Fastnet update: 18 August 2013 – We finished!

Final Update Sunday 18 Aug 13 – Apologies for the gap in blogging due to lack of connectivity and the need for a bit of sleep and cleaning up. 

Sunday 11 August: A sea of sails leaving The Solent.

Sunday 11 August: A sea of sails leaving The Solent.

Thursday 15 August: Our last couple of hours of the race were somewhat eventful as we had a problem with our spinnaker again but this time is was dark which made things far more difficult. With the finish line only just over two nautical miles away we were so desperate to resolve the issue and continue to the end.

It was extremely disappointing for the team to see a number of boats over take; ones that we’d worked so hard to catch up with and overtake during the race; while we battled in the dark to get moving again. The finish line was so near (we could see the lights of Plymouth harbour) yet it seemed so far away and at past midnight we were tired, especially as some of us had only grabbed one hour of sleep since 0400.

Finally we hopped over the finish line at just 0211 with mixed feelings of relief to have completed the race, combined with the disappointment of losing a large chunk of time and positions. We were gutted! After mooring alongside and cracking open the champagne we then literally wobbled along the pontoon to find the bar! (After spending a number of days at sea when you reach dry land you still feel like you are moving on the boat )

Still in our stinky clothes, looking rather wet and bedraggled we enjoyed a few drinks and shared tales with other crews before wobbling back to the boat to grab a few hours of sleep. We were not a pretty sight but at this point in time we certainly didn’t care! We’d just successfully completed the Fastnet 🙂

Friday (16 Aug) morning was spent with a media rep from Andover and another photographer before heading out for a celebratory crew lunch in the sunshine and a chance to relax. We then attended the prize giving and learned that we’d come 57th in our class of 85. We weren’t top of the fleet but for us we had achieved our aim of finishing the race. We then relaxed for a short while before getting the boat ready to slip for Gosport that night at 0100.  Gales were brewing and we wanted to get back safely ahead of the weather.

Saturday was a long slog back to Gosport and we had to motor initially as there was no wind. After a long race we could have done without the final leg home. There certainly was a lot more wind closer to home with gusts at Force 8! As we came alongside at Joint Services at 2130 we were pleased to have arrived with crew and boat still in one piece.

Sunday, was an early 0500 start so that we could get to work and clean Redcoat from top to bottom ready for handing back to Joint Services. Everything was hauled off on to the pontoon and cleaned and the empty boat was scrubbed from top to bottom. The quicker we could get the job done the quicker we could get home to a bath and clean clothes! After our final farewells and debrief from the skipper we were free to go.

We have all achieved something as part of this team and will all take away different memories. I feel very lucky to have had the opportunity to complete this event, have made new friends and will remember the highs and lows!

Sunday 11 August: Approaching the Needles.

Sunday 11 August: Approaching the Needles.

Sunday 11 August: At the start

Sunday 11 August: At the start

Sunday 11 August: Motoring out displaying storm sails before the start.

Sunday 11 August: Motoring out displaying storm sails before the start.

Wednesday 13 August: Approaching the Rock.

Wednesday 13 August: Approaching the Rock.

Update 15 August 2013

Update 14 August 2013

Update 13 August 2013 including updates for 9, 10, 11 and 12 August

Update 8 August 2013 

Update 7 August 2013

Update 6 August 2013

 

Fastnet update: 15 August 13

Update Thu 14 Aug -1330. We rounded the rock at 1315 yesterday and then headed on a steady tack to the Scillies. Last night the weather was mixed with some heavy rain and gusts. We have been chasing down some distant yachts and are determined to pick up a few places! Our first spinnaker hoist of the event ended abruptly as a tear developed, ripping the. Material to shreds rapidly! We are now sailing under our only spinnaker left ( after a quick patch job after spotting another tear) We have recently rounded the Bishop Rock lighthouse and The Scillies and our making our way to The Lizard. We are all showing signs of fatigue but spirits are up as we hope to reach Plymouth in the early hours of tomorrow morning.

Heidi

Update 14 August 2013

Update 13 August 2013 including updates for 9, 10, 11 and 12 August

Update 8 August 2013 

Update 7 August 2013

Update 6 August 2013

Fastnet update: 13 August 2013 – Need more wind

 

Update AM 0630 Tue 13 Aug. We are making steady progress and have been on the same tack for hours, but the wind has dropped and is due to drop further – conditions that do not suit our boat. We need more wind! Sailing at night under the moonlight and stars is always exhilarating. You have to keep a lookout for lights as ships and tankers can creep up upon you very quickly.

Capt Lucie Allaway

Capt Lucie Allaway

Watches change every 4 hours and I’m on with Lorna and Sam while Leila, Caz and Emily make up the other watch. The stint between midnight and 0400 always seems to pass the slowest but we are keeping our energy levels up and morale with copious amounts of food. ( perhaps we should rename this race the ‘fatnet’?!) Seriously though, just moving  around the boat while heeled over and bouncing through the waves, especially visiting the heads (loo) is hard work as you have to hold on tight and keep your balance. It almost feels like an obstacle course! We are now passing the Isles of Scilly to our West and heading north.

