Tuesday, 23 June 2015 14:20

Castles & Islands from January First's perspective or "I coulda been a contender!"

Written by
Castles & Islands from January First's perspective or "I coulda been a contender!" Mike Pigram

(Pictures from the 2015 event are here)

Well, as all we skippers and crew who took part in the 2015 Coquet Yacht Club Castles & Islands Challenge wake from a much welcomed sleep into a slightly less zombie like post race stupor we can all reflect on what we actually put ourselves, boats and often unsuspecting runners through.

Forecast was not looking good on Friday night for any chance of blistering boat speeds; and at some point through the night as we watched the wind die to nothing and the forecast showing gusting 1 MPH for during the night at Boulmer thoughts no doubt circulated to whether we would actually complete the course in the 24 hours. Still, at least the sea was flat and it wasn't raining!

Briefing was held at the Cliubhouse with lots of last minute checks of maps by the runners with ensuing cries of "anyone got any more safety pins?" and then a quick dash ferrying the runners up to Alnwick for the start. It seems the runners had a reasonably straight forward run this year without incident that I am aware of at time of going to press. I was hoping to hear some stories regaled about running through the first field at Alndyke which, when I drove past, appeared to be full of cattle. Perhaps such stories were recounted at the Bar and BBQ on the evening when I had to resume fatherly / childcare duties back at home.

Runners were running so now to say which boats we had competing:
January First
Tina Louise

As you will all appreciate, the pre race time can be a hectic time for the skippers and crew. last minute checks and tuning, topping up diesel tanks, offloading unnecessary kit, jockeying for best position to get away from the marina etc. Or in January First's case, locate the missing promised dinghy (someone had kindly borrowed or moved the one we were borrowing from Michael Irwin that had up until the day prior been hanging in the dinghy store - helpful) and tuck into a vast vat of spag bol prepared by Mark Philips.

This year January First was definitely NOT going to run out of batteries! I had installed 2 new 110AH batteries over the Winter AND I had brought my reserve battery booster pack just in case! Just remember the fridge gets turned off when not at shore power please Mark!

Hopefully John Hodges from Émigré enjoyed his sail on January First. Good to have him onboard. Some interesting and useful ideas and good to have another local skipper to be able to discuss tactics with.

First back from the run was of course Ian and co the runners for Spurrelli and Nick gets a flier from his pontoon into the evening, next to arrive I think was Tina Louise (Good run from event organiser Pete Hammond on his first ever completion of the Alnwick to Amble section!) then Jelfrezi (at this point I think I need to make people aware that I provided the runners for Jalfrezi and right now they were beating my team of runners - what had I done?) then in came my pair. No time for niceties other than "Well done, now get on the boat and let's get away!"

Engine on to Sewer buoy. I wondered why John kept looking at me and at the throttle....... I was in normal "Oh we are pootling out the harbour for our Saturday morning race" mode so running engine nicely at 2000RPM - dam I should have been pushing harder but we got there in the end! Pan Bush crossed and spinnaker up cutting upwind of Tina Louise (sorry Pete) much to the amusement of one of my runners when asking if that was bad etiquette to do this.

Round the island spinnaker down and North we go. By this time Spurrelli is just a distant blip on the horizon, he's going to take some catching! We decide to keep inshore and out of the tide but it's slow going. By about 23:00 myself and the rest of the fleet are just ghosting along at less than 1kt in less than zephyr like draughts of wind. I think it's going to be a long night! At this point the crew look at me in astonishment partial disbelief / shock, horror and bemusement as I announce we are breaking out the oars and going to try to paddle January first. The more astute of you will be thinking that you don't get rowlocks, you might get a lot of boll*&ks talked onboard but definitely no rowlocks on a 35 foot 6+ ton yacht. It's fine, I checked, it's in the rules we are allowed to! Now, where was that big drum to call out the beat?

So Graham and myself try paddling whilst kneeling on the side deck but it's uncomfortable and also not very effective. Come on she is over 6 tons I keep thinking so what did I expect. Then John has the idea of bracing the oars against the pushpit and actually rowing. That's better but still awkward as no rowlocks so the oar doesn't get maximum effect due to slopping around. Even better, you're a genius John, let's tie the oars in place fashioning rowlocks from the currently unused spinnaker sheets. Now, Stroke! Stroke! Stroke. It works and with a combination of oars and limp sails we hit the dizzying speeds of 0.6kts occasionally 1kt. At least we are moving and the activity keeps the crew's mind off mutiny! They were also there "just in case" the batteries died was also at the back of my mind! I was NOT getting towed into the marina again!

