Rolex Fastnet Race | questions

I got an email from Sébastien, who races J/111 BEL11111 Djinn.

Good evening Peter,

I hope that you are doing well. We have been fortunate enough to get a spot for Fastnet 2017 on Djinn, and I had a few questions for you if you do not mind sharing your experience in the 2015 edition…

Here are the key ones for now

So cool. See my answers below.

Crew number

How many people did sail Fastnet on Blur in 2015?
Did you have shore / reserve crew just in case? What was the logic (e.g.. last-minute replacement, option for extra weight if heavier weather forecast, …)?

Normally we race with 9 persons, but in IRC (endorsed) we were limited to 8. Fortunately, our 9th crew got to sail with another Swedish yacht and did very well.

I think it’s always good to go for maximum weight, but even more important to have raced offshore together and have fun as a team. If you have the opportunity to have a spare guy it’s a bonus. Also, the logistics with stuff from Cowes to Plymouth is much easier if you have someone helping out.

Crew organization

How did you organize your watch system?
2 groups (on deck & resting) or 3 groups (on deck, standby, resting)?
Rhythm / length of watches?
Anyone off-watch (e.g. navigator)?
What was the philosophy in terms of resting time vs hiking time? Did you require crew to rest while hiking in the rail? In which circumstances / with which limits vs proper resting inside?

We wanted to rotate helmsmen and trimmers as much as possible to be able to drive the boat 100% all the times. So we decided on a 3 watch system with 2+2+2 hours: on – standby – off.

Vaktschema2015v11

1. On = responsible to sail the boat at 100%, with focus on driving and trimming. Making the call on sail changes and other adjustments. Typically, this means a helmsman and a trimmer upwind. Mostly doing main but also jib adjustments. Downwind you need a third person on the winch. Only time we needed more than three was in waves downwind when we had helmsman + main + gennaker + staysail + winch = 5 guys.

2. Standby = on deck ore doing navigation, nutrition, cleaning up or helping out with sail changes. Also in some cases rotating back in on the helm or trimmers. But key to be able to relax after two intense hours on.

3. Off = in the bunk below. Without foul weather gear, well fed and maximizing quality sleep. We arranged three proper sea bunks (2 in the saloon + 1 aft) to make crew weight always as effective as hiking on deck.

This worked out very well, and as soon as we struggled there was 2-3 fresh people coming on deck. When we got into the routine it became a machinery, and we would have been able to do another lap after finishing…

Crew roles in watches

Designated helmspersons, or everyone helming depending on circumstances?
Designated bowpersons, or everyone on the foredeck depending on circumstances?
Other roles for which there were designated persons / specialists?
Crew roles on shore: how did you organize/delegate things such as logistics, food, safety, admin, boat prep, nav systems setup, etc among the team?

The ”speed team” had a designated helmsman and a trimmer that worked well together. Continuous communication is key when sailing becomes monotone. The third person was typically grinding, doing foredeck and/or pit.

We also had three navigators, one on each standby watch, that complemented each other (our normal navigator, me as a skipper and a watch captain) Before the race we did the nav preparation together, “dry-sailed” the race with old weather and had meetings with our meteorologist. This meant we we’re in tune, and handovers were easy.

We also had our normal roles in a “all on deck” mode w additional roles of communication and diver.

In preparation, we tried to spread duties around the team as much as possible. Who does what depends on the crew… We pretty much had:

– Race admin
– Safety (+ inspection)
– Weather/tides
– Nav systems
– Com systems
– Rig
– Sails
– Food/nutrition/water
– Logistics
– “work list manager” :-)

Crew preparation & training

How many days of training / prep did you plan excluding qualifying races?
What did you focus on more specifically (e.g. safety / boat handling / other)?
Did you use qualifying races as training opportunities as well? On what topics?
Which sail change manoeuvres did you specifically focus on during training?
Tack changes (jib / jib)?
Reaching spinnaker drops & emergency spinnaker drops?
Transitions jib < -> furling Code 0 < -> spinnaker?
Spinnaker peels?
MOB recovery at all points of sail & under spinnaker?
Other?

Each of us spent ~30 days in 2015:
2 days boat prep in the sprting + rigging
2-3 evenings practice
2 x 4 days qualifying
~1 week transport (2 stages there + 1 home)
4-7 days in Cowes before the race
5-7 days racing + logistics

We did two qualifying races 100 + 200 miles, but also did the transport to the first race in full race mode. So 200 + 200 miles and 4 nights at sea (2 in rough upwind mode + 2 in nicer conditions).

We wanted this to be as similar to Fastnet as possible, so same watches, same food, same medication for sea sickness… just to find out where we had weaknesses or areas that could be improved. Focus was to get the routines to work with prio on performance (always on 100%) and getting nav/weather/decisions right.

fastnet16-needles-1

We also had 2 full days to sail from Cowes to the Needles and back, figuring out tides and stuff. We figured out the correct time to make an imaginary start that matched the real one from a tide perspective, and figured it out. Without prior local knowledge, we were #1 in IRC1 at the Needles. Not by following “conventional wisdom” but by figuring stuff out for ourselves.

If you don’t have all the sail changes organized, spend time making them simple and easy to do in the dark. Offshore races aren’t won by brilliant maneuvers, but lost due to failed ones. For example, it’s not a big thing if you have to do a bare-headed spinnaker change. But if you can’t go from J2 to J3 when the wind picks up at 03:00 you’re in big trouble,

The big thing we should have practiced more would be steering/trimming fast in big waves and dark/fog. We had huge problems when the wind rose to 24 knots on the way to the rock, and there were no references. You might be able to get more time in those conditions.

Boat preparation

Did you make any tweaks to the boat for easier/safer/faster handling & sailing in offshore races?
In hindsight, would you do anything differently?

I talked to some British J/111 sailors before the season, and the common theme was “keep the boat dry”. It’s a wet boat, and you’ll be able to perform better if you keep it dry below. We had a small dodger, and put Sika on the anchor locker.

Here’s some photos of our setup.

J/111 Blur³ | offshore-mode

Most of the mods are just small things to make everything work smooth; sea bunks, colored hooks for personal gear, organization of food,

One very useful thing is to have performance (% of polar BSP w 10s damping) on the mast. Then you can always see how close to 100% you’re racing the boat. And be more relaxed when you’re doing great.

Will we have the pleasure to see you and Blur in Cowes this Summer? Doing Fastnet again?

We’ll stay in Scandinavia in 2017 (some of my crew might do Fastnet) and we’re looking at a European Tour in 2018.

Similar advice in Swedish:

Rolex Fastnet Race | tips & trix