Sunday, 18 December 2011

Fireball Fleet Reloaded ?

Well, no sailing for me today, it turns out that Poorly Paul managed to hurt his back when he picked up his sailing bag last week, and he's still a bit hors de combat this weekend. Plus it was freezing cold and a bit snowy, so I wasn't hugely tempted anyway.

Still, there were enough of us at the club to put about 5 Fireballs on the water, and 4 of them managed to get out for the 2nd race which made us the biggest fleet out there. We were also on OD duty for the 3rd week in a row, so lost a boat to that.

A turnout of 4 boats is a bit rubbish if I'm honest, but there are plenty of reasons for it, not least the cold, the water level and the Xmas, and those reasons have affected all the other fleets too:

2 Solos
2 Lasers
0 W/L
And nothing else managed more than 1 boat.

Whilst sitting around in the wet bar and chewing the fat, a few of the fleet guys and I figured it might be good to build the fleet up a bit next year. We gained 3 boats last year without trying too hard, but you can't have too many, and you just know that the economy and the water level will have a negative effect come renewal time in April, so we need to get our retaliation in early.

There are a few tactics we can employ to get the fleet numbers up, and the first one we're hoping to use is to acquire a fleet boat. This will allow people who don't have a fireball to get to know the boat before having to buy one, and it's a tactic we've employed with some success in the past with our previous fleet boat, 'Firestarter'. Whether or not we'll get the funding to buy ourselves a new one is another matter...

Fireball Fleet Reloaded - watch this space.

Monday, 12 December 2011

The OD Duty

(To understand some of the references you have to know that there was a lot of fuss last week when a Fred ran over the sail of a capsized Moth while trying to round mark 'K', prompting some people to overreact...)

Picture courtesy of Malcolm Lewin (

Always one to strike fear into the hearts of men, the dreaded OD duty.

We rocked up nice and early at 9:45am, got settled in, and then spent at least half an hour waiting for the committee boat to be made ready - the bosuns were busy moving the pontoon out due to a further receding waterline, and that's not a quick job.

I started off by requesting that buoy K be dragged offshore by about 30ft, as it was almost on the beach. Followers of the recent Moth-Fred incident might like to consider that if the Fred had tacked to avoid the Moth up by K last week (as suggested by various people who weren't there), he would probably have run aground. That's not an excuse, but it gives you an idea how deceptive a few pics can be.

Boarding the boat, Paul, who is a magnet for pain, hurt his foot on a metal thing on the jetty and by the time we went afloat we were already quite late. Fortunately we'd got a great course all planned out for the SW wind, but unfortunately it turned out to have gone Southerly, so a rapid re-think was called for. We opted to go over to the vicinity of 'D' and set a course of A, M, B, X, K, OL, J, D.

That turned out to be pretty much OK, but the red buoy we'd dropped for the far end of the start-line had wandered off downwind a bit, and we ran out of anchor line to drop back to meet it. So when the wind went a tad Westerly, we were looking at a hideous starboard bias on the start-line. OK, we'll radio a bosun to drag the buoy forward a, nope, no radio. So Mike B valiantly pulled the anchor up, and we dropped back got it all a bit better, and got on with starting the race. It was kinda windy by now, and great to watch the larger fleets taking off en-mass towards Musborough

Obviously we'd set a port rounding for the top mark, although it turned out that there were no takers for the windward-leeward course. At least this meant we could all return to the committee box instead of leaving some poor sod to sit on the boat all morning. So we did just that and settled down to watch the race.

The Fireball fleet were clearly enjoying themselves, with the possible exception of Helen and Paul whose kite wouldn't go up. Paul and Nick managed to run aground on Musborough on the approach to K, so they came ashore too, leaving a short and intense tussle for the lead between the other 4 boats which Cap'n Bob eventually won.

We didn't have long to idly spectate though, as the fast bit of the handicap fleet was turning up and the slow bit (a Feva I think) was about a hundred miles behind. So we started the finish sequence for the imminent handicap boats, brought them all in a bit earlier than would have been ideal, and the Feva eventually turned up and retired. Triffic!

