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Sailing: a sport of infinite variety
Clare has brought you up to speed with some of our recent adventures - one of the things I love about this sport is that there is so much variety in the conditions which we face, and in the different ways we can do it. I've had a three week period of evening club racing (including finishing in dead calm in the nine o'clock gloom), team-racing in perfect conditions, a very challenging 2000 Open on a flooded valley Reservoir (steep sides and big gusts and shifts), and the capsize with the kids.
But I thought I'd write about what I guess will be the most unusual bit for readers of the Rooster Blog. I spent last week out of the office skippering a Victoria 34 (deep keel, very solid cruising yacht) in the Army Offshore Regatta for the Royal Artillery Yacht Club team. Very, very different from most of my sailing - and therefore quite interesting to see what lies in common (and what is not).
I met most of the crew for the first time on Sunday night - it was three o'clock Monday before we were finally ready to go - with a bit of a hurry up as the front arrived, and we had a wet and bumpy three hours on the way to Cowes. In the pub later I remarked to an exhilarated crew that it doesn't get much more challenging for a first time crew - words that would come back to haunt me.....
Tuesday was the Offshore Race. The forecast was daunting for later so our start was brought forward and the course changed to take us to Selsey Bill, up and down the Solent and Southampton Water and then to a finish off Cowes (A popular decision - south of the Isle of Wight and then in past the Needles was not sounding funny). Initially I made the mistake of undercanvassing - forgetting that the boat likes a bit of weather helm, and another good rule of thumb (for a heavier weight like me) "set for the lulls, not for the gusts". 8/11. But we gained over time reaching under the kite, and then with some dinghy like mark roundings ("in wide and out close" can save a 1/4 mile in a cruising yacht in a 2 knot tide). 6/11. Then we recognised early that with a new breeze blowing down Southampton Water there was little risk of being over-canvassed and changed down to a jib and 3 reefs. 4/11 as others went bare-headed up wind as they changed the foresail down. Short tacking on the Weston and Netley shores was just my bag - in fact I remarked to my mate that I knew that shore well - in fact I'd walked right where we were sailing! As we came out in the dark, the breeze kicked in properly: even in a Vic 34 40-45 knots (and no that's not forum wind but off some well calibrated instruments) is hanging on time, especially until the third reef is in. In my worry about making the tack safely I ended up sailing on too far and overstanding - we were fourth by 100 metres: never forget the importance of laylines. It was a pretty wet night - we had two lifejackets inflate on the rail, and my own while I was stood at the chart table. The latter event has never happened before. I had some funky merino wool ("goat's armpit hair" according to the kids) thermals on, but I was wishing for my "warm when wet" polypro and Aquafleece. I did appreciate my Aquafleece hat though - I was the only one on board not to lose their hat to the big breeze. We tied up at quarter to midnight, thankfully just before Bramblemet had 50kts! We were one of the few crews to sit up and get the pasta on, and we were glad of it the next day. Another good crossover: it's never too early to start restacking the calories after a hard day on the water.
Next day was inshore racing in Osborne Bay. Our kite drills weren't the sharpest but we scored a second and a fourth. The wind was getting to top end for the No1 Genoa - sailing the Vic was a good reminder that in dinghies which don't plane upwind, once you are at hull speed and can't go faster you might as well go higher - at that stage it's not pinching but good VMG! And you have to optimise the rig for best effect. The huge foresails on the Vic were a great indicator of how much jib leech tension can affect the power in the rig - and when I had the sheet lead too far forward in Race 1 the boat was just pulled on its ear. Nor would it point with too much curve across the headsail.
Day three saw much lighter winds in our single windward leeward race. This was all about understanding the factors. The breeze and tide were finely balanced, any more breeze and it would be all about the shifts and gusts, any less and it was head offshore for the best tide. A boat which can't be roll tacked and takes minutes to get back up to speed emphasises this nicely!
We got a great reminder that "gear failure is a mental problem" when the kite halliard snap shackle popped. Quick thinking put the genoa in the pole end and then up in no time, and with the nearest boats tucked safely to leeward we held our fourth place for a good while. When the breeze died it was genoa down and bowman to mast head to retrieve the kite halliard, in case we needed it later (we did). That seemed pretty unlikely as we sat anchored halfway down a run which looked like becoming a beat in no breeze at all. Sure enough the breeze did arrive....on a fat slow yacht we were reminded how important sheet tension is in the acceleration phase as you receive new breeze or manoeuvre. Loads of gain was made by sailing full with eased sheets until the pace came on - Clare and I are going to look at how we sail the 2000 in similar conditions next time out. The key factor was indeed the tide - and by getting right inshore and overstanding massively we were able to time our run/exploit the lucky gust, and make the tack at the mark, to finish first on a shortened course. A clear example of sailing to the dominant factor.
That afternoon we had a Mate's Race which had a classic Solent breeze shut-off and restart from the wrong direction. I saw something for the first time as, the first puffs of the new breeze from the east, actually seemed to hit crew, sails and masthead from the west again first. A strange experience which I am still trying to work out.
So we finished third overall, a result which delighted the crew and me. My novices got their hands on a trophy first time out. As I sat with a coffee before bed on Thursday, looking out over the fleet in the marina, it was a great moment to reflect that it is a privilege to be able to introduce others to our sport. It's fair to say that I had sailed the regatta with my normal (over) competitiveness - but the real reward this week came from enjoying the water and weather in the company of others. I almost wish I could join them on their Fastnet Campaign - but the 2000 Nationals call!