I've been back more than a week now, and am aware I still haven't had time to write up the last trip away on Calstar. I should, and certainly shall, if only for my own benefit.
Suffice to say for now, and in brief, that it didn't all go to plan; family circumstances curtailed the planned two weeks to one, and Nik decided she'd stay at home and redecorate a bedroom instead of sailing with us. Again, a (not reluctant) decision made because of said circumstances at the time, so it was just Dad, Calstar and I sailing.
But it was a good week. The predominant themes being (mostly) good food, (consistently) good drink, bright sun and blue sea, lots of dolphins and beating to windward; lots of beating to windward, whichever direction we wanted to sail. Probably should've started out by heading east instead of west.
But then we might've missed the dolphins.
Tuesday, 3 September 2019
I received an invitation from an old friend, Mark, to visit his new club on Sunday in the nearby Cotswold Waterpark; South Cerney Sailing Club. He's recently joined, moved his British Moth there and brought an Albacore, and their budding Albacore fleet were short of a crew for the Sunday morning racing.
I've been looking for an excuse to visit SCSC for some time now. Although they're based on a lake (a gravel pit to be precise) they claim to have been weed-free the last three years, so this turned out to be the perfect opportunity.
The Albacore is a 15' double-handed hiking dinghy. A 1950's design, the modern version has the original hull shape, but is typically FRP, and the sail controls have been modernised and updated, making the rig very adaptable to the conditions. It has an aluminium flyaway pole for setting the jib, but no spinnaker.
I crewed for a gentleman called Barry, who clearly knew his way around both boat and racecourse. It's always an absolute joy to crew for a decent helm. Over the course of the two morning races we took a 2nd and a 3rd place, beating both the other Albacores on the water, including Mark's; always a particular pleasure beating him because he takes it so well - and beats me often enough in return.
The Albacore's a lovely boat to sail. Very comfortable to crew, quick to plane and does so even quite close to the wind despite the weight, and seems to respond well to hard hiking. The conditions started off quite light and sunny, but built through the day, with a particularly nasty squall blowing through just before lunch, typically just as Barry and I were bringing the boat back into land on the lee shore.
SCSC have four races a day on Sundays through the summer. Barry couldn't stay for the afternoon, although we have agreed to sail together again later this month, but Mark rigged his Moth and let me take his own Albacore out for the first of the two afternoon races with his partner Olga to crew for me.
Disorganised and not used to the routine, we were late to the start, though Mark was much later as he hung back to help us launch. A much quieter afternoon on the water compared to the morning numbers wise, there were only five of us racing; a Laser 4.7 with a junior helm, another Albacore and a Flying Fifteen.
Although the earlier squall had blown through over lunch and the sun was back out, conditions were still blustery and the Albie quite a handful to manage and keep flat. Lots of hiking out on the beat, spilling wind from the main and sailing to the jib just about kept things under control. It was fantastic fun once Olga and I found our grove.
Despite our late start, we caught up with the other three on the first beat to windward and dogged the tail of the other Albacore for the rest of the first lap. Then they took a wrong turn on at the windward mark of the second lap and headed off on the wrong course, throwing us into confusion as we suddenly found ourselves out in the lead.
We finished 2nd, beating the Fifteen and the wayward Albacore, but getting beaten in turn by the young lady in the Laser 4.7. I have no shame, but if I had, I'd have still said there was absolutely none in being beaten by a girl young enough to be my granddaughter. She was very, very good. But then these kids generally are, and only get better.
For the final race, I gave the Albacore (and Olga) back to Mark and took his British Moth out. Unfortunately, Mark snagged his mainsheet around a cleat on the pontoon where we made the swap and capsized, so they failed to make the start. I was late (again) but made a valiant effort to catch up (again) on that first beat.
I did so, overtaking the Laser briefly, before she regained the place on the next beat and I spent the rest of the race trying to get it back. The conditions were still bullish, with some heavy gusts coming through which made for some exhilarating, spray soaked planing reaches across the lake.
And try as I might, the girl in the 4.7 sailed flawlessly, never giving me the chance to slip back past, finally pulling clear away on the last lap and absolutely thrashing me (and the Albacore and Fifteen also racing) once our times had been adjusted for handicap.
