Fastnet 2021 Training Begins for the Crew of Challenger 1

1,303 views  |   June 16th, 2021 

Last weekend saw the first on the water training weekend for the crew of Challenger 1 for this years Roloex Fastnet 2021 Race. With the crew split up at night over 3 different boats to allow social distancing here is an account of how it all went.

Day 1 – What a glorious start to a fabulous Fastnet 2021 campaign

Fabulous crew, Fabulous training and what’s more the sun shone all day with the wind picking up to a breezy force four to five, what more could we ask for.

Today was the first day, that the First Class Sailing Tall ships Fastnet 2021 crew got a chance to be on the water together.

Fastnet Crew in Gunwharf Quays

Fastnet 2021 Crew in Gunwharf Quays

Following a morning of thorough safety briefings to familiarise ourselves to our new home, our 72ft Challenger, we headed out on to the water getting to know each other on our way and looking forward to the fabulous sailing day ahead.

Because of these strange times, the crew only met for the first time on the Sea Survival course the previous week, after jumping in the pool in life jackets and dragging ourselves into the liferaft we had soon relaxed in each others company. Now on the boat we were quickly thrown into drills and practice that created a team spirit that will stand us in good stead for the race ahead.

The weather was excellent all day and out past the Solent forts the wind picked up which really began to test our teamwork. Sunshine all day was perfect for our morale, and our learning. Suntan lotion and hats were required, and top layers were on and off all day.

At the beginning of the day we struggled to hoist the one tonne sail up the 85ft mast, with Ray climbing up the mast to hook on the Main halyard and taking six of us to hoist the main, we quickly learnt that “sweating’ means what it says! Luckily, though almost as complicated, the Yankee and StaySail went up more easily. The Snake pit initially proved quite a challenge, but eventually we began to tame it.

We then addressed ourselves to the challenge of tacking. Under the watchful eye and guidance of our excellent skipper and team we made a complete hash of the first few attempts. But by the end of the day we were evolving into a racing team! but let’s not get ahead of ourselves, our skipper Mike and his great team Mike, Becky and Mark would probably say differently! But hey we cracked on and I think we were starting to work brilliantly as a team. There is still a way to go with tomorrow’s training, two RORC races and the Round the Island race to hone our skills into a well oiled racing team.

Man Over Board practise

Later in the day we tackled Gybing and reefing, and the infamous man over-board drill in which we actually dressed Mark up in abseiling kit and hung him over the side by a halyard to simulate the retrieval our Dan Buoy and horseshoe.

Man Over Board Practise

Man Over Board Practise

Everything on the boat is big and tall and heavy, and there seems to be a whole lot of “Grinding” required to hoist various sails and tension multiple lines. It’s impossible to do things by yourself on the Challenger, taking Scott, Becks and Ray to all lift the sails out of the forward sail locker in the morning, and about 6 of us to drag the “Yankee” into position. Tee, Sharon, Guy and Nicholas spent some time on the helm today which was a real treat in the breezy conditions.

Grinding the winch

Grinding the winch

Back at Gunwarf Quays we were rewarded with well deserved and delicious fish and chips and a good chat of tactics whilst downing our favourite tipples. Here’s to tomorrow, fun, sailing and sun and of course more challenges and learning to come! terrific!


Day 2

Another beautiful blue sky and sunshine greeted us today for our Day 2 Training for the Fastnet 2021 in the Solent. Everyone was up bright and breezy with an early start, slipping the lines at 8am we made our way out of Portsmouth harbour enjoying bacon sandwiches made superbly by the ‘chefs’ Mark and Guy. We reflected on the previous day, we had been pretty pleased with ourselves by the end of Day 1 as we had started to become a more coherent team.

We soon began our Day 2 Training as Mike our Skipper and his team Mike, Becky and Mark began to put us through our paces as we all tried to remember what was taught the previous day. The main was hoisted with today’s new ‘sweaters’ to experience hoisting the huge sail and doing a sterling job. We were going to say “without breaking a sweat” but frankly, certainly on this boat that is unlikely!

