Photo: (c) Toby Adamson/ ProAction
The RS200 Nationals this year were held at South Caenarvonshire Yacht Club in Abersoch, North Wales, and it is a stunning venue! The sailing club is built into a cliff over looking the beach where all the boats sit in front of the beach huts. If I'm being picky it means sand gets everywhere, but that's probably being a little harsh! 75 boats arrived at the small seaside venue which uses the same bay as Pwllheli as the race area, however a bit closer to Bear Grill's island!
Unfortunately when we arrived it was as you would expect in Wales - raining. However, by the time we had finished rigging the sun had come out again and that was almost the theme for the week - grey to start and getting better.
There was a good smattering of new sails and new hulls racing in the nationals and although you cannot tell too much from the results, I can confidently say that there was no difference in boat speed between the old vs new, which was exactly what was wanted, so any worries can be put to rest.
We had a great mix of conditions - fantastic champagne sailing days of 20 knots and huge ski slope style waves, as well as light and shifty days playing snakes and ladders - also known as "Whacky Race Thursday".
We started competently in marginal planing conditions, which have long not been our favoured conditions, but made the most of good first beats by getting the tide right which was, in our opinion, the key factor in tactical decisions. With a consistant scoreline of 7-7 we looked positively on the fact we had two counters in the bag.
Monday was breezier but unfortunately we just could not find our rhythm and a mixture of not noticing a shorten course flag and a lack of upwind pace cost us a few places in each race, but we managed a 5-13 and sat 6th overall.
Photo: (c) Toby Adamson/ ProAction
Tuesday was an enforced layday due to 35 knots of wind - this gave us time to recharge our batteries, lick our wounds and come up with a plan.
We decided that we hadn't done much wrong and that our tactics had been solid. A few nearly-but-not-quite crosses had cost us so we needed to work the boat harder up the first beats in order to make them - if you make those crosses, they can leave you in clear air, but if you can't you get stuck back in the pack.
So on Wednesday when we were clear to launch we set about our game plan! In 20 knots of wind and big waves we got back on our pace and aimed to get out of the gate early into the tide. Three races later we had executed the plan perfectly in each race and managed to score a 3-3-1, breaking our Nationals race win duck! Many of the people in front of us has struggled and this allowed us to move in to 3rd overall. One day to go, Wacky Race Thursday still to come and 6 points off.
The final day brought a shifting breeze off the land of about 6 knots, which was due to swing left during the day and build to 8-10. With this in mind we wanted the left early, and there was not much tide differential coming into the shore. Out the gate early and go left - funnily enough we were not the only ones with this plan and at the top mark we met all our close rivals in a bundle. After a good run we had managed to move into 2nd and went left, however for a brief few minutes the breeze went right and unfortunately we dropped to 7th which we held to the finish.
James & Jo had won the race and the Championship, Matt & Emma had gained some points on us from 4th overall, but Ally & Simon had used one of their precious discards and we were nearly level on points.
In the next race we got caught out in the melee that is the gate start. A "nameless" boat came into a gap to leeward of us too late, too close and we both ended up rafted with no where to go and were forced to tack behind the fleet and go right before we found clear air. This was the equivalent of a Samurai falling on his sword, you knew the outcome but had not choice. 45th, final discard used. Matt & Emma had won the race and leapfrogged us into 3rd.
We had stern words with each other and a helm/crew divide became apparent for a few minutes but Ally & Simon had used their last discard too with a 22nd and Matt & Emma had not had a good Wednesday. So 2nd place was all to play for. We discussed the race after some food and decided it wasn't our fault, we knew what we had wanted to do and that had paid so we were not being taken by surprise by the race, so that was positive even if we did not execute it.
By this time the wind had swung round away from the land into a steady Southerly, tide was back in play, fully powered up, last race, let's go out with a bang and leave nothing on the table! Go left into the tide and tack back on the first header we can cross on. Gun goes and we are about 8th boat out the gate, tack on the first 5+ degree header and we crossed the fleet from the left, rounded the top mark clear of the group and sailed our own race gybing early out the tide, going round the gate in most tide and were not troubled again. Behind us it was all working out in our favour and even when Matt & Emma made their big move on the last run we managed to do enough to get 1 point ahead overall and hold 2nd place on the podium.
This was a big week for us, having been slowly moving up the ranks the last few years it was nice to have it all pay off! Sophie sailed a blinder on the Wednesday to bring us back into contention and that was the deciding factor. Equal rights for crews? I think it is more than that, a good crew can make or break a series. The top crews are not the one who execute the perfect gybe, but the ones who are always trying to think about what they can do or say to make the boat go that bit faster, make the decision making a bit easier and taking responsibility for laylines and tactics when the helm is trying to hold a lane. That kind of info is priceless and I was lucky to have that.
We used the following information as a loose guide whilst racing.
This is written by Jim Saltonstall who is one of the top coaches in the country, however it is written more on the view of a small keel boat sailor.
It covers the rough guide for the wind directions however they are rough in terms of dinghy racing.
We predominantly had southerly winds which provided some great sailing with huge waves however the guide generally suggested right up the beat but I felt we were too far out for the land to effect us so focussed on the tide and that was the deciding factor on our good days.
As the guide says the tide goes out to the south which is what we capitalised on and it made a huge difference. So in a slow moving boat like a mirror I would suggest following that route.
Other tide platforms are available so I would suggest checking the local one out (it will be the same as Pwllheli). At the ground floor of the SCYC there is a race hut which has wind and tide info.
The hardest part on a breezy day is launching in the waves, make sure you get as many people as possible to help as it can be quite frisky. Best scenario for launching was to lift the boat into the water and out again to stop any damage.
George & Sophie.