A Great Experience . . .

Sailing duo Volkan Dikmen and Bora Dirik  gained a class win in the RSYC Koris Cherbourg Double racing for the first time with the Royal Southampton.

Here they give a first hand account of their race on their yacht Escapade

This year’s Koris Cherbourg Double race was our first race together with my co-skipper. Hence we were very excited. We have started to get prepared a while ago and studied the charts, tides and sailing instructions carefully. For the original start date of the race winds of 25-30 knots were forecast in the evening.

To the least it meant that we would have a pretty rough crossing but we were ready for it. However, on our way down to the Solent on Friday morning we received a text message from the race officer that the start is postponed by 12 hours due to high winds forecast. This gave us a little bit more time to prepare the boat and have a night’s sleep before the start.

In the morning we were up at 5:30am and after a quick breakfast slipped our lines from our berth at Hamble Point Marina and made our way towards the starting line near Hill Head. We already decided that we would leave the Solent through the Eastern side of the IOW to be able to use the favourable tide at the start time and the better angle to sail towards Cherbourg given the N-NW wind forecast. Although some boats headed towards the Needles after the  start most boats sailed towards Portsmouth as we also decided. After our rather unimpressive but clean start we decided to hoist our big asymmetric spinnaker and there we faced our first problems. We unfurled our sail nicely and it gave us good push but when we approached towards Ryde and attempted to gybe the sail furled itself around the forestay and became a hourglass. It took us quite an attempt to untangle it but as we gybed it the second time the same thing happened again. Not a great start to the race. We once again wrestled with the tangled spinnaker as we watched the rest of the fleet to slowly sail away.But this time we found the culprit.

The sailing instructions stated that 'no anchor shall be carried before the stem.' So we removed our anchor from its bow roller the day before. But apparently this had unintended consequences. As we were gybing the lazy sheet which will become the new sheet was sliding under the bow roller and as we trim to gybe the sail it was getting stuck, causing the sail to wrap around the forestay. After this revelation the rest of our gybes were flawless but the whole debacle costed us a good 20 mins.

As we passed the No Man’s Land Fort and headed up most of the other boats were already passing Bembridge. Until we escaped from the lee of the IOW we had light winds that kept on changing direction. But once we were clear in the channel the wind has picked up and settled at 270 degrees. We set our course to 197 degrees true and left the steering to our invisible third crew member, our trusted autopilot!

The channel crossing was fairly uneventful. Wind has continued to pick up and reached 16-17 knots mostly at an apparent wind angle of 60-90 degrees. Conditions that Escapade can really show her true power. With careful sail trim, most of the time we were beating the polars. As we approached the shipping lanes we were constantly logging 9-9.5 knots of boat speed(we logged a max speed of 10.4 kts at some point) which we managed to keep for a few hours and slowly managed to catch the boats ahead and started to overtake them. Crossing the South West shipping lane was straightforward. However while crossing the North East lane we had a CPA of only one cable with a large cargo ship. Even though we were the stand on vessel we decided to call them on the VHF and asked if it is ok to maintain our course. They responded very quickly and professionally and agreed to alter course to pass at our stern.

Getting closer to French territorial waters, one good news was that our tidal calculations turned out to be pretty accurate and we only needed to make a small adjustment to our course to take us to Fort De L’Ouest and our finish line. In the last one hour of the race winds dropped to below 10 kts and we worked hard to keep as much boat speed as possible. Eventually we crossed the finished line right after 18:00 BST, after nearly 10.5 hours after we started and still on time for a well earned dinner ashore.

Overall, the race was a great experience for us and we thoroughly enjoyed it. It was extremely helpful to see our strengths and weaknesses. We definitely had a lot of the latter but knowing them will give us the opportunity to hone some of those skills.

Unfortunately we had to head back to England on Sunday as we needed to be at home for the Monday bank holiday. There was heavy winds of up to 40 knots forecast for the Sunday afternoon and when we checked the latest weather report there was no change.

Hence we decided to sail back as soon as possible to be able to avoid the worst of the strong wind and sea state. After a nice dinner we went back to boat, prepared her for the sail back, had a two hours power nap and left just after 2am under a mesmerising full moon. First half of our crossing was very smooth, mostly motor sailing. But as expected, around 11:00am, the winds backed to South and picked up and the waves got gradually bigger. As we were getting closer to the IOW winds were already blowing 30 knots and accompanied by large swells and a few breaking waves. Add on top of that an uninterrupted rain and poor to sometimes very poor visibility, our sail back back home clearly showed little resemblance to our crossing the previous day. Still after 12 hours we moored at our berth in Hamble safely and without any damage with the exception of a broken shackle.

Thank you very much to RSYC once again for organising the race and giving us the opportunity to participate. We would also especially like to thank to Nikki in RSYC for being extremely helpful and patient despite our endless questions.

Volkan Dikmen and Bora Dirik