The Freds were last off the water at about 12:45, so a 1:15 start was never going to happen. Still we went out early anyway to be a bit better prepared for the next race.

This time we got the line just about spot-on, a nice little bit of port bias, and settled on a course of A, M, Y, S, K, OL, X, D - which offered a couple of runs to make up for the absence of any in the morning, Apologies to the singlehanders, I just couldn't find a way through the islands that included a beam reach, but it wasn't for want of trying.

So we waited for the Fireballs and Freds to show up, and went into the start sequence. In the run up to the Fireball start a Fred got into irons in front of the committee boat, crashed into us, tore his sail on the flag gantry, and was eventually fended off with no further harm done. So that got today's Fred crash out of the way anyway  

Then ho for start 3, Lasers and assorted stuff, whereupon a certain Moth hooned across the wrong side of the start line just as the gun went and capsized in front of the entire fleet. It was a short start-line, so he managed to get in the way of just about THE LOT - you really had to laugh. He later went on to start properly and sail the entire race, so mucho respect for that bit at least.

Back to the warmth of the OD box, where we observed an epic battle between just about the entire Fireball fleet for just about the entire race, the only delinquents being Helen and Paul (again), who had done something a bit weird down by S and spent about 3 minutes putting it right.

Once again we had to finish the bulk of the handicap fleet a lap early due to the presence of the Feva a million miles behind, and once again it retired shortly afterwards. I can't help thinking we'd be better off if we had slow and fast handicap fleets, and wouldn't have quite such a big problem. Trying to race an RS700 or a 49er against a Feva is pretty pointless anyway.

A lap later, we had ringside seats for the finish of the Fireball race, which featured Cap'n Bob & Paul, Mo & Holly, and Colin & Karen all fancying their chances for a win, all coming round K together. Mo & Holly had their nose ahead and did some serious luffing of Colin and Karen, while Bob & Paul bunged the kite up and went for speed. With Colin presumably entitled to water to get past the jetty, and a big windshadow under the lee of the clubhouse, it was looking like anybody's race, but a little gust of wind turned up just in time to propel Mo & Holly across the line, closely followed by Colin & Karen and Bob & Paul (who spent too long piddling about getting the kite to set). Then came Helen & Paul and JT & Quentin in another little last-minute tussle for honours on the line.

Back in the bar, and pretty much the entire Flying Fifteen and Fireball fleets said how much they enjoyed themselves, which was very nice of them. I'm guessing the singlehanders were less impressed, maybe it's time we had different courses for different types of boat. We put a lot of effort into W-L courses for the benefit of almost nobody (at this time of year anyway), so different RTC courses for different types of boat who actually do turn up in decent numbers would seem to make sense.

Anyway, many thanks to Mike and Liz Ball and Poorly Paul for all doing a great job today, your hard work was appreciated by a lot of people.

Monday, 5 December 2011

Sunday 4th Dec

Yes, another one of those days where you wonder if it's worth the effort. Cold, grey, low water, mud, moan moan. Although at least there was a sensible amount of wind for a change, and a bunch of Fireball sailors on OD.

So "ho!" for race 1, where the start line was adjacent to Croft island (the big one), and we had to queue up to get between the committee boat and Croft so we could read the course. But it was worth the effort, woohoo, a decent course for a change, using all the lake. Hmmmm, except some of the bits of the lake it was sending us to were apparently too shallow to get to if you were to believe the big map on the clubhouse. Still, we already knew that some of the map 'shallows' are pretty deep, and feeling that it's best to keep an open mind on these things we figured we'd have a bash at it and if the centreboard started coming up we could always adopt a nice 45 degree angle to get the fixed rudder clear of the bottom.

