Fastnet 2017 Success!!

Here it is... the GFS Fastnet story and success!

At 1021 on Friday 11th the team crossed the finish line on a downwind leg with the symmetric spinnaker flying! All hands were on deck and one almighty cheer from the team signified the end of one incredible campaign.

8/10 members of the team met a few months earlier not knowing one another or the boat. A training weekend kicked it all off where they had a theory lesson on Team Cohesion and Group Development lead by their Skipper Sophie O'Neill as well as practical sessions such as MOB on the water with their mentor Lucinda Allway.

The team were buzzing from the moment they stepped inside the GFS classroom. There were smiles all round.

Here is their story as told by their Skipper...

Our Girls For Sail Fastnet Campaign included 4 qualifying races, a sea survival and training weekend, all to prepare the team not only for the physical aspect of offshore racing but also to develop them not only as individuals but as a united team which is so important for success. 8 out of the 10 members of the team met at the start of the Campaign, the Mate, Louise Clayton and crew member Diana Cross joined in the final week and what an incredible asset to the team they became.

With two qualifiers under our belt but two we retired from the team wanted nothing more than to successfully cross the finish line of the 608nm race...

The morning of the start of the race the team were keen to set off, having prepped Hot Stuff the previous day and thoroughly gone through saftey checks they felt ready to slip their lines.  Anticipation, excitement, apprehension were all mixed into the atmosphere onboard, yet the smiles remained.

Having had some fierce starts in the qualifiers we knew we could set ourselves up competetively on the start line. Relying on our main trimmer Catherine & Jo and the jib trimmers Amanda, Linda and Anna to power the boat up, Hot Stuff sliced through the start and launched herself into the long upwind beat... Out through the Needles before the faster fleet behind could catch us we quickly settled into our watch systems. Keeping well out passing Portland Bill to avoid the strong tides against us it was an upwind all the way to the Scilly Isles. Keeping out of the bays to avoid wind shadows we arrived at the Scillys just as the wind was veering to provide us with.... an upwind leg all the way to the Rock!! No rest for the wicked but the team took it in their stride! 

A weather forecast indicated a building wind and sure enough as night fell the wave height and breeze increased. The crew prepped the boat, stowing away any loose items, reefing the main and dropping to the no.3 jib, Hot Stuff gallantly rode the waves and wind like a dream in the Celtic Sea. She never faltered and nor did the crew, they continued to helm Hot Stuff even as the waves crashed over the side and filled the cockpit like a swimming pool. At one point I looked up just as a wave pummelled the side of the deck and drenched the on-watch crew and under the red glow of the nav station light I could still see their beaming smiles... Louise, the Mate onboard had a team watching the AIS closely as boats were still tacking nearby. At one point a boat on Port Tack wasn't showing up on the AIS but when out of the troughs of the waves we could see his lights. Our crew lit up our sails with a powerful torch but he still failed to take avoiding action. We continued to stand on as we were on Starboard tack. But a few boat lengths away he was not going to avoid us. With waves still beating the side and dousing us from above I gave the command to bear away, the crew did it in the depth of the night, under the strains of the conditions completely seamlessly. And at that moment I knew we had an incredible team of offshore sailors.

Whilst this is all going on on deck of course there are the off watch crew down below in their bunks that rock and creak with the heel of the boat. When the call came for a watch change it was always a comedy sketch down below, sliding off the chart table seat, slipping on the floorboards and hanging on to handrails as though swinging from trees, yet without fail they managed to kit themselves up in their oilys to take over from the crew on deck who were ready to stand down.

As dawn broke the wind eased and so without hesitation a sail change was made. We continued upwind to the Rock and at this point having dropped back in the fleet the previous day we starting picking out our competitors, pulling our way ahead. Approximately 1600 we spotted the Fastnet Rock and.... a giant Leatherback Sea Turtle! Which we had to take avoiding action so as to not hit it!

With the rock in sight the team were ever more excited, we timed our tack beautufully to keep us clear of the TSS... but in typical fashion, the wind backed and instead of being an easy reach to the rock, we had another beat!

Catherine helmed Hot Stuff round the rock as Amanda enthusiastically trimmed the sails, all this energy put into tweaking Hot Stuff meant we continued to pull ahead and leave some of the fleet we had been jostling with in our wake.

The rock was a truly glorious sight, we marvelled at it as for most of the team, this rock signifed a dream they had all set out to achieve. Once round the rock and clear of another TSS, the radiant pink kite went up in no time at all! And it was finally like releasing a horse from the blocks... Hot Stuff accelerated up to 12.3kts and all of a sudden boats around us started to vanish.

An incredible sunset surrounded us with a burning orange glow. The ladies helmed under the spinnaker all night and this continued for the next 36hrs. Whether daylight or at night, with waves or a calm sea, every single crew member took the wheel of Hot Stuff  and helmed her under spinnaker. These ladies loved the challenge and what a testament to them all that I could sit down below or sleep soundly in my bunk knowing they gave the kite their full attention.

Once nearing the Scilly Isles we hugged them closely to port, pulling round them neatly as we headed East towards Plymouth Sound. With the Plymouth Harbour wall entrance insight we knew the finish line was only a mere leap away and so too our family and friends who were there to meet us in! Approx an hour away from the finish line we were all up on deck absorbing this momentous moment. The drizzly rain didn't dampen our spirits, those smiles that I first saw those months ago were still there, the teams incredible energy and focus had still not weakened. This was one hell of a driven team.

I put names on pieces of paper screwed into little balls, one name was to be drawn and that person was to helm us over the finish line with the kite still up! And Diane Smith had been chosen! Encroaching on the finish line the team took up positions, braced for the call of the horn we waited and when that sound blasted we all cheered! I know Hot Stuff did too.

We did it.

And now all we wanted to do was to see our family and friends who were waiting for us on the pontoon. Amanda had made bunting for Hot Stuffs arrival so as we motored in we adorned and decorated her. Swinging round the corner we saw Lucinda the teams mentor and waved to our onshore support team!  

For me these ladies who started out as strangers developed into one of the most inspiring teams I have ever worked with. They all put each other first and the support they demonstrated throughout sets an incredible example of what the word team means.

This is simply my own description, I hope they will all tell you their own.


The Team consisted of: Sophie O'Neill, Louise Clayton, Diane Smith, Anna Phelon, Catherine Keohone, Jo Kavannah, Amanda Jones, Diana Cross, Linda Briant, Katharina Morsch

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