Wednesday, 3 July 2019

FOSSC: magic boat

After such a lucky, sustained run of wins with the Laser I was beginning to think she was a magic boat. It is one of the virtues of racing a single design class that I’d mostly overlooked until I started racing this one: you can pick up a relatively old boat which, as long as she’s been looked after, the rig brought up to the most recent spec and the sails and foils are in good nick, can beat other boats in her class that are much, much newer.

And she does. She’s one of the oldest boats in the Laser fleet at Frampton, but frequently beats the others in a wide range of conditions.

Of course, a magic boat still can’t save me from myself. You still have to sail her well.

Last Wednesday was the third of the three RNLI Trophy races at Frampton, and one of the events counting towards the overall Club Championship. The first had been held on the evening of Wednesday 12th June in very light conditions, and I’d won that. The second was during the week I’d been away with Dad and Nik, so that became my default discard.

All I had to do was sail a clean, fast race on the Wednesday evening, and beat Pete in his Comet, who had won the week I’d been away. Do that, and I’d take the trophy and chalk up another win to count towards the overall Championship.

It didn’t start well. A blustery evening, after rigging the boat I changed the mainsheet over for the heavier of the two, and then launched early; doing so means that there’s plenty of space to get the boat afloat and sailing without others getting in the way.

It also means that everybody else is still ashore, watching.

I pushed out and stepped aboard, taking meticulous care not to let the water go over the top of my new, waterproof Sealskinz socks; I’m really trying to stay out of the water at Frampton, as I don’t like being eaten by parasitic tadpoles. Boat slides out across the wind and onto the water, I stand to lower the daggerboard into the slot, both the board and I get inexplicably tangled in the mainsheet.

By the time I’ve untangled myself, the boat is now sliding back towards the concrete shore, the daggerboard is still not down, and yes, everybody is watching. Rob (Solo sailor and afore referenced skipper of a certain, lovely Moody 40 we last saw down in Fowey the previous week) valiantly runs down to the water’s edge, fends us off from the concrete and pushes me back out, my dignity (and gel coat) still pretty much intact.

Daggerboard in, try to sort out the rudder, the wind gusts, predictably. Boat powers up, rocking and surging because the sail setting are completely out of kilter. I quickly give up on the rudder, the leading edge is in the water at least, so we have a little steerage, and tend quickly to the vang, outhaul and cunningham. Then rudder down and the boat is back under control and I’m beating out across the lake. I’m fully hiked out. close hauled on starboard, and beginning to enjoy myself.

I tack. The tiller suddenly jams, feeling like it’s been locked up; I can’t bear away. Everything is all of a sudden quite out of control again. Another gust hits, of course.

I hike hard to flatten the boat, round up into wind, and quickly roll back into the cockpit to stop her tipping over on top of me as the pressure goes out of the sail. I look at the locked tiller and realise I’ve rigged the thing over the traveller, not under it as it should’ve been, so the mainsheet block is now jammed against it, explaining the sudden lack of steerage after I’d tacked.

I’ve taped the tiller into the headstock of the rudder; when sailing with it half up to cope with the weed, it works loose. So now I have to un-tape the tiller, force it back out of the headstock (I use a purchase on the rudder downhaul to jam it in tight, to try to avoid it working loose), somehow hold the rudder central with one hand on the stock and try hard not fall away from head to wind whilst I rethread the tiller back under the traveller and jam it back into the stock.

The rest of the fleet are now sailing out and around me. I expect the other Laser sailors are laughing at me. If not, they probably should be. I’m laughing at myself.

Everything now sorted, the boat is sailing again, and I’m reaching back and forth across the starting area, beginning to enjoy myself once more. The gusts coming though are quite brutal, the little boat planes frequently, spray everywhere. I’m beginning to wish I’d worn a wetsuit and not just the neoprene shorts I’ve got on, but I’m feeling cocky; I’ve got the measure of this boat now, it’s been ages since I last capsized. The starting sequence still hasn’t begun. The OOD (Officer Of the Day; ie. the guy organising the race and recording the results) is having some trouble setting the course or laying out the start line, or something.

Doesn’t matter, I’m now quite relaxed after the earlier mishaps, enjoying the conditions.  I reach into towards the bank sailing fast, harden up to close-hauled under the trees, hiking hard as a gust hits, stretching to keep the boat level, ends of my toes just kissing the toe-straps, loving the acceleration, the immediacy and feel of a live boat. And the wind, in the shadow of the tree-lined bank, suddenly reverses direction, knocking me flat. The whole boat tips over on top of me and I’m in the water before I realise what’s happened.

It’s colder than I expected. But the first, terrible thought through my mind is “killer tadpoles!” and a feeling of deep stupidity that I’m not wearing my full wetsuit. I frantically splash around to the daggerboard, feeling the mainsheet tangle around my feet.

I’ve done this a lot. I’m actually quite good at it. Normally, I porpoise up onto the daggerboard, then as the boat comes up, step smoothly over the side and into the cockpit and stop her from tipping back over the other way. I do this regardless of whether or not the mast is lying to the wind, and almost always get away with it.

Most people right the boat from the water, so either pull her around head to wind first (this is Mike’s favourite) or let her capsize a second time so the mast is lying downwind, and only then right her properly. The really clever ones cling onto the daggerboard as the boat comes up to windward first time, so when she tips back over again, get pulled under the boat (this is Jon’s favourite) and end up on the windward side without having to trouble themselves with swimming around.

I find I don’t have to bother with any of this; if I can get into the cockpit as she comes up, I can generally stop the second capsize by throwing my weight out to windward.

Not this time. I’d hardly touched the daggerboard, let alone clambered up on to it, when the wind whipped under the sail, flipping the boat up and then back over on top of me again before I could do anything about it. I’m indignant. This hasn’t happened to me in years. Getting cold and tired, I drag myself around the hull and back to the daggerboard again, keeping a firm grip on her to stop the wind tearing her away from me.

A second attempt, still didn’t have time to get up on the daggerboard before she pops back up and, inexplicably, the wind is behind the back of the sail again, flipping her over with a spray of water arcing from her mast, straight back down on top of me. I’m now swearing a fair bit and getting quite frustrated with myself. The trees on the lee shore are playing havoc with the wind direction in their shadow as the gusts come blasting through. It’s a total roll of a dice as to where the wind is going to come from next.

About ten meters away a fisherman is stood on the shore, having reeled in his lines, staring daggers at me. I’m flailing about in his swim. We’re not supposed to get close to them, but at this point I don’t really have much control of my circumstances. Between my splashing, cursing and fretting, I grin apologetically at him. I’m tired, desperate, frustrated and embarrassed, but never let it be said I lack the ability to laugh at myself.

Third time lucky. The boat comes up. I still didn’t get up on the board, but this time the wind is, blissfully, in her sail and not behind it. I try to slide into the cockpit, but I’m now tangled in the mainsheet, all but lashed to the daggerboard. Adrenaline surges as the boat begins to round up and turn perilously back through the wind. I kick my feet and lunge for the windward gunwale, grabbing it, and pull myself aboard and through the constraining coils of rope wrapped around my torso with  sheer desperation and brute force.

Finally, I’m led within the cockpit, boom flailing and sail flogging as the blessedly upright boat sits head to wind, a mere boat length from the fisherman on the shore. The Safety Boat, standing by, asks if I’m okay? I don’t have the strength to answer, barely have the energy left to lift my arm, but manage to give them a tentative thumbs up. I control my breathing, and feel my strength quickly returning. Grab the tiller, untangle the mainsheet, and tentatively pick my way out from under the shadow of those damned trees.

I get my bearings. It feels like it’s been a lifetime, but I quickly realise they haven’t even begun the starting sequence yet.

I recovered with a great start. Middle of the line, moving at speed as the gun signalled our release. I pinched up towards the bank, telling Mike to tack when he called for water and just about edged my transom over his bow, then tacked earlier than most of the rest of the fleet, ducking one or two but moving fast. By the time I reached the windward mark I was comfortably in the lead and first around it.

There were no other big mistakes. But cautious of the big, shifty gusts, I sailed conservatively, and catching up with the back of the fleet, gave them plenty of space and consideration, sailing around rather than getting aggressive with them at the marks. It wasn’t really an evening for caution, needing as I did to beat Pete.

I finished first on the water, but after adjustment for handicap could see that Rob in his Solo, coming in second, would beat me. Pete in his Comet was further behind, but I wasn’t sure if it was enough.

And it wasn’t. Pete beat me by a mere 11 seconds on adjusted time, taking 1st place and knocking Rob down into 2nd, leaving me in 3rd. That was enough for Pete to deservedly take the trophy. Rob and I tied on points after our respective discards, so Rob took 2nd place though merit of beating me in the final race.

Despite the drama before the start and the disappointment at the result (disappointed? Really? A year ago I’d have been absolutely pumped about taking a 3rd in a club championship race) it was hard not to come away with a big grin on my face. The Laser and I fit well together, and the more we sail, the better we fit. I don’t think I need that Radial sail after all.

That said, I’ve hurt my arm. And it quickly became apparent that the killer tadpoles got me again. I’ve spent a very uncomfortable week suffering with a resurgent rash covering most of my abdomen and lower legs. But the anti-histamines are getting that under control and I’ve brought myself a new wetsuit, a Zhik Microfleece X. It’s only 1mm neoprene, so I’m hoping that it’ll be fine to wear through the summer.

Downside it’s a bit of a challenge to get into, requiring a degree of flexibility to get your shoulders in via the neck opening. There is no zip. I’m not persuaded that’s not a design flaw.

Unfortunately, I’ve been nursing a shoulder injury for a few weeks now, and the antics of last Wednesday clearly damaged it further. Up until then the pain in my shoulder wasn’t anything I couldn’t manage with the help of an occasional ibuprofen and perhaps a drink or two of an evening at the weekend. After the race on Wednesday, I found my elbow was also hurting as well and by the time I got to the gigs on Friday and Saturday night I found I didn’t have enough grip in my right hand to hold a guitar pick; as a result my strings were a bit bloody by the end of Saturday night.

Sunday morning, and despite the fresh breeze and glorious sun, my arm was too sore to sail, so I actually spend the day at home and cut the grass.

It’s going to need a bit of rest I suspect.

It’s not the end of the world. My next gig isn’t until a week on Friday, and this Wednesday I’m racing with Amanda and her Ent. I’ve told her she can helm for a change; I reckon I can manage to crew one-handed, and taking the tiller for a few races will do her some good. Then this coming weekend, I’m away again with Dad and Calstar. Big advantage Calstar has over the Laser is the auto-helm.

Meanwhile though, between the anti-histamines and the regular diet of ibuprofen and paracetamol, I’m ratting around like a regular pill-box.

No comments: