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Reflections on RTI

By Becky Walford. 1st Mate on Puma Logic

Over Christmas I was mulling over what racing I hoped to do this year – and the RTI was certainly on the list! I knew it had to be with Allie as she runs an excellent operation and has some of my favourite 38ft boats! So I popped along to the Sailing Logic 10th Birthday drinks to see what my chances would be.......so I was delighted when Allie confirmed I would be sailing on Puma Logic with Tim - the dream team!

On the Friday morning before the race, Tim and I met the crew - mostly for the first time, ranging from an ear, nose and throat consultant, retired loss adjusted to an employee of Morgan Stanley! A short while later introductions complete, it was established that some of the crew had been disappointed with previous sailing experiences with other companies, and were looking for a more competitive approach! So we promptly offloaded the de-hum and heater (to reduce weight) and set off into the Solent for our training day.

Friday was a busy day, spent tacking, gybing, hoisting dropping and we even covered the degree-level stuff of peeling spinnakers! I think those that had recently completed various RYA courses where a little surprised at the pace that things were going.....”train hard race easy” always being a good motto to follow.

Tim wanted us to do one last exercise on the way in, feeling somewhat weary from running about the foredeck all day, I took the wheel (that's better) and Tim was on the foredeck! (I should have taken a photo!!)

We then headed into Cowes, where there was just time to pose for the professional team photo and a quick tidy up of the boat and most of the team departed to listen to the Raymarine Weather Briefing at the Island Sailing Club – where the professional forecast was for gentle breeze upto 10kts, North-Westerly (the reality turned out to be somewhat different!).

That evening we enjoyed a lovely BBQ on the Top Deck of the Island Sailing Club - with an excellent banana and apple (seems to work) crumble! Followed by a swift half in the tent to be sociable then off to bed! With the snorers up the front (they shall remain nameless) I got the shelf, not entirely sure how they resemble a sun bed? (who said that over dinner?)

With the Northerly wind blowing straight into Cowes overnight, the marina was lumpy and bumpy and after an un-easy night’s sleep, it was time to get up already at 3.45am!!

As we motored out of the Medina River there were boats everywhere. Some of our less experienced crew were completely silent with eyes on stalks! Boats as far as they eye can see and the sun just peeking over the horizon! At 5.20am our 10 minute start sequence began. We were keen to get a clear wind start which is easier said than done with 100 boats jostling along the line!

RTI 2013 sunrise start

The first leg down the Western Solent to the Needles as the sun rose was beautiful flat water so the gusts were easy to spot and call, so the trimmers were able to trim the sails to optimise our beam reach. The team got used to hearing the call of ‘gust’ and reaching to touch their toes in an effort to maximise the weight over the side and keep the boat flat and fast. We kept up with the competition and watched some of our rivals fall behind quite quickly. Soon we were catching up with the smaller gaffers which had started ahead of us, they looked like they were standing still as we powered past them.

As the angle changed we took the chance to put an A-sail up, some of the opposition had put up theirs - some with good results and some not so good! Before we knew it, we were approaching Hurst Castle and it was time to change the spinnaker to one which was better suited to our course on the leg from the Needles to St Cats. So we peeled the spinnaker and then Tim said “You’ve got 1 minute until we gybe!”. Amongst a big faff at the front of the boat, I shot Tim a raised eye brow look saying a minute wasn't long enough, luckily he is a forgiving chap and about 4 minutes later we were ready to gybe!

The first 5 minutes after the Needles it seemed like chaos as the front of the boat wanted the middle of the boat to do something, and the back of the boat said something else, meanwhile we were distracted by the boats around us falling over all the place (broaching due to the gusts) and Tim called for us to focus on what we were doing!  . 

We debated if we should switch to a headsail, so I legged it up to the foredeck to prepare for the change. Then the call came “No stay with the kite” then “No, let’s go with the jib”, then “er wait…” and eventually we stayed with the spinnaker. Meanwhile other members of pink fleet were taking their spinnakers down and heading inshore!

Given the 10 knot forecast we were a little surprised to find more than 25kts, and Puma Logic was flying, regularly hitting 12 knots with spray everywhere!.Then we watched as our class leader blew out his spinnaker, they seemed to take forever to put up another sail but this suited us. We all hiked hard extra hard to take advantage of his lapse.

The leg to St Catherine's flew by as we enjoyed a great sail in bright sunshine. We rotated the crew on the sheet and grinding so no-one got too tired. We continued to fly along, catching up the back markers of earlier fleets, watching lots of broaches happening around us. As we approached the lighthouse we took the kite down (a good drop – well done team) and put the No 1 back up as the angles changed.

 

Somehow some Russians had caught us up and we had to work hard to shake them off. We took the most inshore route that we dared cheating the tide whilst avoiding lobster pots! Big gusts from the valleys at the south of the Island meant constant trimming of the sails and trimming the crew weight in the boat! When I got off the rail to do something the crew had to work even harder at touching their toes and soon there were whinges about it hurting! It was still only 9am at this point and we were only half way – so the expected response of ‘man-up’ and ‘take it for the team’ were bantered to and fro!

The third leg, to Bembridge was the calmest of them all and we were able to gain some more miles on our competition as the breeze became steadier out of the bay.  As we approached the mark, we increased the tension on the halyards and had a look behind us trying to identify our competition. We couldn’t see many other pink class flags and wondered if we could possibly be leading our class? If so – then now was no time to take it easy!  

Tim told me he was relying on me to navigate the shallows – and I suddenly felt like one of my RYA Yachtmaster candidates as I had to calculate the current height of tide......and inshore we went, tacking our way upwind along the NE coast for the final leg, avoiding the Exclusion Zone and going as shallow as felt safe. We were delighted to pass a yacht from the marina who had declared so brazenly the previous evening that he would beat us!

With all the tacking, the cockpit crew were getting weary so we switched a few people about. After all that winching there was talk of a guns-off (arm wrestling) competition later, then questions about how many more tacks could be expected! The answer (obviously) being the harder you hike, the less tacks we will have to do!

Inevitably the wind shifted on the last corner so we had to tack which meant tacking back again. More groans from the crew! But eventually it was the last one and we crossed the finish line at 11:59:31 and duly noted the sail numbers of the boats ahead and behind.

Wahoo we had finished!! And in glorious bright sunshine. It was time to prise Tim off the wheel and on to the foredeck for one last role reversal!  Then we dashed to moor up and check the results…! 

So with a crew that had only met the previous day we had won. Class 1B, won Class 1 overall, won the best Sailing School boat in IRC and amazingly finished 10th overall. The boats ahead of us had some serious funds being thrown at them but we were just a trusty 38 ft 14-year old ever-young Reflex! 

An amazing afternoon was had relaxing ashore in the sunshine, catching up with friends and rivals on other boats, swapping stories and sharing the moment together. We even had a press call – interviews and photos, so exciting! Big smiles all round and the friendly atmosphere is hard to describe.

On Sunday, after a lazy morning we attended the prize giving at the Island Sailing Club. There were lots of cheers and whooping as Tim & I stepped up. I think all of team Puma made a statement with the smart new orange and black team kit! Sir Robin Knox Johnston presented us with our trophies and he whispered in my ear “Well done Becks!”,which was especially nice as he was the guy that had agreed to have the Reflexes built originally!

My folks even attended (as they were on the island visiting an elderly relative) and brought Buzz the Border Collie along which made lots of people smile, so the prize-giving was extra special for me.

A great weekend all round, and a massive thank you to Tim and all the crew as well as all our supporters!!! 


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