The Cervantes Trophy Race

Dom Bulfin, Associate

Last week, the crew of “Hair of the Dog” took part in their first long distance race of the season – the Cervantes Trophy Race.

The Cervantes Trophy Race is the first long-distance race for many of the crews taking part in the Royal Ocean Race Club (RORC) series and sees crews embark on a 160 mile race from Cowes to Le Havre.

Conditions ahead of the race looked favourable (if a little punchy) for us, with a Northerly breeze of 20-30 knots forecast, and we were looking forward to a long downwind race where we could flex our muscle with the asymmetric – Hair of the Dog enjoys sailing downwind far more than she does going upwind.

Kicking off from Cowes at 0900hrs we had a clean start and headed east along the Solent following a similar route to the Nab Tower race from a few weeks back. We held our own for much of this period keeping towards the head of the fleet, and overtaking several boats. The course then led us across the south coast, most of the way to Brighton, before heading south on a long 77 mile downwind leg towards Le Havre.

With winds gusting above 30 knots and a rough sea state, we hoisted our spinnaker and enjoyed good speed for several hours as we started our Channel crossing. With many boats, including ourselves, broaching regularly, we knew it would be a challenging sail, but if we could hold our nerve, we knew we could make the down wind mark near the top of the fleet.

As evening drew in we moved to our watch system – 2 crew members, 4 hours on, 4 hours off.

Only seconds into my first rest period the boat was thrown into another broach as the conditions proved challenging to control the kite, however this one was different, and after a minute or two we were still pinned down, seemingly unable to regain control.

We quickly put our foul weather and safety gear back on and headed to the cockpit only to find that our tack line – attaching the spinnaker to the bow of the boat, had broken, leaving our spinnaker flying uncontrollably and still under power about 20ft in the air, pinning the boat on its side as we were dragged sideways down wind.

Realising our options for recovery were limited, our skipper took the quick decision to cut the lines and release the spinnaker, this put the boat back under control, but left us with a spinnaker now flailing 40ft in the air from the top of the mast.

Noting that its halyard had now jammed, we had cut that too and ditch the spinnaker in the sea where we were fortunately able to recover it with relative ease by its sheets.

The incident left everyone slightly shaken, but grateful that it happened during daylight hours rather than the middle of the night. Looking around we could see a number of other boats still broaching and several with torn spinnakers so we decided to weather this squall under genoa and wait for more favourable spinnaker conditions.

It wasn’t long until the collateral damage emerged too – the flailing spinnaker had taken out a number of our instruments which were mounted to the top of the mast, so we entered the night with out any wind instrumentation – we would have to sail in the dark the old fashioned way!

A short while later we decided that the worst of the breeze had passed through so we set up the spinnaker on its auxiliary rig and sailed under spinnaker for the remaining daylight hours. Given what had happened earlier, we thought it best to play it safe through the night and sail under a genoa only – a decision which ultimately did little damage by way of boat speed, but did affect our heading slightly which cost us time in the long run.

After a long 77 miles downwind, we rounded the leeward mark at around 1am, and started a long 23 mile upwind leg to the final windward mark before we could head back downwind and into Le Havre.

Some 24 hours after we left Cowes we arrived in Le Havre, tired, battered and somewhat relieved to have made it, but still in good spirits knowing we had given a good go of the race – particularly as news of the retirement of about a quarter of the fleet started to come through.

Wearied, we headed to the prize giving ceremony to learn that we had finished a solid 10th out of 37 vessels in class. Whilst we were slightly disappointed to have lost the tails of a couple of boats through the night, we also take a lot of positivity out of the fact that only an hour on the water separated the 5 places above us and with the conditions as they were, finishing itself was an achievement and a reassurance that we are heading in the right direction as we approach the Fastnet Race in August.

The crew had a couple of hours of down time before setting off on the 21 hour sail back home. After 45 hours and 270 miles of sailing, I don’t think I have ever been so grateful to sleep in my own bed!

If you want to keep up to date with my exploits on the water then please do follow me on Twitter at @BulfinDominic, or you can find me on LinkedIn.  The conditions on this race weren’t great for photography, but there are a couple of snaps from the weekend on my Twitter page.

Next time – Hair of the Dog enters “The Myth of Malham Race” – a 256 mile race from Cowes to Eddystone Lighthouse and back, in the crew’s second real test of endurance. Find out how we get on in my next article.