Thursday 30 July 2020

Laser: squiggles

I had a lovely evening's sailing yesterday after work. The above track, which I think covers the first hour of the couple of hours were out on the water, made me chuckle this morning.

It is, fortunately, not a track of a race, and each of those little loops is not a penalty turn, although the thought that it could've been was what first made me smirk. Instead of joining in the racing, I spent the evening coaching a friend in her Topper. 

The experience of the boats' respective helms aside, the Topper is, of course, a much slower boat than my Laser, so each of those little loops was me circling to keep pace with Sue's boat. I guess, given that I do have the occasional indiscretion on the race course myself, aside from the pleasure of an evening spent coaching a friend, the little bit of penalty turn practice the evening gave me will have done me no harm myself.

Winds were light, sun was warm, and the worst of the weed had been broken up by the rough weather of the previous few days so hardly bothered us at all. A perfect Wednesday evening out on the water, drawing squiggles with the GPS.

Monday 27 July 2020

Laser: racing rebooted

Racing started again properly at South Cerny on Sunday. Two races, a pursuit at 1100 followed by a general fleet handicap at 1200. Conditions were boisterous. Turnout wasn’t massive, seven boats for the first race, five for the second. Kind of perfect for the circumstances, really.

Playing around at the lake last Wednesday, my tiller extension parted company with the universal joint. So I spent an evening in the week mixing up some epoxy and reacquainting the two.

Clearly I am not very good with glue. Launched off a gusty lee shore twenty minutes before the start of the first race, after the first tack the tiller extension came away again. Limped back into shore, landed, capsized the boat on the edge of the lake to keep her safe whilst I ran back to my kit back to grab some tape. Secured the universal joint back in with a combination of gaffa and electrical tape. Ran back down to the shore, re-righted the boat, secured the extension back in place and relaunched.

A pursuit race runs on the idea that the slower boats start first and the faster boats chase them. Everybody gets a starting number based on their boat’s handicap and when that number disappears, you start. I’d checked, and the number for a Laser was 117. There is a board on the shore that counts down, dropping one every thirty seconds. For a pursuit, I always work back so I can set my watch and go by that. So if I need to start when 117 drops, I know that when 129 comes up on the board I have six minutes, 127 five minutes, 125 four, etc.

Relaunched, extension now holding together, I glanced at the board and saw the count was 120. The numbers dropped, I crossed the start line, far from perfect, but not too late I figured. A very good first beat, nice lift on the starboard tack. Lots of weed, but nowhere near Frampton style "get out and picnic on it" stuff. Clear the boards, halfway up the beat glance behind and wonder why the other Laser started about a minute late.

Then it dawns. The number dropping was 119, not 117. I started a whole minute early.

Spitting and fuming at my own stupidity, I bear away and run back down to re-cross the start line. The race is pretty much lost at this point. But at least the tiller extension is holding together.

By the time I’ve restarted and made my way back up to windward, the rest of the fleet were almost a lap ahead. But then, to compound first impressions (keep in mind I’m still very new to this club, and have never officially raced the Laser here before) I round windward, bear away on to the run and then halfway down get caught in a gust, wobble plaintively for a few more meters and then death-roll the boat. If there is any mitigation, I did manage to vault over the high side as she went over, pull the dagger-board back through then slide over and onto it, staying completely dry even as I weather-cocked the boat into wind and levered her back upright.

It would’ve looked really impressive. Really, well for want of a better word, practiced. I'm not sure if being practiced at capsize recovery is really something to be proud of however.

And sitting in irons battling for the next thirty seconds to get the boat off the wind and sailing again however would’ve looked anything but.

I redeemed myself a little in the second race. Sat exactly where I wanted on the line for the last thirst seconds before the start, held position until the last few seconds before the gun and then accelerated away into the space to leeward I’d jealously guarded from the other boats who were all queueing up now behind me. A textbook start, I was really quite proud of myself; even more so when I rounded the windward mark and everybody else was still struggling up the last third of the beat.

I lengthened my lead over the rest of the lap, and then completely squandered it on the first beat of the second. The wind dropped and badly headed me, but I was blocked from tacking on the shift by a long bank of weed to windward. The rest of the fleet came around the leeward mark just as the wind shifted back, and I now had to tack into a header to keep within the leyline of the mark. By the time I rounded it, a Europe and a Solo were both snapping at my heels.

The rest of the race was a slow war of attrition as my initial lead eroded,. And then on the final lap, struggling up the third beat in the grip of another nasty gust, both the Europe and the Solo finally snuck past. The reach that followed back down to the finish line was the fastest, most white-knuckled ride of the race. I eased back ahead of the Solo, recovering my dignity if not my place, allowing for our relative handicaps (Solos are slower boats, I have to beat them by a bit of a stretch). The Europe thrashed me, fair and square.

It was a great day’s sailing though, loved every minute of it, even the bad ones.

I’m guessing the gusts were up in to the low 20’s. And I think it’s fair to say that with a Standard sail on a Laser, I’m completely overpowered upwind when the wind hits that level. So I’ve bitten the bullet and ordered myself a Radial rig today. It was never that much of a problem at Frampton, but South Cerney is a bigger lake and a bit more exposed.

I don’t know how much use I’ll get out of it, but there have been definite times over the last few months when I’ve really wished I had the option. I’ve also treated myself to a new carbon fibre tiller extension. I could fix the existing one with a little more glue, and shall, but I want a spare. If the gaffa tape hadn’t held on Sunday it would’ve cost me the day.

Finally, just to add to my woes, as I was putting the boat away I noticed the bottom corner of the trailing edge of my dagger-board had broken away again. It had snapped previously, about eighteen months ago, which was when the above photo was taken, and Dad had pinned and epoxied it for me as I’d managed to recover the broken piece. This time the stray corner was still somewhere out in the middle of the lake. I’m not sure when it happened; sometime after the first race. Perhaps clearing weed from the board, or perhaps I was just too slow removing it when landing back on the lee shore, although I don’t remember grounding at any point.

Sunday just was a bad day for glue all round, I guess.

Never mind. My friend Paul from CS Boats is going to repair it for me. He did such a fine job of the Albacore (that I’ve hardly had a chance to sail since, but that’s not his fault) and his rates are very reasonable, so it seemed silly not to ask him and a bit rude not to put the work his way. I’m away with Dad and Calstar for the next two weeks as of Friday, but I’ll leave the board in his boat after sailing this coming Wedndesday evening, and he promises he’ll have the board repaired by the time I get back.

Saturday 25 July 2020

Laser: racing restarts

Racing restarts tomorrow at South Cerney. It started again at the beginning of the month at Frampton, but the weed there is horrific again this year, which bothers me not a bit, but it means also that the snails will be too.

That bothers me a lot.

Frampton dosed the water with bales of barley straw in the margins again earlier this year. It solves the blue green algae problem, sure, but I'm certain it's also hugely exacerbated the weed issue. And weed is a problem in almost every lake this year, including South Cerney. But at Frampton weed is in a class all of it's own. You can almost literally walk out and picnic on it.

Simple fact. You can't dump a mass of organic matter into the margins of your lake and leave it to rot, and not expect the resulting decay to feed the plant-life. Simply biology. Or chemistry. Or something.

It's a shame, because I loved racing at Frampton. But the microscopic killer tadpoles scare me. And scarred me, for that matter.

The Laser however is now at South Cerney, and I think there she'll stay. We still can't sail double-handers unless your crew is in the same household, so the Albacore still sits forlorn on the shore for now.

But tomorrow I shall race the Laser.

Hopefully she won't end up like she did a week ago last Wednesday. Which was when I took the photo at the head of this post.

Friday 24 July 2020

Calstar: a belated Fowey shakedown

It’s been a funny old year. As I imagine you’ve noticed. The 4th July came and with it, the re-opening of the pubs and the easing of the restrictions on staying away from home. Dad and I headed down to the boat on the evening of Friday 3rd but, as forecast, the seas outside the breakwater were 3 meters plus and the wind in the 20’s.

Not the weather to pick for a shakedown cruise, so we remained safe and (very) sheltered behind the lock gates for the weekend. Instead of sailing, we took a walk between the rain around the Barbican on the Saturday afternoon, cumulating with a very civilised shakedown pint (for me, gin and tonic for Dad) at a pub overlooking the Sound called Waterfront, one way system, social distancing, table service and all.