We spent the morning in the sun again, in very light airs. This was really great for training purposes and Mike had us drilling tacking endlessly (and we really are quite good at it now – not yet quick, but certainly competent). We tacked to port, to starboard, to port, we put a reef in, we took it out…. .

After a well deserved cup of tea we progressed to splitting up into two teams to replicate on and off watches, each person picking a job and doing it well, and mainly, with synchronised movements. It’s fair to say that we certainly are getting the hang of it, and more than that we are feeling like a team. There is still a way to go to get from our conscious competence to unconscious competence, and in a race setting we want to be a well oiled machine that automatically completes complex manoeuvres such as tacking, gybing and reefing, without thinking about it. We progressed to reefing the main, each of us concentrating hard at the 15 or so manoeuvres to achieve putting the reef in and out. Scott, Tee and Guy worked hard in the snake pit demonstrating the process under the guidance and watchful eye of the Skipper and team. We all concentrated hard as Mike the Skipper now has the reputation of asking anyone a question at any time to check understanding! Staring at the seagulls flying by is not an option!

After keeping out of the way of Naval ships, container ships, moored ferries and the odd fishing boat we turned downwind back towards Portsmouth. This time learning the new skill of ‘goosing’, to pole out the Yankee (foresail) and ‘goose wing’ for a while (this is where the main is one side, and the foresail is the other) We learnt how to fit the spinnaker pole, a 30ft mass of carbon and kevlar which certainly couldn’t be lifted by one person, to bring the Yankee out to the opposite side of the boat and also fitting a preventer to hold the boom in place to avoid the risks (or slow down) of an accidental crash gybe – scary thought!. The Skipper Mike, Mark, Mike and Becky worked hard to teach us. I could only imagine what it would be like to fit the numerous halyards, guys and sheets to the end of the pole in strong winds and a rolling sea!! Fun!! (or not!!)

Pole Up

Pole Up

We then sat in relative calm, travelling at less than 3 knots, eating our ‘home made’ (aka sainsburys) sandwiches, oh we forgot to mention the Cornish pasties were amazing the day before. And very welcome they were too.
The light wind presented an excellent opportunity to work out how to work with the spinnaker pole, which, by the way, is completely unwieldy and rather heavy. Frankly, it’s quite a polarva to get it up, and we watched in awe as the strange ballet unfolded. Nonetheless there is was and we were on our way back.

Of course, eventually, after travelling at 1kt for a while, we gave up and motored in, a lapse in concentration left us fitting the main sail cover on the wrong way round and with many moans and tutting we refitted it laughing at our mistake, Ray cheered us up by handing round yummy ‘wriggly worms’ as a treat which was very much appreciated. We arrived back into Portsmouth to “put the boat to bed” – aka wrestle with unwieldy sails and clean the heads Nice… After a debrief and logging miles we all gave our feedback of the weekend with a unanimous agreement of the success and enjoyment of the weekend with our excellent knowledgeable and chilled crew and skipper. We all felt we are a set of people coming together with a common purpose, we are now becoming a real coherent crew, getting to know each other better and better by the day. There will be some lasting friendships for sure.

Preparing for the Fastnet climbing up the mast

climbing up the mast

A special mention goes to Ray who was up the mast like a Scaffolder again today, to Austin who as a practical novice has risen to every challenge and is a quantum leap ahead of where he was only yesterday, and today especially the experienced sailors – Scott, Mark, Will and Dean who just give that little bit of help when needed that gets you over the hump. Also for Nicholas and Will helping each other to learn the infamous Bowline and for Nicholas achieving the ‘level 2’ bowline! All of these elements, and more, are what makes our team greater than the sum of its parts. A winning team, for sure… Here’s to our first big challenge ahead the RORC De Guingand Bowl! Happy Racing and fun sailing ahead!


For details of this years Fastnet that will also lead to Fastnet 2023 in due course have a look here:

Posted by: First Class Sailing


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