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James Hardiman Blog 4: Will I make the start of the SoloFASTNET?

by James Hardiman 21 May 2018 12:00 BST
Fluke IV during the delivery trip from Holland © James Hardiman

For those following my blog, you may recall that I'm writing about my journey through a solo race season, and what it takes to set up a new boat from scratch and get her race-ready for the SoloFASTNET on June 2nd. The toughest solo race in the UK.

It's just two weeks to the start and Fluke IV, my J-105, is still in a right old mess. I bought her last September in Holland where I commissioned a yard to refit her for offshore racing as she'd only ever been lake-sailed. I'm sad to report that the yard have somewhat 'stung me' and after two months delay and a lot of poor workmanship, I'm left with a broken old boat with a lot of work to do for solo offshore racing, (which is a serious undertaking), and we're really struggling to get her ready in time. My most pressing task is to convince the Race Committee and myself that the boat is fit to compete in the soloFASTNET.

There won't even be enough time to practice sailing her solo for the event. In fact, the joke around here is that my first outing on her solo will be the 6-mile hop from Hamble Point marina to the start line of the Fastnet!

The delivery trip

After countless let downs and delays by the yard, we were told that Fluke IV was finally ready to be collected and bought back to England. So, with mixed feelings I set off for Stellendam with a mate to pick her up and bring her to her home to Hamble. The trip was to prove a little disappointing and quite eventful, which has left me feeling very negative about the boat's ability (and mine) to do the 'big race'.

High expectations

My expectations on seeing the newly refitted Fluke IV for the first time were still quite high. After all, the yard had her indoors for much of the winter with the rig off, replacing the engine, electronics, rigging and sorting various soft patches in the hull. They kept saying that she would be "better than new" and they certainly started the project with a thoroughly 'Dutch approach', leaving me confident that all would be well.

But the months ticked by and their completion date became ever more delayed, I should have realised that Fluke IV wasn't their priority and that she'd become a bit of a rush-job. The yard then told me on the actual day of collection that many jobs had not even been completed! And so, (because time had run out), we had to sail her back to England as she was - with lots of emergency gear and tools on board - as what could only be deemed a barely fit-for-sea yacht.

After a thorough dockside inspection and a few tweaks to the rig, we stowed our gear, checked the rags and set off for the lock leading out to the North Sea. With the donkey hammering away and Simon 'Dunk' Corner on the helm, we started to look forward to a trip back to Blighty... But blighted we were!

A non-starter!

In fact, it took us two goes to leave the yard. On first departure, the boat simply felt wrong. The steering was heavy, the new B&G nav gear didn't work, the new engine was noisy and various fittings looked poor. So, feeling utterly dejected, I made the decision to turn back. After wrangling with the yard owner, (and clearly getting nowhere), we made our own fixes to the vessel before setting off for a second attempt.

A slap in the face

I have to say that this was the real slap in the face for me. The whole process has been fraught with stress since deciding to sell my 3 year old (well sorted) Sunfast 3200 and trade down to an older J105, (for seemingly logical reasons at the time). It started badly with an overly pushy Dutch sales agent... then the yard who did a very good 'PR' job on me... to their continued delays... my subsequent absence from the start of the Solo Offshore race season (I've missed 4 races.)... to receiving a boat which was not only half-finished, but poorly finished too.

Now that she's in Hamble, I'm able to work with professional people who understand yacht racing. Various legendary locals have rallied around to help me get a 50 point job-list completed in under two weeks, which includes redoing much of the work the Dutch yard have done. It's going to be tight but we're working all hours in order to get me and the good ship Fluke IV to the start line of the Fastnet on June 2nd.

The trip back

It's not all doom and gloom though. I may have bought an old banger-of-a-boat fraught with issues, and had a dreary winter recovering from shoulder surgery - but sunshine dawned on day two of the delivery trip home and the winds backed into the east and turned up a notch - which gave us the chance to air Fluke IV's turbo for the first time... the famous J-boat bowsprit!

So, after a short spell upside down in the forward cabin trying to pull the bowsprit out from its sticking seal, I dug out a musty looking kite and crossed my fingers. So far, so good! Kite was hoisted, shoulder stayed in check and boat picked up the pace. I then decided to switch off the autopilot and take the wheel. Bad idea.

What followed was a wrap around the head furler and a brief session of trawling (the spinnaker)... So, I roused Simon from his bunk and we got the asymmetric sail hoisted out of the drink and soon enjoyed planing speeds with 22-25kts+ of wind up our backsides! A J-105 likes to be off the wind and we clocked speeds of 17-19+kts [boat speed] getting from Brighton to Hamble in a shade over four hours. Woah! Now I know what the fuss is all about with these J105's!

Finally, I had my reward... but on our next gybe the mainsheet blocks blew and the vang fitting shattered! So, points 51 and 52 on the job-list are for a new mainsheet system and a complete new boom.

Final note for readers

A few people have recently queried my sanity in setting off for a 600 mile Solo yacht race in a new (but very old) and untested boat. But also a boat in which I've never sailed solo, nor had any practice sailing. I must admit that I'm starting to feel it too. Maybe it's just the jitters? But if any readers would like to comment with your thoughts on the sense of doing this race, (given the odds), or to just send words of encouragement - then do feel free to comment below.

My story is a humoured tale with a very serious ring to it, and I hope that readers appreciate the lengths that I am going to, to make Fluke IV fit to race. If I do not achieve this, then I will not participate. There will be no risks or shortcuts taken in my preparation. I am also entering this race with prior experience of a Solo FASTNET which I completed in 2016.

Credits:

Huge thanks to Flash and the team at Performance rigging, Derek Morland at Yachting Sports and Mike and Ronan from North sails for rallying round to help in the last week since Fluke IV arrived. Also thanks to Rob from Aztec who helped massively with a dockside commission (at sea) when we needed it, and to Campbell Field for agreeing to step in and finish the job off.

Thanks to my staff at Ocean Elements flotilla sailing holidays for putting up with my absence in the run up to the opening of our yacht fleet and Beach Clubs in Greece. At least they're doing a great job!

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