South Cerney is a big water compared to Frampton and deep, and was, as promised weed-free. They've controlled the weed over the last couple of years using food dye, and the result is subtle but seemed to give the water an almost Mediterranean hue in the sunlight. The proof is in the pudding however, and I was waist deep in the water launching and landing, and no reaction; my skin is fine two days later.
Everybody I met there, on the water or off, was friendly and welcoming. I'll certainly be back; in fact I've already agreed to go back and crew for Barry again on the 22nd. Much to Mark's (very tongue-in-cheek) disgust, as he feels that his "spare" crew has now been poached.
Of course, he's not wrong.
I still can't imagine leaving Frampton. Despite the grim, sorry state of the water in terms of depth, weed and quality, the racing is still good and I've lots of friends there that I both love socialising on the shore with and sailing against on the water. But Sunday was the most fun I've had in a dinghy in quite a while.
Perhaps it's time to join a second club, and lets see how the next year goes?
Friday, 2 August 2019
Having not sailed last weekend, I then didn't get to sail Wednesday evening. I've been racing a friend's Enterprise with her at the Club, but unfortunately she had to work late so couldn't make it. I toyed briefly with racing the Laser instead, but discretion being the better part of valour, eventually decided to head straight home after work and took the dogs for an earlier walk than usual.
They were pleased.
Having no gigs this weekend, I did think about heading down to the boat in Plymouth with Dad. But Nik pointedly pointed out in a very pointy way that I think only a long-suffering, eternally patient woman can who wishes to make a salient point to her errant husband that we were going away for "a whole two weeks next weekend", so on the theme of you can have too much of a good thing, I didn't need to go away this weekend as well.
She's not actually technically correct. We don't head down to the boat until the evening of Monday 12th, as we have friends down for the weekend itself, and a couple of gigs booked on the Saturday and Sunday evenings. But she's otherwise right, as we don't come back until Monday 26th, if all goes to plan, so we do have two whole weeks of it.
In some of the quieter moments of this week, I was toying with the idea getting a bigger boat. Calstar is perfect for two of us, but she gets a bit cramped with three adults aboard. Although Nik suffers the trips away with us with good grace, I think it's fair to say she tolerates the conditions and does it for the sake of my company, rather than actually enjoying the confines of our little yacht.
These days, with Calstar as collateral, the budget would probably stretch to something bigger, and that would (might) make a difference for Nik. But then, as Dad says, there are other more pressing priorities for the money, and I'd be better of showing a little more patience and waiting until such a day as I'd have more time myself to enjoy a bigger boat.
And, to be fair, although Nik would enjoy the comfort of a bigger boat, she'd probably enjoy a (long overdue) refit of our bathroom more, or a (long overdue) replacement boiler for out central heating system, or (much needed and long planned) a redesign and tarmacking over of our front lawn so we can fit a couple of cars on it (and a dinghy) and it stays looking tidy for a change with minimal maintenance. Because I'm a minimal maintenance kid of guy when it comes to yards front or back these days.
I'm also conscious that, in the last year or more leading up to his retirement this spring, Dad has been throwing money continuously at Calstar to make her pretty; new sails, new upholstery, new headlining, new spray-hood, new windows, etc, etc. A lot of it doesn't make her sail any faster (except the new sails, obviously) or in any way increase her value beyond that which she is, because she is, at the end of the day, a 1980's Westerly Griffon. But it gives him pleasure to have one of the neatest, best turned out little boats in the Marina (and driest - he oddly takes much pride in an unnaturally clean bilge, and that the loo roll in the heads stays crispy), so who am I to judge or complain.
Of course, that money is never coming back, so if we don't enjoy the fruits of his spending for a couple of years at least, then it's wasted.
So all in all, Dad's probably right.
In other news, I have a ride for the Holms Race this year! My friend Tom of "Sundance", a 30' Albin Ballad out of Newport, has confirmed he's filled in the form and paid the entrance fee this week, and has a spare berth for me for the race. Really can't wait, it's going to be a great weekend of sailing. It's an odd thing to discover you feel quite sentimental about such a muddy brown expanse of treacherous, fast moving, estuarine water. But I really do miss the Bristol Channel.
Not quite as much as I suspect I'd miss Plymouth Sound and the seas surrounding, mind you.
So I have to decide how to spend this weekend. Saturday is a long overdue trip to the local tip and maybe an afternoon looking at bathrooms I suspect. I hope you can t
Forecast for Sunday is next to no wind and rain. Maybe I'll take the opportunity to go race the Laser down at the lake after all. A dose of Ibuprofen and a wet-suit should to the trick.
I didn't sail last weekend. Just the one gig, but a Saturday night, so it put paid to any chance of heading down to Plymouth and Calstar; Dad really doesn't like going down and coming back same day, but with two and a half hours drive each way I guess I can't blame him.
The kids came around Sunday. All three of them in the house at the same time, that hasn't happened for a while. Although it was the pitiful, painful state of my arm, specifically my right elbow at the moment, that stopped me from heading down to the lake to sail. The dermatitis was also a consideration, and the thought of reigniting it with fresh dunking; it's much, much better now than it was, but not entirely cleared up yet.
They cleared the weed out from the centre area of the lake last week. Tonnes of the stuff. That's given us a clear patch in the middle where we can race. It might have mitigated the snail problem that's triggered the allergy I've previously mentioned and turned the greater mass of my skin's surface area into an inflamed nightmare that's plagued me for a couple of months now.
Unfortunately, the only way to find out would be to try it and see. I'm generally not adverse to controlled risk or calculated odds, but I really don't know how I feel about that. Interestingly, I've asked around, and nobody else at the Club has had this problem. Which is a good thing, but leaves me feeling somewhat isolated.
Misery likes company. Selfish, I know.
Anyway, back to last Sunday's gardening leave. My daughter Tash decided she was going to attack the overgrowth of the back yard with a set of pruners. She did a fine job, taking out whatever demons were driving her on a rampant Virginia Creeper that had taken over most of the shrubbery on the right hand side of the garden. It is, to my pleasure and relief, pretty much totally gone now.
Although I expect it'll grow back. Such is the nature of the beast.
Ben and Sam between them decided to drag out the old metal incinerator from the shed and incinerate the dried out cuttings of last year's overgrowth. I say overgrowth, but that's a bit of an understatement; last year I had to use a chainsaw to clear the worst of it. Boys and fire, somethings never change. It kept us both warm and entertained for most of the afternoon and well into the evening.
With three large dogs, I'm neither proud nor fussy of my back lawn. Probably just as well.
It was so good to have the family all in one place together for an evening, happens so infrequently these days. I didn't miss sailing at all.
Friday, 26 July 2019
She looks quite drab at rest, but before she folded her wings seemingly in response to my poining a camera at her, they were a vivid kalidescope of burnt orange, white and and black.
I think she's a Painted Lady. I learnt this week to my surprise that they are migratory, travelling 7,500 miles from Africa into the Artic Circle and back each year. I'm guessing as butterflies are such short-lived, transitory creatures that they do this across multiple generations, breeding as they go.
I don't know why. I do know that creation in an amazing thing.
I'm probably not sailing this weekend. The dermititis is much better but not yet fully healed, my shoulder is repaired, but my elbow is in a sorry state; much pain and pins and needles in my hand. It clearly needs rest.
I can only rest it so much from the guitar, I have just the one gig this weekend, but I can and probably should rest it from hauling on mainsheets and halyards.
I raced the Laser for the first time in almost a month last Sunday. In a drysuit in about 25C. I'm pretty certain I almost sucumbed to heatstroke. And by the third race my arms had cramped up at the elbows to the point that the only way I could manage the mainsheet was to cleat it off and control the heel with hiking hard and pinching into wind when that wasn't enough.
Worse yet, I only managed a 5th place overall, about halfway down the fleet and my worst result in months.
So I'm pretty sure this Sunday will be a day for rest. And maybe cutting the grass.
Monday, 15 July 2019
|photo: rog gribble|
I could, reluctantly, take some gardening leave from the sailing (quite literally, I spent Sunday tidying up the garden and cutting the grass) I couldn't so easily get out of the gigs lined up. So I spent last week religiously taking painkillers and resting my arm as best I could.
First gig on Friday evening at The Swan in Thornbury started with promise. I actually managed to grip the pick for the whole of one song before I had to give up on it. But having put the pick down, everything else seemed to be working well; the faster, more complex strumming patters that had defeated me the previous weekend were fine now.
So one step forward.
Or seemed to be, until I smacked the back of my right hand on the headstock of Jay's bass guitar halfway through the second set. Didn't hurt at the time, but by the last couple of songs my hand was beginning to ache. I didn't actually make the connection that night between smacking the bass and the pain in my hand, I just assumed it was a complication from the pain in my elbow, which had me worried.
