One small leg of a delivery


Imagine a 40ft GRP flying wedge, shaped like the paper darts you threw at school. Now imagine you are sitting on the wings of such a dart skimming along the surface of the sea. Keeping her ‘in flight’ is a giant carbon fibre rig, sticking up into the sky and a three metre long broadsword  of keel poking down into the ocean from her bottom: levers for the elements to push and pull.

There’s about 8 – 10 knots of north-easterly wind  and Orca is flying along at 8.5 knots from the Solent out to the Owers light. The towers of benighted peak oil are shrinking to pins as Fawley disappears astern. Inshore of this wind machine, angling boats roll and bob in the turbulent water around the shoals of the Looe Channel, hoping that cod has not peaked.

Once cardinal Owers has nodded his southerly mitre at us, skipper Tom Hayhoe, vice-commodore of the RORC, hardens her up and prepares for a dead-noser all the way up Channel.

‘This could only happen to me,’ he says, ‘I’m beginning to take it personally.’ Tom is taking Orca round to Harwich for the North Sea Race and the Skagen Race into the Baltic. Both are preparations for the very demanding Round Britain and Ireland fully crewed race which starts in August. Two of his round-Britain crew are aboard for this delivery trip to the East Coast. Both Bob Clitherow, navigator, and watch leader Chris Beeson, YM’s assistant editor, were on the last round-Britain race with Tom. Both recall how at each corner of the British Isles the wind headed them and they beat virtually all the way round. Two other crew members tried to organise a mutinous retiral, even Bob – who as navigator did not have to stand a watch – said: ‘We all had to dig very deep on that race.’

Now we are motor-sailing, slamming Orca’s hull dead into the wind as we steer for Beachy Head and with the tide now helping us there’s a bit of sea to leap over as well.
‘Have a savoury Mars bar,’ said Tom handing round ready-cooked sausages from a plastic loaf bag.

‘Thirty eight miles to Sovereign Harbour,’ says Bob whose checked the boat’s GPS with his own personal one which hangs like a necklace over his foulies. Eastbourne is where he and I will have to jump ship in order to get back to work for Monday morning. Tom turns in for a while.

After an hour or two of slamming we have a rethink and decide Newhaven is a better drop off point: it has all tide access, there’s no lock to negotiate unlike at Sovereign Harbour, it’s nearer and we can re-set some sail as we can almost lay it.

Decision made we start pulling up the white humps of the Seven Sisters and Bob’s on his mobile making further crew arrangements for the forthcoming races later in the season: ‘I think it’s Limo,curry and sparrow’s’ he says enigmatically. Chris quietly explains it means other round-Britain crew can gather at Lymington, have an evening meal and then get up early in preparation for the next delivery trip.  

Bob and I watched Orca motor back out of Newhaven into the dusk and made our way to the train home and a warm bed.  We knew that after a brief sail to Beachy Head our shipmates faced a long, cold night of motoring to get to a start line.