Blog - Ginkgo Fastnet Race 2023 - Design 198 - IRC39
— 30 Aug 2023
Please enjoy the following blog from the crew of Ginkgo in their fantastic Fastnet Race 2023 in Design 138, IRC39
Dear Friends, Supporters, and curious observers!
We, the crew of Ginkgo, were delighted by your company, your well wishes, and the many fantastic comments on our Fastnet Race 2023 adventure. Since it’s hardly feasible to individually provide each of you with personalized content, I’ve summarized this adventure for all of you.
The adventure began with a plan. Fastnet or ORC Worlds in Kiel was the question last year. The vote was clearly in favour of Fastnet. Thus, since last winter, we have been preparing together for this highlight. The Nordseewoche (North Sea Week on Helgoland) was supposed to be our qualifier, but it was cancelled due to a torn Genoa 4 from the Tuff Luff. The offshore regattas last year satisfied the RORC race committee for qualification in the end. With a final offshore training within 24 hours around Fyn (isle in Denmark), the crew and boat were well-prepared.
The delivery crew took Ginkgo to Cowes. The rest of the crew arrived by other means, and our shore crew arrived in Cowes by VW bus with a trailer. The delivery was already a true endurance test! With winds from SW to W reaching strengths of up to 40 knots, the crew battled their way westward, partly under storm jib, sometimes making slow progress, at times barely moving in incredibly rough seas and flying spray. We all imagined this journey to be easier. Mid-July conditions are usually moderate and pleasant, but neither was the case this year.
In Cowes, we were greeted by the best summer weather, a great atmosphere, and many other participants. Ginkgo was prepared, minor issues were fixed, and final optimizations were carried out. There were even a few hours left for a little training on the Solent with light winds.
The forecast for the Fastnet, however, was completely different. Southwest winds ranging from 25 to well over 30 knots were predicted. On the day of the start, all began with light winds in the morning that, within hours and with plenty of rain, had already reached 20 to 24 knots at the start.
The starting order was changed so that the fastest boats would start first and the slowest last. The race committee aimed to spread out the racing field to avoid damage and collisions. This was a wise decision. Nevertheless, even in our IRC 1 group of 100 boats, it was still very tight and bustling at the start. Damages were still avoided at least in this phase.
Initially, we tacked out of the Solent to the west with Genoa 5 and one reef in the mainsail. Before reaching Hurst Castle, we decided to put in the second reef while the waves were still manageable. As it turned out shortly afterward, this was a very good decision.
While we had been tacking with long legs and short tacks up to this point, it now turned into a gruelling beat against the ebbing tide. If you know the river Elbe, you’re familiar with that short, choppy sea state. However, this was on another level! The wind had increased to a consistent 30 knots or more. Our boat speed of around 7.5 knots was accelerated to over 10 knots over ground by the current. The waves were short and sometimes breaking, ranging from 1.5 to 2.5 meters high. Between Hatherwood Point and the Needles on the Isle of Wight, and the upwind Sandbank Shingles, the sea was churning and causing serious challenges for the Fastnet participants navigating through. There were holes in the sea that I had not encountered before. The boats would crash deeply into the short wave troughs, and the following waves would pour over the deck, accompanied by heavy rain… No walk in the park.
During this phase, there were also initial damages; one boat even sank, and many participants abandoned the race or sailed back a bit, waiting out the storm to rejoin later. We emerged unscathed and were able to fight our way forward after a cautious and reserved start. This allowed us to stay in the mix and contend with the favourites, yachts around 40 feet and larger, as we headed southwest. The waves beyond the Needles were indeed longer and higher, estimated between 2.5 and 5 meters high. The wind stabilized beyond 30 knots, reaching up to 38 knots. Navigating the waves was challenging, and powerful waves consistently swept over the deck. Although the crew was harnessed, they still had to hold on tight and be careful not to be washed lee-ward. The helm was the riskiest spot and job, and it led to Ann-Christin being unceremoniously washed into the cockpit. Fortunately, only painful bruises were the result.
All in all, we fared relatively well. No damage to the boat or sails, appropriate sail choices, and we were making good progress. Only Felix had fallen victim to seasickness, and I was very relieved that this particular challenge had mostly passed me by, with only a couple of minor exceptions. There were nine of us on board, and we continued with our planned watch system.
On deck, it was wet, windy, and tiring. Below deck, things were getting wetter, and the noise was becoming unpleasant, bordering on deafening. The first off-watch period was unusual for all of us under these conditions, and there was little opportunity for sleep. The weather forecast had predicted these conditions for 12 hours in advance, and it held true. By Sunday morning, around 2 am, the wind quickly eased, and the rain cleared. Before reaching Torquay, we shook out the two reefs and set the Genoa 3. The sea state had already significantly improved late in the evening after the tidal change, and this trend continued.
Throughout the day, the wind continued to subside, and the sun appeared. We continued our beat westward, and in the mid-afternoon, we rounded Lizard Point and bore away to the northwest. A beautiful jib reach quickly brought us to Land’s End, from where we turned north to leave the traffic separation scheme to port. At the end of the TSS, we dropped the Code 0 and headed close-hauled toward Fastnet Rock, on a course of 295 degrees for the next 160 nautical miles.