By following evening at the Dolphin in Downend we were two steps back, and the pain and swelling were such that I couldn't actually strum at all, so I was reduced to finger-picking. Then I managed to smack the back of my hand against the headstock of Matt's guitar (there is a pattern here, I see), at which point the sudden accent in the pain gave me the connection between the discomfort and smacking Jay's bass the night before.
After the gig, I could actually see the bruising and obvious swelling on the back of my hand. It was actually a relief to actually be able to connect something with an obvious impact, and know that it'll heal in due course, as opposed to my shoulder and elbow, the cause of which still remains nothing but vague presumption and conjecture.
I'm aware this site is beginning to read more like a medical journal or an ode to self-pity than the record of sailing, gigging and dogs that it is meant to be. For that I apologise.
Anyway, two gigs done and out of the way, the wind was light on Sunday. It wasn't a terrible hardship to not be sailing. Or so I spent the day telling myself.
After a day of rest, my hand is, to all intents and purposes, fixed. Funnily enough, both my elbow and shoulder are giving me very little trouble today and I had a good night's sleep; hopefully that's a sign that things are finally fully on the mend. The dermatitis is still playing up something rotten; I'm giving the antihistamines a break and nuking the worst patches with hydrocotisone cream.
On Wednesday I plan to crew for Amanda again. It's relatively easy to stay out of the lake when sailing an Enterprise, especially if you've got a willing crew-mate more than happy to get their feet wet launching and recovering for you. My arm could well be better by then, well enough to helm, but Amanda's done such a brilliant job of it herself the last couple of weeks that I think she should do the whole series.
It would be good to see her to winning a trophy in her own name, or at least a bit of glassware for 2nd or 3rd. An interesting challenge.
A couple more gigs coming up this next weekend, so we'll see how well the arm has recovered. Then Sunday is a championship race at the lake. I need to sail that, pretty much regardless of whatever state I find myself in, or I won't be able to qualify for the Club Championship.
I think I'm going to be okay. I do have to decide if I wear my drysuit though, or risk my new wetsuit (I think it'll be protection enough, but can't be certain till I try it). What I do know is that I'm going nowhere near that water without one or the other.
I am seriously thinking of moving to another club with the Laser. Bowmoor or Whitefriars down towards Cirencester in the Cotswold Water Park seem to be obvious choices. Trouble is, it's a gamble that they don't have the same problem (though the odds do seem much less). And both clubs are twice the distance from home that Frampton is.
Plus there is then the headache of having duties at two clubs, as however I look at it, I really can't see myself actually leaving the club at Frampton, even if I do join up elsewhere.
I think we'll see how we feel once the arm is fully healed and I'm back into racing every weekend Im not cruising again.
Thursday, 11 July 2019
My right arm is still giving me a bit of trouble.
Pulled something or some things in my shoulder and elbow, and this week my thumb is feeling a little bit numb; feels like it's coated in a thin layer of wax, with occasional pins and needles, so I have to wonder if I've caught a nerve.
I have a couple of gigs this weekend; I'm resting my arm for now and staying away from my guitar, but I figure if I find I still can't properly play again come the two gigs on Friday and Saturday (I can still sing, so I'm not totally redundant) then next week I think I'm going to have to go seek some professional help.
I don't know there's much our vaunted NHS can or will do, the state that it's in these days, certainly not in any kind of reasonable time, and the GP's surgery proved to be a waste of time reasonable or otherwise.
My misery was compounded in the early hours of this morning. The warm days and nights are playing havoc with the dermatitis that still covers a significant proportion of my poor abused body (I should add I have stayed out of lake water for some weeks now). The itching is excruciating.
Around 0400 this morning, between my crawling skin and my throbbing arm I was awake and writhing. I got out of bed, wandered blearily into the bathroom; looked out of the window and dully observed it had been raining, then realised that the loud buzzing wasn't my usual tinnitus.
I stared in bafflement at a small swarm of about a couple of dozen insects that had come in through the open window and out of the rain and were bouncing around the bathroom in a state of some excitement. I brushed one off of me, wondering in my early hours daze if it was some kind of a bee, then another stung me on my shoulder as if to prove the point.
There is a next of them in the eaves of my neighbour's house. We've been wondering if they are bees or wasps and what to do about them.
I can now confirm the confounded things are most definitely wasps.
I shut the window, hastily retreated, closing the door, and fetched the bug spray from under the kitchen sink. They'd stung my good shoulder, so at least I was now balanced in my misery and discomfort. Returning up stairs, I opened the bathroom door to a crack and sprayed the bug spray blindly and in generous quantities in through said crack before closing the door tight and going back to bed.
I did eventually doze off. To surprisingly vivid dreams of Nikki and I chasing hoards of excited wasps around our bedroom in vain, armed with cans of bug spray that kept spraying shaving foam.
Between my skin and my arm, I am acutely conscious of how the various obsessions that keep me stable, like gigs, karate, sailing or even just walking the dogs, pushing a mouse about on a desk or typing on a keyboard depend upon my being able-bodied.
It leaves me profoundly grateful that I am, despite my present discomfort, and deeply sympathetic for those who are not.
And I've completely side-tracked myself.
With my arm in the state that it is, Amanda agreed to helm the Enterprise again for the Wednesday evening race. A little bit more wind than the week before, but still quite light and shifty. It was a fair enough turnout for the handicap fleet: four Enterprises, a British Moth and a Wanderer.
We had an indifferent start and a terrible first beat to windward, my fault not hers, failing to find a grove to get the boat moving, catching up repeatedly on weed, and falling out the back of the fleet. And then they all rafted up on each other in a lull at the windward mark, having got there all together at the same time, sitting on each others' wind and generally getting in each others' way.
So we arrived late to the party to find a small gap having opened up between the boat furthest inside and the mark itself; not our water but none of them in any position to stop us sneaking through and taking it for our own. By the next mark rounding we were up into second place, just behind the Wanderer
It was a a sloppy rounding, gybing from a dead run on top of the mark and needing to harden up fast to a close-hauled fetch. It left us low on the layline for the third mark.
I called it wrong, advising Amanda to tack too close to the mark and bear away astern of the incoming boats, not accounting for the fact that she's still relatively new to the driving seat. Alan's Enterprise, coming in on starboard, had to dodge to avoid tee-boning us; I am grateful that the man is a gent.
Falling back out the bottom of the fleet, we ran down to the leeward mark with too many boats around us to find clear water to take our turns. We duly rounded the mark amidst the pack and struck out to the right hand side of the beat to take the requisite 720 penalty. Everybody else tacked off and went left.
Gybe, tack, gybe, tack, we then hardened up and held out to the right hand side until we reached the sheer line beneath the trees at top of the beat, a little short of the starboard layline. Tacked, and a lovely lift took us right up to the mark. Meanwhile the rest of the fleet out on the left were languishing in the weed and headed by the fickle wind so were left to follow us around.
Amanda kept her hard won lead for the rest of the race.
We did lose some precious seconds over the rest of the race to a few poor navigational choices on my part that saw us sailing into weed we couldn't see. But between my amicable, persistent nagging, "Up, up, up! Harden up" or "Bear away! Don't pinch!" or "Remember, wide in, no, wider, wider! Now sheet in, sheet! Turn, turn!" (rinse and repeat) and Amanda's exceptionally capable, ever patient helmsmanship, we finally finished 1st boat on the water.
In the clubhouse we were beaten by mere seconds into 2nd place after adjustment for handicap by Tony and his Moth, but it was a good race, very well sailed. I'm exceptionally pleased with how this is going. We're going to do it again next week.
Sailing back in after the finish, Amanda handed the helm over to me to land the boat, volunteering to be the one to go over the side as we reached the shore so that I could keep my feet dry.
Tuesday, 9 July 2019
I love these birds. We rarely sail into Cornwall without one for company. There are times when you could be forgiven for thinking it was the same bird following us; but that, of course, is daft whimsy.
Sleek, graceful creatures, they swoop low over the waves, or in wide circles above, before furling their wings and plummeting straight down into the water. And occasionally, such a plunge heralds the appearance of dolphins or porpoises, no doubt drawn by the same bounty just beneath the waves.
It was an especially pretty sky over the English Channel this weekend just gone.
Monday, 8 July 2019
|photo: westerly owners association|
It put a smile on my face; it's so unusual to see a photo of your own boat under sail, so on the odd occasion that I do, it always does.
Thursday, 4 July 2019
Wednesday evening racing at Frampton. It was a warm night, with light, shifty winds; enough to keep the boat moving but nothing especially challenging.
