Wednesday, 17 June 2020

Albacore: going solo

Despite buying the Albacore back at the end of last year, we only had the chance to take her out very few times before gear failure, my health, a refit and then the nation's health (and a global pandemic) got in the way.

As Ben (aka. child #2 and the only other sailing member of my immediate family) has spread his wings and moved down to Bristol to be with his work and his lovely lady Hannah (they're actually buying a house together, kind of exciting) I have nobody to sail the Albacore with for as long as the current government restrictions remain in place.

Besides, as the boat half belongs to my (previously) regular crew Amanda, it would feel rude to sail it with somebody else.

Anyway, I digress. At the end of January, the Albacore was taken off for a refit by my mate Paul of CS Boats. It's probably fair to suggest that what Paul doesn't know about fitting and rigging an Albacore probably hasn't been thought of yet. He gave me a very fair estimate on converting the shrouds, which had old fashioned high-field levers to set the tension, to a fully adjustable system, suggested a very good alternative to the then existing mast ram (used for rude adjustments of the mast rake and controlling the pre-bend) and a plan for bringing all the pertinent controls back to the helm.

Caveat emptor. And by that, I don't mean in reference to Paul, but in reference to the chap that sold us the boat in the first place. Although in fairness, he was no more aware of the various failings subsequently uncovered once the boat was back in the workshop than I'd been from my original, cursory examination before we parted with the cash.

Besides which, I had a fair idea of what I was getting into.

By the time Paul had made all the intended, planned adjustments for the refit, and corrected all the unexpected "surprises" that revealed themselves in the process, the final cost had quadrupled. I should stress that none of this was dropped on me out of the blue by Paul; he did an exemplary job of keeping me informed as the work progressed and did exactly as I asked. The best recommendation I can give anybody is that I wouldn't hesitate to use their services again, and in Paul's case I almost certainly will the next time I inevitably break something.

In any case, the Albacore was finally returned to the Club in May, as soon as the non-essential travel restrictions were lifted. She now has a fully modernised rig; completely adjustable shrouds and adjustable forestay led back to the helm, fully adjustable mast rake and pre-bend, again led back to the helm along with the controls for the new kicker. The cockpit has been repainted, various stray holes filled and fared, various loose bits re-glued and a nasty gash in the trailing edge of the centreboard filled, fared and painted. And the toe-straps have been replaced with a fully adjustable, customised system that shouldn't fail and drop me overboard again.

Or at least won't once I put a couple of stoppers in place that appear to have been overlooked. A minor thing however.

Overall, I'm really pleased with the result, desperate to have my crew back and desperate to race her. Meanwhile frustrated as anything that the prevailing pandemic prevents me from doing so (with the absolute caveat that I know this is a silly, minor inconvenience in the greater scheme of things and I still have the Laser to keep me entertained)

However, last Sunday the conditions seemed pretty benign, with the forecast promising heavy showers across the afternoon, but gusts of no more than 14 knots.

So I rigged her and took her out on my own.

Everything works. And single-handing an Albacore is actually quite a bit more comfortable than single-handing an Enterprise, and the rig is a lot more controllable. I only had one very close shave, where a gust caught me mid-gybe, and both the the mainsheet and jibsheets snagged in their respective cleats, but I narrowly avoided the capsize. I'm going to blame that one on the crew; absence is no excuse.

There's a lot of new string in the boat, and an awful lot of new stuff to learn and things to tweak before I suspect we'll see any decent results once the racing restarts. But it's a learning curve I'm really looking forward to grappling with.

Buying a new boat should be an exciting thing, but in many ways circumstances have conspired against us over the last six months to put heavy dampers on this one. For the last few months, the whole thing has been kind of anticlimactic, something of a money-pit with no real return.

But I find myself once again enthused and awfully keen to get back out there and race her properly.

There is the suggestion, the merest whisper of a rumour, that could be mid July. But in these perilous times who can tell. All I know is that once Amanda and I do get the all clear to race together again, we've got a gorgeous boat waiting for us to race with.

Meanwhile, next Sunday morning I fully plan to be back out with my Laser again.

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