Refanut sailed the inaugural event of the Harken Solo Challenge, a 40NM single-handed race off the coast of Stockholm. We had a pursuit start where Refanut started roughly 2/3 down the list. The forecast was for 12 knots of wind from the SW and that roughly held. With me on the boat I had Peter S as a Media Crew Man (the fruits of his labor can been seen in the video below).
We made a clean start at the middle of the line heading out to sea on a beam reach. Sure, the leeward end was favored, but I was more interested in not making any mistakes and since I was alone at my start with the next boat starting a minute or so later, avoiding mistakes seems like an easy decision. At the start the wind was a little lighter, being shielded by the island of Sandön and I couldn’t quite get the boat going the way I wanted to. The Bavaria 47 starting behind me was coming on with great speed and quickly eating up the distance between us. Then the wind increased a little bit (and I got the trim a bit better) and the speed differential seemed to disappear. Rounding the first mark (Revengegrundet) I came up on a close reach and started to pull away from the Bavaria (as well as catch up to some more boats that had started ahead of me).
Once round Almagrundet we were on a beat towards the next mark some 12 NM away. The wind was stayed relatively steady and the sea had built up to a significant chop on the nose (especially on starboard tack). Some forecasts had been talking about wind from W, so I decided to tack over early to protect the right side of the course. I came back on starboard 20 minutes later or so and found I had made significant gains on the boats to leeward. I now started crossing boats at a stead pace and checked the starting list to confirm that I was clawing my way up towards smaller and smaller boats (that had started further and further ahead of me). With a few miles left to Dämban I only had 4-5 white sails ahead of me and they were getting closer. Coming into Dämban on port tack there was only one boat left, Johan Granath in his Omega 10m. We had a miscommunication which could have resulted in significant problems and deserve some more scrutiny…
I overstood the mark by a few boat lengths and the Omega tacked another few boat lengths above me (still over 100 meters ahead of me). From my perspective it seemed like I would just about get overlap when he turned down towards the mark (since he stayed above me, probably to avoid me passing to windward should I catch up before the mark). We were still 5-6 boat lengths out when I hailed him to ask for room (since time was running out to make any other choices). I assumed he agreed since he stayed on his course high above the mark and went down to the leeward side to start easing sheets. This is where a problem with single handed racing becomes apparent … you can’t be in two places at the same time. In this case, I can’t see over the boat to windward while handling the jib sheet. As we get close to the mark I suddenly realize the Omega has come down and is right in front of me (just to windward). I can’t judge how close (to me it looks like she might be under my bow) and I didn’t dare try to go up above her since I wasn’t sure I could. When I talked to Johan afterwards it turns out it wasn’t that close. The problem is that he didn’t realize that I couldn’t see that.
To stay safe in shorthanded racing you have to signal your intentions early and stick to them … the other person might be looking away at a critical moment. Next time I might use the VHF to confirm with the other boat just to make sure there are not misunderstandings. Everything turned out ok, but I was very very worried that I was about to hit him (and 34 tons moving at 8.5 knots hurt).
Once around Dämban we had a reach back towards Revenge. I had put my asymmetric chute in a snuffer (sock) and it turned out to be very easy (although heavy) to set it. Refanut was sailing in roughly 90 degrees apparent doing about 8.5 knots the whole way to Revengegrundet. I later heard that others further back weren’t as fortunate and that was one of the reasons that none of the light, planing, boats came charging up to us. The snuffer worked equally well for the douse and we got around the light house just head of the leading trimaran (same course, different class). The last leg into the finish was a fast close reach under genua and Refanut finished the race about 6 hours after starting, 15 minutes ahead of Pac-Man in second and another 10 minutes head of a group of boats fighting for third.
It is clear that Refanut is a pretty “extreme” boat when compared to contemporary designs. We rate like many modern 35 footers but obviously have a lot more waterline to sail on. The race conditions where perfect for Refanut to take advantage of this since we not only benefited from the water line, but also used the weight and shape of the boat to punch through the chop upwind where many lighter boats struggled. It is great fun to get a good hand and then not mess it up :-).
I’m already looking forward to next year!
Below is the video from Refanut.