However, with no grip in my right hand and a nasty, nagging pain in my shoulder and elbow that's still keeping me awake at night, rather than skipping sailing altogether as I'd regretfully done on Sunday, I asked Amanda to take the helm. I figured I could probably manage to crew her Enterprise one-handed.
We've been racing the Ent together now pretty much weekly since early last Autumn, but Amanda very unpracticed in the back seat. I think she helmed once last year, and nothing since then. So I figured a bit of coaching from the front seat would be fun for both of us, but thought we'd keep things completely unpressured. More of a "social sail" I reasoned to myself when convincing her to swap, it didn't matter where we finished.
As long as we beat the other Enterprises, of course.
She did good; nine boats in our fleet in total, six Ents including our own plus a Wanderer, a single handed British Moth and a Rooster-rigged Laser. Without an awful lot of coaching (aka. "nagging") from me, Amanda pulled off a respectable start and a good first beat and then sailed a fast course through the rest of the race, beating all the other Ents except for Geoff and Sue, and finishing 3rd overall.
I think that was quite an achievement. It's a funny old thing, but it felt as good to take a 3rd place with Amanda at the helm as it does to beat everybody on my own with the Laser.
I think we should try the same again next week.
The photo at the top of this post was taken lunch time Wednesday; two gliders out of my old club at neighbouring Aston Down, soaring in a thermal above my office. A friend and colleague asked if I missed it.
A realisation struck me - of course I do, especially when watching old friends dance beneath the clouds like that. But not so much as I'd miss the wind and the water, particularly the sea, were I to give that up to return.
This coming weekend should be kinder on my fingers. No gigs; I'm going sailing with Dad and Calstar instead. Not sure if we're going to sail out around Eddystone then back into the Yealm for Saturday night, or head down to Mevagissy for Saturday and back on Sunday. Will decide subject to mood and forecast tomorrow evening once we get to the boat.
Slightly vexing that a week after I've damaged whatever it is that I've damaged in my arm and shoulder I still can't muster enough grip to hold a guitar pick though. I think I'll leave my guitar at home this weekend and content myself in harbour with a good book.
I've got until a week on Friday to recover, then two gigs a weekend until the end of the month to get through. It'll all work out one way or another, I'm sure.
Wednesday, 3 July 2019
After such a lucky, sustained run of wins with the Laser I was beginning to think she was a magic boat. It is one of the virtues of racing a single design class that I’d mostly overlooked until I started racing this one: you can pick up a relatively old boat which, as long as she’s been looked after, the rig brought up to the most recent spec and the sails and foils are in good nick, can beat other boats in her class that are much, much newer.
And she does. She’s one of the oldest boats in the Laser fleet at Frampton, but frequently beats the others in a wide range of conditions.
Of course, a magic boat still can’t save me from myself. You still have to sail her well.
Last Wednesday was the third of the three RNLI Trophy races at Frampton, and one of the events counting towards the overall Club Championship. The first had been held on the evening of Wednesday 12th June in very light conditions, and I’d won that. The second was during the week I’d been away with Dad and Nik, so that became my default discard.
All I had to do was sail a clean, fast race on the Wednesday evening, and beat Pete in his Comet, who had won the week I’d been away. Do that, and I’d take the trophy and chalk up another win to count towards the overall Championship.
It didn’t start well. A blustery evening, after rigging the boat I changed the mainsheet over for the heavier of the two, and then launched early; doing so means that there’s plenty of space to get the boat afloat and sailing without others getting in the way.
It also means that everybody else is still ashore, watching.
I pushed out and stepped aboard, taking meticulous care not to let the water go over the top of my new, waterproof Sealskinz socks; I’m really trying to stay out of the water at Frampton, as I don’t like being eaten by parasitic tadpoles. Boat slides out across the wind and onto the water, I stand to lower the daggerboard into the slot, both the board and I get inexplicably tangled in the mainsheet.
By the time I’ve untangled myself, the boat is now sliding back towards the concrete shore, the daggerboard is still not down, and yes, everybody is watching. Rob (Solo sailor and afore referenced skipper of a certain, lovely Moody 40 we last saw down in Fowey the previous week) valiantly runs down to the water’s edge, fends us off from the concrete and pushes me back out, my dignity (and gel coat) still pretty much intact.
