“Let’s start with answering the obvious question, 'how was it'? It was fantastic! And different.
Compared to most other offshore races I’ve done there was another dimension, that I can’t really put my finger on. It might be the fantastic nature and animal life with whales and hundreds of dolphins. It might be the intense competition with some of the world’s best offshore racers. It might be the mix of legendary landmarks and teams that inspired me to go offshore when I was young. It might be the welcoming atmosphere both in Cowes and Plymouth that made us fit right in.
It doesn’t really matter what it was. All I know is that I was on an emotional high for 96 hours straight and that the team worked harder than ever. This is a race we should have done a long time ago.
I’ll write a separate article (in Swedish) on preparations, as I know of several Scandinavian crews who want to do Fastnet in 2017. This year there were eight Swedish boats, and all did very well. And I’d expect even more to come along in two years.
We decided to do the race in December 2014. The alternative was the J/111 Worlds in Newport, but none of us had done Fastnet (we all had it on our bucket list) so that would be the bigger challenge and demand more from the team.
It’s so much easier to focus on one major event, so all spring training, qualification races and even transport were designed as a build up. And looking back I wouldn’t want to do anything different.
Start (-4 days)
We arrived in Cowes a week before the race, and hade the boat ready-to-race when the crew arrived Wednesday. We spent two days sailing on the Solent from the start (at the correct time to match the current on Sunday) to the Needles to get a feel for the tide, and got to ask questions not even the locals had answers to. My take is that good homework beats local knowledge every time, and this would prove true in this case as well.
We also worked together with Aksel Magdahl on weather scenarios. We wanted to race as a team without any pros or local guys on board, but three of us worked together with Aksel to analyze the weather situation.
As Squid Sailing decided to give all their high-res models away for free to Fastnet competitors, we knew that everyone had good data. The big thing was to determine the impact of a low pressure and associated fronts over Ireland, and to manage a number of transitions; one at Plymouth on the way out and one at Scilly Isles.
Starting Line – Needles
Naturally, there’s a lot of drama in the morning. Check-in with the orange sails up, watching Spindrift and Comanche swosh by, cheering on other boats, and having old and new friends wishing loch from everything that floats. Chaos. But a friendly chaos…
We watched the IRC3 and IRC2 starts and it was obvious that the tide took it’s toll with many OCS in both classes. Good boats like Refanut and Courrier du Leon spent a long time under spinnaker trying to get back to restart.
We had decided to be conservative, and we were in good company. With 4 minutes to the gun most of the fleet was sailing eastward, away from the line to avoid being early. With 25 boat-lengths to the line we got going.
We were about a third up along the line from the squadron and lost out to the boats that were closer, but soon hit the favorable current along the southern shore. We traded tracks with Ker 40 Keronimo and some other seriously fast boats and managed to hang on to them for quite a while.
We worked the south side down towards with our navigator monitoring currents closely. As soon as we lost just 0.2 knots we tried to get back in maximum current again. Here our work earlier in the week paid of and we managed to find a good balance between currant and wind pressure.
Before the start, we decided on a number of boats we would monitor on AIS. This would help us keep our pace up but also serve as indicators of wind and current. Naturally, the J/111s were perfect, as all of them were in IRC2 that started 20 minutes before us. And as most of them went right we could see that they were considerably slower than us due to less current.
For a while we struggled, but decided to make one more tack in under a dark cloud in Newtown bay before changing sides to make the most out of the passage at Yarmouth and Hurst Castle.
After Hurst, we found that the strongest current was further south than expected and worked hard to stay with it. Most local boats, following ”common knowledge”, went hard right towards the Shingles and lost out. Super effort by our navigator, Patrik Måneskiöld, who nailed it.
The pay-off came at the Needles, where we were leading in IRC1. Absolutely amazing!!
This was one of the stages I worried about before the race, but in the past, we’ve proved we can win the trickiest stages in Denmark and the Stockholm archipelago without any local knowledge. But by doing our homework.
Needles – Start Point
As the wind lightened throughout the evening, our routing had us going south along with most of the fleet. But we wanted to be on the right side to be able to make the most of the northerly that was supposed to fill in during the night. A short port tack put us in a position with 20% of the boats to windward, which felt very good.
Looking back, we might as well continued south, but before the race we decided to be very conservative. We should stay with the fleet and not take any chances. We knew we had speed and trusted our ability to hang in there, even if we didn’t get 100% out of every opportunity.
And we got the proof early on when we passed the other J/111s. As they started 20 minutes before in IRC2 and we caught them in less than 3 hours of sailing. That was a boost for everyone on board. Afterwards we got good grades from the crew on British Soldier: ”You guys are really quick”.
During the night, the wind went further and further west, and the current took the fleet south.
We made progress towards west, but away from the expected northerly wind, so we decided to tack north again to meet the shift. One alternative would be to anchor, like First 40 La Reponse, to be in a good position, but we valued a position further west and kept sailing.
Looking at the track, it’s very similar to Courier du Leon, and it’s hard to see that we could have done it very different? At 19.00 we were within sight of each other. The screenshot shows us at 0200 just after the transition, and at 0600 in the morning we had extended our lead to 14nm.
After the northerly filled in we went to Code 0 and charged westwards. Here the fleet divided into a northerly group aiming to take advantage of the sea breeze in the morning and one southerly offshore group. Together with very experienced Grand Soleil 43 Quokka and La Reponse we lead a bunch of boats committing to the inshore route. We felt confident that those two boats and our routing all agreed on the same thing.
Start Point – Lizard
In the morning Quokka slowed down, then we and La Reponse. We though our positioning was ok, in front and to the right, but as others caught up they went even further north to avoid stopping. The process repeated itself as more and more boats came along, leaving us in a tough spot.
We managed to keep some speed, but still lost out to the group that went by on the inside. All the 14nm we had on Courier du Leon were gone.
When we finally got going, we went right, to be on the right side of the pack when the northerly wind came back.
When we got Internet access, the tracker showed us as 26th in IRC 1. Not fun after being in the lead, but still something to work with. Spirits were high and we sailed very aggressively up the coast towards Lizard Point.
And we timed the northerly wind perfectly, went to Code 0 and then A3 ten minutes later. We found a good line slightly east of the majority of boats that included both Alphalink and Xcentric Ripper. We had slightly more current against, but better pressure. So, we were able to catch the boats ahead, one by one. British Soldier opted for an offshore route that didn’t pay.
Lizard – Scilly
At Lizard Point, we went back to Code 0 and hit the corner and current (that now was with us) perfectly. Passed a bunch of boats and had great pace towards the TSS east of Scilly.
We knew we were hitting another transition with light winds, and we didn’t want to be caught on our own. We gave up some westerly distance to position ourselves ahead in a more conservative spot. Better safe than sorry…
It was a fantastic night. When I came on watch at midnight it was warm and we had hundreds of navigation lights astern. The lighthouse swept over a black sky filled with stars. We were the fastest boat in sight but didn’t make a sound as we left a long trail of glowing sea sparkles together with dolphins and schooling fish.
A magical show that gave way to a beautiful sunrise at the Scilly Isles.
Scilly – Fastnet
Looking at the results we were again in the lead. Apparently, we managed to crawl back from 26th to a 9th south of Fowey and then 6th at Lizard Point.
And now we could see both A13 Teasing Machine (committed to the south after Scilly) and Swan 45 K-Force (committing to the north).
Here’s the situation at 10.04 Tuesday morning. We wanted to be left of the pack to get the SW breeze first, but not invest too heavily as each port tack was wasted distance when the wind hit. Again, the strategy and positioning was very similar to Courrier du Leon:
At one point just after lunch we couldn’t hit our targets. We found kelp around the rudder, and after some investigation with the GoPro, around the keel as well.
We stopped the boat, and Simon Kindt did a wonderful dive to clear he keel. Pretty absurd thing to do in the middle of the Celtic Sea. And yes, it’s on film.
