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 bang, 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.

FOSSC: catkins and snowdrops

I attended the funeral of a friend this morning. The church hall was packed with his family and friends. He was a gregarious, generous soul and he touched many lives. He was one of the people that taught me to sail. His grandson, a youngster whom I've not met, gave a very touching eulogy and spoke exceptionally well.

On the way to the church for the service, I noticed the first snowdrops of the year by the side of the road. Returning to the office later, I noticed the first catkins.

No connection.

Life renews. I find some comfort and reassurance in that simple truth.

Wednesday 22 January 2020

Laser: sanguin grit

photo: roger gribble

There were two races over the Christmas break at Frampton. The John Sanguin Cup on Boxing Day, and the True Grit Trophy on New Year's Day. I've done both most years, in a variety of boats, but with the Albacore at South Cerney, and nothing going on there until the first weekend of January, Christmas became strictly Laser season.

There was a little more wind for the John Sanguin, though both days were light. Despite that, I still managed to capsize the Laser on Boxing Day. It was all going well, until I followed a Solo and another Laser around the windward mark of the course. They both cleared the mark, but went wide and, somehow, the Solo infringed on the Laser.

Seeing the michief, I came in to the mark behind them and bore away hard to exit nice and tight, intending to pass them both. The Solo then decided to take his penalty turns, turning his boat straight into me. I dodged the collision, but in doing so, found myself hiked out on the wrong side of my now involuntarily gybed boat, and the thing fell on top of me, dumping me unceremoniously in.

The weather wasn't cold. But the water damned well was.

photo: roger gribble

I pulled myself up on to the dagger-board, boom now vertical in the air and sail full of pressure, the boat powering away with me downwind on it's side. I pushed the boom down, righted the boat still pointing downwind, vaulted aboard as she came back up and the boom gybed over. Despite expecting that to happen, I foolishly didn't duck quick enough and it smacked me full in the head, sweeping me back out of the boat and toppling the Laser back over, on top of me again, now on the other side.

Not my most glorious of moments. But funny, looking back at it now.

The second capsize recovery was quicker; practice makes perfect and I've got a hard head, with not much up there to damage, so I was soon back in the race. But with half the time gone and needing to claw my up from the rear of the fleet. To my satisfaction I eventually caught and passed the miscreant Solo in the last minutes of the course.

New Year's Day was an absolute drift, the lake surface for the most part mirror smooth and undisturbed by the slightest rustle of air on the water.

It's a continual source of amazement to me how little an amount of wind it takes to move a sailboat. And if a boat can move, it can race. Although I know of a few people that would disagree with me, despise such light weather and would argue that the race should be called off.

I accept it's not exciting to watch, and understand that many folks find it very, very frustrating, but I actually really enjoy the challenge of racing in a drift. It helps that I'm usually quite good at it. If you're going to abandon a race because the wind has dropped to a whisper, unless there's a safety element at play, then you should also abandon a race if the wind builds above a F3, because once I'm fully hiked in the heavier winds, much as I love the sailing, the bigger, heavier guys have a clear advantage over me.

And I'm not saying a race should be cancelled if the wind creeps above a F3. That would be silly. What I am saying is that you shouldn't call off a race just because the conditions don't suit some of the competitors. If a boat can move under sail, it can race.

But I digress.

They rarely ever call off a race at Frampton for anything except the lake being frozen solid. We did abandon a previous year's True Grit race because the winds were hitting 45 knots or more. Once you're looking at gusts up in to F10 then things start to break, even on a small lake. But I don't think they've ever abandoned a race at Frampton for lack of wind.

So the True Grit went ahead.

photo: roger gribble

I had an indifferent start, so spent the first half of the race trying to climb back past the other two Lasers. Once clear of them, the Byte and the Solo fell behind as a matter of course.

Pete and his Comet were initially a fair way clear ahead, but with clean air once I was through the rest of the fleet, I slowly closed the gap across the remainder of the race, and eventually passed him in the last couple of minutes before the end.

photo: roger gribble

My first trophy of the year, and after more that a decade of trying for it, sometimes getting very close, the first time I've actually won the True Grit for myself.

merry christmas

And a Happy New Year. Belatedly so, for which I apologise, albeit I seem to do this every year. 

Christmas was good. I have, just about, sobered up now, or as much as I'm likely to. We had everybody over to ours Christmas Day. Nikki cooked far, far too much food. As she always does. And it was delicious and everybody loved it. As it always is and they always do.

My daughter Tash and her other half Dan couldn't stay for dinner as they were eating with Dan's family, but we saw them in the morning. Tash got me a t-shirt . . . 

It's a line from a Frank Turner song. She and Dan also got me a book the man wrote, about gigging, I think. I had to confess I hadn't yet read the one they bought me the Christmas before, which was about his song-writing. 

The problem is an age thing. 

My eyes have deteriorated to the point that I can't read the text of the average "real-life" book without my reading glasses. And I'm so resistant to the idea of needing glasses, or unpractised with the concept, that I never have them to hand when I need them. After all, I've only had them for a couple of years.

If you see a guy in a restaurant with his mobile phone taking pictures of the menu just so he can zoom in on them and decide what he wants to order, that's probably me.

The admission was taken in good humour. I gave the original Frank Turner book from the previous Christmas "Try This at Home" back to Dan so he could take it and read it. I promised I'd read the new one.

As it happens, after they left, I had the genius idea of buying the Kindle version of Try This at Home and reading it on my phone. In parallel with Vasily Grossman's Stalingrad on my Kindle, which I'd started reading before Christmas.

I just finished reading Try This at Home today in fact. I'm still working my way through Grossman's Stalingrad.

Lilly got a bath. As in a professional groomers type bath, as there was no way we were going to be able to get her into our own bath. If she sees a lake, a river, the sea or even a muddy puddle, she'll leap straight in.

Show her the bath, and she bolts.

As we were having our bathroom refitted in December, she spent a few weeks coming into the office with me. Out from the context of home and field, into the sanctum of my office, it became very obvious, very quickly, just what a scruffy, smelly old woof she'd become.

So we booked her into the local grooming parlour over Christmas, and for a week or two after, she became once more lovely and fluffy and sweet smelling. Insofar as a lump of a German Shepherd can ever smell sweet.

My eldest son Ben (on the right hand side, sat next to his younger brother) came home from school for Christmas. Which was lovely. We didn't get to sail together this year; he doesn't have any winter kit that will fit him anymore, but he did persuade us to sit down and play a family game of Risk.

I don't know why we do it. He normally wins. Not through any great tactical or strategic genius, he just manipulates Nikki, Tash and Sam into ganging up on me, then takes them apart once I'm off the board.

This time I successfully persuaded Sam and Nik to gang up with me on him first, and then once he was gone, capitulated to Sam. We all thought it was highly amusing and medicine long overdue. 

Ben demonstrated that despite being a fully realised grown-up now, with proper qualifications, a proper job teaching secondary school kids, a proper flat of his own and a proper steady (and quite lovely) girlfriend, he still has the absolute capacity to throw a toddler-style tantrum and sulk like a surly teenager.

It was a great Christmas, loved every second of it.