Daggerboard in, try to sort out the rudder, the wind gusts, predictably. Boat powers up, rocking and surging because the sail setting are completely out of kilter. I quickly give up on the rudder, the leading edge is in the water at least, so we have a little steerage, and tend quickly to the vang, outhaul and cunningham. Then rudder down and the boat is back under control and I’m beating out across the lake. I’m fully hiked out. close hauled on starboard, and beginning to enjoy myself.
I tack. The tiller suddenly jams, feeling like it’s been locked up; I can’t bear away. Everything is all of a sudden quite out of control again. Another gust hits, of course.
I hike hard to flatten the boat, round up into wind, and quickly roll back into the cockpit to stop her tipping over on top of me as the pressure goes out of the sail. I look at the locked tiller and realise I’ve rigged the thing over the traveller, not under it as it should’ve been, so the mainsheet block is now jammed against it, explaining the sudden lack of steerage after I’d tacked.
I’ve taped the tiller into the headstock of the rudder; when sailing with it half up to cope with the weed, it works loose. So now I have to un-tape the tiller, force it back out of the headstock (I use a purchase on the rudder downhaul to jam it in tight, to try to avoid it working loose), somehow hold the rudder central with one hand on the stock and try hard not fall away from head to wind whilst I rethread the tiller back under the traveller and jam it back into the stock.
The rest of the fleet are now sailing out and around me. I expect the other Laser sailors are laughing at me. If not, they probably should be. I’m laughing at myself.
Everything now sorted, the boat is sailing again, and I’m reaching back and forth across the starting area, beginning to enjoy myself once more. The gusts coming though are quite brutal, the little boat planes frequently, spray everywhere. I’m beginning to wish I’d worn a wetsuit and not just the neoprene shorts I’ve got on, but I’m feeling cocky; I’ve got the measure of this boat now, it’s been ages since I last capsized. The starting sequence still hasn’t begun. The OOD (Officer Of the Day; ie. the guy organising the race and recording the results) is having some trouble setting the course or laying out the start line, or something.
Doesn’t matter, I’m now quite relaxed after the earlier mishaps, enjoying the conditions. I reach into towards the bank sailing fast, harden up to close-hauled under the trees, hiking hard as a gust hits, stretching to keep the boat level, ends of my toes just kissing the toe-straps, loving the acceleration, the immediacy and feel of a live boat. And the wind, in the shadow of the tree-lined bank, suddenly reverses direction, knocking me flat. The whole boat tips over on top of me and I’m in the water before I realise what’s happened.
It’s colder than I expected. But the first, terrible thought through my mind is “killer tadpoles!” and a feeling of deep stupidity that I’m not wearing my full wetsuit. I frantically splash around to the daggerboard, feeling the mainsheet tangle around my feet.
I’ve done this a lot. I’m actually quite good at it. Normally, I porpoise up onto the daggerboard, then as the boat comes up, step smoothly over the side and into the cockpit and stop her from tipping back over the other way. I do this regardless of whether or not the mast is lying to the wind, and almost always get away with it.
Most people right the boat from the water, so either pull her around head to wind first (this is Mike’s favourite) or let her capsize a second time so the mast is lying downwind, and only then right her properly. The really clever ones cling onto the daggerboard as the boat comes up to windward first time, so when she tips back over again, get pulled under the boat (this is Jon’s favourite) and end up on the windward side without having to trouble themselves with swimming around.
I find I don’t have to bother with any of this; if I can get into the cockpit as she comes up, I can generally stop the second capsize by throwing my weight out to windward.
Not this time. I’d hardly touched the daggerboard, let alone clambered up on to it, when the wind whipped under the sail, flipping the boat up and then back over on top of me again before I could do anything about it. I’m indignant. This hasn’t happened to me in years. Getting cold and tired, I drag myself around the hull and back to the daggerboard again, keeping a firm grip on her to stop the wind tearing her away from me.
A second attempt, still didn’t have time to get up on the daggerboard before she pops back up and, inexplicably, the wind is behind the back of the sail again, flipping her over with a spray of water arcing from her mast, straight back down on top of me. I’m now swearing a fair bit and getting quite frustrated with myself. The trees on the lee shore are playing havoc with the wind direction in their shadow as the gusts come blasting through. It’s a total roll of a dice as to where the wind is going to come from next.
