2017 Wolf Rock Race
The inaugural SORC Wolf Rock race proved to be a challenging epic

Following reports in from Fastrak,Tweak and Fluke ...

 

RACE REPORT from on board FASTRAK XI – Nigel Colley

I have been looking forward to this race all season. A solo race of a decent distance which I have not done since my 2015 AZAB. Having got no further than Cowes to Plymouth in last years soloFASTNET, and in a new boat to prove, I was after redemption! Also, the course is challenging with all the South Coast bays, tides, and shipping to negotiate. The opportunities for sleep are compromised and make this course more challenging, in my opinion, than the Fastnet where there is more opportunity to rest.

Setting off in the morning of Saturday 15th the forecast was interesting. South Westerlies, getting up to over 20 knots, and then going North East just as we were due to arrive at Wolf Rock – a stiff beat both ways, this was going to be a lot longer than the billed 350 miles! The routeing was showing different options depending on which grib models you wanted to believe, but all agreed on a beat both ways with maybe some Code 0 action between the Lizard and Wolf Rock.

I formulated my strategy quite early on, before the race started. On paper this was a Sun Fast 3600 race. Those boats are awesome upwind and point high and fast. To stand any chance on handicap I had to stay in touch with them. Then I had to cover my similar sized peer group including a number of 3200’s and JOD 35’s. The larger Open 50 “Pegasus” and the smaller Class 2 boats would be more difficult to race and so would be left to the vagaries of the handicap system. I had to get to the front of my peer group early on, so I could maintain a loose cover, and be nipping at the heels of the 3600’s. I had the advantage in that I could watch the moves of the 36’s and try to take advantage of any weaknesses offered, like headers, lighter wind, and over-standing of lay lines.

I started with my Heavy Weather J3 and full main. Most other boats had a reef in the main. My J3 is awesome. As large as it can be to qualify as a heavy weather jib, flat, and perfect clew position for in-hauler / out-hauler control. My North 3Di main is perfectly matched to the carbon mast and easy to de-power. Changing gears is easy, which is needed given the R2 has less stability, with its flat bulb less keel, than the standard 3200. I had an ok start and got out in front of the bulk of the fleet along with Bellino. I soon split tacks with Bellino to take the mainland shore up the Solent, where I was after a slacker tide with a wider lane, whilst Bellino took the Island shore. After a few cross tacks with Pegasus, she had to go her own way into deeper water with her 4.5m draft.

Leaving the Solent I was at the front of the fleet, tucked in just behind Bellino and with Ninjod and the rest of the fleet following closely behind. Bridge lived up to its reputation with standing waves and nasty sea. The seas across Christchurch Bay were very confused. This was going to be uncomfortable. Pegasus, the Open 50 (Ross Hobson), soon retired with a recurring canting keel hydraulic problem, and Roxanne, a fellow 3200, feeling a bit dicky. Followed soon after with Ninjod suffering masthead damage.

The scene was soon set that would play out to the end of the race. Bellino heading the field, with Fastrak desperately trying to hang on to her coat tails, whilst the closely following pack of Tweak (JOD 35 – Richard Breese), Zest (Humphreys 36 – Rupert Holmes), Fluke (3200 - James Hardiman), Fury (3200 – Richard Clark) engaged in a match race duel with British Beagle (Sigma 36 – Charles Emmett) nobly hanging on. I am not sure where Dehlerious (Dehler 101 – Donald Macdonald) and Ginger (JOD 35 – Alan Thornwill) were as they dropped off AIS range or took differing routes.

Waking up on the approach to Start Point, well not really as I don’t think I slept more than 20 minutes, the wind had dropped and so I did a tack change from my J3 to J2 (no hanks on Fastrak XI, I have a Harken twin luff groove head foil). Bellino was 6 or so miles in front the and chasing pack, still engaged in their match race, were about the same distance behind, and British Beagle was still in AIS range (not good for handicap results, we need to get further ahead – I don’t want to see Beagle on my AIS). At this stage, Fury unfortunately retired with autopilot problems. Bellino went close in to Start Point and stalled. Seeing this I went further out and closed the gap a few miles.