North we go chasing Spurelli. I really need to praise my new for 2015 crew man Graham. He rowed solidly for about an hour not accepting the really feeble offers from the rest of us of "do you need a spell Graham, come on we'll give you a break", Thanks God! As the clouds gather and actual darkness falls it's left to just myself and Graham to push on as the rest of the crew catch up on some "zeds" below. Just two of us it's not as easy to paddle and hold sails out whilst running in no wind. I tie the boom off to the shroud, pole the genoa out goosewinged, put Graham on the helm with instructions to look out for potdans and resume the rowing. Is that Spurrelli's mast light we can see ahead of us? There's a second one as well. Which one is in Newton? Are they from our fleet? If so how did the other boat get past us so well? Did the people who elected to go offshore get better wind than us??? Are the rest of the fleet now at the Farnes? What have I done and put my crew through????

Eventually Dunstanburgh castle is passed and we call for the runners to start prepping to disembark from their berths and get going. The wind pipes up just enough to glide into Newton in the pitch black, sail along drop the runners off the anchor up not far from Spurelli whose runners are still ashore. Good God are we really second boat in and therefore currently 1st on handicap? Nah! Can't be. No pressure guys!

At this point I should probably mention Nick Spurr on Spurrelli. He picked up a Newton mooring (or something similar) whislt in there, around his keel. It took a while and lots of toing and froing but he managed to extricate himself without sending anyone in the water (as far as I am aware). Some boat handling in close quarters hindered by that chain and rope. Hope the boat's okay!

Gradually other boats arrive just as we are about to almost leave. Compared to previous years this is going remarkable well for us on January First. the engine was starting, Tridata was working. Nothing had fallen off or broken yet. SOMETHING has to be about to go wrong surely!

Still with Spurrelli in sight we set the assymetric this time and head off North. Yes, yes yes! I know I rigged the assymetric with the tack and clew round the wromng way but it was working bloody well! Better than when we corrected it! Now, do we go for Seahouses or Staple Sound? Tide calculations abound and the decision is made we try for Seahouses. Forecaste checked again and we see it's forecast to keep Southerly but decrease further then increase slightly later on. It's okay though the oars are still there if we need them! Alas we are maintaining just over 1kt with the unconventional poling of an assymetirc to leeward sail plan so the oars stay shipped.

Damnation! As always happens in these circumstances, the wind fills in from the South but the chasing fleet get it way before we do and they steadily gain on us. I knew it was too good to be true.

Decision for staple Sound versus Seahouses re-evaluated and we go for Seahouses. Runners away, do your stuff, see you shortly. Interetsing, all other boats in the fleet that we can see elect for Seahouses and we watch CBeagle go for Staple under spinnaker. He just seems to be stemming the tide most if the time and we congratulate ourselves on what appears to be a good decision to call in to Seahouses. It's amazing how close we all are now and the race appears to be between the runners more than ever as later arriving boats runners start to arrive back before ours. start wondering again why I seem to have given other boat better runners than I kept for myself.

As Tina Louise and Elver motor into site having I assume retired from the sailing side but continuing with the running side we collect our runners and head out. Check decision time again, dog leg out to Staple or straight North through Inner? Staple it is with Jalfrezi and Charisma in hot pursuit. Arrow goes through Inner.

Time for some at the time amusing texts from race control and my wife.
RACE CONTROL: "where are you January First, you seem to have been at Boulmer for ages......."
RACE CONTROL: "Have you seen Pendragon? They seem to be reporting they are in Belford"
Wife: "Just checked, you seem to be doing really well. You're in first place just passing Alnmouth....."

Back to the sailing. Spinnaker up we race onwards to Triton buoy with Jalfrezi going better than we are but we push on getting to Triton just before Jalfrezi. Runners away and we hunt for a anchorage which will hold. Any damage to CBeagle Kris. We noticed a few members of crew needing to heel the boat over as though lifting the keel from the bottom perhaps?

Sitting at anchor the entertainment committee was in full swing onboard CBeagle with much dancing and merrymaking. Good show having so many grown men dancing around handbags and dad dancing in a small cockpit. I have the video if people want to see it!

Hold on a minute. Boats that arrived before us are now leaving as their runners must have beaten ours back. Oh well, at least the wind's freshening. We just need it to get to January First's sweet spot of 12kts and it'll be a good drag race of a beat home! Will we finish in the 24 hour challenge limit though after so many hours prior with no wind??? At least we don't have to beat back through Staple!

Holy Island MArshal radios us to say runners are on the way so we up anchor and go to collect them. They are struggling to row against the wind but I shout I can't get closer as it's too shallow. I look at the depth and see 4 metres as we go inshore of Elver trying to give the rowers some shelter from the wind (my excuse and I'm sticking to it!) only for the boat to come to a restful stop. Now I could say I did this to shelter the runners a bit and give them the chance to get onboard a stationary vessel but no. I ran aground, luckily on the sandy bit! With maximum thrust astern and all 5 crew members on the port side she gradually comes adrift but now accelerating towards Elver and the rather non-chalantly reclined Liz King in the cockpit calmly stating, "it's not my boat but I'll tell Alistair if you hit his boat....". At least the bottom of the keel should be scrubbed clean and we'll need every bit of less drag possible for the race home.

We now leave with Arrow about 15 minutes ahead of us going for Staple and Jalfrezi about 10 minutes ahead of us aiming for Inner and the wind is now at 20kts. Forecasters, what do they know? At least they got the wind direction correct!

Southward we race trying to get past Jalfrezi, if nothing more than to just beat Richard. Nothing personal but he beat me overall in the 2014 CYC season so a bit of friendly rivalry never hurt and it's good to have a focus in the race.

Jalfrezi heads offshore hoping to catch the now turned tide running South whilst rather than just give chase we elect for an inshore route. It's working, as the two course intercept we have gained. Shame Jalfrezi now copy us and maintain there lead. John draws my attention to the gathering tide running on a lobster dan and we head out offshore into the tide getting funnelled South through Staple Sound.

Next intercept of the two boats, has it worked? Yes it has and we duck behind them by about 2 boat lengths. I suppose now it's down to who does the most mistakes during a tack or loses the wind first!

John heads off below for a quick nap leaving Mark, Graham and myself to push on as hard as we can. 1st reef put in the main as the wind is up towards 22kts. The tri data reports steady average around 4kts boat speed but the plotter reporting up towards 7 kts. Guess I should have calibrated the log when I had the chance last weekend when I fitted it!

Entertainment onboard January First was not just provided by the singing to the continual audio background musinc piped through the cockpit speakers (one of the best jobs I did over winter fitting them, other than sanding the hull back and freeing off the feathering prop!) but by me watching my runners flying in the forepeak as we dropped off the occasional wave and then seeing him mountain climbing across the saloon towards the heads a few times. NOT looking forward to cleaning that up!

Sun is out and the boat is flying with the reef in and full genoa. We cross the line in front of Jalfezi so moral victory claimed now it's down to the handicap.

I now race home to get time with the kids and leave the crew to finish off the box of vintage chiraz they'd been working their way through during the race. IT's a hard racing life onboard January First.

Of course I am tired by now, I get home having not slept since 6Am the morning of Friday. I sort the kids out. grab a sandwich and head to bed at 22:00 only to be woken violently at about 1AM Sunday morning by a banging on the bedroom window. I jump out of bed thinking we must be getting broken into by some idiot trying to climb through the upstairs bedroom window. No, it was my wife Louise who was returning from work having finished her shift at Alnwick ambulance station late then couldn't get the door unlocked as I had locked it and left the key in. She had knocked on the door but now answer (can't imagine why!) then rang the phone but now answer from me or me kids, climbed over the back fence (having got stuck on it for a while she says) and finally put some ladders against the house to knock on the window. I can only apologise..... I was tired!

So to the results. I was not at the club last night to get the results as I was doing dad type things with kids but this morning I hear Charisma wiped the board taking all trophies apart from fastest lady runner. He was an all rounder boat as well. Damnation - Another runner I supplied was on there! Note to self, next year get worse runners for other people.

I believe; and I take this with caution, January First had the fastest sailing time? I am not sure and it is unconfirmed at this moment but time will tell.

A good race. A good event and now we need to start getting more boats in for next year! Thanks to my crew and especially to John Hodges for at first putting up with the singing then taking the lead on many of the 70's hits. I really liked his rendition of "Hi Ho Silver Lining", welcome back anytime John.

Best get down to clean the boat I guess today! She's a mess!

Volador Plate next weekend. Got Peter Boyle as race officer. A trophy race so instant wins.... And in the words of another song from John Hodges' repertoire "Come on everybody....."