Wednesday, 11 July 2018

TSC: some mud but no weed

I spent this last weekend crewing for Phil, a friend from the club at Frampton, on his Cherub at Thornbury Sailing Club's annual regatta. The Cherub is a 12' dinghy with a big asymmetric spinnaker, twin trapeze for helm and crew complete with rails to stand out on, and not like anything I've ever sailed before. Home built by Phil and his wife out of carbon fibre, she's very fast, very lively and very, very quick to bite if mishandled.

The invitation to come sail with Phil at Thornbury was phrased along the lines of there being no weed but "some mud"; TSC is perched on the eastern banks of the Severn Estuary just above the old Severn Bridge, and indeed has no weed, but mud aplenty. It's my kind of mud though, and I've quite missed it.

To a humble lake sailor like myself, first sight of the Cherub was both exhilarating and intimidating. A twelve foot hull with a bowsprit that, when extended increases the length overall to eighteen feet; dagger-board, made out of carbon, and thus so deceptively light that when Phil handed it to me, I almost dropped it; the rudder, carbon as well, has a pair of wings to generate lift to reduce drag on the transom. She is a strange combination of the familiar and the alien. Jib and mainsail, nothing new there, but both sails are fully battened, and the main is pulled down the carbon fibre mast to reduce compression, and needs to be loaded into the luff track from the head of the mast. So the boat has to be rigged on her side.

Saturday was hot and steaming, pitiless blue sky and very little wind, so it was almost a relief when, as we were launching, I accidentally stepped off the end of slip, hidden in knee deep, heavily silted water, and went for an inadvertent swim.

Getting out of the pill was a tricky affair in such light conditions, as without flow over the foils we had very little steerage, and without wind in the sails the boat was exceptionally tippy. Once into open water, we didn't have enough flow over the rudder for the hydrofoil to generate any lift, so to assist the trim I spend my time when we beating perched up on the very narrow foredeck.

Unlike the double-handers I'm used to sailing, on the Cherub, the centre mainsheet runs straight to the hand from the boom, and is the responsibility of the crew to trim when sailing upwind whilst the helm steers and balances the boat as necessary off the trapeze, unless the wind fills in, at which point the crew joins him out on the trapeze as well. This double trapezing wasn't a feature of Saturday's sailing.

Off wind, the crew gets to hand the mainsheet to the helm and then hoist and play the big asymmetric spinnaker. In light conditions, the helm comes in off the wire, and the crew hooks on and hikes out to balance the boat. The boat hadn't been sailed since last September, and there was some sort of tangle in the spinnaker hoist that hadn't revealed itself when we tested the hoist ashore. This complicated things, but the light conditions mean we were still able to nurse the pole out and get the kite up without major mishap, though the tack didn't set properly to the end of the pole.

Our first capsize came on our second gybe. I missed Phil's warning that we were going, and unfamiliar with the mechanism and technique, fumbled swinging back in and unhooking. Before I could warn Phil of my fumble the boom was across, I was hung up on the leeward side of the boat and the whole thing came over on top of me.

The first race was abandoned due to lack of wind, most the fleet unable to make way against the tide to make the windward mark. The wind filled in a little for a second race, although there was some chaos and confusion on the start line as the race officers changed the course, and the flags on the race hut ashore were standing away from us in the onshore wind and so unreadable. Having abandoned the first race, the race committee then tried for a third, despite being late on the tide.

The wind was much better as sea breeze began to fill in from down-channel, but by the end of the race the water was just on the end of the slip, which made recovering the fleet a muddy, strenuous affair. Both safety boats were moored up in the pill over night as it was too late to haul them out.

Sunday was supposed to be better wind, but although we could see breeze on the water both up channel and down, the waters off Oldbury Pill were flat and still to begin with. It seemed the north easterly gradient from up channel was pushing against a building sea breeze trying to push up from down channel, and TSC was in the no man's land bang in the middle of it.

A judicious delay to the start of the first race however meant the wind was beginning to fill by the time we launched, the sea breeze failing and the forecast north easterly prevailing as the afternoon wore on. As the wind strengthened, the Cherub sprung to life. When rigging, Phil had identified and fixed the tangle that had been causing us Saturday's trouble with the spinnaker halyard, so hoists and drops were now simple. We did have a near miss on one hoist when I forgot to hand the mainsheet to Phil first, and dropped it. The boat healed violently as the main depowered, the windward rail going under before Phil and I leapt to the leeward side to flatten the boat and I quickly pulled the mainsheet back in.

Like getting hung up on the leeward trapeze, that's the sort of mistake you don't make again.

With the wind up and everything working, I was up on the rail and hanging out off the wire with pretty much every reach, and one long beat in the second and final race put enough pressure into the sail to have us both up on the trapeze and hanging out to keep the boat flat.

It was stupidly good fun.

Thornbury is a lovely club on a gorgeous stretch of water, although I do understand the silt laden brutality of the viciously tidal Severn Estuary is something of an acquired taste and so perhaps not for some. Dad's okay with the tides and silt, as long as it's in the water, but he can't manage with the mud.

It's half an hour down the motorway from home and I've visited there on a number of occasions now, but it occurs to me that this is the first time I've actually sailed from there. Previous visits have been for powerboat training, when I did a tidal conversion for my existing powerboat ticket, or the time before that when I found myself relegated to the safety boat because I chose the week of FOSSC's second cruise up to Frampton Pill to break my foot.

c. Sept 2010
The temptation to move there is quite the lure, especially with Frampton so choked up with weed at the moment. Access to the cruising grounds of the Severn Estuary and the Bristol Channel beyond, Lydney and Sharpness less than an hour up channel, tides permitting. A competitive and very active racing fleet, tide and waves and long, long stretches of open water.

Except Frampton is home from home. And ever so convenient for an evening's sail after work. And I really can't afford the commitment of a second club. So not this year, I guess.

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