This game of cat and mouse continued across Plymouth Sound, past Eddystone and out to the Lizard with Bellino and Fastrak joined by an elastic band stretching no more than between 4 and 7 miles. Bellino would appear to get ahead, but Fastrak appeared to get better lay lines to close the gap, or stop it extending too much. At the Lizard the wind went lighter and from the North. Time to hoist the Code 0. This came up and down a few times in the variable wind shifts. Bellino went further South at the Lizard and came to a stop, and even tried flying a kite for 15 minutes or so. On Fastrak we noticed this so decided to go right in under the headland. We never stopped or ran out of breeze and pulled back 3 or 4 miles on Bellino before she got going again.

Whilst our duel at the front was going on, just behind Tweak had pulled out a bit from Zest and Fluke, who both seemed glued to each other, and was catching Fastrak. Not good. In the lighter breeze Tweak had been incrementally catching Fastrak throughout the previous afternoon, and now on the Code 0 drag race to Wolf Rock the increments were coming a bit quicker! I need to get round Wolf Rock and back on to a proper beat where I felt I had a speed advantage.

Rounding Wolf Rock at early Dawn on Monday morning, I was 5 miles behind Bellino, good enough to be ahead on handicap, and an equal distance ahead of the following pack – so far so good. On the way back to the Lizard it was close but not quite a true beat, which made it difficult to shake off the still catching Tweak, and then Beagle appears coming towards us not too far ahead of Dehlerious. These boats are close on handicap, possibly even ahead?

After the Lizard we are back on to a true beat. I tack past the Eddystone and close in to the cliffs before Start Point, following Bellino who I have in visual range. She is not able to make the break! We both take the SE tack to the Casquets TSS. The wind has built and I am over powered with my J2, but I am not going to go up front and change it, should have done that earlier, and I knew that, so I bang in a reef. Better but more overpowered than I would like in winds in the mid-20’s gusting upwards. The sea state is awful, and the wind was weirdly “heavy”. The dial was showing only 16/17 knots but the boat was completely powered up with no chance of shaking out the reef which would normally be the case. Now I seem to pulling my legs far enough over the chasing pack to be confident of beating them, so my attention was focussed totally ahead. Bellino is pulling out on me, but on every tack I seem to pull some distance back, to keep her within handicap striking distance.

Arriving on the mainland side, Bellino was just short of laying Anvil Point in a foul west going tide. Fastrak arrived off Lulworth and was buzzed out by the gunnery range boat. Fortunately for Fastrak, the tide held Bellino back, and was against her for a good chunk of the way back to North Head. Fastrak got to Anvil Point not long before a favourable tide so had the advantage in carrying it all the way to the finish. Watching Bellino closely on the AIS, when she finished Fastrak was 10 miles behind, and I calculated to take the handicap win we had to do that 10 miles in 2.5 hours. With a SOG of 7+ knots it was game over for Bellino and victory for Fastrak.

Fastrak sensing victory

The Wolf Rock race is a magnificent course. Very challenging and exhausting, but plenty of bolt holes along the way if things don’t go according to plan. At just over 3 days for Fastrak, it was long enough to get a routine going. I did get some rest in the first 24 hours, and after that I could sleep almost at will – in 20 minute chunks, may be back to back 2 or 3 times. I also made sure to eat, which included a hot porridge & fruit breakfast, and a hot dinner every day. Not drinking enough was easy, and to be aware of. I have bonded with my new boat. She is fast and well mannered. The B&G instrument systems and pilot are, well, awesome really and have really come of age. The fuel cell for electricity generation is a pure joy – it just works!

Congratulations to all the finishers – you are all winners. Here’s looking forward to the next one, hopefully with some downwind work next time!

