Tuesday 3 September 2019

Calstar: Dolphins

I've been back more than a week now, and am aware I still haven't had time to write up the last trip away on Calstar. I should, and certainly shall, if only for my own benefit.

Suffice to say for now, and in brief, that it didn't all go to plan; family circumstances curtailed the planned two weeks to one, and Nik decided she'd stay at home and redecorate a bedroom instead of sailing with us. Again, a (not reluctant) decision made because of said circumstances at the time, so it was just Dad, Calstar and I sailing.

But it was a good week. The predominant themes being (mostly) good food, (consistently) good drink, bright sun and blue sea, lots of dolphins and beating to windward; lots of beating to windward, whichever direction we wanted to sail. Probably should've started out by heading east instead of west.

But then we might've missed the dolphins.

Of Albacores and South Cerney Sailing Club

I received an invitation from an old friend, Mark, to visit his new club on Sunday in the nearby Cotswold Waterpark; South Cerney Sailing Club. He's recently joined, moved his British Moth there and brought an Albacore, and their budding Albacore fleet were short of a crew for the Sunday morning racing.

I've been looking for an excuse to visit SCSC for some time now. Although they're based on a lake (a gravel pit to be precise) they claim to have been weed-free the last three years, so this turned out to be the perfect opportunity.

The Albacore is a 15' double-handed hiking dinghy. A 1950's design, the modern version has the original hull shape, but is typically FRP, and the sail controls have been modernised and updated, making the rig very adaptable to the conditions. It has an aluminium flyaway pole for setting the jib, but no spinnaker.

I crewed for a gentleman called Barry, who clearly knew his way around both boat and racecourse. It's always an absolute joy to crew for a decent helm. Over the course of the two morning races we took a 2nd and a 3rd place, beating both the other Albacores on the water, including Mark's; always a particular pleasure beating him because he takes it so well - and beats me often enough in return.

The Albacore's a lovely boat to sail. Very comfortable to crew, quick to plane and does so even quite close to the wind despite the weight, and seems to respond well to hard hiking. The conditions started off quite light and sunny, but built through the day, with a particularly nasty squall blowing through just before lunch, typically just as Barry and I were bringing the boat back into land on the lee shore.

SCSC have four races a day on Sundays through the summer. Barry couldn't stay for the afternoon, although we have agreed to sail together again later this month, but Mark rigged his Moth and let me take his own Albacore out for the first of the two afternoon races with his partner Olga to crew for me.

Disorganised and not used to the routine, we were late to the start, though Mark was much later as he hung back to help us launch. A much quieter afternoon on the water compared to the morning numbers wise, there were only five of us racing; a Laser 4.7 with a junior helm, another Albacore and a Flying Fifteen.

Although the earlier squall had blown through over lunch and the sun was back out, conditions were still blustery and the Albie quite a handful to manage and keep flat. Lots of hiking out on the beat, spilling wind from the main and sailing to the jib just about kept things under control. It was fantastic fun once Olga and I found our grove.

Despite our late start, we caught up with the other three on the first beat to windward and dogged the tail of the other Albacore for the rest of the first lap. Then they took a wrong turn on at the windward mark of the second lap and headed off on the wrong course, throwing us into confusion as we suddenly found ourselves out in the lead.

We finished 2nd, beating the Fifteen and the wayward Albacore, but getting beaten in turn by the young lady in the Laser 4.7. I have no shame, but if I had, I'd have still said there was absolutely none in being beaten by a girl young enough to be my granddaughter. She was very, very good. But then these kids generally are, and only get better.

For the final race, I gave the Albacore (and Olga) back to Mark and took his British Moth out. Unfortunately, Mark snagged his mainsheet around a cleat on the pontoon where we made the swap and capsized, so they failed to make the start. I was late (again) but made a valiant effort to catch up (again) on that first beat.

I did so, overtaking the Laser briefly, before she regained the place on the next beat and I spent the rest of the race trying to get it back. The conditions were still bullish, with some heavy gusts coming through which made for some exhilarating, spray soaked planing reaches across the lake.

And try as I might, the girl in the 4.7 sailed flawlessly, never giving me the chance to slip back past, finally pulling clear away on the last lap and absolutely thrashing me (and the Albacore and Fifteen also racing) once our times had been adjusted for handicap.

South Cerney is a big water compared to Frampton and deep, and was, as promised weed-free. They've controlled the weed over the last couple of years using food dye, and the result is subtle but seemed to give the water an almost Mediterranean hue in the sunlight. The proof is in the pudding however, and I was waist deep in the water launching and landing, and no reaction; my skin is fine two days later.

Everybody I met there, on the water or off, was friendly and welcoming. I'll certainly be back; in fact I've already agreed to go back and crew for Barry again on the 22nd. Much to Mark's (very tongue-in-cheek) disgust, as he feels that his "spare" crew has now been poached.

Of course, he's not wrong.

I still can't imagine leaving Frampton. Despite the grim, sorry state of the water in terms of depth, weed and quality, the racing is still good and I've lots of friends there that I both love socialising on the shore with and sailing against on the water. But Sunday was the most fun I've had in a dinghy in quite a while.

Perhaps it's time to join a second club, and lets see how the next year goes?