FASTNET 2013:  pushing the boundary at age 66
Rolex Fastnet Race 2013

'The Fastnet' is something of a holy grail for offshore yachtsmen.  The following contemporary account tells the story of a 66 year old novice sailor tackling the Irish Sea in Summer 2013

 January 2013.  Six years earlier I retired from 40-odd years of working life, and had been lucky enough to experience many new exciting projects in my 'third age'.  But they seemed to have run out of steam as I looked at the blank calendar.  My heart sank that maybe I was destined for gardening, knitting and cruises.  Right on cue, the e-mail arrived from Dream or Two Sailing:  are you up for a life-changing experience?  'we are offering five places to committed, passionate and enthusiastic sailors' on Koru (Beneteau First 36.7) for the Fastnet Yacht Race 2013, 'the most challenging of the Royal Ocean Racing Club races'.  
Not sure I qualified on any of these scores,  I phoned Dream or Two.  A huge ask for me personally, for the organisation and for her as Skipper, did Jannine think I could join the crew?  I felt very small as I recounted my woeful track record:  competent crew in 2011, followed by a one week family boat charter.  And I would be 66 years old.  But I was keen and could commit 100%.  We both needed to know what we were taking on before deciding.
Jannine, as ever, sent my confidence soaring.  She e-mailed back:  'a definite 'yes'.  You will make an excellent crew member and you will love it!'  She promised 'an amazing experience being on that start line knowing that the training has fully prepared us – a truly awesome once in a life-time experience and a great Summer season of training and racing.'  
So did the promises play out?  Fastnet 2013 was for me a kaleidoscope adventure, crystallised into snapshot highlights
Any regrets?  Absolutely not.  What else would I be doing in August 2013?  As it is, I have new skills, new friends and memories in my mind's eye to last another lifetime.  Above all, I was there.
Christina Parry
August 2013

07.00hrs Wednesday 14 August 2013 – the Rock in sight.  Scrambled out of sleeping bag, still wearing the clothes put on back in Gosport 3 days earlier.  No time for a loo break.  A quick swab down with a wet wipe, contact lenses in, and the routine struggle with deck kit. 

Bibbed Musto over-trousers, deck boots, gortex anorak, off-shore jacket, scarf, hat, gloves and finally life-jacket with clip-on harness.  Weighted down and holding on as Koru pitched and rolled, up the ladder, to join the rest of the crew on deck. 
Southern Ireland to starboard, Fastnet Rock and lighthouse way ahead on port.  Nearer and nearer, camera clicking, till we finally pass alongside, before surging on to the marker and then the race for Plymouth.
Awesome, majestic, and I was there.
Start line at Cowes, 400 yachts jostling and weaving, pushing for the mark and off into the Solent, with the mighty tri-marans ghosting through at 28 knots off the Needles
Shooting stars and all the constellations of heaven seen on night watch as we approach the Scillies
Belonging to a well-co-ordinated team, with the privilege of seeing top-notch sailing skills first-hand in the most testing circumstances.  Coolness under pressure, cheerful and positive, personal irritations swiftly set-aside.  A caring, focused team in action
Living in the moment for hours on end, a rhythm of concentration and mindfulness based on watches, not night or day or anything beyond Koru and the race

Dolphins urging on Koru as she dug through rough waters in the Irish Sea, darting and weaving underneath and round the boat, lifting our mood after cold and wet hours of close-hauling

Finding a baby swordfish on the rail with me in heavy seas at 03.00hrs, not sure which of us more surprised
Seeing a huge whale jump off our bow as we passage Koru in a force 7/8 from Plymouth back to Gosport
The endless banquet of delicious food:  home-made shortbread, cake, stews and bakes, all squirrelled away on Koru by Rae and her shore team, to last the full five days and more
The overwhelming welcome at Plymouth from Rae and Jannine's family, who turned up with a case of champagne.  Followed by the crazy crew trip to the Fastnet party, proudly wearing the Dream or Two tee shirt, secure in our place on the finish
Arriving home to a family welcome, and being presented by husband with an inscribed cup, Prosecco (my favourite) and a tin of spinach (Popeye joke).  A glorious fun finishing touch.