Tuesday, 30 October 2018

FOSSC: wind shadow, shallows and running starts

The weekend finished here.

The lake at Frampton, from the lee shore by the clubhouse at least, looked idyllic in the early winter sun when I arrived Sunday morning. The temperature was around 6C  however, and chilled further by a sharp north wind that was forecast to gust up into the mid 20's by lunchtime.

Racing is now in the second week of the winter programme.

"earlier this month" - photo: ken elsey
Earlier this month, in the absence of an Enterprise of my own, I'd bullied a friend into sailing the Enterprise Open with me at Frampton. It had been terrific fun. Don't get me wrong, I'm loving the Laser, but I'd forgotten, in such a very short time since I'd sold my own, how much fun it could be to race a double-hander.

So I'm sailing the Sunday morning Winter Pursuit series at Frampton with Amanda and her Enterprise this year. It's worked out well, because it means that my eldest boy Ben can use my Laser in the same race, which gets him out on the water again whilst he looks for a Laser of his own.

The course laid by the race committee on Sunday morning was questionable, to say the least. To compliment a gusty, foul-tempered northerly, the windward mark was set up as an unconventional starboard rounding in the dogleg of the lake at green, in the wind shadow of surrounding trees on three sides. The starboard approach to the start line was beset by centreboard grinding shallows. More than one boat got themselves grounded before the start. Those same shallows only worsened on the right hand side of the approach to the windward mark.

The rest of the course was a slalom series of deep, sluggish and uncomfortable runs, or pinched, close reaching fetches, seemingly designed to put the boats on different legs into direct conflict with each other. The only possible redeeming feature of the whole thing was that all the boats were in the same shared misery together.

Ben, still getting used to the vagaries of a Laser, capsized into the wind chilled waters more times than was comfortable. Although we stayed upright in the Enterprise, the only enjoyable thing you could take from the whole races was that we were at least out on the water. And the sun was shining. Even if the wind-chill was numbingly cold.

Back ashore between races, putting the Enterprise away, Les kindly offered me the loan of his own Laser for the afternoon race so that Ben could carry on sailing in mine, but the boy had had enough, and decide that an afternoon spent marking his student's homework for Monday was preferable to putting himself through another repeat of that morning's trial.

For myself, I figured the Race Officer couldn't possibly set any worse of a course than he'd done so that morning, so decided to stay to race the Laser for the second race.

Couldn't do any worse?

Taking on board our vocally expressed feedback that Green up in the shadow of the trees was a horrific windward mark, he instead shifted it upwind and to the right, further into the shallows, and set a "running start" followed by a starboard rounding at White for our first leg. The rest of the course remained a sleigh-race of painfully deep training runs and pinched close reaches with hardly a decent beat to speak of, and we still had to contend with a cantankerous, wind-shadowed green, but at the end of the lap instead of the beginning.

A class series, so only Lasers racing in our fleet, the confusion of an unconventional running start was further addled when the starting gun failed to give the all clear; Pete went for it anyway, trusting his watch and so stealing a thirty second lead on the rest of us that we never clawed back. I got free into relatively clear air early on, so maintained a lead in second place ahead of Mike for most of the rest of the race, until a couple of unlucky, ill timed gusts capsized me twice in the final lap, letting Mike close the gap.

An unfortunate header left him unable to lay what passed for the windward mark at Yellow, whereas I, slightly to windward, tried to shoot it. I was at this point panicking and seeing red through the adrenalin of the moment in my desperation to stay ahead; in the cold light of hindsight ashore, I'm not convinced I kept clear of him as he came into the mark on starboard but at the time, and in the absence of complaint, I gave myself the benefit of the doubt.

I'd like to think I'd return the same favour of doubt to him, but that's not really an excuse.

In any case, Mike settled the tussle between us when the next gust came through, and he tipped head over heels for an unfortunate, surprised swim, leaving me clear to finish ahead of him.

Regardless of my frustrations over the course set, or my own performance and judgement at times - a heavy night drinking with friends to start the weekend, an early, frostbitten sail on the estuary to clear the hangover Saturday morning followed by a gig in Bristol late into that night - as ever with the lake at Frampton, it was still far better a bad day out on the lake than a good day spent kicking around almost anywhere else.

So in case any of this sounds like complaint, it's not. I might question the Race Officer's judgement in setting the courses that he did, but he is a friend and I can't question his motive, and at least I was sailing and not caught with a club duty running the races myself. Setting a course in a northerly at Frampton is always a perilous task, I guess he was trying to make the best of the hand he'd been dealt by entertaining us with novelty.

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