About ten meters away a fisherman is stood on the shore, having reeled in his lines, staring daggers at me. I’m flailing about in his swim. We’re not supposed to get close to them, but at this point I don’t really have much control of my circumstances. Between my splashing, cursing and fretting, I grin apologetically at him. I’m tired, desperate, frustrated and embarrassed, but never let it be said I lack the ability to laugh at myself.
Third time lucky. The boat comes up. I still didn’t get up on the board, but this time the wind is, blissfully, in her sail and not behind it. I try to slide into the cockpit, but I’m now tangled in the mainsheet, all but lashed to the daggerboard. Adrenaline surges as the boat begins to round up and turn perilously back through the wind. I kick my feet and lunge for the windward gunwale, grabbing it, and pull myself aboard and through the constraining coils of rope wrapped around my torso with sheer desperation and brute force.
Finally, I’m led within the cockpit, boom flailing and sail flogging as the blessedly upright boat sits head to wind, a mere boat length from the fisherman on the shore. The Safety Boat, standing by, asks if I’m okay? I don’t have the strength to answer, barely have the energy left to lift my arm, but manage to give them a tentative thumbs up. I control my breathing, and feel my strength quickly returning. Grab the tiller, untangle the mainsheet, and tentatively pick my way out from under the shadow of those damned trees.
I get my bearings. It feels like it’s been a lifetime, but I quickly realise they haven’t even begun the starting sequence yet.
I recovered with a great start. Middle of the line, moving at speed as the gun signalled our release. I pinched up towards the bank, telling Mike to tack when he called for water and just about edged my transom over his bow, then tacked earlier than most of the rest of the fleet, ducking one or two but moving fast. By the time I reached the windward mark I was comfortably in the lead and first around it.
There were no other big mistakes. But cautious of the big, shifty gusts, I sailed conservatively, and catching up with the back of the fleet, gave them plenty of space and consideration, sailing around rather than getting aggressive with them at the marks. It wasn’t really an evening for caution, needing as I did to beat Pete.
I finished first on the water, but after adjustment for handicap could see that Rob in his Solo, coming in second, would beat me. Pete in his Comet was further behind, but I wasn’t sure if it was enough.
And it wasn’t. Pete beat me by a mere 11 seconds on adjusted time, taking 1st place and knocking Rob down into 2nd, leaving me in 3rd. That was enough for Pete to deservedly take the trophy. Rob and I tied on points after our respective discards, so Rob took 2nd place though merit of beating me in the final race.
Despite the drama before the start and the disappointment at the result (disappointed? Really? A year ago I’d have been absolutely pumped about taking a 3rd in a club championship race) it was hard not to come away with a big grin on my face. The Laser and I fit well together, and the more we sail, the better we fit. I don’t think I need that Radial sail after all.
That said, I’ve hurt my arm. And it quickly became apparent that the killer tadpoles got me again. I’ve spent a very uncomfortable week suffering with a resurgent rash covering most of my abdomen and lower legs. But the anti-histamines are getting that under control and I’ve brought myself a new wetsuit, a Zhik Microfleece X. It’s only 1mm neoprene, so I’m hoping that it’ll be fine to wear through the summer.
Downside it’s a bit of a challenge to get into, requiring a degree of flexibility to get your shoulders in via the neck opening. There is no zip. I’m not persuaded that’s not a design flaw.
Unfortunately, I’ve been nursing a shoulder injury for a few weeks now, and the antics of last Wednesday clearly damaged it further. Up until then the pain in my shoulder wasn’t anything I couldn’t manage with the help of an occasional ibuprofen and perhaps a drink or two of an evening at the weekend. After the race on Wednesday, I found my elbow was also hurting as well and by the time I got to the gigs on Friday and Saturday night I found I didn’t have enough grip in my right hand to hold a guitar pick; as a result my strings were a bit bloody by the end of Saturday night.
Sunday morning, and despite the fresh breeze and glorious sun, my arm was too sore to sail, so I actually spend the day at home and cut the grass.
It’s going to need a bit of rest I suspect.
It’s not the end of the world. My next gig isn’t until a week on Friday, and this Wednesday I’m racing with Amanda and her Ent. I’ve told her she can helm for a change; I reckon I can manage to crew one-handed, and taking the tiller for a few races will do her some good. Then this coming weekend, I’m away again with Dad and Calstar. Big advantage Calstar has over the Laser is the auto-helm.
Meanwhile though, between the anti-histamines and the regular diet of ibuprofen and paracetamol, I’m ratting around like a regular pill-box.