Friday, 24 January 2020

Albacore: baby steps

photo: dave whittle

We've so far been very pleased with the new Albacore 8232. She came with the name "Lateron" painted on her transom, but I'm  not a fan so I'm going to rub it off. For now, she's just "the Albacore". Which isn't to imply I in any way lack affection for her. She's lovely. And she's mine.

Well, mine and Amanda's.

Amanda and I have had her out on three occasions now. The first was an informal practice day at South Cerney at the end of December. Lot of other boats, multiple short races, lots of start practice.

The wind was good, a steady direction, not too strong, not too light. Perfect for a first sail in a boat that was completely new to us. The format of the event, such as it was, was exceptionally confusing, but on the odd occasion we could work out where we were and what we were supposed to be doing, the Albacore held up well against the other boats on the water.

photo: dave whittle

The next outing was the second weekend of January, and entirely different conditions. The wind was blowing an absolute hooley. Not so good for getting used to a new boat, but we rigged anyway and launched, eventually.

Teething problems meant we were late getting on the water, and so missed our start by about 90 seconds. Unforgivable, if we'd had any pretence towards knowing what we were doing, but in the circumstances I found myself feeling pretty sanguine about it.

We were afloat, we were under control, the boat was staying upright. Despite not knowing a thing about how to set the rig - adjustable forestay, mast ram and highfield levers on the shrouds all of which adjust and control rig tension and mast rake whilst out on the water - we was surprisingly forgiving in the heavy weather.

photo: dave whittle

Until there was a nasty bank, the mainsail twisted up and the forestay sagged horribly.

Turns out the kicker and forestay both led down to a single metal hoop secured to the bolt holding the foot of the mast in place on the mast. Under tension, beating to windward, the nut had sheared off the bolt, disabling both the kicker and forestay tension.

We turned into the wind, dropped the jib and limped back to shore, our race over.

It was a clear weakness in the rig setup, obvious once we were back on shore and I got my head under the foredeck to have a closer look. I think the previous owner had bolted on the hoop as a compromise because the two existing secure points on the mast had pulled up under tension and didn't leave much room to get a shackle in to either.

But putting both the kicker and the forestay tension onto that one piece of metal was asking too much of it, and obviously once it failed, you lost both sail controls. It could've been worse. If the bolt had completely failed, the whole mast could've potentially come down.

A couple of flat shackles fixed the problem in time for the next race the following Sunday.

The conditions couldn't have been more different. Icy cold, still air, the lake mirror smooth. It's not such a problem to my mind, a small, light sailing dinghy will ghost along with the slightest whisper of air if handled right.

Once we'd broken the boat out from under the iced up cover and flexed life into the stiff, frozen sheets, we launched in good time, unlike the week previous. The first race was a pursuit, a fleet of a dozen, so the slower handicapped boats, which at South Cerney is most of the rest of the fleet compared to an Albacore, started ahead of us and we had to chase.

In turn, we were chased by a couple of the faster handicapped boats.

The drifting conditions made it impossible for the race committee to predict any kind of a course, and so it turned into a running start and a downwind first leg. The boats ahead of us were all in each other's wind, such as there was, so we took advantage of starting behind and sailed low, but in clean air.

The couple of boats starting behind us had the same idea but worked their course even lower, and to their benefit.

We caught up with the boats ahead about halfway down the leg. Our own pursuers had already passed us. The first mark turned into a chaotic raft up. We'd passed half the fleet, but the other half were all overlapped and queuing on the mark, so I ducked out behind them, simply intent on keeping our own boat moving and not getting in anybody's way.

It's not really a question of manners. In a drift, any kind of boat on boat tussle just slows both parties down and never pays off as much as simply staying clear would do. An RS Vareo cut in and looked like he was going to barge through. He had no rights, but I was quite prepared to shift enough to give him room if I had to.

He tacked out at the last moment, taking his place at the back of the pack.

A gybe around the mark, and then the next leg turned into a close-hauled fetch. Halfway down, most of the Solos and RS's now dropping well behind, but we found ourselves underneath a Laser, slowly overhauling him but not fast enough to tack and cross in front to make the next mark.

I should've seen it coming, but assumed he'd simply want to sail the fastest course he could himself and so wouldn't be too aggressive in such a drift. He was out in front of the Solos, so would have no difficulty staying there if he simply sailed a clean course.

I was wrong. A victim of my own complacency. He pinned us out. Both of us on starboard, we couldn't tack without hitting him, and I didn't dare slow the boat to drop behind. Eventually he tacked, and we went with him, but he left us no room at the mark; we were overlapped, with the choice of hitting him, the mark or missing our course.

Now, there are rules that cover this sort of thing. We both tacked within three boat lengths of the mark, and at a windward mark, the rules of port and starboard, windward and leeward govern all anyway. I don't believe he had the right to block us out, but we're very new to the Club and I felt disinclined to argue with a guy whose name I didn't even know yet.

So we ducked the wrong side of the mark. Now we were exactly where he wanted to go, and therefore pinning him out whilst we manoeuvred, gybed and then tacked back around to get on the right side of the course. I didn't feel like I was in a rush to get out of his way.

By the time I did, the rest of the fleet were on top of him and us.

We sailed around the outside of them all, our momentum keeping us going, so we regained all the places we'd just lost as they all rafted up together trying to round the buoy.

We almost caught the Laser back up, had an inside track for the next mark and were slowly overhauling him, when the clock ran out.

We ended up with a 6th place out of a fleet of 12. Baby steps taken in learning how to sail the new boat. I'm not unhappy, except for the fact that I didn't catch that Laser back up.

But that's okay, I'll remember his boat. It's always good to have an objective when you're racing.

They abandoned the second race on account of the light wind. I think I've already adequately expressed my views on that elsewhere. We stayed out for a bit as the wind inevitably filled in and I passed the helm over to Amanda for her to have a play.

It was a good day to be out on the water.

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