The race was organised by Achab Yacht Club, a tiny little club near Fiumicino with a small beautiful harbour. 15 Mini’s gathered for the race starting on 15th March at midday.
The original course was 190 miles in a figure of eight course around two local islands Ponza and Ventone. The evening before the start there was an update to the sailing instructions and a course change was in place due to high winds forecast on Sunday and large swell of up to 5 meters reported in proximity of the islands. Two options were given and a decision to be made at the briefing at 8.30 the morning of the race.
The course was set and an hour postponement in place, we set off at 1 O’clock on a shorter 120 mile course around Palmarolo another local island.
In true Frensham Pond style (my home dinghy club) it was a downwind start, I prepared my kite before and hoisted shortly after the gun. Much to my disappointment we weren’t allowed to set our pole or hoist before. After a late start due to my own watch confusion and no 1-minute signal I set off chasing the front pack. With my Grande Spi I picked my way through the fleet.
We had winds from 10-22 knots, gradually shifting round to the North. It became difficult to hold the big kite so I chose to peel to the Code 5 quite early. I lost a bit of ground on the fleet while changing but with a better kite choice I was soon catching up sailing higher and faster towards Palmarolo, 56 miles away. We were cruising along at 10/11 knots, surfing down the waves – great fun! All while attempting to avoid driftwood in the water. All week at the club we watched hundreds of large branches and logs flowing out the river into the open water. I saw countless objects while racing, unfortunately hitting one quite hard on my leeward rudder. The whole boat shock and drew panic into me, I quickly checked the boat, still attached – PHEEW!! With closer inspection on shore I have a little damage to rudder and a bit of movement in the pintails, but it’s nothing drastic and an easy repair.
My first disaster of the race was when I was down below putting an extra layer on. While doing up my lifejacket I think I must have hit the autopilot stop button on the remote hanging round my neck. The pilot turned off and the boat spun round into the wind and then tacked. I ran up on deck to find complete carnage and the kite in the mainsail and spinnaker pole folded in (where it normally is stored). I quickly assessed the situation, first I tried to tack back, but the waves and wind made it impossible to turn. I dropped the kite down the hatch and set the boat on course again while I checked the boat to see if everything was ok. During the carnage the spinnaker pole turning fork had snapped off the pole. It is a triangular piece of metal used as part of a purchase to swing the pole from the cockpit. At first I thought the pole had also been damaged and I was now limited to white sails for the rest of the race. Thankfully this wasn’t the case and I could carry on with the spinnaker by swinging the pole from on the bow.
I reached Palmorola around 8:30 in the evening, with the wind at a constant 15-18 knots. The weather is very unpredictable in the med and you have to be ready to react to anything. Palmarolo is a small unlit island, very mountainous almost volcanic looking (from the shadows I could see anyway). It is only a mile or two from Ponza a nearby island. Our course sent us between the two islands, in the dark it looked somewhat ominous and I had to triple check the chart before I braved the darkness. Above Palmarola there was a big black cloud with lightning, so I put in a reef in preparation. As I approached the most Northerly point a big squall came through of 28 knots, it was very short, lasting maybe 20-30 seconds, dropping back down to 15 knots immediately after.
Once round Palmorola it was back to Ostia for the finish. I hoisted my Medium Spinnaker as I cleared the island, it was dead downwind and I think I put in 3 or 4 gybes. A couple of hours later around 11pm, still pitch black I could see a navigation light getting closer, as I got nearer I could see it was a Mini, going in the opposite direction. Very confused, I couldn’t see why they were heading that way, and so far off the main course to Palmarola. Shortly after, the wind spun 180 degrees, and I was in the same position!! The kite came down and it was now a beat all the way home for 48 miles. CRAZY!
Tacking towards Ostia I chose to take a course a few miles offshore as I had expected the wind to die inshore. I had kept an eye on the boat I’d seen when the wind shifted so drastically and we crossed close by again at around 4am as they headed inshore. Once on land I discovered the boat was a proto Jeff, who had then went on to finish at around 8:30/9 and win the race. Unfortunately as I was nearing the finish, a mere 10 miles to go I lost all wind and sat drifting for hours!
The wind finally filled in enough to get me moving forwards and slowly make progress towards the line. I finished the race at 2pm in 7th position.