So I’m currently sitting in Hong Kong as I write this, after completing the Sevenstar RBI Race just over a month ago… It’s pretty strange looking back over my first big offshore race, and just how far I have come in these last few months, and to say I’m proud would be an understatement.
Over the last few years, perhaps even as close as a few months ago, I was so lacking in confidence, I was full of doubt, anxiety and emotions, so much so, that it looked like this whole big dream of mine might not even be possible, so deciding to take on the Round Britain and Ireland Race was a pretty bold decision for my Team and I to make considering my offshore racing experience was pretty limited, and of course the reputation of the race itself.
With just 2 weeks of preparation time to go and thanks to the generosity of several sponsors, we managed to secure a very nice Pogo S3 Class 40; Region Normandie, that would get us to the start-line, and that was that- we were going to make this happen!
The run up to the race can only really be described as manic, as I myself was racing Lendy Cowes week onboard Nifty, and 2 of my crew were also racing, so time was something that we were severely lacking. We also had very limited time with the boat, so little in fact, that the only sailing we had managed to do with her was the delivery to Hamble from Cherbourg, but thankfully Hannah Stodel Racing has some incredible supporters and team members, who pulled everything together.
As start day approached, I would be lying if I said I was anything other than terrified, nervous and incredibly emotional. We had breakfast with our parents and then pushed out into the Solent with them all onboard a chase rib to see us off.
Our start wasn’t the best, as with 2 minutes to go we snapped our staysail halyard (meaning we couldn’t hoist our smaller jib or even our storm jib should we need it later in the race). It was a bit of a blow, but thanks to some quick thinking from Quentin on the bow, and some epically quick teamwork, Quentin was up the mast and locking the halyard in place which at least meant we could use the jib should we need it, however in the mean time as we’d slowed down to make the repairs, we’d had to watch the rest of the Class 40 fleet, as well as many of the others punching out to the East as they made their way around the Isle of Wight to start the 1802 nautical miles of the RBI.
Settling into the routine of the brutal watch system took a bit of doing, as your body just isn’t used to the constant movement of the boat, as well as only sleeping for around 4 hours at a time if you’re lucky!
Our strategy was simply to sail safely and not push too hard- after all, this was a crew with limited time together to train and prepare, and a renowned tricky offshore race. The aims for the race were quite literally to just get around with the mast in the air and the keel still attached, but perhaps this approach was naive and maybe over zealous, but as the days passed, and we watched boats drop out, I for one was feeling more confident in sticking to the original plan.
Leaving Ireland to head up towards Scotland, we were sitting in an awesome little pack of boats, at times so close you could wave, enjoy and laugh at each others mess ups and activities. There was one incident when we were having a spinnaker mess up at exactly the same time as British Soldier, so at least we were in good company!
By the time were heading to the Hebrides, we’d lost the ability to download data as we were so far offshore our lovely Fuse box wasn’t working, and the sat comms were intermittent at best- although thanks to YB tracker at least our family could see that were still moving in the right direction!! A quick radio to Ross onboard Scarlet Oyster got us some weather data, and it was nice to hear a friendly voice and discuss the many issues we were having onboard Region Normandie, not limited to severe electrical problems and water ingress- so thank you Ross for being to voice of reassurance.
I don’t think I’d fully appreciated just how far Muckle Flugga (the most northern point of Scotland) is from the actual top of Scotland, and it was probably one of the hardest moments of the race, although we were lucky to round in some daylight, but with the weather deteriorating, we really didn’t see that much. With sustained winds of upwards of 40-45 knots across the deck, and a top end of 52 knots, we were fighting the boat all the way around the top of the course, and telling ourselves that once we got round things would calm down a bit- but we couldn’t have been more wrong! With fatigue setting in, we had to change the watch system to 1 hour on deck rotating between the four of us with none of us getting out of our kit so we could all be ready to dive on deck should we need it. Luckily the brutality was eased somewhat by the singing from Tim and Quentin- and thank you to everyone that suggested they should go on the X Factor, hopefully LA will be in touch shortly with their recording contracts!
A further 24 hours after rounding and the horrendous slog of sailing a class 40 upwind had eased, and we were finally heading towards home!
The North sea was fairly uneventful for us in terms of the sailing, aside from hitting a USO in the middle of the night- I can tell you I’ve never got out of bed, dressed so quickly and got on the deck in such a rapid fashion!
We actually had 2 days of flat calm, which in reality was a welcome respite and a chance for us to get the boat and ourselves back to a reasonable state, because after Scotland, down below deck looked like a scene from Apocolypse Now…
The wildlife in the North sea was simply amazing, we saw whales, dolphins and we even had a visit from “Barry” the bird who stayed with us for 6 hours.
The East coast is littered with wind farms and oil rigs, so dodging them and keeping enough clearance became our obsession for a few days, and finally Ramsgate came into view and our phones started pinging with messages and updates!
The last few days were tough as we all just wanted to get home after a brutal race of mostly upwind in a boat designed to be sailed downwind!
Sailing into the Solent as the sunset was quite magical and having our team join us on Wetwheels for the final stretch was really comforting, even more so as we had no power left in the boat, no engine and no lights- thank goodness for my obsessive nature, our wonderful Exposure torches, spare batteries galore and emergency navigation lights!
Crossing the finish line, I swore to never go offshore racing again and wanted nothing more than to be off the boat and in a non moving warm bed, so being welcomed in by the amazing RORC race team and most of our friends and family was quite simply awesome.
The race was everything and nothing like I expected; brutal, magical, horrendous, rewarding and a full spectrum of emotions. Looking back now I am so proud of what my Team and I achieved in just completing the race at all.
There are so many people who deserve more than just thank you, but for now:
To all our sponsors CMS, Helly Hansen, Fuse Telecom, Marlow Ropes, Pegasus Dekmarx, Learning and Skills Solutions, Imray, Exposure Lights, Elvstrom Sails, Oonagh Werngren and Colne Yacht Club, and everyone who donated to our GoFundMe page. Quite simply without your investment and support in Team HSR, we would not have been able to compete in the race, so we are forever grateful!
To my incredible, patient, supportive, hardworking and brilliant #teambts: Adriana Wright for keeping me on point, on message and happy, and for cracking out some awesome media work! Hannah Evans or H2 as she’s known for keeping me on time, organised, fed, cuddled, and for keeping #HSR running!! Jennie Child and Katie Keam-George for giving up so much time to get me packed and loaded for the race, the amazing crew of Nifty for all their support, mast climbing, rib rides, laptop fixing, an amazing Cowes week experience and so much more, and finally the one and only Alex Newton, the voice of reason, my biggest support, the one who took all my stress and tried to relieve the anxiety, who kept the boat together, and repaired everything from electrics to sails, the hours you did in the run up to the race were nothing short of epic, and you got us to the start line!
To all our family and supporters and the people that messaged us and tracker stalked us all the way around, you guys were amazing, and it was nice to hear all the kind words on the tough days!
Finally to my incredibly talented and skilled crew Tim Atkins, Quentin Bes-Green, and Will Rogers; you guys were amazing, patient, kind and what we achieved was awesome and you should all be really proud!
So for me its onto the next steps, and no, I am not quitting offshore racing, quite the opposite. Racing the Sevenstar RBI has made me believe even more in myself and I couldn’t be more proud to have finished it.
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