Monday, 30 July 2018

Laser: be careful what you wish for

That feeling mid-gybe when you know it’s all just about to go horribly wrong:

Despite a fairly active lifestyle by most standards, I’m pretty certain I can’t do my age in push-ups, at least not in a single set. However, Sunday was a demonstration that I can certainly match my age with the number of capsizes I can recover from in a single race.

Okay, perhaps that’s a bit of an exaggeration. Or maybe I’m being a little unrealistically coy about my actual age, I am well out of my thirties now!

It was lively. Which was welcomed after the sunny drifts of the last couple of months or so. For various reasons, I almost always do well in drifting conditions, but I really do love hiking weather, when the wind is blowing hard and you’re fully stretched out over the side of the boat, battling to keep her flat and brute force your way up wind. Or the exhilaration of a stupidly fast plane downwind, all spray and adrenaline; the boat hums beneath you, every shift of your weight or twitch of tiller or sheet is amplified through the hull.

We got a lot of that yesterday. I also got so much water pushed up my nose when I got dragged behind the dinghy by my ankles after an especially violent broach to windward that the next day I’m pretty certain my brain is still swilling in its own puddle of lake water. Another, similarly violent broach in the second race ripped my sunglasses off my face, which makes them the second pair I’ve surrendered to the lake this year.  I’m going to have to start tying them on. Years of capsizing an Enterprise and I never lost a single pair. Three months of racing a Laser, and I’m two sets of shades down. Clearly the violence is of a different order with this new boat.

Eight boats started the first race, of which four of us were sailing Lasers. The other three all sensibly rigged their smaller Radial sails. I only have my full sized Standard sail, so was denied that option. It was a punishing race, and I struggled with my overpowered rig. Three of the eight starters retired, including one of the Radials, but of the survivors, I finished last, a good four minutes behind the Radial in front of me. It’s very clear the Standard rig doesn’t sail very fast when the boat spends most of her time on her side with her helm either in the water or perched on the dagger-board trying to right the boat again.

Back ashore the gusts were so boisterous I lashed the Laser to her trolley and laid her over on her side to keep her safe whilst I drank my tea and nursed my wounded pride. I very, very nearly capitulated and declined the second race, the conditions, if anything, appeared to be strengthening. But I couldn’t do it. Lacking a smaller Radial rig to reduce down to, I compromised by rigging the thicker mainsheet, then launched for the next race.

Only four of us chose to start; Jon in his Radial, Pete in his Comet, Mike in his kid’s old Topper (the kicker is currently bust on his own Laser) and me. I got a good start, and refreshed with tea and rested from our short break ashore, managed a very good first beat, making it first around the windward mark and bearing away without mishap. By the second beat I was pulling clean ahead and feeling very good with myself. A gybe around the green mark, then a long, fast reach back down the lake to yellow. The wind hit and the boat took off on her fastest point of sail, spray everywhere and me literally hanging off the transom with my feel tucked into the toe-straps just to keep the nose up and the boat flat.

The bottom mark closing in a mad rush, outhaul on, Cunningham on, hard on with the kicker, then try to reach forward to get the board down. With a violent flick, the little boat broached, flinging me head first into the water as she flipped on top of me, dragging me along with my foot tangled in the mainsheet.

I chased the boat down, righted her and then finally rounded the mark to begin my second lap. By now both Jon and Pete had caught up and passed me. Then I realised how much brighter the day had become. That was the capsize that cost me my second pair of sunglasses.

At just a shade over 150lbs wet, I'm sure the wisdom of trying to race a Laser Standard rig on a day when the highest recorded gust whilst we were out on the water was over 40 knots was ill conceived at best. But I have to admit, I loved every second of it, or at least the ones when I was pretty sure I wasn't drowning. The first race was an absolute car crash, but almost all the capsizes were a lack of finesse, and not the necessary power to control the boat.

The second race went better, but the heavy winds were still beating me. In the end I finished second, beating the Radial but losing on handicap to the Comet. But I didn't really deserve it, and only took Jon's second place from him when on the very last lap the rains came in and the wind pretty much stopped. I always do well in a drift. Another lap of that and I reckon I'd have caught Pete as well. Maybe.

And, other than the unfortunate loss of my shades, nothing broke. The little boat gave everything I asked of her and more. I just need a few more days like that to practice with. And maybe, just maybe, I ought to think about getting myself a Radial rig as well as a bit of string with which to tie my glasses on.

[photos courtesy of Ken Elsey and Geoff Cox]

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