 

RACE REPORT from on board TWEAK– Richard Breese

Wolf Rock was to be my first Solo race since the soloFASTNET and I was looking forward to it with some trepidation given the forecast as memories of being caught 3min before the start of soloFASTNET with far to much sail up, limping across the start line a couple of min late having taken a reef in (but with still far too much sail up) and then battling down the Solent without being able to load water ballast and having to reef more, change headsails etc to finally limp out of the Solent through breaking waves under storm jib and deep reefed main, soaked to the skin and 45min behind the fleet were still all to vivid….mistakes I was NOT going to make again….this time we would go with a plan…

So it was off out of Lymington nice and early so as to allow plenty of time to get a few runs at the line and verify my sail choice.

I decided to leave my old “cruising” dacron main on for the race as an experiment, since I feel the laminate “race” main is cut too deep for solo racing and is difficult to de-power, plan was to go with one reef in the main and dacron heavy weather jib on the basis it was easier to take reefs in / out of the main than change jib if the wind pipped up more.

The start went to plan, starting on the right side (neck and neck with Ginger the other JOD35) to as to be able to tack over to the mainland shore as soon as possible, water ballast was primed but not yet full to allow for it to be quickly filled once I had tacked off. I tacked up the mainland shore as planned, finally tacking into the main channel just past Yarmouth pleased to be keeping pace with the fleet. Then came shorter tacks (tricky in a water ballasted boat) up the channel and out via Bridge, very pleased to see MUCH friendlier conditions than last time!! (not friendly, just friendlier) So first part of the race went to plan, we were out of the Solent, still in touch with the fleet and demons laid to rest, now with longer tacks in windy conditions the water ballast should start to earn its keep….

So we headed out into the Channel and into the first night in a tight group with the 3200s and Zest with Beagle hanging on rather too tight for his handicap. Then sometime around 22:00 I decided it was time to start the engine and charge the batteries, this done I was back on the helm, then after around 15min of charging I heard an alarm……I put the autopilot on and rushed down the companionway to check the engine panel to find it was the “water” alarm, the engine was getting no cooling water!! OK, so we were not in any immediate danger there was still plenty left in the batteries for now, but I had to fix whatever the issue was or the race would be over. So…crashing upwind in the dark under autopilot out came the toolbox, expecting it to be the impeller (which would be strange as it was new this year) I removed the water pump and took the backplate off, only to find the impeller was fine….ahhgg must be something else….but what.

So pump put back together and back on the engine the search was on for the problem, next thought was a blockage in the inlet, so I sucked on the inlet pipe and was rewarded with a mouthful of seawater, ok that’s good now what about the outlet, blockage in the engine? maybe I could check that by blowing though the engine?….mmmm not keen on that with hot gasses coming out of it….ok thinking cap back on and pop on deck to check for ships, Tweak’s still going well so back to the fault finding.

OK, so next plan, fill the strainer up with fresh water and then fire up the engine with the outlet from the pump led into the bilge to check it if it could pump water at all, and it did…great! So, hook the pump outlet back to the engine and check the water is still flowing, yes, it is…we are back in the race!! (I eventually decided it was simply that the strainer had emptied itself though the inlet with all the crashing upwind, so the solution was to turn off the seacock after every charge or fill the strainer with water before starting the engine – we live and learn…).

So back to racing….rather pleased to see I had not lost too much on Fastrak ahead and Fluke, Zest and Beagle just behind….it was however rather unpleasant conditions, and we do this for fun….

Then…then engine started making some strange clunking noises when charging on port tack, ggrrr what now..??.... is it loosing oil pressure on that tack or what…??...this as well never happened before. To cut another long story short I eventually traced to the water pump pully hitting the engine bearer when the engine moved on the rubber mounts over waves, looking at the belt I suspect I was given the wrong one (new this season) as the clearance is only around 1.5mm, solution to this problem, slacken off the belt a little to give more clearance and only charge on starboard tack when its rough…OK that’s it the boats going up for sale as soon as I get around this b#$£dy lighthouse and back to Lymington!!!  

Approaching Start Point the conditions became rather more pleasant, reefs were shaken out and a change of headsail to the #2 (a bit of a pain on hanks, now about that idea of a Solent stay, must look into that…if I keep the boat), then around 19:00 it was time for the dolphins to arrive….OK OK all is forgiven, Tweak and I are now friends again, now about that Solent stay….

The calmer conditions allowed me go with the plan to sleep any time I was not really contributing to boat speed, and I was very pleased to find that my newly installed “SoloSails” sleep timer was a good investment, allowing me to get my head down for 20min safe in the knowledge that I would be woken up for sure once my time was up (during the soloFASTNET I was using a kitchen timer which did not give anywhere near the same confidence).

I tacked onto starboard just short of Plymouth, a bit earlier than Fluke and Zest but anticipating that the big right shift into the north would lift me up towards the Lizard, I felt I was headed rather too much south, waiting and waiting for the shift and started to question whether this was such a good idea, going off left with a right shift forecast, but then we are racing Fastrak as well and he is left of us so…nothing we can do now, the dice are rolled so let’s see….

As it was the shift did come and when we came together again at the Lizard Tweak had pulled out a tiny amount on Fluke and Zest as well as gaining little on Fastrak ahead, and then the wind gets to 90, then 100 and 110 true and with the words of Alan my co-skipper for the 2015 Fastnet “winds aft of the beam spinnaker up” ringing in my ears, I reluctantly drag the A3 on deck (none of these fancy code zeros or furling asymmetric sails on Tweak, we are old skool), hook it up and hoist (that short sentence actually involves quite a lot more effort than it implies…), then prepare everything for the drop as we are right on the edge of spinnaker territory and rounding the Lizard always invokes a certain degree of trepidation even in calm weather. As expected around an hour later its Spinnaker down and back to white sails heading out to Wolf Rock, with a few short lived windshifts aft of the beam but none for long enough or far enough aft to justify raising the A3 again (it helped that I hadn’t re-packed it either).

Eventually I saw Fastrak round Wolf Rock and realised we were head on, don’t want to end up with a collision, but we managed to miss each other. With the sun slowly coming up I could see Fluke on the AIS and then in sight, rapidly closing with his Code Zero up, with the angle to tight for my A3 I just had to hope the Code Zero conditions wouldn’t last too long… As it was, once around the lighthouse we managed to gain a little on Fastrak as well as pull out a little on Fluke and Zest by the Lizard.

With my weather routing showing one long tack down to either just south or along the northern edge of Casquets TSS and the wind piping back up to the mid to high 20s again it was with a heavy heart I headed out into the channel again, sure enough the wind and sea state started to increase as we headed south, but then Fastrak and Bellino tacked off heading NE towards the area of Start Point….ok time to make a decision, do I go off on my own and stick with my routing or do I stick with the pack….well….Rob and Nigel know a thing or two about offshore racing so probably better to stay with them, in the end Fluke and Zest followed suit (a very good decision it turns out).

Heading up to Start Point the wind eased a little and after rounding Start Point with Fluke and Zest close behind we ended up a little North of Fastrak and seemed to be getting a lift towards Portland which wasn’t in any of the forecasts I had. So a little glimmer of hope that maybe we would be lifted all the way up to fetch all the way across Lyme started to take root….but it wasn’t to be and soon enough we were headed out into the channel again towards Casquets TSS, this the wind forecast to increase I changed down to the heavy weather jib early so as not to do it needing a snorkel and mask…

We then enjoyed a lovely (or something like that….!!) night beating up the northern edge of Casquets TSS with plenty of wind and waves, eventually I lost Fastrak from the AIS (Nigel tacked off north earlier than the rest of us) but was keeping tabs on Fluke and Zest. I decided to go a little beyond the eastern edge of the TSS before heading north and then to take a reef in as the wind and sea state were building, at some point during that process the autopilot froze….no no no, not now having gotten this far!! Ok, get the boat steady on a course, down below to switch off all the electrics, give it a couple of minutes, power back up again, wait again for everything to run though its startup then hit the autopilot button….phew, all back to normal, we are back in business….finish taking in the reef and tack of North towards Portland / St Albans etc.

