shepherded by its mother through and around the waves. Then, inbetween visits I spotted an unmistakable graceful breech, arc and fin of a pilot whale, something I thought I saw previously but this time for certain! Finally there were the sea birds, ethere was even one point where I thought I was sailing through a secret where there were probably 100s just sitting on the surface. For a few hours there was a seagull type bird that was trying its best to land on the sail but completely unsuccessfully, it did give me a god bit of entertainment though!

Coming into the late afternoon I was greeted by the south coast of Ireland. It is absolutely stunning with aggressive cliffs jutting out of the sea and a wall of white spray from the waves trying to claw their way upwards. This was even more spectacular rounding the famous rock were I shall defer to the image which still doesn’t do its magnificence justice!

Heading into the evening I had high spirits as the leaderboard had me in 1st place overall with just enough wind to continue the ever march forwards (about 5kts, so just above jogging pace) that was until 2300.

2300 was when brain went into overload, trying to eek out even 0.1kts of boatspeed in any direction between 343 and 167. If I didn’t manage to do that I would end up in the TSS which would be an immediate 20% time penalty (which over a 7 day race would have been catastrophic)… If that wasn’t hard enough, I had 5 hours to try and keep moving against the tide!

 

  • Wild life! Pilot whale, dolphins, birds, (strange seagull thing trying to land)
  • Rounding the rock! Great position on leaderboard!
  • Wind dying with me 1nm from the TSS and the tide taking me to it!

Wednesday 06/06/18 – Fastnet TSS to Mid Irish sea

  • Working hard to keep out of the TSS all night
  • Knowing what it feels like to be a cork
  • Finally get going, ghosting along in <5kts at about 2kts
  • Pod of whales!

Thursday 07/06/18 – Irish sea to Scilly

  • Wind clocking around, what an emotional rollercoaster that was
  • Sailing around TSS with massive ships appearing out of the gloom
  • Tide really not helping as always in face and pushing me more downwind

Friday 08/06/08 – Scilly towards Plymouth

  • Wind finally settled
  • Managed to get some shut eye!
  • Found porridge for breakfast!!
  • Forecasts not looking so brilliant

Saturday 09/06/18 – Lizard to finish

  • Finally made it around the corner
  • Strange phenomenon where would sail for a bit then get lifted 20-30deg until I tacked (with a terrible tacking angle) where after a while on that terrible angle I’d get lifted again!
  • Feeling really strong finally on the last leg in, even took it together and put the Code 0 up for the final few 100m!
  • Incredible feeling having people at the finish line in the rib all cheering as I crossed the line! Such elation, incredible tiredness, unbelieving that I’d just finished, all flooding into the brain as I crossed 314 to the lighthouse!

 

 

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