Tuesday, 28 August 2007

Best navigator Fastnet 2007


winning the
for outstanding racing achievement by a yacht owned or sailed by a RORC member
as voted for by the RORC Main Committee. In recognition of winning the Rolex Fastnet Race,
and second place in IRC in the HSH Nordbank Blue Transatlantic Race 2007
CHIEFTAIN, (Cookson 50) Ger O’Rourke

Navigator/Tactician Jochem Visser wins Afred Loomis trophy for best navigator in the fastnet 2007

A picture speaks a thousand words.................

Tuesday, 21 August 2007

How the Fastnet was won

When I started to look at the first weather routing options on Thursday, before the start of the Fastnet, we were still on the entry waiting list. However owner Ger O'Rourke is one of those people who never ever gives up (a quality I highly admire in him) and was relentlessly pushing the crew and RORC to find some way to enter the race. The good news came on Friday and luckily the boat was already prepared and the crew was ready to go.

Whilst doing my first routing, based on several weather models, I realized that the two stage passage of the fronts with 35-40 knots of breeze and related shifts seem to match perfectly with our routing animation, reaching each key part of the course at the right time, matching the tidal gates as well. As we came closer to the start the newer forecasts seemed to delay the second front with 60-70 degree right hand shift, which meant we would reach the Rock too quickly to benefit from this shift. When RORC decided to delay the start for 25 hours suddenly it all started to look more promising. With plenty of wind forecasted it looked like it would become a "classic" Fastnet.

Starting in a breeze of 16-20 knots and in a west going tide it was important to play the tides coming out of the Solent and use the compressed currents of the Shingles bank to "propel" us out past the Needles. With all six independent weather models predicting an early left hand shift we took the unusual option to stay on Starboard tack on the short leg of a long 180 mile beat to Lands End. This worried us all, as progress on this tack towards Portland Bill and Star point, with their imminent tidal gates was slow. As the shift didn't seem to arrive in time, I decided to tack earlier rather than wait for the shift, to ensure we would make enough progress towards the west to make the Star point tidal gate. Within hours after the tack we slowly got lifted onto a perfect lay-line to Star point.

As predicted, in the first night the wind went further left and quickly increased to 35 knots. Taking its toll as a big part of the fleet retired that night. We managed well with two reefs and the No 4 up. Chieftain is a well traveled boat and has raced many miles. This is one of the key factors of her success as the boat has been well tested and excellently maintained by boat captain Mark Tighe. Coming up to the Lizard, in the early hours of Tuesday morning I had a bit of a shock when I realized, after a short nap, that we had made virtually no progress. After investigation I found out that the active GPS antenna had shorted and brought down the GPS with it. The handheld GPS gave up the ghost as well. Luckily I had brought my wrist GPS as well as a very battery hungry handheld plotter. Therefore, navigating the remainder of the race primarily on dead-reckoning and an occasional fix to save batteries.

At Lands end the wind dropped to a mere 6 knots, far less than I expected, and became worried about our timing to the Rock. A late arrival would mean a beat to the Rock as the front would move over. The crew pressed very hard on this fetch and with the wind returning to 20-25 knots all looked OK. Getting headed just 5 miles before the Rock we gently tacked and got lifted perfectly to round the Fastnet with the breeze now behind us. A short run to the Panteanius buoy followed by a perfect reach to the Scillies in an increasing breeze of 25 - 35 knots. In this stuff Chieftain excels as she is one of the most controllable boats I have ever driven downwind. With a high 5 metre swell still coming in from the Southwest it wasn't an easy ride though. A bit like trying to take speed-bumps with your car at 70mph!!. With speeds ranging between 18 and 26 knots, we quickly climbed the handicap ranking. This was further helped by the fact that we managed to keep up with the front where the breeze was more headed than for our opponents.

The jibtop reach from the Scillies to the finish was quite straightforward. With speeds still regularly over 20 knots you realize how great it is to sail a canting keel boat. In my 20 years as a professional sailor I feel a canting keel is by far the best investment per knot you can get. Especially if you look at the money we have had to spend in the last decade on carbon masts, rudders and other high tech gear which each gave us a few tenths of a knot more of boatspeed! For those sceptics, I can only recommend one remedy: sail one and you will be cured.

Coming over the finish, a typical Irish celebration started which lasted far longer than my Dutch body could cope with. Ger O'Rourke and his crew can be proud. It is their dedication and commitment way beyond what the ordinary sportsman is willing to put in which has made this campaign so successful over the last few years.

Jochem Visser
Tactician & Navigator Chieftain