I now really struggle to get the boat going, she should be blasting along at 6.5kt loving these conditions but I’m not even getting 6kt, I try different sail setting and in the end decided maybe another reef is needed but this doesn’t improve things much, so I slog on Northbound until I see that Fluke and Zest who are now ahead but to leeward are getting headed by the tide off towards Portland and there is no way they will make it out of the tide into the bay, so I tack off to get some more Easting out in the channel – now the first part of tacking Tweak is to open the transfer valve which allows the water in the windward tank to flow by gravity into the leeward tank, this usually takes around a minute and when the leeward tank is almost full water starts to come out of the vents whist you nurse the boat along with a large amount of heel – on this tack however as soon as I opened the transfer valve, immediately there was water coming out of the vents in to the leeward tank….then the penny dropped, when I had the autopilot issue earlier whilst reefing I had somehow ended up with a larger amount of water in the leeward tank and sailed all the way up from Casquets TSS in that state….not quick….

With water ballast now on the correct side I am able to shake out a reef and Tweak is flying once again!!  Having the first look at the tides for a while I realise that although I won’t lay Durlston at the moment the tide will change by the time I get there and I should be lifted past or just need a small hitch and with Fluke and Zest breathing down my neck I won’t beat them on handicap but at least I can take 3rd on the water, if I can keep them behind me in the dying breeze across Poole bay.

Then ensued a nail biting trip across Christchurch Bay with Fluke steadily closing in, really, I need my #2 jib up as the wind died but Fluke was too close for me to spend that amount of time bareheaded but as we approach North Head, I tacked close to the layline and crossed Fluke with only a ¼ of a mile or so to go to the finish which seals 3rd on the water, if somewhat further down the rankings on handicap.

It was a fantastic race, a great adventure, nice to be vaguely in the mix and a great chance to put into practice some of the lessons learned from the soloFASTNET as well as learning some new ones and adding to the jobs / wish list. Very happy with my 5th place, particularly given the problems I encountered and the fact I can certainly see where more gains could be made.

Well, that’s probably my racing for the year, great value in terms of time.....but now back to the Oppie circuit….. 

 

RACE REPORT from on board FLUKE – James Hardiman

The inaugural Wolf Rock race had been on my mind for most of this year. As a solo sailor, the preparation and run-up to any long distance race is always an emotional journey and requires good planning, a good mind set and a degree of physical fitness. And of course a well sorted boat! Luckily Fluke III the Ocean Elements Sunfast 3200 is exactly that, and after almost 12,000 miles of sailing in the 3200 I’m finally getting to know her well.

Just like playing rugby matches as a nipper, I often get the ‘pre-race jitters’ on the run up to a long solo race which’ll last for perhaps a week before the event.  And it’s understandable… we are ‘Solo Sailors’, setting off into a bouncing, churning, dangerous ocean - aboard a small and exposed plastic boat. And the Wolf Rock race was certainly one of these races!

With plus 20+ Knots of wind due on Day 1 and then more heavy winds due later in the race, (forecast 6’s and 7’s on Day 3), I knew I was going to be in for a tough race. Adding to the mix was that the billed ‘350 miles’ was already going to be lengthened to at least 450 as the wind was dead against all the way there AND back…

The ‘jitters’ usually disappear as soon as I leave the dock for the start of any race, but shortly after hoisting the mainsail on my way to the start line, the jitters were replaced by a stressful 40 minutes as one of my Batt-car casings fell apart and 3 of the 4 screws disappeared, leaving a batten poking out of the luff. Fortunately I retrieved two screws from the cockpit (what luck!) so I was able to pull down the main (in a building wind) and screw them back in with a large dose of thread lock. Yes I have a good tool kit on-board!

With a tumultuous run-up to the start, I managed to cross the line without too much “loss of face” and had a busy time tacking down the Solent in some typical stomach-churning-chop. I decided to take the mainland side and cover Nigel Colley on Fastrak which seemed to work as I made good gains on Ninjod (Paul Brant) who took more an island-side route, and Roxanne (Simon Mitchell) who seemed to flit between both sides. Fluke III got some useful lifts close to Lymington and was doing well… that is… until I decided a sail change was in order! So, close to the banks where the sea seemed less bouncy I changed down to my J3 and inevitably lost a bit of ground.