My sister and her family live on St Mary’s so I’ve given them a wave 🙂  This morning we were blessed with a beautiful sunrise as dolphins played in our wake and bow. 236 miles covered but a number still to go- somewhat demoralising when we know that some of the bigger yachts will finish today!

Fastnet update: 11 August 2013 – The race begins

We arose at 0700 with mixed  feelings of excitement and nervousness. We then slipped just after 1000 wearing life jackets and with our storm sails up to queue behind the long line of yachts and progress through the identity gate. Race rules dictate that we have to do this before the race actually starts. The Solent then became a fleet of white sails bobbing around the starting line as skippers inspected which end to start from. This is always a difficult time as all eyes are on deck watching for boats to avoid collisions! Helicopters were swarming overhead filming the start and hearing the radio and starting gun became very difficult.

We set off at 1230 and tacked our way out to The Needles passing dozens of spectator boats and crowds of  people at Hurst Point. We were tacking every 2-3 minutes for 3 hours so we were pretty ‘pumped’ as we exited the Solent and moved into watches. It was an amazing sight to see all the other boats on the water and we were in awe as the class one huge monohulls and trimarans screamed past us!

After a scrumptious home-made ricotta and spinach lasagne made by Lorna and chocolate brownies made by Sam we sailed through the night and are now heading to Start Point near Plymouth. Winds are hovering around 11 knots and we have completed  110 miles. Morale is high!

Fastnet update: 10 August 2013 – Caz’s birthday!

Heidi up the mast.

Heidi up the mast.

Capt Lucie Allaway continues to update us on the team’s progress ahead of the race…

As Cowes Week has now ended we managed to secure a berth at Cowes Yacht Haven and moved Redcoat down the Medina River to a pontoon with shore power and no need for a paddle in the tender to get ashore. It has been a busy day making final preparations to the boat and reassessing our personal kit and rations required for the event.

Lucie and Saskia attended the skippers brief and have buried their heads in weather and wind forecasts, various navigational charts and tide atlases working out our route. Getting the navigation right is key and we have every faith in their decision making.

Final team meal ashore with cake for Caz.

Final team meal ashore with cake for Caz.

After our final meal ashore and some scrumptious birthday cake made by Sam, we have hit our bunks for an early night. We slip tomorrow at approximately 1030 and our start for IRC class 4 is at 1230. (All starts will be screened live on the RORC Fastnet website.) Thankfully our tracking device is now working after a few hiccups today and everyone will be able to follow us on our journey over the coming days. We are all getting excited now; fingers crossed for a safe finish in Plymouth.

Fastnet update: 9 August 2013

Maj Saskia Hart takes over the narrative of the crew’s preparation for the Fastnet race, which starts on 11 August…

Today is ‘victualling and rationalising’ day, i.e. loading up with food and getting rid of excess baggage (and that’s just the crew).

Pastry wizard Maj Sam Shephard was dispatched to a nearby kitchen to bake Cornish pasties and coronation turkey with her able sous-chef Maj Leila Greene, while the independent Scottish contingent, Maj Lorna Craik, was tasked with the spinach and ricotta pasta bake.

Meanwhile, back on the boat, our ever-cunning skipper, Capt Lucie Allaway, watched with a beady eye while we emptied Redcoat of non-essential items. Out went our electric kettle, saucepans, pillows, the five-year-old box of sugar with the coffee-coated spoon embedded in it like Excalibur… Not to mention personal kit that would not be required: non-sailing shoes, jeans, large bottles of shampoo, seven tubes of toothpaste (one large one should last us the week) and towels (no opportunity to shower during the race!).

We also received a small pile of Royal British Legion parcels which contained T-shirts, polo shirts and a flag that would double up as a spinnaker (approximatey 6 by 4 metres). At least nobody will miss us!

Final shopping done, and off to Cowes to berth on Whisky pontoon in order to watch the end of Cowes Week fireworks.

Sam's yummy home-made pasties to keep up our morale!

Sam’s yummy home-made pasties to keep up our morale!

 

Update 7 August 2013

Update 6 August 2013

 

Fastnet update: 8 August 2013

Maj Heidi Spencer writes about the crew’s preparation for the Fastnet race, which starts on 11 August…

We enjoyed a more leisurely start this morning, and Emily cooked us some yummy sausage sandwiches because little wind was forecast first thing. Caz also mended some sails – there are always maintenance jobs to carry out!

We then headed out from Cowes and into the Solent to do some more spinnaker work, each time trying to get faster and more slick with out hoisting and dropping drills. Lucie was pleased with our performance, and we anchored up in Osborne Bay for a bit of lunch and a chance to discuss and plan our food menu and shopping for next week. Keeping our energy and hydration levels up will be key.

If there is no wind next week, we will have to use the anchor as a brake to reduce the effect of the tide pushing us backwards. Fingers crossed there will be wind – anchor drills are messy and laborious. As we nibbled on lunch, we could see in the distance a fleet of colourful racing spinnakers competing in Cowes week, reminding us that our own race is only three days away… Bring it on!

Update 7 August 2013

Update 6 August 2013

Enjoying the sunshine in the Solent – Lucie at the helm.

