Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Buffy: Sunday disqualified and retired

Sunday morning, quick early phone call to dad, and we concluded very quickly the forecast had got no better, and F5 gusting 6 with 2 meter seas had become no more attractive. Dad said he'd head down to the boat anyway to check on her. I went back to bed with the vague idea that I'd get up in an hour or two and try to find a crew for the afternoon's racing at Frampton.

photo: ken elsey
An hour or two later, and no joy with finding crew. Dad was posting pictures to Facebook showing he'd made it to Cardiff. I was looking at the forecast, looking at the webcam of the lake, looking at the forecast, telling myself I'd be stupid to try and single-hand the Ent in these conditions. My sailing kit, still soaked from the day before, was chunking around in the tumble-dryer. Not sure it's good for the kit, certainly not good for the tumble dryer, but Nik was once again working down the shop, so what she didn't know she couldn't mind.

The clock tumbling on towards noon, the day was now building exactly as forecast. The Club webcam showed a swamped Optimist tethered to the near jetty and little kids being put through their capsize drill. I thought briefly about cutting the still un-mown grass. Then grabbed my damp and musty but now warmly tumbled kit from the drier and headed off to the Club.

On the shore of the lake, contemplating the wind-flecked waters, I was collared by Mark who asked if I'd yet found anyone dumb enough to sail with me. Or words to that effect. And on learning not, offered to sail with me himself.

Mark is a Laser sailor. A good one, as his race results clearly prove. He's also fairly vocal, as his occasional moniker in certain quarters, "Mark the Mouth", fairly obviously states. He's also got a heart of gold and is never shy of a moment to help out anyone; despite being a self-confessed Tory voter he's a generous soul.

photo: roger gribble
I'm not sure of his exact dimensions, but set against my diminutive eleven stone and 5'7 (AND A HALF!), Mark's got to be close to 6' if not over, and has at least a couple of stone on me. It might be rude to suggest more, so I won't, and anyway, I'm quite sure it's all muscle. About my own age, maybe a year or few over but no more. He is active and fit with it though, and as is the wont of Laser sailors everywhere, apt to springing about all over the place with abandon; although another Laser sailor remarked "He's not as quick as he used to be", possibly in reference to our later capsize, which if so, would be completely unfair.

In short, not the frame of a body I'd normally choose to put in the front of my boat. But looking out at the conditions on that day, knowing they were only yet due to worsen, I think it is possibly fair to say I positively bit his hand off in my eagerness to accept his offer to crew. And besides which, as Mark himself said when making the offer: it'd be a laugh.

And it was.

Inarguably my worst results of the season, possibly of my entire sailing career. Two races that afternoon, our proud result by the end was a disqualification followed by a retirement. But it was also some of the most amazingly good fun I've had in an Enterprise in a very long time.

photo: ken elsey
Aside from the obvious entertainment and charm of my company, the wind-speed topped 37 knots at some of its more enthusiastically brutal moments. With one wet, ignominious exception when the gust was a accompanied by a massive header that got behind the close-hauled sails and flattened us to what was, until seconds before, previously windward, we had the weight and technique to keep the boat up and, most often at least, flat. And when we got it right, which was plenty often, she positively flew.

It was a well set course. And I rarely concede that if we finish with such terrible results. But there were two great beats to windward, a long goose-winged run across the breadth of the lake and a screaming, white-knuckled reach down the entire length of it to Yellow, followed by a gybe just to keep you on your toes. Funny enough, the gybe gave no problems. The inconsistencies inflicted by the wind-shadow up under the trees by the windward mark at Red gifted us with our one capsize, late in the first race, knocking us back to the rear half of the fleet from having almost clawed our way up to third place.