Hurst proved good for me and again I got some useful lifts on the island side and made back a lot of ground on Fury and one of the JOD’s. The Needles was less bumpy than feared, (re Fastnet 2016), with so much wind against tide, and once the Fairway Bell was crossed off it was time to hunker down for the long beat offshore in a confused sea which was the chosen path West according to Expedition.

Suffering from a good dose of the old ‘Mal de Mer’ I popped a couple of Stugeron and focussed on getting rid of it before night descended and my vision went, which normally exacerbates any sickness! The first night was spent trying to shake off Fury, who remained close by until she tacked inshore. I decided to stick to my routeing and not be tempted to make a break to the west (north-west). I was maintaining 220 degrees and didn’t want to get too close to Portland.

I then spent the rest of the night and following day with ‘Tweak’ in sight (JOD 35) which kept me on my toes. I managed to get no more than about eight 10 minute cat naps through the night and a few the next day. Banking sleep was important for the Falmouth section of the race where shipping would be busy. The next day bought Start point and a gaining Zest (Rupert Holmes), sailing more inshore than me. I therefore spent the rest of the race constantly tweaking the boat in between 10 minute rests and match racing Rupert in his recently sorted OSTAR boat.

At the end of Day 2, Tweak was just ahead but had made some extra ground on a useful lift he got over Fluke and Zest in the veering northerly. By evening, Zest had closed the gap on me and even snuck one past me! Conditions were calmer but I was under powered with my J3 still up. Frankly, I couldn’t fathom unravelling the larger Jib that I ripped off the boat earlier in the race and stuffed unceremoniously down the hatch. So, I fought back with the code Zero. The angles were a little tight to start with but the wind was light. Then, as the wind veered (on forecast) I got a good 100-120 degree run at the mark and Fluke creamed along happily at 8-9Kts bsp. I made about a half mile or more of ground on Zest through the night.

At about 04.30 I followed Tweak around the mark and there was no more than a few hundred yards between us, perhaps a half mile. Unfortunately I took ‘too safe’ a rounding of Wolf Rock and lost another half mile on Richard who took the rock much closer and probably didn’t mess up his Gybe like I did! Hah that’s tiredness for you.

I then watched Tweak pull away all the way back to the Lizard (Fluke was still on her J3) but as the wind filled in Fluke III came into her own as all Sunfast’ do in heavy air.

Day 3 was a nice day of sailing in sun and medium air, but was slightly marred by the promise of a freshening F6-7 filling in from the East sometime in the next 12 hours. I knew this would make the final part of the race hard and so morale was not the highest! But, what can do hey? So we plugged on and I assumed the routine (which I was getting used to now) of trim/rest/trim/rest etc in 10 minute slots through the day.

I opted again to trust my most recent grib and Expedition took me well south before I tacked just before the TSS. But then had to tack south again as I was being headed toward Portland and that nasty race which just “sucks you in!”…. And so quite demoralising when you really need to be going North! Zest was always not far behind and really pushed me trim, sleep, trim, sleep. No rest!

The last tack of the race was taken some 30 miles south of North head and ‘bowed me nicely in the building east-going tide – right onto the final mark. That saved me time over Zest and helped me gain nicely on Tweak who had to tack close inshore to make North Head.

Like Nigel (Colley) and his Sunfast 3200, I have definitely bonded more with Fluke and she’s so well sorted now that I’ll find it hard to sell her as family demands! This was a tough race, on a par with the Fastnet, but hugely rewarding too - so I definitely want to do some more!

Well done to everyone taking part. It’s a tough emotional and physical battle to do a race like this and I too contemplated my options (several times) on Day 1. But get that out of the way then your stomach settles and you seem to find an equilibrium. Not an entirely happy one, but nevertheless one you can live with.

 

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2017 Wolf Rock Race