Arbitrator in the Rolex Fastnet 2003.
10th-15th August 2003
Arbitrator started the Fastnet Race on the morning of Sunday 10th August 2003. A light NE wind at the start meant slow progress on the run towards the Needles. By Hurst Castle the No. 1 genoa was up and the crew were starting to cool off after the sweltering heat in the Solent. Thoughts on Arbitrator were 'is there enough water to last to the finish line?'
The Needles Fairway buoy was the first race mark Arbitrator had to negotiate. The buoy was cleared without trouble and the wind backed to allow a tight spinnaker reach to Anvil Point head with another Sigma 38, Highland Spirit, on the beam.
On the approach to Anvil Point head we knew the tide would turn against us so the anchor and cable were flaked in preparation. Sure enough the wind dropped and tide kicked in and Arbitrator was kedged. The skipper, Peter Hopps could not believe the first evening of the Fastnet would be spent reading newspapers and sleeping on the job as the first watch started.
Arbitrator weighed anchor as soon as the breeze picked up and left behind two BT Challenge boats and others as they stayed fast. The breeze didn't last and the anchor went down again, only to not bite as the fierce tide ate away at our hard work. After some nail biting and pulling on the cable, the anchor bit. The hard work of weighing the anchor and sailing had paid off; we had decreased our distance to the Fastnet Rock by five hundred yards. Only several hundred miles to go. As we looked around the horizon, close by were Highland Sprit, two BT Challenge boats and …… Trevor Davies from LCSC on the bow of Jemima, a J120 in Class 1. The banter with Trevor was interrupted as a boat radioed in to say they had 10kn of wind and were making way close in shore. Whether this would matter we were to find out later.
Weighing anchor for the second time, Arbitrator began making way to the Fastnet Rock via the Scillies. Progress was good as we passed other Sigma 38s, but these had been behind us before we anchored. It was clear several had sneaked up on the inside with the 10kn breeze back at Anvil Point.
Conditions were balmy with hot sunny weather and little wind. Keeping our wits and spinnaker at Start Point Arbitrator passed boats becalmed only a few hundred yards away to leward. This included overtaking two BT Challenge boats for the third time. The wind was light across Mounts Bay though it picked up again, becoming gusty when rounding the next mark near Land's End. One boat appeared to be taking a rather large short-cut until they realised the error of their ways at the last minute, and backtracked to round the mark.
Crossing the Irish Sea Arbitrator made progress on the fleet around her both during the day and especially at night. Again Arbitrator passed Ecover, a BT Challenge boat. At times during the day there was no wind or very little and foredeck crew thought it would be a good idea to go fishing. After some improvisation a line was over the side and Arbitrator was fishing. After an hour of no bites and boat speed beyond fish speed (except marlin or swordfish) it was time to bring in the line. Mike did this only to find a sea gull was diving to catch the bacon on the hook. This had everyone crying with laughter when Lex suggested this was the first bird he had pulled all year.
As Arbitrator approached the Fastnet Rock the radio was constantly monitored as boats rounded ahead. From this we worked out our progress in the IRC2 class and Sigma fleet.
As we passed the transit it was a thrill to know Arbitrator was the first Sigma 38 round the Fastnet Rock. We knew the return leg to Plymouth was a long way; as the saying goes, "It isn't over till the fat lady sings". Some boats were very confident, as the ladies were already singing over the radio.
The following ten hours were nail biting on Arbitrator as the fleet bunched together presenting opportunities to following Sigma 38s to gain places. It wasn't a time to rest on our laurels even though it was siesta time as the sun blazed down. The fleet was woken up by an amazing sonic boom when Concorde passed overhead in the late afternoon.
When the wind picked up in the late evening the fleet broke up to follow different courses and strategies for crossing the Irish Sea. A highlight in the crossing was to have a pod of dolphins diving out of the water ahead of Arbitrator leaving streaks of phosphorescence.
Passing south of the Scillies Arbitrator hardened to the wind to a close reach. The wind increased and so a headsail change was necessary. This was type of real action the foredeck crew had been waiting for, and Lex and Brian leapt to meet the waves head on. The waves duly leapt to meet our foredeck crew, who returned soaked!
After rounding the Lizard the boats reported in their progress. This was the first opportunity to determine whether Arbitrator had kept the lead in the Sigma fleet and placing in IRC2 class. We still had the lead but Billy Whiz reported in just as being 4 minutes behind. We found this hard to believe as we hadn't seen them, but they were clearly far too close for comfort. Everyone on Arbitrator refocussed and decided to spend the night on the weather rail to maximise our performance.
Following a hard night of beating to Plymouth and little sleep, Arbitrator and her crew crossed the finish line at 0928 for an elapsed time of 4 days 22 hours 48 minutes and 55 seconds, nearly 50 minutes ahead of Billy Whizz in 2nd place.
At the prize giving ceremony at The Royal Citadel Barracks in Plymouth, Arbitrator was awarded The Hobo Trophy for the best IRC One-Design. The trophy is now in the LCSC club trophy cabinet, where it will remain until the next Fastnet in 2005.
Arbitrator was skippered by Peter Hopps and an all LCSC club crew.Jeremy R. Whiting
Andrew Darlinson, Brian O'Neill, David Edwards, Harriet Brown, Jeremy R. Whiting, Lex Woodley, Martin Richmond-Coggan, Mike Alban.Stats:
1st Sigma 38 around the Fastnet Rock and across the finish line, 22 boats in class.
2nd place in IRC2B, 38 boats in class.
3rd place in IRC2 (class 2 overall), 76 boats in class.