2017 PYRA ON TOUR
Sunday 13th August – The return race from Yarmouth was timed neatly to catch the tide with just the right amount of breeze to get us back into Poole YC allowing 30 minutes to regroup for the PYRA on Tour briefing at 1900hrs. Boats from the original dozen or so entries were dropping out till the last moment but there were still seven of us – Addiction, Maris Otter, Samphire of Chi, Shebeen, Smithy, Ternary and Quadrophenia – 1 x multihull + 6 monohulls ranging from a 28’ Contessa up to a Beneteau 40.7.
This was going to be a fully democratic event so first decision was where to go. With a light southerly forecast the West Country Itinerary was a no brainer, the only downside being the need to start the first race to Brixham at 0400 in 9 hours time. Oh well, the whole idea was to sail as much as we reasonably could, so let’s start as we mean to go on.
Monday – Shebeen was volunteered to do the first start but motoring out at 0300 there wasn’t a breath of wind. Anticipating leading a motor convoy towards Portland in the pitch black didn’t appeal, but the Tour Mojo fired up bang on time with a lovely 7/8kt southerly reaching our motley fleet 5 minutes before the warning signal. My mental image of the start is all black with a random kaleidoscope of red, white and green lights – probably all clear on the start signal and we’re away. Torches on the telltales in best Fastnet fashion, dicing with Quadrophenia through a beautiful dawn till St Aldhelms when she changed up a gear and pulled inexorably away. Shot past Portland on the ebb tide and a shyish kite reach across Lyme Bay always with Quad and Maris Otter in sight but rather small in the distance. Good food on passage and the first of many Ricard noon day toasts.
Meanwhile, Class 5 Smithy took the option of a later start, just climbing out of their PJs as we were passing the Shambles. With uncanny precision they caught and passed us on the final approach in to Brixham. By now it was raining – not a lot, but we could see why Devon is so green. Rob had phoned ahead and worked his charm to get us rafted up together, a feat repeated at every stopover despite inevitable short notice.
A 1900 RV in a quayside pub, collect finish times, agree to go for Plymouth the next day, fish and chips fending off the seagulls then Andy led me astray into the backstreets and a hidden gem of an eccentric drinking hole. Dark interior with a roaring open fire, the low ceiling festooned with a mega collection of chamber pots and an 84 year old Liverpudlian landlady sitting in the middle of her bar-room chain smoking, giving 2 fingers to the world and loudly singing along to her 60s juke box – perfect!
Tuesday – Addiction started us off the end of the breakwater next morning to stem the tide down to Start Point and then catch the ebb around the headlands. A light north westerly so set up for port pole anticipating a gybe after 1.5 miles to get out of Torbay. Oh no – a backing shift in the start sequence called for a starboard pole which we carried to Berry Head (notorious for its fickle shifts and shadows) but then the wind backed again south west, so hard on the wind. Going down the shore more headers made the first leg a true beat with the advantage going to those tacking well inshore out of the worst tide. We were close to Dartmouth entrance 2 hours into the race and only 5 miles south of our starting point. Along this stretch we were always neck and neck with Quad, the lead chopping and changing as we cross tacked.
The wind freshened as we approached Start Point with a lumpy sea and into fishing pot city, strung out like a minefield with strong tides to hold them down just out of sight. Quad’s longer legs was pulling her ahead by now. Contemplating a reef, Myriam distracted me waxing lyrical about the quality of the low afternoon sun on the spectacular coastline. It was pretty, so we tacked in for a closer look (well actually to find a better tide), and oh yes, did I mention the wind was now veering so we were in for another beat westwards to Bolt Head? Port tack was horrible in the awkward chop to the extent that Salcombe looked most inviting as we closed on her entrance. Don’t weaken – press on looking forward to cracking sheets after Bolt for the final leg up to Plymouth with its fine hostelries and legendary hospitality.
You know what, the wind veered round to the north west, so more beating, but at least the wind and seas had eased. Just before Plymouth there is a big rocky island – the Great Mew Stone – which we were to get to know very well over the next few hours. We had been laying it comfortably as the sun set over the Cornish cliffs. Then we saw a red light sailing out from the shore crossing just ahead. It was Quadrophenia but as she tacked back just a short way out, we were both headed again and aiming for the Yealm entrance. Tack out to clear the big rock and hey ho, we’re both headed again. Well this went on and on till finally in a dying wind by now coming directly from our FL at the western entrance, we watched on AIS as Quad crept across the finish just 0.25ml ahead. I called her up saying Well Done and we’ll be over in the next 10 minutes. Well that was a daft thing to say. Another 20 minutes with no wind, a dying tide and a horrible wide concrete shelf extending out from the lighthouse, we drifted across with motor on tick over to get us away from the hard stuff if necessary.
The fleet was snugly locked into Sutton Harbour but was awake and welcomed us way past midnight with plenty of drinks and tales of good Plymouth eating and fine ales enjoyed during the past few hours!
Wednesday – A layday in Plymouth, tied up in the heart of the Barbican and close to the Hoe. Lovely wander around, up Smeaton’s lighthouse, cream tea and back for an 1800 Rum Tot RV, loyal toast (’Ourselves! As no-one else is liable to concern themselves with our welfare – and the Queen, God bless Her’), plans for the next day all sheltered under the marina building verandah right next to our boats as the rain tipped down.
Thursday – Time to turn back for home with a leg around to Dartmouth. Maris Otter did the start honours with Rose’s calm measured vhf manner belying her apparent stage fright at going public for the first time. She did fine, laying a line halfway along the lee of the breakwater with a short brisk beat out to the western entrance, where the full horror of the concrete shelf hidden on Tuesday night could be seen. A fresh westerly breeze on the beam powered us along to Bolt Head. Being short-handed, the lumpy sea dispelled any thoughts of the kite. Around Start Point, the wind gusted but as we got out of the swell, up went the heavy kite for a blast past Slapton Sands and on to the Dartmouth FL. Our best speed was 9.4kts, but any post-race bragging was soon matched and overtaken by the others. Nevertheless a lovely sail and what a contrast to the Tuesday slog.