In the afternoon, the wind increased at forecasted. We went from Code 0 to J2 to one reef when the wind topped 20 knots during the night. We struggled with performance, and had a hard time pushing the boat. Here it was obvious we hadn’t trained in pitch black, fog and short waves. Also, some of the crew got seasick and we became somewhat passive for a few hours.
Fastnet – Scilly
When the morning broke, we could see Fastnet Rock through the fog. The rough conditions were exactly how we imagined the rounding, and it felt great to be able to tick the box.
This was a moment to remember for all of us. And a great achievement to be able to be here as 9th boat in a super competitive class.
I downloaded the latest weather that indicated that the low over Ireland would stay there and we would sail into less and less wind on the way to the finish. We decided to make the most of it and set out big ”whomper” A2 and went low in the stronger winds. We would have the opportunity to come back up in the lighter winds.
Fast and fun sailing when we passed boat after boat. We tried to do the most out of the conditions and peeled between A2, A3 and A5 to maximize our speed towards the TSS west of Scilly.
Unfortunately, we didn’t really do our homework on the TSS at Scilly Isles. We were so focused on hitting the SW corner that we didn’t really evaluate the option of going on the inside. It would have been faster to stay low and head up with the current close to the islands, but 80% of the boats stayed south so that might still have been the conservative choice?
We’ll put this aside as a beginners mistake. As this was our first race, it was hard to change perspectives. Going from the big picture, with many options, to managing each leg, and then back up again to re-evaluate is hard when everything is new. When the competition have done 10-15 races, they’ve seen (or even tried) most alternatives.
Scilly – Finish
Not very dramatic, but we still worked hard. Changed back and forth between A2 and A3 in the pitch-black night to make the most out of every change in conditions. At Lizard Point, we tried to find maximum current, but obviously the pay-off was much smaller this time.
In general, in 8-12 knots downwind we don’t really have an edge over other boats, but we stayed in contact with Farr 45 Nature and some other fast boats. After short gybe behind the breakwater in Plymouth we passed the finish line at 12:31:58.
Our goal was to finish Fastnet Race in the best way we could and get the most out of both the boat and the team. We were all new to the race, but wanted to do it without local knowledge or other expertise on board, as this would be more demanding (and maybe rewarding).
We had no expectations in regards to results, so to finish 6th in IRC1 which included over fifty of the best pro teams in Europe is absolutely marvelous. And to beat legends as Antix. Erivale and Hooligan really make our result something out of the ordinary.
Personally, I had three moments that defined our accomplishment:
- Leading IRC 1 at the Needles, after a tricky start we trusted our speed and homework and beat the rock-stars at their own game.
- Coming back from 26th place to lead again at the Scilly Isles. No negative vibes. Just focus, hard work and confidence in the team.
- Rounding the rock :-)
I’m especially proud of our team effort. Everyone worked harder than I’ve ever seen before and also helped each other reach a higher level. I’ve done more and more short-handed racing in the last few years, but when a crew perform at it’s full potential it’s magical.
Our watch schedule with two hours on, two hours stand-by and two hours off (three watches) let us push the boat hard and when fresh guys came up every two hours it really felt like a well oiled machinery.
Blur Sailing Team (top photo left to right): Peter Gustafsson (helm + skipper), Pelle Pedersen (helm), Mattias Bodlund (trim + mast), Andreas Turesson (trim + bow), Patrik Måneskiöld (navigator + trim), Mats Björk (keyboard), Simon Kindt (bow) and Magnus Hansson (helm).
The team also include David Johansson (bow). We usually race with nine, but IRC limited our crew to 8. David still did the race with SunFast 3600 La Primera, and has a big part in getting both them and us to Cowes and around the rock.
A big thank you to our partners. Without you we wouldn’t be able to perform: GVA, Henri Lloyd, North Sails, Liros, Spinlock, 24Hour Meal and Happy Yachting.
I’d also like to thank RORC and all local sailors that welcomed us with open arms, helped us in every way and hosted some great parties.” Sailing photo credits- ROLEX/ Kurt Arrigo. Rounding Fastnet Rock YouTube sailing video. For more J/111 BLUR sailing experiences please click here. For more Rolex Fastnet Race sailing information