The Holms Race

I had been wanting to enter a race with Sundance for a while but I wanted to sail something that there would be a good number of other boats to race against, having to work Saturdays means I would only be able to pick one. There’s quite a prestige (within NUSC) race against a “rival” (in a nice way) club in Cardiff called the Coxy Cup. There’s also the Holms race which is a bit like the Bristol Channels RTIR, and like the actual round the island race it draws quite a few entrants. Bill from the blog Scapegoats Anonymous an ex (if you can be) Bristol Channel sailor put a post up saying he would like to sail the Holms race and I offered the helm of Sundance to him and his Father Roger.


Bill and Roger hadn’t visited NUSC before but like me are interested in seeing different setups so rather than just meeting at Portishead on the morning of the race they were keen to sail from Newport to Cardiff and wait for the tide to turn before heading up to Portishead to get an early night and ready for a long day Saturday. After a quick look round, a brew we rafted Sundance up on the pontoon and loaded her up. It was nice to have experienced crew on board to be honest and it was great to be able to hand the helm to Bill to get us on our way whilst I sorted out the sails. With East in the wind we flew down to Cardiff with ease, locked in and tied up in the Graving Dock. Lunch and a hunt for some sunglasses for Bill, a pint for Roger it was time to head up to Portishead.

I was going to be a beat up but with blue skies and the tide taking us up the apparent wind always makes it feel fresher, the force 2 felt like a good 3 and it was a good opportunity to stick the windvane on and let that do the hard work. Neither Bill or Roger had used one before and was interested in the “mechanics” of it and to be honest the easiest way to tell people is to show them. Portishead was nearing and I readied myself for “marina berthing”, I’m OK with it, I understand how Sundance moves but there’s something about lots of other expensive boats and tight spaces. The marina put us in the tightest of spaces next to a tubby Moody and it was a case of fendering up and squeezing in. We squeezed in with no damage to either boat, I wasn’t really happy with it and I’m sure if the guy who owned the Moody turned up he wouldn’t be either but with a still night forecast and a word with the Marina staff we stayed put.


We woke, showered and grabbed a bite to eat all be it, it felt a little rushed to make the lock. It shouldn’t and wasn’t but it was good to see we were the first ones in, this meant being tied up we/I didn’t have to worry about entering a packed lock. Again blue skies but a bit of a nip in the air we were greeted to a excitement of boats behind the breakwater ( a couple fellow Newport boats included) and further out in the Channel, what we wasn’t greeted by was wind. It was still, flat and there was that haze that masked the horizon between the sea and the sky.

The whole point of the Holms is that you decide your start time, we had spoke about it the evening before. I had favoured an earlier start with the though we would be drifting and not wanting to get pushed back up between the Holms when the tide turned. Bill had favoured a later start knowing that side of the channel better but we agreed on 10.30 across the line. The problem is, if you get down to the Holms early you waste time fighting to get up whilst the tide is still ebbing, get there late and you can’t make that little bit of extra West to get round Steep.

Lots of boats left at 10am, the ones that had done this before had held back, bigger, lighter faster boats help back a lot longer than us). Boats were trickling over the poorly marked start line till it was our turn. Seeing a couple of boats hoist their spinnakers ahead we hoisted ours. With it barely filling, more on the beam we crossed the start and was looking for some speed through water rather than anything else. I hoped we could fill the kite enough on the beam to edge ourselves out and use the speed to do so. It wasn’t happening, we could see boats ahead being dragged down channel close in. Kite dropped and genoa out we edged ourselves towards deep water and the better tide, unfortunately as we were doing so two ships came out of the docks and we kept well out of their way. Once passed we carried on edging out towards the channel, all looked good looking down channel but I hadn’t realised out far out the North West Elbow was, a mark we had to round on port. When we realised this, Bill before me we had to point up channel, pretty much the way we had come from to make enough North to clear, other boats were doing the same but they we above us. We could see the mark, a big looming metal buoy, boats looming down on us from above all on Starboard, we looking like we had the line and I called the tack. We got closer, about half way to it from where we had tacked and it was clear we wasn’t going to make it. Threw another tack in and fought the tide pulling us down to try and edge above it, again with boats on Starboard I called the tack an not wanting them to call for water and us not have enough steerage to avoid the buoy I and asked Bill to bear off and take us underneath. We missed the mark by a boat’s length, that was it our race was over, we were 10 meters away and being swept under it fast, backwards with no steerage.

With the Channel being the Channel we had to stay out, there’s no going back against the tide. We collectively agreed we’ll carry on the race, get a finish time but ask to be disqualified from the race for missing the mark. A slow drift continued sparring with another Albin Ballad which I quite enjoyed towards Flat Holm. As we got closer, our sister ship rigged their spinnaker, hoisted it and with the little wind still on their beam pulled away all be it very slowly. I was reluctant to do so after my cock up with the spinnaker over the start but as more and more people did the same so did we. We hadn’t even got to Flat Holm and you could feel the tide was getting weak if not starting to turn, we were making ground and with the lightest of the wind all day faster, lighter boats that left after us were catching up. We scraped past the West side of the island and started to head South but we were stationary. The tide had turned and I watched a couple of transits not move for a good quarter of an hour.