Being in high season and with the regatta fast approaching, Dartmouth was full of boats but we were able to raft up together on one of the island dw pontoons for 2 nights. RV in the Dartmouth YC and good hearty pies for supper. Manda arrived to take Andy home and Jason also had to leave Ternary, leaving us both 2 handed; but then so were Samphire, Smithy and Quadrophenia.
Friday – Forecast to be windy and it was. The rain fell away by lunchtime so cribbage and Ricard under the cockpit tent gave way for a really lovely walk around the headland looking out on a magnificent white flecked blue sea. Who needs the Caribbean? Talking of which, another 1800 pontoon Rum Tot was planned. We drank the Friday loyal toast (‘A willing foe and sea room – and the Queen, God bless Her’). Addiction’s Sam was celebrating his 15th birthday so, instead of bumps and a swim around the pontoon, we drank his health, whereupon latecomers from Ternary fetched up on the water taxi. It would have been churlish not to, so, being well past 1800, a ‘Mismuster Tot’ was called (‘To the wind that blows, the ship that goes, and the lass that loves a sailor – and the Queen God bless Her’). Plans were made for the Saturday race to Weymouth. Bearing in mind the need to get the tide right at Portland and the massive potential speed difference between boats, we elected to self start on the hour or half-hour of our choosing. This was to prove fascinating. Being full of rum and all very pleased with life, while Addiction’s crew went off for a birthday feast, the remainers settled down into Maris Otter’s snug, warm saloon for more refreshment, good stories and Mike’s rope tricks (ask him how to tie a bowline but don’t blink!).
Saturday – Samphire out early for an 0630 start, Quadrophenia went at 0700, Shebeen 0800, Ternary 0830, Maris Otter and Addiction 0930 and finally Smithy at 1100hrs. The wind was from the west starting quite gently under the lee of the Devon cliffs. Pulling away from the coast it freshened and oscillated, so sailing as deep as we dared with a preventer on the boom, sometimes we were laying our waypoint 2 miles off the Bill and sometimes aiming north of the Isle. I was wary of committing to the north side and taking the south tide set for the inshore passage because of the fresh conditions and building seas. We were surfing at up to 10.4 kts. After a full half hour of detailed discussion on how to recover the purple beast, the time came 4miles off during a relative lull – the lazy guy was led over the boom down into the companionway; everything was checked and flaked to run smooth; the halyard was streamed off the stern; out with the genny, open the clutch and let the halyard run free, guy off with lazy sheet in hot pursuit, kite floats down on its air cushion and grab armfuls of guy and kite through the ‘letterbox’. Phew – all clean and dry; gybe and sail off almost as fast to pass south of the Race and harden up well to the west of the Shambles.
Samphire was coming in fast from starboard as we led them round the east side of Portland towards the breakwater where we could see boats well pressed out of the lee of the cliffs. It was blowing hard and I knew we should reef but not with Samphire right up our chuff. With the gunwale dipped and spilling wind off the main, Myriam battled the weather helm deliberately over-standing the tacking angle back into the FL, knowing that we would struggle 2-handed to sheet on hard with so much sail. We came back into the entrance quite open and what a relief as we came to wind and furled the headsail. Samphire came over the finish just after us hotly chased by Smithy and very quickly afterwards Addiction. It was very pleasing to see such different boats all having worked their passage plans to come in so close. Maris Otter was 15 minutes or so later whilst Quadrophenia was already securely tied up with the kettle on. Ternary arrived an hour or so later reflecting her late start.
Weymouth was in full holiday fest with the fairground waltzer blasting out on the quayside but no time for shenanigans with a table booked for the whole fleet in The Stable and results already coming through from Matt. Maris Otter had won again but the biggest cheer was for Mel and Sarah on Samphire. They’d started early, blown out their kite and had gone south of the Race like Shebeen, but came in a good second. Myriam’s photo catches their explosion of glee as the results were announced.
Sunday – One race to go back to Poole and another early start into a low bright sun and no wind. Not wanting to waste the tide, the fleet motored to White Nothe and a sailing breeze from the west where Addiction laid the line. Kites up (for those that had kept at least one in useable condition), hard luffing on the line and away. Addiction went well out sailing the angle while Shebeen managed to stick close behind Maris Otter on a rhum line to go close in at St Aldhelms. A gybe looked likely and wanting to avoid that close in to the rocks, we went out 2-300 yards at which point we closed and passed Maris Otter who was hugging the shoreline. The breeze backed so no gybe and on to Durlston by which time Maris Otter was coming back at us. Again we kept out to retain flexibility for the gybe. Maris Otter got her pole across tight under the headland and slipped ahead. We gybed off Peverill but weren’t going to catch her. Harden up off Old Harry and go for the finish only just saving our time as Maris Otter paced away. A 1st for Shebeen at last!
Excellent timing getting back for the Poole YC carvery and Matt turning up to give final results. Smithy stormed home overall in the multihull class with 5 straight wins. Maris Otter took the monohull class with 3 wins and 2 seconds. With that final win, Shebeen squeezed into 2nd place ahead of Quadrophenia. Addiction took 4th ahead of Samphire and Ternary, both of whom had resorted to engine on the first 2 races.
It was an excellent event. Lots of good sailing with places changing through the week and, not least, splendid company and fun banter between the crews.
….and a big Thank You to Matt who took results by text, email, whatsapp or however, processing them in nanoseconds to enlighten our RVs.