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Fastnet Reflections

By Kate Stewart - August 2nd, 2023 | Posted in Voyager blogs No comments

TSYT entered three Challenger yachts into the Rolex Fastnet Race 2023.

One was crewed by young people, who had previously sailed with us and been recommended to return as a Watch Leader.

Check out the blog below written by the youth crew as they look back on the Challenging race.

Youth crew reflection

Well what can I say… It was an interesting challenge! It still feels slightly surreal to have completed the infamous Rolex Fastnet Race.

It was a rather damp race. So wet, we created a scale of five wetness levels ranging from moist, damp, soggy, wet and soaking. Most commonly, soggy was the general consensus. We had several lifejackets go off because of the rough waters and heavy rain. Going to the bow, was like going down a log flume, it was so wet.

The overall race experience was good, but it was certainly rough and unrelenting to start with. On board, you’re reminded of how small you are at sea, and how unmerciful the waves can be. However, once things calmed down and we got going as a team, the atmosphere was absolutely amazing.

Sue was our Challenger’s Michelin star chef. Cooking when no one else was able to. Al renamed ginger nuts to soggy nuts and cross contaminated all the other biscuits with the taste of ginger. AHHH!

The start line was hairy with two near collisions, but we were kept safe with James and his whistle. SAIL COURSE!!! A yoga session was held by Sophie on deck when all the wind died. According to those who partook in the yoga, it was very successful. We had a great view of the Fastnet Rock as we rounded it at 01:00. Just a white light getting closer and spinning, and then being rapidly left behind.

There were so many May Days over the VHF radio and we finally understood what we were battling through and still kept going. A low point was when everyone was getting seasick and there wasn’t enough buckets to keep up with demand.

A definite highlight was seeing Alice helming the vessel over the finish line after nearly 900 nautical miles of sailing, sick and rain. It was Robs 21st birthday on board and he was finally feeling well enough to manage to eat some of his mother’s fruitcake that she baked and sent him down with.

We would never have gotten this far if not for Sue, Sophie and Martha’s sailing experience and encouragement, keeping us all going without feeling down. We would like to thank Challenger 2 and their amazing crew for their support and fundraising to make this opportunity possible for us.

We talked about sacrificing various objects to Poseidon for better weather. There was a competition for the top boat speed and there were arguments over the different ways of measuring speed. The top speed was attained by Sophie, with a very fast 14.5 knots.

Challenger 2 also paid for a very nice crew meal for us, and we are so appreciative for everything they have done for us.

As soon as we rounded the rock, we started gaining on Ricky and his crew on Challenger 3.

The final stretch from the Scillies to Cherbourg felt like it was dragging on forever and we were very, very happy when we crossed the line and were able to go straight into the marina. Seeing the boats in the mist around us on the way back was very good.

We made a song about the Fastnet called the 10 days of Fastnet; here’s how it went:

On the tenth day of Fastnet, Poseidon gave to me:

10 soaking foulies

9 crawling crew

8  waves are breaking

7  sail changes

6 dolphins dashing

5 sick buckets

4 broken plates

3 lost welly boots

2 wonky heads

And a very very very damp crew!​

Skipper Sue's thoughts

Fastnet 2023 – the gift that kept on giving! 

I’ve completed seven Fastnet Race campaigns since 2011 and the 2023 Fastnet was my most challenging – and epic – to date. According to Deb Fish, Rear Commodore of RORC and co-skipper of the double-handed Bellino, the conditions were the most challenging that she had encountered in all her nine previous Fastnet Races.  

A truly brutal first night 

Met Office inshore waters forecast and strong wind warnings for coastal areas up to 12 miles offshore for the period 1200(UTC) on Saturday 22 July to 1200(UTC) on Sunday 23 July 2023 

Selsey Bill to Lyme Regis

Wind: Southwesterly 5 to 7, occasionally gale 8

Sea state: Moderate becoming rough

Weather: Rain or showers

Visibility: Good, becoming moderate or poor

 How do you prepare 12 young people for what you know is going to be a proper beasting without actually scaring them? What does a SW 5-7 look like when you are beating into it at 8 knots with a couple of knots of tide behind you?  

That first night we saw highest gusts of 48 knots, three sick buckets were in constant rotation and everyone was soaked to the skin. The pre-prepared Goulash sat secured and untasted on the hob and, discretion being the better part of valour, we ducked into Weymouth Bay and hove to for an hour to draw breath and regroup. We lost hard won miles as the tide drifted us east, but gained critically-needed rest and respite.  

24 hours’ plain sailing, then everything…or nothing…or everything 

Sunday dawned breezy and cloudy, but mercifully dry. Goulash for breakfast was welcomed by all those capable of eating, those still on ‘green watch’ slowly nibbled ginger nuts and forced themselves to re-hydrate. After a couple of off-watches huddled under three sleeping bags in an attempt to use body heat to dry out wet thermals, the Skipper was merely damp and feeling good. Irish Sea – bring it on! 

It did. The breeze built to 30+ knots of northerly as we cleared Land’s End and dropped back down again, backing into the west, resulting in multiple changes to the sail plan that put the crew thoroughly through their paces. Who knew that you could practise your wild swimming technique on the foredeck of a 22m yacht? We experienced our only sunny day,  very welcome but sadly flat calm, and played ‘hit the apple core’ on the low side as we attempted to induce heel to reduce friction. We ‘rounded the rock’ in darkness (and rain) – does it really exist or is a dolphin with a big torch playing mind games with us? – and headed for home. 

 With one last burst of meteorological spite, the weather gods gave us strong southwesterlies accompanied by showers, drizzle and more prolonged periods of rain, but failed to subdue the spirits, singing or camaraderie of the crew as we approached the finish line. Cherbourg welcomed us warmly and we celebrated in style with our victorious Challenger 2 fundraisers. 

I am so proud of the whole crew and all that we achieved in the 50th edition of the Fastnet. The sail back to Portsmouth in the sunshine with a benevolent breeze proved just how much they had learnt, and how much they had grown as a crew during our five-day ‘trial by water’. It was with a lot of emotion that we tied up, packed away and said au revoir to each other, and to Challenger 4. 

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