Monday, 3 October 2011

Oyster Palma Regatta



Ten knots of wind, a full crew and five minutes to the start of the first race in the Oyster Regatta in Palma. On board are Caroline and me, Andrew and Jeanette, Kim (Tina coming tomorrow) and Richard from Oyster. Only Richard and I have raced before so we are all a little nervy as we circle for the start of the first race. We time our run from the gun that signifies two minutes to the start and we gybe onto Starboard tack to give us right of way on the starting line. Jeanette counts us down to the gun and we cross the line about a minute late going at full speed. Two hours later we round the final mark and cross the finish line. We discover later that we finished eighth in Class One out of a total of 16 boats. Class 2 is for boats up to 56 feet and Class 1 is for 57 and above – that makes us the smallest boat in the big boys’ class, with the largest yacht being Starry Night, an 82 footer.

After lunch in the cockpit under a very hot Mallorca sun, we are ready for the second race of the day. We start badly, getting crowded out by the bigger boats and they power past us leaving us in their wind shadow. We recover a little as the race goes on but our lack of a spinnaker or cruising chute makes us slow going down wind in light airs. We finish a respectable 9th in the second race having cut our teeth and already our crew are becoming competitive, and talk on the way back to the dock is how we will do better tomorrow.








We are based at the Royal Club Nautico Palma, so called because the King of Spain is a member and patron of the club. This patronage comes with a blend of old school nauticalia combined withmodern GallicdĂ©cor with white chairs around anOlympic size pool set in dark teak decking. The clubhouse is set right on the water and a convoy of 35 Oysters is descending on the dock at full speed, sending the marineros scampering up and down the pontoons, catching lines from crew members who are hot and thirsty and charged with the excitement of the first days racing. Next comes the ritual of the passarelle, with shouts of ‘up a bit’, ‘down’, ‘no… DOWN!’ until all 35 yachts are settled with shore power attached, hoses snaking across the decks filling water tanks for 250 showers as everyone prepares for the drinks party on the terrace. There is a groan from our pontoon as 35 airconditioners cause the power to trip and oyster technicians are sent urgent calls to ensure that owners’ wives can operate hair dryers in preparation for the evening’s festivities.





Waiting for us on the dock as we return is Tina, who has been delayed by a dose of flu which we hope will be cured by the Mallorcan sunshine. The next morning we are racing from Palma to Andrax, a village set around a marina on the west coast of Mallorca. It is a race downwind and we decide that we have to use our big red cruising chute as it is going to be downwind all the way. It takes us twenty minutes to hoist the chute and we sail badly, sailing all the wrong angles downwind and as a result we come second to last. It’s been a very frustrating race but once over the line we motor to a lovely bay where we drop anchor and swim before lunch and a Juno snooze. Then it’s time to motor around the headland into Andrax where we are staying the night. A quick shower and then we board coaches which wind their way up narrow roads
to a vineyard in the hills above the port. After wine tasting on the terrace, dinner is served in a huge vaulted hall with wine barrels stacked high to the ceiling. We are all tired after another long day in the hot sun and we catch the first coach back to the boat.






Thursday dawns with a stronger wind blowing into the bay. The race committee announces over the radio that we can expect 15 knots from the East which means that we will be sailing upwind all day. The cruising chute stays firmly in the sail bag and we prepare for the start. By now our crew are well drilled with Caroline and Andrew on Genoa, Kim on mainsheet, Jeanette on stopwatch and Tina giving me a commentary on how we are doing against our competitors. I decide to stay up wind of the fleet to make sure that we get clear air. We start our run for the line earlier this time and in the strong wind we are in danger of crossing too soon so I bear off and run down the line building speed as we go. With Jeanette counting down the seconds we trim the sails for maximum speed and we cross the line at full tilt just as the gun goes off, right at the front of the pack. Juno is heeled over at maximum power and we lead the fleet around the first headland as the photographer’s helicopter hovers above us, cameras whirring for the Oyster marketing machine. Caroline and Andrew calculate the point at which we tack and we round the headland just as the wind starts to drop. As we cross the finish line we know we have sailed a great race and we take bets on our finishing position. We shower and dress quickly so as not to miss the drinks party and the results announcement. David Tydeman, the CEO of Oyster, reads out the results for Class One ‘In third place…..Juno of London’. David also hands out two prizes for the best start of the day; one for Sotto Vento and one to Juno. We collect a bottle of champagne and get a cheer from the crowd.







The next day Kim and Tina have to leave us and Kit and Stevie take over. It’s the final race of the regatta and it’s a pursuit race with the slowest boats starting first and the fast boats last. The idea is that the staggered start should result in everyone crossing the finish line together but that assumes that everyone sails a perfect race. We have another good start and Caroline and Andrew once again call the tack to perfection. We round the upwind mark with only feet to spare and as we crack off on the downwind reach towards the finish line we are well placed. The yachts with cruising chutes start to gain on us but the wind strengthens and we power down to the finish line, eighth out of 35 yachts - a great result in the conditions. The gala dinner is in a huge privately owned house in Palma and Caroline looks very glamorous as she picks up our prizes for coming third and eighth. Over dinner we speak to Matthew from Dolphin sails and we order a new furler which will enable us to set our cruising chute faster at the next regatta in the British Virgin Islands next year. When I ask him what he needs he replies ‘don’t worry – we have your measurements’. I am not sure if this is the luff length of the sail or my credit card details but either way, we now know what Caroline is getting for Christmas.



The next day Jeanette goes to hospital to have her bruised foot x-rayed, and we discover that she has in fact broken some bones in her foot and she returns in plaster wielding crutches. We hope that she will recover in time for the BVI. As our friends leave us and return to real life, Caroline and I have our bikes on the dock so that we can visit the marinas in Palma to find a berth for Juno for the winter. Its mid October but still hot in Mallorca with 30 degrees during the day and warm evenings, but there is a hint of Autumn in the air and we feel that it will soon be time to return home.

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