My daughter’s pub reopened with the rest on the 4th.  The following Saturday Nikki and I had supper there with some friends. Purely anecdotal, I’d say the average age of the people in the bar has dropped by about thirty years, but they’re doing well business wise, and managing the situation as best can be done. But social distancing doesn’t really exist in any form other than the merest lip-service in a Saturday night bar after around 9pm. But what can you do? The kids (and by that I don’t just mean mine) need to make a living.

The following weekend, Friday 17th, Dad and I headed back down to Plymouth. 

Saturday 18th July: Plymouth to Fowey
(32 nautical miles, 8 hours 10 minutes underway)

The forecast was much more benevolent. Sea-state no more than a meter across the weekend, Saturday the wind was in the west, backing towards the southwest as the day wore on, and starting light but building to 13 to 16 knots by the afternoon. Sunday expected the wind to drop and veer into the over the morning north; high water Saturday morning was 0338.

We plotted a course for Fowey and left early Saturday morning, casting off just before 0630 to catch the tide, which turns to run fair to the west outside Plymouth approximately three hours after high water. Sutton lock was still on free-flow, so all it took was a quick call to the lock keeper on channel 12 to ask him to open the foot bridge for us and we were able to motor straight out. The sky was a dull, flat grey, the air calm in the shelter of the Sound. We raised the main, but kept the engine running and motored out towards the western entrance. It flat and grey but not cold; it felt good to finally be underway again.

A couple of warships were moored up inside the breakwater, and a returning fisherman passed us on his way back in, but we otherwise had the Sound to ourselves.

The wind began to fill in as we approached the entrance, bending to head us as it came around the headland of Penlee Point. Passing Cawsands and leaving the Sound for open water, we unrolled the headsail, stilled the engine, and heeled with the wind onto a close-hauled southerly course standing us off from the shore. The little boat was lively, thumping through the light seas under full sail. Over the next hour or so, Rame Head opened up behind Penlee off our starboard beam, and then as it too fell away behind, the distant town of Looe.

The wind slowly built, some of the gusts touching 16 knots, so we put a roll into the headsail to stiffen her a little, as much for our comfort as anyway. Calstar ploughed on, holding an easy 4 knots despite the reduced sail. That’s really as good as she gets close hauled, although I do sometimes wonder if I pinch her too tight when sailing to windward. Cracking off ten degrees will often add an extra knot to the boat speed. Without actually doing the maths I’m just never sure if that’s worth the loss of height.

With Looe eventually falling onto our starboard quarter, we tacked, beating back into the shore. Across the next couple of hours we occasionally dropped the roll out as the wind eased, and pulled it back in as it filled in again. Closing into the shore, laying Looe Island, the wind backed, giving us a significant lift. I’m still not sure if that was just the forecasted shift coming in early, or if it was just the wind bending under the influence of the land, but we held it as long as we could until closing in on the shallows off Looe Island and the maze of lobster pots you typically find there, we tacked back out again.

We held our course for another hour or so, crossing paths with a cat that passed astern of us on port, and then tacked. Despite sitting in our wind shadow, the twin hulled boat soon pulled ahead of us. The sun began to burn through the clouds, dispelling the occasional drizzle that had beset us until then. Dad, exhausted from the drive down Friday evening and mere three hours sleep the night before (like a kid, he refused to go to bed early) dozed periodically under the shelter of the sprayhood.
The sun teased but didn’t loiter long.

The wind continued to build, and around noon we pulled the first reef into the main. The jack stay is slipping through its clutch, and so when we released the main halyard to pull the reef in, it failed to completely hold the weight of the boom, so our first attempt completely failed to set the leech of the sail. A second attempt, jack stay now lead back to the main winch for support, worked much better. The wind continued to back into the afternoon, and having over-stood Fowey by a little whilst standing back out from shore, after our final tack we were able to ease a little off the wind onto a close reach for the last hour of our sailing, the little boat holding an easy 5 knots, nudging occasionally towards her hull speed of 6 as the gusts came through.

We dropped sail outside the river harbour’s mouth, a little after 1300. The entrance was rolling and crowded with boats tacking out to sea, which kept Dad entertained as we made our way in under power. We timed out arrival perfectly with the start of the yacht club’s first race of the season, so our path towards the visitor pontoons was littered with elegant Troys and pretty Fowey Rivers, all dodging each other and vying for the perfect place on the line. Suzi and Andy in their own River hailed us as we passed the end of the line; they are long time friends, Andy an enthusiastic and accomplished British Moth sailor, very accustomed to being at the front of the fleet.

On reaching the pontoons, there was the perfect space left for us to come alongside at the end of the middle one. Dad turned the boat into the tide and held a ferry glide against the current, slowly creeping in; watching our approach, a lady and gentleman on the boat opposite took the trouble to take our lines for us as Dad guided Calstar to a stop.

Just over 32 nautical miles and a little over 8 hours underway.

We took the water taxi ashore, made our way to the Fowey Gallants sailing club where we bought our first pint of the year off Paula. Andy and Suzi joined us a little later, justly content with their 2nd place won out on the water, and Kate and John once the latter had finished with his duties in the race officer’s box at the yacht club. John has hosted and organised the Moths at the Fowey Gallants for every year of the last decade or so that the event has been run. This year’s event, which should’ve been at the end of May, was cancelled for obvious reasons. We spent some small time regretting its loss and talking of Moths and mutual friends and other events that may yet come once all this present nonsense has passed. The beer was good, the company even better.

Dad and I ate supper at a table we’d earlier reserved at The Lugger Inn. The menu there is always a little limited I think, but the food is always, without fail, cooked to perfection, and excellent value for a very fair price. It was good to be back.

Sunday 19th July: Fowey to Plymouth
(24 nautical miles, 6 hours 30 minutes underway)

There was no winning with the tide for our return on Sunday. Set to turn fair for the east around 1400, with a two and a half hour drive ahead of us to get home at the end of it, leaving the departure until later didn’t seem a good idea. So we cast off early around 0700, and elected to punch our way back against it.

I’d expected a gentle broad reach from the previous day’s forecast, but a check first thing Sunday morning suggested it had gone early into the north and was expected to veer further into the north east after lunch time, with gusts up to 20 knots.

Leaving the mouth of the harbour, everything looked as we expected to find it. Wind coming from the north east, over the land, gusty but not excessive. Clear of the Polruan shore we hauled sail and stilled the engine. Then the gust hit us abeam and Calstar tipped to the wind and surged ahead. Despite the foul turning tide, our speed over the ground hit 6.1 knots, which in a Westerly Griffon feels quite bracing. A couple of other yachts closer into shore were similarly lifting their skirts and charging along.

Then it stopped. The little bit of pressure remaining turned bang onto our nose, the boat tacked uninvited, then as I tacked her back to stand off from the shore, her speed dropped to nothing, the sails slatting listlessly. Conscious of the long hours ahead of us, I gave it ten minutes, but with no change, stowed the headsail and started the engine. The next hour was spent motor-sailing, until passing Polperro the wind filled in ahead of us and we were able to quiet the engine once again, close hauled on port, just about able to lay Rame Head some dozen miles or so ahead of us.

The wind held good, occasionally building to 16 knots, encouraging us to put a roll in the headsail, occasionally dropping back to 7 or 8, but never completely failing. In the gusts, especially once past Looe, the sea would kick up a bit of a chop on the fetch out from shore, throwing the occasional fine, salty spray over us in the shelter of the cockpit. Through the middle of the morning the clouds cleared for a while, bringing the sun out to warm the spray, before the sky overdeveloped again as we closed in on Rame.

With a knot of foul tide against us and the wind becoming desperately in consistent in the shelter of the headland, our course fell away and speed dropped to the point that our tacking angle against the tide off Rame Head became something close to 150 degrees at best. We took the hint, and mindful of the long drive that waited for us once we’d won harbour, furled the headsail and motor sailed the final hour around the headland, across the Sound and back home to Sutton Harbour.

Locking in was an easy affair. Dad suggested it was the easiest lock he’d ever had to manage, and we’ve had a fair bit of practice at managing a couple of them on the Bristol Channel.

Some 24 nautical miles and about six and a half hours underway, and Calstar was home safe again.

As a shakedown cruise for our couple of weeks planned sailing it couldn't have gone better. As our shakedown cruise of 2020 it's about five months too late, but that's understandable under the present circumstances and there is much else in the world much more worth getting frustrated over.

It's just good to be back.