Enjoying the sunshine in the Solent – Lucie at the helm.

On the rail.

On the rail.

Alongside in Cowes – stickers on ready for the race!

Alongside in Cowes – stickers on ready for the race!

Fastnet update: 7 August 2013

Maj Heidi Spencer writes about the crew’s preparation for the Fastnet race, which starts on 11 August…

We slipped yesterday from Cowes at 0800 hrs and headed out into the Solent. There was very little wind, so we practised some light winds sail trim and spinnaker hoists and drops. In the afternoon, the British Forces Broadcasting Service (BFBS) and Soldier Magazine visited us in Cowes and interview the skipper Lucie and Leila, Saskia and Caz. We headed out with them into the Solent and they were really happy with the shots and footage they got from the rib kindly lent to us from Toe in the Water. BFBS will put their story out on Friday.

After a fun afternoon, we headed out for a crew meal in Cowes.

Update 6 August 2013

Motoring out of Cowes to start training

Motoring out of Cowes to start training

Spinnaker flying

Spinnaker flying

Leila on the spinnaker sheet

Leila on the spinnaker sheet

Lucie being interviewed by BFBS

Lucie being interviewed by BFBS

Fastnet update: 6 August 2013

Maj Heidi Spencer writes about the crew’s preparation for the Fastnet race, which starts on 11 August…

We awoke this morning to very little wind, so carried out some dry land training on sail trim. We then set off an immediately had to return to the pontoon as we had sprung another diesel leak! All very frustrating! After another call-out to the engineer, it was fixed and we were on our way.

This afternoon was spent on the Solent practising sail changes with all the sails on board, and putting in and shaking out reefs (to reduce the size of the main sail). We’ve now had some supper afloat and are just heading into Cowes before some more sail change practice in the dark… We hope the wind picks up tomorrow!

Heading up to Cowes

Heading up to Cowes

Saskia Hart and Caz Olive washing up

Saskia Hart and Caz Olive washing up

Skipper at the helm

Skipper at the helm

First Fastnet women-only Army team

Capt Lucie Allaway (seated), Maj Saskia Hart, WO2 Caz Olive, Maj Sam Shepherd, Capt Emily Williams, Maj Heidi Spencer, Maj Leila Green, Capt Lorna Craik

Capt Lucie Allaway (seated), Maj Saskia Hart, WO2 Caz Olive, Maj Sam Shepherd, Capt Emily Williams, Maj Heidi Spencer, Maj Leila Green, Capt Lorna Craik

The first women-only Army team to enter the prestigious Fastnet race is making its final preparations before the race start on Sunday.

In total, there are just three all-women teams taking part in the infamous 608-mile offshore race, where as many as 380 yachts from 22 countries will set sail from Cowes in a race to the Fastnet Rock off the coast of Ireland before returning via the Isles of Scilly and the finish line at Plymouth.

The race is notoriously dangerous and difficult to complete, with the all-female crew having the added challenge of not being as strong as some of the other teams, explains skipper Captain Lucie Allaway.

“The challenges of the race are similar for all the teams, indeed sailing is one of the few sports where men and women can compete on a level playing field,” she said.

“However, with so many females in the team it makes our average height 5’4” where normally you would have at least one six-foot man on board who can heave on ropes by himself to release anything that is caught where we have to work as team to overcome those kinds of challenges.”

Despite the challenges though, Lucie was determined to enter an all-female team.

“I’ve been sailing all my life but it was only last year at the Inter Service Regatta that I realised that while ten percent of the Army are women we don’t have a ten percent representation at competitive offshore racing. So, having done the Fastnet myself the previous year I was thinking of doing it again, and maybe skippering, so I thought why not do it with an all-female crew?

“It is challenging and nerve racking as I’ve never sailed this as a Skipper, let alone as leading the first all-women’s Army team, but it’s exciting too. Ultimately for the military teams taking part though it will come down to the weather. If we get heavier weather this boat will love it, but if we get lighter winds there are lighter boats that will do better.”

Just back from Afghanistan

Also keeping her eye on the elements is fellow team mate Captain Emily Williams who returned from Afghanistan four weeks ago.

Capt Emily Williams

Capt Emily Williams

“I’ve tried not to look into the dangerous parts people know about with this race, but it is difficult as it is a bit of the planet that has its own ideas about whether or not you should do well,” explains Emily, who agreed to take part in the challenge before she deployed to Afghanistan as a relatively inexperienced sailor.

“There is no one bit of the race that if we get passed it is going to make me think: we are OK now we on the way home. I will be more aware of the weather and the sea than anything else.”

Emily did as much training in the gym as she could for the race in Afghanistan and admits that while she would normally be on extended post tour leave, while she waits to start her next post, the opportunity to compete in the race was too good an opportunity to miss.

“It’s actually quite hard to come back from tour where you are working all the time to suddenly not working at all, so I would have given up my leave to do this even if it hadn’t been extended. It’s Fastnet! It’s not like doing two weeks training for qualification. It’s doing one of the biggest races in British sailing.”

The race starts from Cowes on Sunday August 11 and will be the 88th Fastnet.