PNW Sailors Continue to Enjoy Learning and Racing Among European Competition

The busy start of IRC 2 at the De Guingand Bowl.

May 2023 found us all back in Hamble, exactly one year after meeting Red Ruby for the first time in the same city. That weekend, Chris and I would be racing in the RORC De Guingand Bowl — the opening race of the UK Doublehanded Offshore Series (UKDHOS) — for the second time.

Since it was only Tuesday, the first order of business was a sail with Rory Maclean, our sailmaker from Quantum, to try out four new sails. The weather was perfect for sail testing with winds in the Solent ranging from 10-20 knots. For us, it was fantastic to be back with Red Ruby after 8 months away. Red Ruby has had roughly 2,000 miles of adventures in the Med and France, under Jonathan and Alyosha’s care; including three deliveries, two truck transports, and then a nail biter at the end. The delivery of Red Ruby from Brittany in April was delayed due to 45 knots of wind in the English Channel. The delay caused us to reach out to a delivery skipper, who then got sick before departing. We had a one-month window to get Red Ruby to Hamble, and she ended up arriving only three days before us!

Condensing a preparation process that Jonathan, Alyosha, Chris, and I were all familiar with over longer stretches of time with our boats in the Pacific Northwest, we spent the remainder of the week with an aggressive list of tests meant to help us all understand how to make Red Ruby go a little quicker. Afterall, we had spent very few days actually sailing the boat over the last year. We worked on rig tune, rudder toe-in settings, batten tension, mainsheet traveler settings, in-hauler placement, sail crossovers, wind and boat speed calibration, jibing practice, tacking practice, spinnaker peels, and code zero to spinnaker peels. Basically, we tested and practiced just about everything we could think of over a jam-packed four days. We also tested a super-secret sail that, while neither unique nor extreme, will be very interesting in the right conditions. More on that after we actually use it in a race.

A highlight of the week were dinners we had with people in the local sailing community. The first dinner, at a Hamble pub, was with James Harayda. James is the former owner of Red Ruby and, at 24, he was the youngest IMOCA 60 finisher in the Route de Rhum last fall. James is just about to relaunch his IMOCA 60, Gentoo, and continue his campaign to be on the start line for the 2024 Vendee Globe. The next dinner was at the home of Deb Fish, along with the Driver family. Deb is co-skipper of Bellino, a SunFast 3600 that has been at the top of UK doublehanded results for several years. The Driver Family (Chilli Pepper, SF3300) has also been at the top of the podium, and Ellie Driver (a twenty-something talent) was selected as UK Sailor of the Year in 2022. The Drivers also hosted 45 of the UKDHOS competitors on Friday for curry night and a weather briefing for Saturday’s race. After a year of brief introductions here and there, it was great to have a chance to really get to know some of the competitors. The weather briefing was provided by Tom Cheney, the navigator aboard the JPK 1180 Sunrise, who finished first overall in the 2022 Fastnet. His summary – there would be light spots, and “better you than me.” We were starting to really feel like a part of this far-away community of like-minded sailors.

On Friday, RORC announced the course for the De Guingand Bowl. They don’t announce the course until the last moment to be able to create a course that will take close to 24 hours and offer a good variety of wind angles. Last year, the course only had two lines of longitude that you cross as “marks” of the course. This year, they made up for the lack of marks in 2022 and offered up a 12-leg route up, down, and sidewise, zig-zagging out of the Solent and around the Isle of Wight. This was not going to be a dull course, that was for sure.

And then it was time to embark on our 115 mile jaunt around the Solent and the Isle of Wight. We started at 11 a.m. just as the flood was starting to push us east out of the Solent, which was our first time starting from Cowes that direction. Race day was the warmest day of the week so far, close to 70 degrees, with sunshine and a nice 10- to 12-knot northerly for the first several hours.

No Man’s Fort in the Solent, with the enormous fleet enjoying the view and the conditions.

With 86 boats racing, 38 doublehanded, the first four short legs were all about traffic management. After a reach, run, beat, and run we were solidly mid-pack in our fleet and feeling a bit stressed as we kept getting bounced from our preferred course to find a clear lane. Then we started a nice kite reach under the Isle of Wight and found our groove, quickly passing three SF3300s and moving up towards the front of our fleet.

At the westernmost mark at Peveril Ledge, on the western side of Poole Bay, we made a good call regarding the current and found ourselves leading all of IRC 2, 3, 4 and IRC Doublehanded. This was roughly the halfway point, and it was dark. For the rest of the night, we were able to just focus on boat speed, with limited tactical options. We arrived at Nab Tower, back on the east side of the Isle of Wight, just as the breeze was starting to get light, with our fleet nipping right at our heels as we braced for the consolidation. We saw a few 0.0 moments on the speedo. Fortunately, 2+ knots of favorable current kept us moving in the right direction. From Nab Tower it was a 10-mile beat to the finish. We made some good choices regarding pressure and shifts and finished just in front of Bellino, who we rated level with.

That gave us line honors in IRC 2 and DH, and we corrected to the win in IRC 2, but boats from IRC 3 and 4 snuck in after us to push us down to fourth in the Doublehanded Overall. Still, that was a really nice way to finish off our second go at the De Guingand Bowl and a promising start to the UKDHOS season.

Jonathan and Alyosha have Red Ruby for the next three races. Then, Chris and I will be back in late July for the famous Fastnet to take on the more than 100 other doublehanded IRC entries!