Over a period of four hours, 40 weather beaten and battered catamaran crews dragged themselves and their boats up the steep shingle beach close to the Dores Inn, after taking on the Marine Design International Loch Ness Monster Race on Saturday 25th August. The infamous Monster was nowhere to be seen, but Loch Ness itself put up a fight that will provide plenty of bar chat for years to come.
The fleet battled slowly the seven miles to Urquart Castle, with places changing rapidly as the zephyrs picked up one boat after another and threw them to the front. Basilica, despite having brought a gun to a knife fight, reached the first mark just seconds before the lead Tornado, and the all-carbon TekKat prototype, but began to draw clear of the fleet as the breeze switched back to the South West, the eerie streaks of mist cleared from the hills, and the ‘Monster’s breath’ fired up in anger, building all the way to a sustained 30 knots.
The fleet, comprising keen club sailors, active travellers, National, World Champions, and true legends like Olympic Gold Medallist Mike McIntyre piled into the 25 mile upwind stretch to Fort Augustus.
Soon after Urquart Castle, The TekKat dropped its rig and retired homeward, defeated. Tornados, A Class cats, Spitfires and Hurricanes flew upwind behind the leaders with breathtaking speed on the flat water. Insane gusts ripped from the glens on the North side leading to the odd ‘we had a bit on’ comment in the bar afterwards. The slower Dart 18’s brought up the rear of the fleet, some passing significantly faster boats struggling in the conditions.
Leading Tornado crew Stuart Offer likened the ride to being in a washing machine on cold cycle. At least there was no salt though!
As the mid-fleet sailors neared the turning mark as the Loch narrowed between sheer tree lined hills, the front runners screamed downwind at 25 knots plus, and there were entertaining bear-away’s in the gusts.
The four A Class catamarans that had swapped places a number of times in the early part of the race, were shown the way to the windward mark by Russell Clark who pulled out a commanding lead over the two Scottish A Class cats of Chris Browning and Richie Furber who had a great duel up the beat, trailed by Mark Homer on the Stealth SXL. Russell went on to stretch out his lead and take a deserved first placed single hander, and lift the jjcats.biz trophy.
Cats pitchpoled and kites ripped, but the majority of the fleet battled on, determined to claim that they had taken on the Monster, and won. As Basilica sailed past each boat, they looked far too comfortable and dry, belying their top upwind speed on 27 knots, and far more off the wind.
Basilica sailed to a clear line honours victory, some forty minutes ahead of the field, but not far enough ahead to claim the overall victory. Australian Andy of the Clan Macpherson sailing the Tornado crewed by Stuart Offer received the £500 winner-takes-all cash prize presented by Blaser Chiropractic. Pete Jary and Tim Roden squeezed into second on another Tornado, with the first Scottish crew, Nigel Lynn and Alan Nesbitt coming in third on a Hurricane SX.
Throughout the race, the Scottish summer provided every weather system it could think off – except the snow, and the scenery constantly changed in the fantastic light, although most sailors had little time to contemplate the scenery, or 750 feet of mysterious water beneath them as conditions required constant alertness for the full seven or eight hours that the last ones home took.
Waiting in the beer garden of the Dores Inn was free beer for all, in the shape of ‘Nessie’s Monster Mash’ kindly provided by the Cairngorm Brewery. Lots of it, but it all found a home, and tales from the day started to flow before the prize giving, led by generous title sponsors Marine Design International.