The conclusion to An Island, a Vampire, and a Yank
After about two hours of sailing and working our way through the majority of the IRC fleet, we reached one of the iconic locations in sailing: the Needles. As we rounded the white rock outcropping, Mark hoisted the bright pink spinnaker and the Vampire started to show its potential. The light air had slowly built to 6-8 knots by this time and the boat was now into the low end of the foiling range. William gybed to head south and further off shore in hopes for better breeze and more current, so we split the difference between the Vampire and the white cliffs that bound that part of the island. As we neared St. Catherine’s lighthouse and the mid-point of the race, the gap between the vampire and the front of the fleet had closed and even the MOD 70, Concise Fling, was back in view.
As we neared Ventnor, the Vampire re-consolidated with the fleet and was sailing among the Fast 40’s and other lead monohulls and was within striking distance of the Team Gladiator TP52. William was careful to remain clear and not interrupt the other boats since we weren’t officially racing. Even with the light conditions, things were looking promising for the Vampire to finish at the head of the pack, but the weather had other plans. Light air turned lighter and finally into a drifter, so what better time to feed the team a hearty lunch of… energy bars, water and–another new experience for me– prawn cocktail flavored crisps.
We made slow progress for the next hour or two while the lead monohulls with their towering rigs and long waterlines pulled away. As we worked our way north, the sea breeze teased us, but never would fill in. After reaching Bembridge, we were finally seeing a more constant breeze at 5-6 knots out of the northwest, but by that time the next group of monohulls was just catching us.
As the Vampire worked upwind towards the finish at Cowes they were now faced with a series of shallow areas on the north side of the island just to the east of Ryde. William called us over, explained that he wanted to work his way closer to shore and tasked us with pacing ahead of them and ensuring that they didn’t run aground or get trapped in a shallow area. We slowly motored ahead, attempting to keep a 100 meter gap between us and the Vampire while also trying to predict where they might tack and their next track. It was pretty uneventful until we found the shallow area we were looking for. The depth gauge quickly went from 10 feet to six and on to three and a half where the low water alarm started screaming at us. I raised the outboard as we gently bounced off the bottom at two and a half feet and slowly started working our way back towards deeper water while notifying the team of the need to tack and avoid.
Having the shallow sand bars now behind and a steady 4-5 knot breeze, the Vampire was again pulling ahead of the second tier of monohulls and closing in on the lead pack. The light air had taken it’s toll however and we were now three or so miles behind the TP52 and four to five from Concise, but the day wasn’t over and the Solent had one more pleasant surprise in store. Continuing upwind, we began to see indications of wind on the water ahead of us and approximately four miles from the finish line, we were back in it. Down went the foils on the Vampire and we were off again and headed upwind at nearly 20 knots. As we closed in on the finish line, we had caught and passed all but three boats; the MOD 70 Concise Fling (8:34:09), TP52 Gladiator (8:56:47) and the Carkeek CF 40+ Girls On Film (9:14:33).
After nine hours and thirty six minutes of sailing, William gave the helm a tug and reached just under the committee boat to complete their unofficial lap around the island. We took a short break to survey the landscape and wait for the next boat to cross the line five and a half minutes later before heading back to Hamble Point Marina. With the now steady 12-15 knot western breeze, the Vampire bared its fangs and gave us a serious run for our money in the now choppy waters of the Solent. As my wife said, “we had to drive like James Bond” to keep up as they hit a peak speed of 30.4 knots during the return trip.
Although it was a long day in less than ideal conditions, the experience is one that I will remember for the rest of my life. Hopefully the race organizers will recognize our efforts, including the safety precautions that we took to ensure a successful outcome, and we will be allowed to officially enter and be listed among the competitors in the future. Regardless, we really enjoyed our trip around the Isle of Wight, are very thankful to have been invited by William and have already volunteered to assist the team again next year! – Anarchist Will.