Ben's back from Uni for the summer, so last night I went straight to Frampton lake from work to meet up with him, and we sailed "Buffy" in the Wednesday evening race. Although it calmed significantly as the evening wore on, it all started off very blustery. A very promising evening for a sail.
Ben helmed and I crewed. Last time we sailed together a number of capsizes established that, since he got so big, this arrangement works much better for all concerned.
I love crewing a double-hander, especially with a decent helm, and Ben is very much that. All to often, it's me in the back of the boat, so taking the seat up front is, aside from everything else, a pleasant change. But when you get a bit of a blow, as it was to begin with last night, there is little to match the feeling of being fully hiked out, parallel to the water over a hard beat as the hull slices through the chop.
When I'm on helm, there is always so much else to manage, so much else to think about. As crew, once the jib is clawed hard in, all you've really got left is to put every fibre of every muscle you have into keeping the boat balanced and flat, and keep your eyes open for everything that's around so you can keep the helm tactically and situationaly aware whilst he focuses on keeping the boat moving as fast and as true as she possibly can.
It's gloriously liberating.
There were three fleets racing on the water Wednesday evening. At a dozen boats including ourselves, our fleet was the largest. Ben made a cracking start, bang on the line, at speed and at the favoured end as the gun went, and consolidated that with an excellent first beat that took Buffy around the windward mark boat lengths ahead of the nearest competition. Geoff and Sue in the Enterprise "Ghost" were our principle opposition. There were three other Enterprises racing amongst the fleet that we were quite confident of getting away from, but Ghost beats us more often than Buffy beats her so she was the evening's challenge.
They had nowhere near as good a start as us, but still managed to round windward amongst the top third of the fleet. For the next hour, Ben doggedly coaxed every inch of speed he could get out of Buffy to stay ahead, with Ghost inevitably closing up the gap off the wind (she's so quick on a free point of sail) but typically losing it again once we turned back up onto a beat.
And then, in the final lap, we got tangled up amongst the back markers of the fleet and, as we worked our way through them, on the first beat up to Green, Ghost snuck through on a lift as we tried to negotiate our way past an errant Solo and a Topper.
I could feel Ben seethe with frustration and disappointment. We rounded the mark just behind our opponent, and gybed out wide of the run down to Red to seek better air. We hardened up around the leeward mark just on the tail of Ghost. They tacked off to the starboard side of the beat, we sought advantage in the shifty air to port. As we neared the Yellow mark to windward we found ourselves crowded by the back of the Solo fleet again. Ben tacked on to port to try and get himself up to the starboard layline, vaguely aware of Ghost bearing down on us on starboard a few boat lengths out to leeward, but focused on not hitting the blue Solo ahead of us.
Geoff aboard Ghost warned "Starboard", but was otherwise taking no prisoners. Now clear of the Solo ahead, Ben's focus was locked out in front rather than out to the side, but my anguished yelp brought him to the point in hand just in time to pull the tiller sharply in and bear away hard as Ghost was about to connect, swerving neatly past her bows without contact. As we cleared her dirty air, we tacked quickly on to the layline, and with a fortunate lift, regained our lead, inching just enough in front to round the mark ahead of her by the merest whisper.
But this put her on our wind, and she sat hard on our starboard quarter as we both goose-winged on starboard down the run to the gybe mark, a Solo just inside and ahead of us.
"Up! Up!" As we reached the gybe mark at Red-Yellow, Ben gave a clear warning to Ghost to give us the space we needed and were entitled to; we were in turn constrained by the need to give room to the Solo ahead and inside of us. The Solo seemed to take his time with the gybe, pushing us higher. Ghost was locked on the outside, but would have our wind for the reach that was to follow, and she is so light and quick off the wind; things looked grim. This wouldn't be the first time Ghost had snatched the race out from under us with just the last couple of hundred meters to run.
But overly keen, she gybed too soon and too close on the back of our own turn, and as our boom swept over, it thumped solidly into their hull. Unlucky, but our water, their foul, and we capitalised on our sudden good fortune, gleefully reaching away to the final mark of the lap whilst they took their penalty turns in our wake.
In the end, we took 2nd place out of the 12 boats racing in our fleet, our friend Pete Dalton with his Comet poaching victory from us by more than a minute once our times were adjusted for handicap. But we were first Enterprise, and it had been hard won.
More to the point however, it had been a gorgeous evening's sailing. It's very nice to have Ben back home again for the summer.