Cruising

Colin’s account of the ‘Round The Island Race’ May 4th 2014

Rice Pudding set off for the Isle of Mann on Friday afternoon, with skipper Norman supported by willing and enthusiastic crew, Roger and Colin. Norman’s daughter Liz would join us in Ramsey on Saturday afternoon.
We arrived in Ramsey at 11pm Friday after a pleasant motor sail in company and were ensconced in the Trafalgar with John and Jack Broadhead by 11.15. Later, it was back to Rice Pudding to celebrate John’s birthday until the early hours.
As usual, the Ramsey cruising club was amazingly hospitable. Berthing was free of charge. Free food and beer was offered on the Saturday evening, including a steak and sausage barbeque. Even though the race ended around 2.30am on the Monday morning, the bar was still open and free chilli con carne and snacks were available until 4am.
In preparation for the race, Liz made a large pot of vegetable and barley soup and I made a large quantity of cheese sandwiches. The race started at 2.30pm on the Sunday and ran counter clockwise around the island. If the Isle of Mann were a clock, then Ramsey would be at 2 o’clock, the Point of Ayre at 12 o’clock, Contrary Head and Peel at 9 o’clock, the Calf of Mann and Chicken Rock light house at 6 o’clock, Langness Point is at 5 o’clock, Douglas at 3 o’clock. Maughold Head is two miles from Ramsey, just before 2 o’clock.
As usual, the main question was which part of Rice Pudding would fall off during the race. Four years ago the mast came down. Three years ago, the jib sheets came loose on a lee shore off The Calf and started to slide through the cringles when attempting to bear away. Two years ago, the main sheet detached from the boom on a lee shore off the Point of Ayre and last year, the rudder came loose at the start and running repairs were being made as we crossed the start line.
10 minute before the start, there was a strong southerly blowing across the line and we were steaming up and down practising tacking. As we approached the line the wind completely disappeared and we spent the next 15 minutes trying to go out to sea to escape a wind shadow. Eventually, we found wind and headed north towards the Point of Ayre, passing John and Jack on the way. As planned, due to demands of work, John and Jack retired and sailed back to Glasson.
The Point of Ayre is interesting, because of the presence of overfalls, which lead to a pattern of one-metre-high standing waves. Three years ago we mistakenly entered the overfalls and it took about 15 minutes to turn the boat, because each time we tacked, a wave would push us back. This year, we followed the accepted wisdom and avoided the overfalls by sailing within 20 metres of the shore. As usual, there was a large crowd of sightseers on the beach.
XC weather had predicted a southerly 6-7, so as expected, once around The Point, we began to beat against the wind, with one reef. As usual at this stage of the race, Norman went to his bunk, so while he was not looking, we shook out the reef. It was interesting that the waves on the starboard tack were much stronger than those on the port tack. Since we were sailing at the same angle to the wind on both tacks, we expected that the angle of the waves would be the same. After much discussion, it was agreed that there must be a diffraction pattern of waves due to reflections from headlands, which when added to the unimpeded wave direction caused the waves to be no longer parallel to the wind.
Somewhere off Contrary Head, Roger noticed that an aluminium tube had fallen off the hull and the port-hand sponson was in danger of collapse. For some reason, this prompted Norman to pop his head into the cockpit. After a brief discussion, it was agreed that the solution was to attach a line across a diagonal of the trampoline and tighten it with a winch. The hypotenuse was duly installed after Roger gamely crawled onto the trampoline amongst breaking waves. Norman duly went back to bed.
As the wind strength increased, a Sigma 33 on a starboard tack approached from a seaward direction. Since we were on a port tack, there was much discussion about whether or not we would collide. Eventually it was agreed that collision was imminent, so I decided to steer astern of her. As I pulled the tiller to port, Rice Pudding first started slightly to starboard and then decided to turn no further. With hindsight, I should have released the main, but with only 10 metres to go before a collision, I put in an emergency tack, which put us into irons and lost us a few minutes of valuable time. The wind increased to a 9 and since I could barely steer, we reluctantly decided to reef; first one reef and then a second.
Onward towards Chicken Rock and my turn off watch.
Back on the helm as we approached the Calf, it was beginning to go dark, so I decided to clip on a safety harness. It was pitch black and apart from the foaming waves, all I could see was the ghostly light of Chicken Rock lighthouse and some amazing flashes of phosphorescence on the trampoline. The aim was to steer between the Calf on the port side and the lighthouse on the starboard side. Since it was a lee shore, the safe option was to steer as close as possible to the lighthouse. Spray prevented me from seeing the chart plotter, so I simply called out at intervals to check that we were not approaching the rocks. ‘Steer more to starboard! Shouted Norman’ I can’t because we are already close hauled. Are we safe? ‘Yes’. ‘Steer more to starboard!’ I can’t because we are already close hauled. Are we safe? ‘Yes’. ‘Steer more to starboard!’ I can’t because we are already close hauled. Are we safe? ‘No, we’d better tack’.
After changing tack for 15 minutes, we were back on course and could see Langness Point in the distance. Liz now took the helm and we started to chase a distant stern light. After a couple of fluffed tacks at Langness Point, we started on the home stretch, with the wind behind us and Roger on the helm. My turn for a snooze.
Back on watch as we passed Douglas and a clear indication that we were catching the stern light. Eventually we caught her just before Maughold Head, at which point Norman took the helm, fearful of the catabatic winds that dismasted us four years ago and almost turned us into a submarine last year. When the inevitable gust hit, Norman called for a reef, so Liz and I dutifully began to obey, but slowly. ‘Yes Norman, but we first need to free the winch holding the hypotenuse.’ ‘Yes Norman, we are getting there. Yes Norman we are just about ready.’ By this time, the gust had passed and for the final two miles, we were sailing along at a nice speed. About a quarter of a mile before the finish line, the wind dropped to virtually nothing and we were frantically trying to catch zephyrs to cross the line. Eventually a horn was sounded at 2.30am, exactly 12 hours after the start.
Eating chilli and enjoying a beer in the club house, the skipper of the Sigma 33 (Polished Manx) wondered what had happened during our meeting off Contrary Head. It was his stern light that we had eventually caught at Maughold Head. Whereas the crew of Rice Pudding went to bed at 4am, amazingly, Polished Manx sailed back to Douglas, with his wife and two teenagers as crew.
As the crow flies, the race is approximately 70 miles long, but with tacking and other manoeuvres, Norman’s log read 90 miles. We recorded the second-fastest time, won the multi-hull cup and for reasons we didn’t quite understand, were awarded a cup ‘for endeavour.’
The aluminium tube had fallen off, because 6 rivets had failed. Inspection of the starboard-hand strut revealed that 3 rivets on that side had also failed. When making repairs to Rice Pudding, tools and advice were freely available from Ramsey sailing club. Despite much help and an island-wide search, suitable rivets could not be located, so we added a diagonal to the starboard sponson before sailing back to Glasson the following Thursday. Thanks to Dave Gill, we were able to sail directly onto Rice Pudding’s trailer and were back on the boat park by 7pm.