We were given a quick tour of Robert's boat, a British Hunter Mystery 35, and we were quite impressed. It was a bit different to the boats we had previously been on with much more of a traditional feel. It is quite a slender design which Robert assured us was fast through the water.
The next morning it was up a 7am to start preparation for the race start at 8.30am. Chris Freeman arrived soon after and we were off out into the Solent. On the way out we passed 2 more rather impressive vessels Alex Thomson's Hugo Boss and Pindar.
The idea was that we would have plenty of time to get familiar with the basics. Robert and Caroline already had a plan for the race. Once we were out in open water we had breakfast of bacon and mushroom butties and a mug of tea. The start all seemed a bit of a blur, to us novices anyway. With the wind variable at 4-8 knots from the north west the spinnaker was soon up as we headed towards Bembridge Ledge. Two or three of the eight participating boats had a somewhat different strategy from the start. Initially there were concerns that we had omitted a mark as those boats headed out east. All too soon their strategy became clear as the outgoing tide swept Gilkin and Get Cool into a lead. There was some head scratching as the tidal charts didn't seem to suggest that there would be an advantage in taking such a route. In the meantime I was in charge of feathering the spinnaker to get the optimum performance out of the sail.
After Bembridge Ledge it was off to West Princessa. The change in course dictating the lowering of the spinnaker and the hoisting of the cruising shute. After a little while Robert and Caroline determined that the cruising shute wasn't giving an advantage and it was back to 'white sails'. After some pronounced zigzagging behind us the faster Jambo finally passed us and pulled away. We passed Caroline's sister Hilary and her husband Mike on Champers who were having a cruise to Poole.
As we passed Sandown and Shanklin the winds seemed particularly problematic for us as boats in front seemed to pull further away and others behind seemed to be catching, Pell Mell in particular coming up behind. Finally as we approached Dunnose Point on a starboard tack the winds seemed to favour us. To help things us crew were invited to sit out on the rail to help flatten the boat, this also seemed to give an improvement and Robert pronounced that Aragorn felt much better with us out there. We were glad to be of some assistance. We kept on the starboard tack for quite a time after the others had tacked. It was only after we we some 4-5 miles off St Catherine's point that we tacked ourselves and us crew were allowed to sit on the sunny side of the boat. Robert was a hard task master but it was to pay off in the end.We were on this same port tack for some 4 hours so there wasn't a great deal for us crew to do. We had a lunch of pasties with brown sauce and quiche (for Wendy) and a few mugs of tea. Tea making takes on a new dimension when healed over. Some of us had the odd 40 winks (39) and all of us got wet bottoms as the wind rose to 13 knots (true). The course seemed to work out perfectly as the tide took us to the north.
Eventually the wreck buoy was spotted ahead and then beyond it the finish point at the Southhook cardinal buoy. By now we were second on the water with only the fast Jambo ahead of us. Robert felt we were likely in fourth after the handicaps were applied.
We sailed up the north channel into our berth at the Parkstone Marina. We tidied up the sheets, got the mainsail properly flaked and covered, and cleaned up Aragorn. As we enjoyed a cool glass of Chardonnay we waved to the crew of the arriving yachts.
As the glasses were quaffed discussions over tactics took place. It turned out that the more westerly route from the start was likely based on a false premise though one that proved to be a success.
After a hot shower we arrived clean and refreshed for dinner at 8pm. It was very good value at £10 for a carvery main course, crumble dessert and coffee. After the main course the results were announced by organiser John Kirby. We all held our breath. After all Robert's concern we very happy to hear that Aragorn finished second once handicaps were applied, although we as novices had made only a small contribution we felt very proud to be part of a successful team.
It was to be an early start the next morning as the window for the tides at Hurst Point closed at 10am, until 2pm. So after a night cap it was off to hit the sleeping bag. Hilary and Mike very kindly put us up on Champers so we enjoyed our own cabin that night. Wendy's alarm went off a full hour early on Sunday morning at 4.55am! Eventually we arose at the appointed time of 5.55am to get underway. Champers and Aragorn were joined by Pell Mell for this early departure.It was a lovely morning though without much wind so it was really a case of motoring back up the Solent to Gosport.
Many thanks to Caroline and Robert for a most enjoyable weekend and great introduction to racing. Also to Chris (great cake) and Hilary and Mike for the luxury accommodation (sorry about the early alarm). We can't wait to do it again.