Well, what a week! In fact, what a few months.
I'm hugely proud to have taken part in this event and would obviously like to thank Nick & Debbie Gilley for giving me the chance to do so. Also a massive thanks to TD, Camp Kenny, and Tom for their support all the way round, and to Ice Cream Truck & Jay for making the trip up to Newcastle with some vital spares for us, thank you all very much.
As many know, we were horribly late with finishing the boat for the race, in fact, it still isn't finished at all. In the closing hours, many helped out in some nasty, drizzly weather to get us to the start line, including TD, Matt, Chaos, Steve & Ross Mac, and a good few others, so thanks to them also.
Portsmouth > Plymouth
The first leg was nothing short of total panic trying to get into the water & fuelled in time for the start. I discovered when I sat in the boat for the first time (on the way out to muster) that with my safety kit on, it was the most uncomfortable driving position imaginable! In the frantic rush, a very, very basic course was plotted into the gps, which may, or may not have taken us into the now famous exclusion zone off Start Point in Devon, as it panned out, the Marine Track system decided that one for us.
I completed the first leg without even buckling up my life jacket straps & leg bands, no gloves and the dreadfull driving position I found myself in, not a lot of fun to be honest. We were fortunate that whilst the boat is sadly quite a bit off the pace (we had hoped for low-mid 60's, but actually, 58mph was really the best we ever saw) that first leg turned out to be quite snotty from the Needles all the way to Plymouth, especially Lyme Bay and off Salcombe/Plymouth Sound, so top speed wasn't really all that important. We managed an average speed of about 10mph more than the next boat in class and were quite happy. (until 3 days later when we got the 30 min penalty)
Plymouth > Milford Haven
This leg was cancelled due to F10 gales in the Lands end / Bristol Channel area, so we were off to Milford Haven by road.
Milford Haven > Bangor
The morning of the Milford to Bangor leg (about 230 miles) brought an interesting challenge. Some kind soul had snipped through our Garmin GPS antenna lead and the antenna was gone from the deck. An off the cuff suggestion from Tom (Nicks Bro) that "the Road Angel navigator in the motor home had a remote antenna, and would that do?" turned out to be a life saver. We grafted the remains of the Garmin (BNC) lead/plug onto the lead from the car gps, and amazingly they were compatible! We had navigation again. I hurried a route together, but it seems I programmed mark 1 (giving the border of yet another 'exclusion zone') with a miss typed digit. On the start run the gps told me my first turn was 482 miles away, directly behind us! Great!
OK, we'll follow someone to the first mark, then we should be OK from there.
A very large swell rolling in from the Irish sea seemed to suit us very well. We had to really hold back in order to follow the lead boat and really felt we could just turn the wick up and walk away from the fleet, but clearly couldn't, as we were playing follow the leader. About ten miles out, we finally get to the illusive mark 1 where we'll be turning right and heading up the Irish sea following our own nav. But within a few miles of the turn, the large swell disappeared, we were flat out at 58mph as all the quicker stuff such as Jamie & Jon in the SR9 were screaming off into the distance with absolutely fkk all we could do. We made 3rd in class to Bangor, with Jamie leading (in class & overall!!) and the Goldfish 29 second. An awsome run for the SR9, and of course it was punctuated by a phone call from Mr Pascoe to rub it in.
Bangor > Oban
A forecast of a brisk S-Easterly gave us hopes for some advantage in the early stages of this 121 mile leg, but 8 miles into it the st/bd motor suddenly dropped from 4+k down to a high idle. The computer said we had a 'engine speed sensor failure'. The motor would run at 2000rpm (seemed like a guardian mode) and with this and the good engine, we covered the remaining 100 odd miles at 36mph. Well & truely pissed off, we rolled into Oban behind the Goldfish & team Jersey to learn that Jamie was behind us, also suffering technical issues.
It turned out that our failure was the elastic rubber portion of the harmonic damper (& front pully assy including the castleated disc that triggers the speed sensor) had disintegrated, so the outer portion had floated about and the disc had gone out of alignment with the sensor, so no info to the ECU, hence the gaurdian mode. It also meant that the pulley remains had been rubbing against the oil pump body doing a fair bit of damage.
I've never, ever seen a harmonic ballancer fail like this, other than really old, rusty ones where the rubber bond has failed over years. Certainly never one with < 10 hours on the clock.
Steyr UK (Mermaid Marine) didn't have any new balancers to send, so overnighted a used one from an engine in their Poole workshops to us which we fitted in Inverness on the lay day, along with doing a bit more 'finishing off'
We also had the indignity of a trailer wheel bearing failure on the road from Oban to Inverness, on the same wheel that had a tyre explode on the way to Portsmouth on the scrutineering day (thanks to Adrian (Foolish) for sorting a tyre out for us on that occasion). Some helpfull local advice led us to a bearing supplier and we again, had 4 wheels on our wagon.
Inverness > Edinburgh
Another long leg of 240 miles and my own first experience of the North Sea.
Sadly, 20 miles into this leg, which was looking to be quite well suited to us (lumpy) we had the exact same failure of the harmonic ballancer, this time on the port motor! I can confirm that the air was pretty blue on board Swipewipes.co.uk. So another 220 miles at 36mph it was! These two failures had now cost us around 3 extra hours on our elapsed time.
Steyr told us to remove the ballancer from the spare engine we were carrying (this motor was on a sale or return deal, so we had been reluctant to open the box) and they organised to ship another unit to Newcastle so that we'd still have a spare.
After thinking long & hard we decided to change the pulley in Newcastle, as there had to be a bad batch of these units and the 3 we had (2 in boat, one on spare motor) were all from the same, defective batch, where as the one shipped to Newcastle was new, but from an old stock motor, so a different batch. That last pulley, and the second hand one sent to Inverness are still on the boat working fine, so the theory must be ok.
Edinburgh > Newcastle
One of the shorter legs at about 115 miles. Again, the opening section of the leg was quite lumpy, especially as we approached the headland before our sharp right turn down the coast to Newcastle. There were various classes of boats struggling and floundering in the big swell and we easilly pulled out a nice lead over our main competition who were getting a pretty hard ride of it with multiple stuffs and drenchings. However, as soon as we turned the corner to head south, it was as flat as a witches tit! OH Bollix! All we could do was sit at our tedious 58mph and wait till they all came screaming past.
At about the 55mile mark, Team Jersey, closely followed by Mr Mako, cruised past with what appeared to be a 15mph advantage, very frustrating indeed.
Then at the 100 mile marker, it was the Goldfish ribs turn to humiliate us with a gentle cruise by. 15 miles to go and we'd been caught by what had become our most threatening competitor, the Goldfish 29...ho hum. Our only satisfaction was that it had taken them all this long to catch up the lead we had gained in the 10 miles or so of rough water,,,shame it hadn't been 15 miles of rough.
Newcastle > Lowestoft
This and the last leg were among the longest at circa 230 miles each.
We decided to go halfway between a straight offshore point to point route, and the 'hug the bays' strategy of the sprint boats of team jersey & mr mako, favouring the 'touch the tips' approach going from headland to headland recconing this gave us the option to change our mind if we wanted, en route.
More flat conditions meant a deserved victory for mr mako with a scorching time, (about 40 mins ahead of us) and the goldfish about 10 mins ahead of us.
Lowestoft > Portsmouth
We had thought this was going to be rough! To the point I told the Goldfish boys that we were gonna 'do em' the next day. However, yet again, the conditions from Lowestoft to about South Foreland we perfect for a 1.3 litre cat, and definitely not Phantom 32 weather. We sat at the now usual 58mph watching the roosters disappear until around Dover, where a bit of tab and tank were needed, and the run from there to the Solent was a mildly challenging head sea, with a bit extra chucked in around Dungeness.
At a point 109 miles from the finish, I 'dabbed' the port tab switch to level her up and the port engine faltered - EEEEK! What was that? Another test, and it was confirmed, we appeared to have charging failure on the port motor. An already heavily discharged battery meant that any extra current draw pulled the battery volts below the 'critical' for the engine ECU's and fuel pump to do their thing, hence the dip in oooomph. So the last 109 miles were done with only the occasional very short stab at the trim switches which gave a terrifying hessitation from the port lump. We really weren't sure if it would make the 100 miles on what remained in the battery and discussed our options of ripping out some of the bilge pump wiring to link the charging circuits (one of the jobs that never got done in the mad panic rig, was the battery crossover link cables & switch), luckily though, it continued to tick all the way to the line. We tried to restart the motor back in Gunwharf Quays, and it was a flat as a pancake.
So, We were beaten by the excellent team from Goldfish, who's boat, preparation, and general team professionalism & effort was faultless. I take my hat of the the team, who are a really nice bunch of guys too.
It is slightly gaulling for me that the pulley affair cost us around 3 hours on our total elapsed time, and we were beaten by 2 hours 25 mins (including our dubious 30 minute penalty), there's no way of knowing if we could have won, as being up with the leaders may have just meant they turned their 'wick' up a little and stayed ahead of us, who knows. I guess that's racing!
I'd like to publically show thanks to Mike Lloyd for deciding to resurect & organise the event, and actually making it happen, against all odds and the opinion of many onlookers, at a time when getting half a dozen 3C boats to enter a race seems impossible. Getting 47 teams to personally fund such a mamouth and historic event is simply outstanding! Thank you, from team R-Swipes, and I'm sure all the other competitors.
Thanks and respect to all the guys who worked both behind the scenes and in full view, cranes, safety, scroots etc.
We met some great characters during the event, some new racers, some very old. I hope to stay in touch with many of them, and maybe we'll see them again at one event or another (Cowes maybe??)
Also many thanks to Jan Falkowski for all his help and patience with his chart library!!
One last observation:
It seems rather funny, that given the well known & documented (at least by the ribnet crowd
) superiority of RIBs over hard boats in rough water, it was in the only rough water we had during this race that we did well, beating ALL the similar sized blow up boats, and some of the larger and faster with our silly narrow little 'speedboat'. How does that work?? or is it just that all rib drivers are big girls blouses? It looked to us like the ribs were good for darting about in the calm, but shite if there was a real wave to be found.
BTW, big respect to the 'Debois' girls! They went like stink, and were never heard bleating or moaning once.
Roll on CTC.