Recollections of a Right Royal Escape

Having failed to achieve any success in this years Sussex Regatta, due (we hold) to light airs, we decided to stick our neck’s out and enter the Royal Escape Race.

Many people laugh when they see our boat making for the start line. We attract many epithets such as ‘the floating cottage’ and ‘a yacht is not a yacht unless it’s got a teapot’. However we soldier on with our Westerley Ocean 43, which was never intended to be a twitchy racer but after we specified numerous features which add somewhat to the weight, she makes a truly lovely cruiser but is rather cumbersome on a busy start line and needs quite a lot of blow to make her go. We think we sail her well and when the handicaps are right and the weather is on our side we do have some success.

And so we began to plan for the Royal Escape. We have made many channel crossings and are used to working with the tides; the weather though is a different matter. I began with watching the various weather forecasts for a week prior to the date. It seemed to me that when the Scandinavian high extends as far south as the Low Countries and another powerful high is sat over eastern France, the forecast low pressure bringing its fronts and south westerly winds had nowhere to go and this was evidenced by the forecasts which gave this change as early as Wednesday, each day postponing its arrival. I then gambled on the south easterly holding out for Friday.

We arrived on Thursday evening in time for the briefing and went back looking forward to the day, which dawned with no change to the weather.  Setting off from the marina, we hoisted the mainsail only to find a batten car had broken. This meant a very quick trip back in, against the dozens of departing competitors to find the first bit of pontoon on which we could remove the sail, replace the car and get the sail back on, no mean feat on a big heavy cruising sail like ours. This completed we set of for the start gate very late. With sails and engine at full chat we made the gate with minutes to spare and had to reach the start line in the face of the IRC fleet who had started and were very keen to hold on to their starboard tack as long as possible.

This hazard avoided we got to the start line and made a reasonable start in the front pack in clear water. Windward mark rounded, we lost some ground upwind as ‘Pleiades’ does not point. We set about trimming out for optimum speed and getting our track for Meridian Buoy sorted. The wind was holding and the fleet was scattering. Notwithstanding all that ocean, ‘Viking Blue’ in a different class, decided to luff us up. We didn’t play ball and let him by but it gave a nice photo opportunity.

Out in the channel the wind showed signs of weakening, to our horror, boats we had been leaving began to close up on our radar screen. We had no choice but to trim and retrim the sails, check and recheck our track and hold on. A familiar competitor to us ‘Ascent’ skippered by Alan Salvidge was closing! Trim and retrim, check and recheck, it made us feel better. Just as we could see the whites of their eyes, the wind filled and backed a little, we all cheered as our speed built up again and we were able to hold on to our position until the finishing transit slowly loomed up and the sound signal told us we had finished.

We went into the town for a dinner, glowing from the wind our face, feeling that we had made a good crossing. On coming to the yacht club afterwards to have a beer or two, we were met with congratulations and the news that we had won the PY Class, this was wonderful, and we felt elated and rather surprised.

Conditions on that race were perfect for us and wonder how long it will be before such conditions prevail again.

Charles Erb