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Plan B and Team Treebeard take part in the 50th Rolex Fastnet Race

by John Gillard, Plan B

September 2023

Treebeard is proud to support Plan B, which from its Gosport base on the south coast works with young people not engaging in mainstream education, who are at risk of criminal activity and who are not in any form of education, training or employment. Through vocational educational programmes in carpentry, boat building and joinery, which include access to qualifications, and daily programmes learning to sail inshore and offshore vessels, Plan B offers a lifeline for young people who feel they have nowhere left to turn. In July, Plan B trainee Adam joined a combined team of Plan B and Treebeard sailors to take part in the 50th Fastnet race. Skipper (and Plan B Founder) John Gillard writes:

On the 22nd July, a team of Plan B staff, trainees and three of Treebeard's trustees lined up alongside 450 other yachts for the start of the 50th edition of the world famous Rolex Fastnet race. This was the record for the most yachts ever to start an offshore race, and what a start it was. Gale force conditions on the first leg out of the Solent saw unprecedented damage, injuries, dismasting's and a sinking.

With our IRC 1 fleet having a mid start, this gave us an advantage of seeing where the boats ahead of us were sustaining the most damage, as there were a great number already heading back up the Solent as we entered the Needles Channel in what was obviously boat breaking conditions. We decided the risk of a continued passage along the Needles Channel and through the notorious 'Bridge' gap (where the Solent meets the English channel) was our greatest risk of damage, so instead, we tacked to the north, through the gap between the shingles and Hurst Spit, and into Christchurch bay.

This was still rough, but more manageable as we headed towards Anvil Point, but with some protection from the Swanage peninsula and through the night towards Portland. By the following morning, 82 yachts had retired and headed for ports of refuge, or back home. Our Plan B team managed to keep going despite sea sickness, fatigue and damage. Unfortunately, due to taking the slightly longer and more unfavourable (to the wind) route we missed the Portland tidal gate, which in turn put us on the back foot for future tidal gates along the south coast as we headed towards Lands End.

Plan B trainee, Adam

By Monday morning, the wind had gone to the north which meant headwinds once again and with force 5-6 winds, made for very steep seas and a difficult 'beat' between the mainland and the Isle of Scilly. It was certainly not conditions you would have chosen to round this famous headland, and again the race saw many retirees for damage and injury, and we witnessed boats ahead of us turning back with obvious sail damage and more. Into the Irish sea delivered us the first truly calm weather where we were able to dry the boat and ourselves, check our gear for damage, rest properly for the first time and take stock.

Unfortunately as happens all too often the 'calm after the storm became the 'becalm' and we spent the rest of the day and first night in the Irish sea hunting for wind in any direction we could in order to keep moving and some crew members (Plan B trainee Adam especially) yearned once again for the strong winds of the previous days. With some careful navigating, lots of sail changes and nurturing on the helm of the good ship Lancelot 2, we rounded the Fastnet rock at around 0700 on the morning of Wednesday the 26th in a freshening Westerly breeze(on the nose again) and less than 200 metres visibility. We caught one glimpse of the famous lighthouse on top of the rock only, before we celebrated with the nicest fruitcake (Brandy based) that anyone had tasted.

The freshening westerly wind really did freshen until we were once again on the smallest headsail and reefed down on a 'fetch' (still sailing close to the wind) back across the Irish sea, aiming to leave the Scilly Isles once again to port. This for some was the roughest section so far and the rain was incessant. With all crew scrabbling to find any dry articles of clothing they had, or resigned to wearing wet clothes on watch, we were clipped on as we increased our speeds off the wind for the first time. There was great satisfaction onboard as we rounded the scillies, entered the English Channel once again and hoisted our spinnaker (downwind sail) for the first time and the boat became level whereby we could move around easier and safer, and sleep became more comfortable.

We had a great run back up the English channel, passing Alderney (northern most Channel Island) close to starboard and seeing other competitors alongside us under spinnaker for the first time in a while gave us the incentive to push hard along the coast of the Cherbourg peninsula and onto the finish line between the forts of Cherbourgs Grand harbour at approx 1430 on Friday 28th July to complete the race, finishing in Cherbourg (France) in just over 5 and a half days. The mileage and experience for our trainees and immense satisfaction for all onboard. We were also blessed with an onboard media crew member Simon, who documented the journey beautifully in film and pictures. This was a once in a generation opportunity to sail in conditions that tested the very metal of all out there, whether seasoned or newby, every finisher felt they had achieved the desired goal of racing in the worlds largest and most famous offshore sailing adventure.

Hear more about Plan B trainee Adam's journey in this interview with John.


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