During the night, the wind was expected to shift from west to north. The only uncertainty was when this shift would occur and how it would happen. As a result, there were different interpretations of the wind forecast, and the group of boats around us were sailing in different directions. We chose the direct route and, early in the evening, arrived at Fastnet Rock alongside our competitors ‘Sunrise,’ ‘Dawn Treader’ (both JPK 11.80), and the eventual winner ‘Pintia,’ an excellently sailed J 133 from France. This marked us completing over half of the distance.
We successfully rounded Fastnet Rock around 7:00 PM in daylight, a true privilege! Not only is the coastline of SW Ireland stunning, but the Rock itself is breathtaking from all angles – massive, wave-battered, towering, rugged, simply incredible! We were accompanied around the Rock by two photographer boats, and eventually, a helicopter with a camera crew joined in as well. I had never experienced anything like it!
From the Rock, we sailed under Gennaker A 2 in 20 to 23 knots of NW wind back to the Isles of Scilly, covering another 165 nautical miles in one stretch. Initially, the conditions were quite rough; quick and lengthy surfs due to the Atlantic swell were challenging to steer and required a lot of effort from the helmsman and trimmers. Since we had only three helmsmen on board capable of handling such situations, I pondered how we could address this issue. - It resolved itself after a few hours as the wind subsided to around 14 to 18 knots and remained steady throughout the night.
We managed to pull away from our competitors after the Rock. Due to Ginkgo’s lightweight design, she’s a true downwind rocket. However, we also need to sail to our rating, which wasn’t as straightforward as it might seem, as we would later discover. We decided not to follow the routing that initially suggested taking us eastward from Fastnet Rock based on the latest wind forecasts. Instead, we opted to first head toward the Scillies’ traffic separation scheme. While we intended to leave the scheme to starboard, we aimed to take the shortest path and make the most of the current wind shift. Our competitor ‘Sunrise’ was crossing our way at a mere 5 nautical miles distance and chose the alternate route around the TSS. For us, it was the right decision!
In the sunny morning hours, the helicopter with photographers appeared in the sky for the second time, approaching us from behind, circling around us, flying over us, and capturing beautiful shots of our Ginkgo under A2 with a spinnaker staysail. What an honour!
Past the Isles of Scilly and the impressive lighthouses of Bishop Rock and Wolf Rock, we sailed under light southwestern winds back into the English Channel. Heading straight for Cherbourg, another and last 165 nautical miles to go, it was a long stretch along the 180-degree Highway in gentle conditions. Thankfully, we still had enough wind to make our way to the finish line while contending with the shifts. The boats behind us were less fortunate, getting stuck in an extended calm near the Scillies. This allowed us to gradually increase our lead to up to 50 miles. The night turned into a calm poker game with 4 knots of wind that was supposed to shift to the south but didn’t, and it was expected to increase in strength, but it didn’t. Only around 8:00 AM did the wind stabilize, shift to the south, and slowly gain strength again. This allowed us to sail directly towards Cherbourg, completely on our own, with no information about our competitors. During the night, we had moved from 3rd to 1st place in IRC 1 and were hoping to maintain this position until finishing at Cherbourg.
However, the new wind arrived at the Scillies earlier than it did for us. Our lead shrank to 35 miles and later even less. Our last hope was the changing tide before Cherbourg, which would give us a strong push towards the finish line. But things unfolded differently – the wind steadily increased for everyone, with favourable directions for all behind us, and it turned into a thrilling ride for everyone.
At 3:45 PM on Wednesday, after 4 days and 1 hour 45 minutes, we crossed the finish line in Cherbourg. On the score board, we landed in 5th place out of 100 starters in IRC 1, and secured the 1st place in the IRC 1A subgroup of the 19 larger boats from IRC 1. Overall, among all IRC boats, we placed 21st out of 358 starters. Our direct competitors sailed 2.5 to 5 hours longer than us and still managed to place ahead of us on the leaderboard. Hats off to them. Congratulations on their great results!
Having completed this Fastnet Race in its entirety, securing 21st place out of 358 starters, 5th place in IRC 1, and winning our IRC 1A class fills us all with pride! We didn’t rely on extraordinary strokes of luck but instead cleanly crossed the Solent at the start, made the most of wind shifts even in challenging conditions, didn’t solely rely on computer routing, and consistently acted with solid strategy. We changed sails when needed, attentively trimmed and steered throughout. This alone is a fantastic accomplishment by the entire crew. Every watch pulled together, continuously pushing forward!
In the end, it’s undoubtedly many small factors that led us to complete the course safely and swiftly. Behind it all is the fantastic Ginkgo Team with ample sailing experience and familiarity with the Ginkgo. Over the course of 5 seasons, we’ve collectively gathered experiences and were able to apply many of them in this race as well.
A heartfelt and immense thank you to the entire Ginkgo Team, even if not everyone could be on board: Antje, Ann-Christin, Ulli, Andreas, Lasse, Ole, Felix, Jacob, Moritz, Frank, and Christian!
To the supporters, observers, and all other followers of the Ginkgo Sailing Team, a warm thank you for your appreciative, encouraging, and inspiring posts and messages across various platforms! Stay tuned, we’re continuing in 2024!
Warm regards from aboard and from the Ginkgo Crew!
Herzliche Grüße von Bord und von der GinkgoCrew!