I called it again, told Bill to start the donk and bring us up between the islands. I could tell Bill wanted to carry on and I felt bad for giving up so easy but I had been in the situation before in the real RTIR the year before on Toroa. We missed the tide getting through Hurst, sailed her like a dinghy to get through and it took us hours to get past the needles before the wind died again and we motored for about 6 hours to get round the rest of the Isle of Wight and get home. We should have called it then and gone to the pub but the promise of more wind later in the day lulled us round.

Anyways, we were heading home, I watched the boats we left sail on the spot and slowly decide it wasn’t going to happen for them either. To rub salt into our slightly demoralised wounds the faintest of breezes turned up, enough to turn the engine off an sail. Bill gave up the helm and we had a great sail back up, it was slow but that was fine, there was no point getting to the lock early as we wouldn’t be able to lock in but we caught up with another Holms boat sailing back and sailed easily on past. To be honest this was the best bit of the day for me, we passed a good knot or so faster, it’s always funny to pass a boat and watch the people on board start tweaking the sheets.

We were back in Portishead after a wait for boats to get through the lock it was our turn and luckily the marina found us a different berth. With no wind, no tide being an old dock and crew on the boat my confidence high I thought it would be “fun” to try and reverse into the slip using my prop wash to turn us. It wasn’t a smooth affair, cue lots of forwards and reverse and a helping hand from Bill and Roger we made it in. Although not smooth, it wasn’t a hash but in my defence there’s really not a huge amount of room to get the little bit of speed we needed to swing the bow round.

After we had sorted ourselves out we headed round to the “prize giving” for food and beer. It was actually a really nice do but not many people made it. I think the disappointment of the day meant people wasn’t feeling it. We learnt that only two boats actually finished, out of about forty. A number of boats made it round but missed the finish line as it was so close in shore but they gave them times and trophies which seemed fitting as those that make it round really did deserve at least a time for their efforts.


Why is it the day you could deal with there being no wind, it’s windy? It was what I was expecting the start of the Holms to be, bumpy. With the main and genoa reefed, we beat the wind over tide to get to Cardiff. Another bigger boat unreefed did the same but he really was getting battered, when we were both in the lock I was surprised to see a chap that was well into his eighties at the help with a couple of crew who didn’t seem to have a huge amount of experience so fair play to them. (Although they did nearly plough into the back of Sundance a few times when tieing up.)

Another lunch stop I stayed on the boat whilst Roger and Bill went to get fed and watered. I like to try and get one “boat job” done when I’m down so I did. The sail was pretty uneventful heading back up to Newport apart from the roller reefing jamming which was the first time it’s done that and surprised me. With the wind light, as we were with it I passed the sail round the forestay to unfurl and we ran back up. On the river I just dropped the sail as Bill motored up, it looks like the swivel was stuck but it freed up by hand, one to keep an eye on! Back at the club we unloaded, stuck the boat on the mooring and left it for another day.


I really enjoyed having crew on Sundance, it was nice to see other people appreciate her. To be able to go below and know you’ll not have to fear a crash gybe was good as well! Bill, I knew I would get on with, we share similar views so it was good to be able to talk openly about stuff.

The sailing, well we had some good sailing in over the weekend. I’m grateful of Bill for taking the helm so much. I try my best not to do everything when I have crew I just hope I didn’t burden him with the steering stick too much. The race although was a flop was more enjoyable than a force 6 wind on the nose affair but I would have taken on the challenge.

I think next year will be a year on the hard for Sundance as we’ve had another, tiny crew member join us recently so we’ll be “training” him up over the next 18 months. I’ll hopefully be asked to crew on a few boats to keep me wet but there’s a huge amount of upgrades and jobs to keep me busy.

All pictures taken by

1 comment

  1. Brilliant write up mate, reading it put a smile on my face this morning.

    Missing NW Elbow was definitely my bad (I knew exactly where it was but simply misjudged the tide and conditions). Your call to give up and tack under the buoy, then later to start the engine and can the rest of the race were exactly right, as I think the results of the day demonstrated.

    And you do yourself a disservice: your marina boat handling was flawless on both occasions, both the berthing forward and astern. Trust me, I’ve fended Calstar and Dad off of more than enough marina boats and pontoons to have become something of a connoisseur of these things!

    We had a fantastic weekend’s sailing (and drifting) with you Tom, thanks again so much for inviting us aboard Sundance. And should you ever find yourself short of crew in the future, you know where to find us! And, needless to say, you’re welcome to join us aboard Calstar anytime.

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