Thursday, 1 January 2015

January Grit

photo: Sue B.
Woke up before the alarm clock to a view of the tree outside my bedroom window doing an enthusiastic dance in the dawn's murk. The forecast came in pretty much as promised.

Launched in south-westerly F4, which built up to the high end of a F5 over the course of the hour's race, with squally gusts just grazing the bottom of a 7. Ten boats on the water in total, and an excellent course set by the race committee: first beat up the lake to Red, followed by a dead run to Green-Yellow, another beat up to White, a shifty, tricky reach in the shadow of the trees and a gybe at Green-White, finally rewarded by a screaming reach back down the whole length of the lake again to Yellow.

Buffy's track - annotated to show the marks and startline
We had a fantastic start, timing it to hit the favoured end windward of the fleet, hiked out and at speed just as the gun went. To say it was more accident than design would perhaps be a little unfair, but I'd have to confess though I often strive to start like this, I more frequently fail.

Our efforts were rewarded with a first to the windward mark, and the fleet falling back and squabbling amongst themselves. But with only nine other boats on the water the squabbles didn't last for long and we soon had the Lasers biting at our heels.

photo: York
A little over halfway through, still out in front of everybody except Phil in his RS Aero, who had brute-forced his way over and through on the last lap, we rounded the gybe mark onto the Green-White to Yellow reach with Pete R in one of the Lasers bang on our windward quarter. A squall hit hard and we pushed him up, gasping and grasping to windward to keep our clean air and stop him riding us down, both of us hiked out hard. Our boats leapt up onto the plane, the speed building and building as the pressure of the gust increased.

I continued pushing him up above the rhumb line, determined not to let him pass despite knowing it was probably a lost cause. Fighting to keep the boat smooth, steady and balanced and blinded by the spume of spray we were kicking up, I couldn't see him just behind my shoulder, but I could hear him.

And heard a terrific crack.

Glancing back, I saw Pete in the water just as he popped back up to the surface, his boat cartwheeling away. I assumed the noise was him hitting the wet stuff, but my crew Hels, glancing back, told me his mast had snapped midway up. I told her to look ahead and concentrate on keeping the boat flat. The next mark was coming up fast and it was going to be a heavy rounding as the gust wasn't done with us yet.

photo: York
By about the 45 minute mark, we saw Phil capsize the Aero up ahead and had Jon in another Laser now catching up with us fast. We hit the end of the reach again, rounded Yellow and could see Phil sailing in. Not certain whether he'd finished or retired, I tacked early and went through the line. No finishing gun, so we pushed on. By the time we'd reached windward at Red, Jon was right on our heels.

Another gust hit as we rounded Green-Yellow onto the second beat of the lap, Jon right behind. And the friction break on the centreboard momentarily failed, and the board popped back up, sliding us wide. Jon tacking away in sync with the next gust as it hit, and breaking away from us whilst we struggled to get the board back down and the boat back under control.

photo: Sue B.
Rounding Green-White, Jon sailed high to block us, so I went low on the rhumb line desperately hoping for a chance gust and clear air. Jon capitalised on that desperation and sailed, high but fast and flat down the reach, rounding the bottom mark and crossing the line to finish nine seconds ahead of us. It was well sailed, and well deserved, snatching the result from our grasp just when we thought we all but had it, leaving us no time to do a thing about getting it back.

photo: York
After correcting for handicap, Jon took second behind Pete in his Comet, who must've sailed a great race of his own amongst the fleet behind us, and we took third. A respectable result, ours mostly by chance and the misfortune of other: Pete's mast failure, entirely due to the pressure of the gust it turned out, and Phil's own capsize and retirement in the penultimate lap. But more to the point it was a fantastic day's sailing and a great start to the new year.

A few credits and observations:

I was the only boat on the water today with blue sails.

Many of the photos above were taken by the son of Tim York, a relatively new member to the club and, in my opinion, cheerful contender for the Capsize Trophy this year if Pete doesn't get it for his spectacular tumble today. Somebody needs to take it, I'm fed up of it ending up back in this family. I'm grateful for their permission to use the pictures here. I believe this is Tim's first season racing. He's doggedly tenacious, out in all weathers even when he's clearly over powered, and I'm not sure I've ever seen him voluntarily retire, no matter how beaten.

It reminds me of any number of other sailors at the club in their time, myself included. Give him another season or two, I suspect I'm going to be fighting hard to shake him off my tail just like the rest of our Laser fleet. It strikes me that if you want to race, you've got to hate losing, but equally, you've got to be prepared to face it, again and again till it stops.

A couple of the other photos were taken by my friend Sue, one of today's race officers. I've presumed her permission to use them here, have asked, and will cheerfully remove them if the permission isn't given, however reluctantly. I love pictures of my boat, even if she is currently looking a little "end of season".

This final photo was mine, taken once we were all safely ashore.

The tacking angle of my Enterprise is about 90 degrees, not entirely unexpected, but I'm pleased to have confirmed it. Today's race was a course of five and a half nautical miles, sailed in just a fraction under an hour. Irrelevant, but interesting, to me at least.

Buffy averaged 4.8 knots. Typical upwind speed through the water was 5.2 knots, typical reaching speed, once up on the plane, was 8.7 knots. Again, irrelevant, but interesting figures for comparison.

Our maximum speed today, which, anecdotally, I suspect was in the teeth of the squall that broke Pete, was 10.9 knots. Not bad for a little wooden sail-boat of just a shade over 13' in length.

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