We were disqualified from that race anyway as I'd not noted the cryptically expressed instruction given with the course to go through the start / finish line. To be fair, it did not say to do so every lap, but enough people both noted it and understood its intent to leave us the odd men out in disregarding it. And, if I'm honest, I hadn't spotted the fact that it had been written on the course board at all when I was noting the course down.

photo: ken elsey
The second race saw possibly my best start of the year. Hitting the line at speed just as the gun went, nestled right up to the inner distance mark at the favoured end and climbing up on a lift to take us out towards our preferred side. A Solo had capsized on the line and was causing mayhem, but we dodged through the maelstrom of the fleet and were tearing away off up the beat with big grins on our faces. When they called a general recall and brought us all back to start again. The second time around a Laser barged into the line above us, and he and the Solo between us and him utterly disregarded Mark's enthusiastically assertive screams of "Up! Up! Up! UUUPPP! AWW! PROTEST!" as we were locked out from the line below them. I could've just hardened up and in to them and quite spoilt their day, but having spent what felt like the entire winter repainting my hull I was damned if I was going to risk scratching it for mere principle.

The gusts grew more random and ferocious as the second race wore on. Soaked by spray, battered by the elements, we missed a couple of tacks and ended up humiliatingly head to wind, stuck in irons. That hasn't happened to me in a long while, and it's a horrid feeling; until you look up and see that the gust has either put everybody else in the same predicament or knocked them entirely flat. I took an almighty smack on the head from the boom in one frenzied tack that put stars in my eyes and pins and needles into my neck. I thought I'd pay for that the next day, but the following morning, aside from the soreness of some abrasions to my scalp and a distinct unevenness from the bruising beneath the skin, a horrifically stiff neck that had been plaguing me since our trip away to Fowey a couple of weeks ago appeared to be miraculously cured.

I'm sure we were doing quite well, although it's impossible to tell in a race like that until it's done. But in what must've been the end of no more than the lap before last, brutalised between the teeth of of another vicious gust trying to knock us flat as we beat our way up from Green to White, it was ended. The wind hit, the boat heeled before my numbed arm could spill enough pressure from the main to let us hike the boat flat. Heeled over with the boom now pinned to the water and unable to payout more, I strained against the building weather helm to try and bear away against the rounding up of Buffy's hull. And her tiller snapped off, right at the base of the rudder stock.

Uncommanded, we rounded up out of control, tacked and then fell away before the wind, gybing and then rounding back up to lie too, the albeit quite baffled crew doing an admirably nimble job of both keeping the boat upright and not getting crowned by the flailing boom whilst I worked out and then communicated to him what had gone wrong.

Our race over, we lowered the mainsail and then sailed back to shore under jib alone. The Safety Boat did come over to check on us, but we sent them away again to keep an eye on the rest of the fleet.

It's been a funny old season so far. Hels has been distracted with work and domestic affairs and I've been far to inconsistent in my availability to be entitled to any expectation on her own. Ben, my usual default go to for company under such circumstances, has been too distracted with the pressures of new school, new job and finishing his post-grad teaching certificate. So I've either been left to sail alone or with a collection of ad hoc, random friends. I'm now pretty decided that once this year is through I'm going to sell the Enterprise and get myself a Laser.

Some of the stand-ins have been relative newbies, to misappropriate an Internet term. But in the best way. They always start out with an "I'm not very good at this" and then they perform tirelessly, attentively and  brilliantly and we've pretty much always wiped the floor with most of the rest of the fleet. And a couple of them have been some of the best sailors at the Club, which has been both a pleasure and potentially intimidating privilege, and always an education. But most of all, in every case, raw, stupid, unadulterated good fun.

This last Sunday Mark was fantastically good company. Very loud, very enthusiastic, hugely encouraging even when I was blatantly screwing up. Quote of the day: "I said TACK not bear away! What are you doing! What are you doing?" / "I am NOT tacking, I've dropped the tiller! Just try and fend off that other boat!"

I'd be lying if I said the results don't matter. The results always matter. The results always count.

But this time? Perhaps not so much. Mark, if you read this thank-you for a great day, and you'd be very welcome to sail with me again any time. It was both an education and an entertainment.

Just as soon as I've fixed the tiller!

Oh, and I still haven't cut the grass.

No comments: