As the evenings are now becoming dark at an unsociable time, one thing is sure - no more mid-week evening sailing. I first started our club's Wednesday Evening Handicap Series last year, to introduce sailing the National 12 to Lucy, my girlfriend and crew. More often than not, the sun is out and the wind is gentle, so it is perfect for introductory racing.
We started with a bang this year. In the first race of the series, we finished 2nd on the water and 3rd overall - a significant improvement from the previous year! We were also the first of four National 12s on the water, so we were very pleased! The next race continued in a similar style, dropping down to 5th but 3rd place was less than 8 seconds away. This reinforces the point that in handicap racing, every second really does count. We could easily have made up 10 seconds with some better tacking and more efficient mark rounding. We were however, first National 12 again! Unfortunately We dropped off the pace slightly after the first two weeks, as we didn't seem to be able to get moving quick enough in the super light airs, not helped in race 4 by going aground up every beat - it does get shallow on the East Coast!
The next Wednesday evening did not follow the usual weather pattern, with a stiff 25kt breeze and some rain - unbelievable! A number of members decided not to sail and we both agreed we wouldn't take the 12 out. However, I went out in my laser for the 3rd time this year and led from the gun. I haven't worked out why, but in a breeze I have great boat speed in the laser, but not yet in the National 12.
The next two evenings were not brilliant either. In Race 6, I did the opposite of what we'd done in the 1st race and rounded the first mark last! At least I'd learnt some local knowledge, but wasn't pleased to come 7th after the progress we'd had. The following Wednesday, we struggled to keep the boat moving and it felt like we were constantly fighting against the boat, as the pictures show!
It didn't help that I managed to create a rip in the sail by being too aggressive pulling the kicker on after the outhaul was already tight. We felt like our progress had suddenly hit a brick wall. I was able to speak to some 12 sailors afterwards and we had a discussion about rig tuning. This was certainly useful and I was keen to put the discussion into practice!
We were sailing a lot better in Race 8, apart from everything seemed to be against us! Firstly we were slow to start, then after making a lot of progress on the first two legs, hit the world's biggest clump of seaweed ever, it was bigger than the boat! We had just gybed and with the rear main I was looking backwards and Lucy was trying to keep the boat stable, so neither of us saw it. I had no idea why we'd suddenly stopped and it took a while to work out, whilst numerous boats passed us! On the next lap, we experienced a 90 degree windshift, causing us to gybe before the mark and then miss it - once again allowing some of the fleet to overtake for a second time! However, on the final lap the wind played into our hands as it became very very light. We adjusted the rig whilst going along, sailed the shortest distance possible to the marks and overtook 3 boats, ending up 5th overall, not bad considering all of the events that happened in the race!
As you can see from the photo above, something was missing for races 9&10. Unfortunately Lucy was caught in a major traffic jam for race 9, but as the wind was light I decided to sail single-handed. I hadn't sailed the 12 like this before and it was quite tricky, without any cleats and an aft main to deal with! However, it did bring to light how crucial crew weight was in the National 12. I couldn't keep the boat flat - even by de-powering upwind - but offwind I had serious boat speed, but significantly reduced stability! Clearly there is a balance to be had, but it certainly encouraged me to get to our target crew weight (and it was only me that was increasing that!!)
The penultimate race turned into a drifter with no wind, so we opted to retire and head to the bar. Certainly the sensible choice, with only 4 boats finishing the race! However, we ended the series on a high with a fantastic last race. We got one of the best starts ever and managed to round the first mark just behind the leading RS400. We knew that against the tide on a windward / leeward course they would suffer with a kite, so kept up the pace. We had great speed off-wind, and were constantly swapping places with another National 12. We continued to swap places on the next two beats, but an accidental tap downwind meant we had to do a 720 turn - in our innocence the sun was in our eyes!! Nevertheless, we finished 5th and all of the top 6 boats finished within 50 seconds on corrected time - a seriously competitive race.
Overall, Lucy and I placed 3rd in the series which was fantastic. After the first race, this was my goal and I was certainly buzzing after the final race for the next few weeks! The whole series gave us a bit of time to reflect on how far we'd come in the National 12 and what great boats they are to sail. Of course, we were both kept warm when it was slightly chilly with our Rooster Aquafleeces
and when it was very warm my Race Skin
alone is perfect for keeping cool.
All of the photos were taken by Pavel Kricka