Second by a hair

Ian Moore recounts his Rolex Fastnet Race as navigator on board the maxZ86 Zephyrus V

Wednesday August 13th 2003, Author: James Boyd, Location: United Kingdom
Ian Moore was navigator on the second placed maxi Zephyrus V in the Rolex Fastnet Race and talks us through the tight race the American maxZ86 had with Neville Crichton's Alfa Romeo, which saw the lead change six or seven times over the course of the race, a match race to the finish line and the larger Aussie boat beat them by just 10 minutes.

"It was a very very close finish for two big boats like this in the Fastnet," says Moore. "It is one of the closest two boats finishes I’ve had."

Zephyrus V entered the Rolex Fastnet Race with the sole intent of seeing if they could win line honours over Alfa Romeo.

"Ultimately Shockwave is a bigger faster boat than we are," says Moore. "We spoke to Bob [McNeil, the owner] and asked him if he wanted to have a go at trying to win on handicap. And he said he had no interest in that - he wanted to have a go at beating Shockwave on the water. Ultimately we used a Code Zero which doesn’t have a 75% mid-girth, therefore it rates as a jib, so we have a certificate which is faster than Shockwave’s, because our jibs are all the size of a Code Zero which is ridiculous, but ultimately more horsepower when it gets light and it did help out during this race."

Even with one of the biggest boats in the fleet, they didn't come away entirely unscathed from the tides. "We were very unlucky with the last tidal gate," admitted Moore. "We had the tide out of the Solent and Gordon [Maguire] and John Bertrand did a good job working us out of the Solent. We got about a mile and a half out in front of the next guys and almost immediately the wind died and everyone came in the back door. And then it was very close all the way to Portland Bill. At Portland the tide was turning and we were right next to Shockwave and they got a little zephyr and pulled out a 100 yards, and that 100 yard turned into 200 yards, 400 yards, half a mile, turned into a mile.

"We were 50 yards apart when it happened. We are about 0.5 miles off the Bill on the last of the fair tide coming through there. We got there through on the fair tide and got away before the tide turned but it was a bit more dicey there for a second." After passing Portland Bill, the new breeze from the north filled in earlier than expected and stayed with them all the way to the Fastnet Rock.

"Then there were no more tidal gates, but then basically Alfa just extended on us. We always knew that they were going to be faster than us reaching - those are conditions that favour a longer, stiffer, wider boat. And there was more breeze than forecast."

Unlike some of the boats astern of them, Zephyrus was not hard on the wind to the rock. "It was fetching on starboard, mostly pretty wide fetching, code zeroing, and then at the very end, we had to beat the last 20 miles. It was pretty much a straight line. We both tried to go low and fast because we knew the wind was going to shift left and then the last bit was going to be a beat. So we tried to get left of the rhumb line so that it was going to be as short a beat as possible. So by the time we got to the Rock Alfa were an hour and a half in front of us and then we made our big gain.

"We both went round the Rock and on to Pantaneus, the offset mark, and they did a gybe set and came back inshore, because it was the favoured gybe - so they went east – and we didn’t, we took the unfavoured gybe out to sea because we believed there would be more breeze south of the rhumb line and as it turned out - there was. We were convinced it was going to shift back into the north as we came across, therefore we wanted to be on the right hand side of the track. That would have given us a better angle into the mark.

"What we didn’t want to do is to go so far that when it went right everyone would have laid. So we didn’t want to sail too far off the favoured gybe otherwise you are just losing distance to the mark and then if it goes too far right then everyone can get down there on port.

Again unlike those astern the breeze didn't get too light for them as they approached the Rock. "We had breeze all the way into the Fastnet. It only got light once we got back into the Channel. The high pressure was just south of Fastnet and it was obviously a really sunny clear day so there was quite a good thermal trough just on the Irish shoreline with a high pressure offshore and we had great breeze. It wasn’t a sea breeze - it was just compression between the two. We effective took 20 miles out of them on the run between the Fastnet Rock and Bishop’s Rock. We got round Bishop’s Rock about 2.5-3 miles ahead of them."

However the race had only just begun... "It was tricky. You are always hoping that when you are three miles in front, that it’ll be no problem. At Bishop’s Rock we still had the northerly. It was getting increasingly light. It was out of due north 14 knots which was decreasing as we got east and into the lee of Land’s End and up towards the Lizard and it started to decrease and decrease. At the Lizard it really started to shut down. And at Lizard the tide was against us - that was a big tidal gate. We had someone up the rig calling the breeze and they were saying there is no breeze inshore and there is no breeze offshore and we’re in a bit of a lane here and so we stuck to the lane and ultimately there was more breeze offshore. Although it was tempting to foot - saying there was no breeze outside of us, but your reaction is to get away from the land. And also at Lizard there is more current against you inshore. And they were able to get a little bit outside of us and as we stopped they were able to get into the back of us. They could see us slowing down and as we stopped they carried the breeze in behind us.

"So we basically stayed right next to each other al the way round the Lizard and all the way round to Plymouth Sound. Ultimately I think we forced them to sail a different race to the one they sailed. Our only aim was to beat them on the water. Their aim was to win this race on handicap. I hope we haven’t screwed that up for them.

"We all sailed right up into the bay here and got a sea breeze in the bay and the northerly filled in at the last minute, so it was a real tussle. And we crossed gybes off the Lizard and we had people ready to pull the flag out – it was very good.

From Lizard on they went "radically inshore". "Theoretically you could have sailed a straight line across the bay but we could see more pressure on the shore and so we sailed up into all the bays because there was strong pressure coming off the shore, which was not a normal situation. It would be one of those situations where they would sail straight for a bit and we would go high, get in the pressure and pull bearing on them and then they’d have to up into the bay with us. And even though they kept sailing a shorter course we were sailing further in more pressure and we dragged each other up into the Bay here and at the very last corner the breeze failed us inshore and it paid on the outside and they slipped past."

Meanwhile Alfa Romeo once they were ahead were trying hard to cover them. "They were very dark that we had pulled so much out of them on the run because they had a very healthy lead at the Rock, but woke up the next morning to find themselves in second place."

Moore was generally pleased with their performance and clearly he had done a good considering that the race had turned out to be so tactical. "I think we did really nice work. We made a decision based on the forecast and what we thought was going to happen, stuck to our guns and it paid off, definitely on the leg back. It was a difficult call coming in here and I think John and Gordon did really nice work. It was basically heads out of the boats stuff. There is no way we could forecast it - whether the sea breeze was going to fill in or the northerly might come back and ultimately a combination of all these things happened. So that section of the race was really really seat of the pants, good tactician, dinghy boys calling the shots, guy up the rig and we did good work."

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