Solo offshore racing is more accessible than many realise and you do not need to be vastly experienced or deep-pocketed to get started.
In this blog I am documenting my path through a race season with SORC (Solo Offshore Racing Club) to give an insight into what it is like to compete in an offshore solo race series as an amateur yacht racer whilst holding down a challenging day job, a family life and a couple of other slightly abnormal hurdles to contend with.
The first of those was recovering from serious shoulder surgery to my rotator cuff and the second that I have a new, but rather old, boat in a serious state of disrepair.
NEW (OLD) BOAT
Learning and setting up a new boat presents various issues to the racing sailor, which is why many of us choose one type or class and stick to it. I sold my last [very good] Sunfast 3200 to buy a cheaper boat, hoping to save some cash for a new sailing project. However, the 17-year-old J105 I plumped for is not looking like the cost-effective solution I was hoping for.
I looked at a few hard-raced examples in the Solent and ended up doing a deal with a pushy broker in the Netherlands for Jingle, a freshwater lake-sailed boat with light competition use. I thought I would be in for an easier ride.
Jingle was hoiked out of the drink in November and laid up ashore in Stellendam for some relatively light hull-work, which I was prepared for. This included resealing the hull-to-deck join, dealing with some soft bits around the shroud bases, scraping years of blistering antifoul off the bottom and finishing off with some minor engine work.
I also budgeted for some new electronics and a dependable power supply, which is vital to a solo sailor. First, you need accurate information and second, you need it to be visible from the helm. Things like a plotter in the cockpit plus the all-important AIS, radar enhancer and autopilot should never be scrimped on.
Autopilot failure early in a race will make it very tough to finish; and not being able to see all the marine traffic around you is a solo sailor’s nightmare – especially when racing through busy shipping areas when you are very tired.
WHY CHANGE BOAT?
A question I am asking myself daily as emails come in from the yard in the Netherlands detailing more and more issues that need sorting.
I am relatively new to setting up old boats as I have always had the benefit of sailing new ones. But I am starting to see why old boats are like many of the old ski chalets I develop, as part of my work with Alpine Elements. Like an old chalet, I am discovering that boats can rot too.
As the project has started to progress, the issues have started to expose themselves, the costs are mounting and this J105 will probably end up costing me more than the entire proceeds from my old (but quite new) Sunfast 3200.
NO MAST, NO ENGINE…
At present, there is not much left on board as most of what was there has had to be replaced. It transpires that I need a new engine, gearbox, prop shaft and bearers. I need new sails so I can use hanks rather than a nasty furler, lots of new running rigging, new standing rigging and I have asked for some strengthening in the form of spreader doublers and a plate to strengthen the vang-to-boom fitting.
I have no experience of J105s but another, quite successful, 105 owner – Nick Martin ex Diablo J – recommended such mods.
I will probably end up with one of the best J105’s around; she will be pretty much all-new when we are finished, the only original hull-fittings being the steering wheel and the keel.
With the boat a work in progress, I am focusing on what I can do to get prepared and that is sorting out my shoulder and getting my level of fitness up again.
I am not as experienced a racing sailor as many of the other solo racers I race against, so I figure that if I get as fit as possible then my agility and stamina will win me places where I fall down on harder-won sailing experience. Experience, and of course, good navigation wins you races but physical stamina also helps – especially when doing tough endurance races overnight, or over many nights.
Having a great physio helping me with my shoulder – Tighe works for the Australian Olympic sailing team – has really helped me see the benefit of fitness for sailing. So at the moment my physio has me running 10 – 15km a week and doing some pedalling on static cycle-trainers as my shoulder will not allow much else.