Sooo, off goes the gun and off goes the fleet. Nice long beat up to 'A', where most of the fleet goes right around Musborough and Mo & Holly go left. The latter pair emerge in the lead, so we chase them up to 'A', just squeeze in front, and then lead the fleet from 'A'  to 'M'. There were 5 boats all abreast down there, which was quite cosy. Then a gybe, and off to 'D' on a nice long 3-sail reach where we leave everyone behind except for Mo & Holly. Then spinnaker gybe at 'D', and I try to sail a close reach while Paul sorts the kite out, but he's left the twinners set as per the previous leg, so the kite fills with wind and the boat leans over a lot and then the boat fills with water. So we have a bit of a 'domestic' which allows Mo & Holly through and puts everyone else right up with us. Nice reach to 'J', although too close for the kite as it turns out. Now chase M&H through OL to 'K' and then bung up the kite for another decent reach across the lake to 'E'. Everyone else was still pretty close behind us, although Paul & Nick chose that leg to have a bit of a swim.
Paul & Nick pre-swim (photo by Malcolm Lewin

We closed the gap a bit on that one, not to mention enjoying ourselves immensely, and were just behind at 'E'. Now this is where it gets interesting. You have to gybe at 'E and reset the kite before you get blown on to the little spur of land that sticks out, then sail between Croft island and the shore (map says you can't), then on down to 'G' which was declared to be too shallow for everything about 3 weeks ago and therefore should be dry land by now. Well we sorted the first bit and then watched Mo & Holly for signs of running aground, but it didn't happen, and it carried on not happening, and we caught up with them by the time we got to 'G'.

The wind was picking up by now and we had the entire length of the lake for the beat up to 'A', so we were able to pick off Mo & Holly pretty easily. We had another bash at using the kite from 'D' to 'J' on the 2nd lap, but it was still too close and we finished at OL just ahead of Mo & Holly, who had left theirs in the bag. Big applause to the OD team for setting a proper course with proper reaches and (a nice touch) finishing us in the proper place by the clubhouse instead of back down by the poxy island where the race started.


A bit more wind in the afternoon, and a different course. Still the beat to 'A', where we found that going hard left to start with pays dividends (by virtue of watching Bob & Richard doing it). Then there's the little squeeze between the now quite visible Musborough shoal and the shore, and we arrived at 'A' at the same moment as Bob & Richard and had to sail around the outside of them at the mark. Up with the kites, and again the entire fleet is all together on the broad leg to 'M'. Next mark is 'C', so we had a go with the kite and Bob didn't, and when we'd finished charging towards 'D' and taken ours down, we were just ahead of Mo & Holly and just behind Bob & Richard.

Now the next leg was to 'J', which involved a dogleg around Musborough, and we nipped smartly past Bob on the broad bit by virtue of going on the dangerous side of the 'shallows' warning buoy. Mo & Holly had also made a bit of a move on that leg, but any gains were wiped out when they realised that you couldnt sail straight to 'J' and they had to come back downwind to miss the shallows. Then a very nice reach to 'J' after we'd cleared Musborough, through OL, and a potential 3-sail reach to 'X'. We left the kite down for that one, and Bob & Richard hooned past us. However they went so wide round the mark with all that excess speed that by the time we'd both gybed we were neck and neck again.

Trot down to 'H' and off up the beat again to 'A'. And again the whole fleet was there or thereabouts at 'A' and 'M', we tried the kite from 'M' to 'C' but it was still too close and we ended up just ahead of Bob & Richard as we rounded it. Then they sailed over the top of us on the broad leg due to crew failure in my boat (Paul was so busy watching them that he'd got the kite well over-sheeted). So we sat about 3 feet off their transom all the way from the corner of Musborough to 'J', which was a fabulous 3-sail reach. Then they bore off to get their kite down, and we didn't cos Paul had got the old red mist in his eyes and figured we could go a bit further...

Now I'm not entirely sure we had water at 'J', with the old 2-boat-length rule then yeah, fine, but coming in from astern at speed, I'm not at all convinced we managed it by 3-boat-lengths. And we were still bagging the kite as we rounded the mark too, which let Bob through to leeward. We tacked a bit early for the shore to allow them plenty of space to tack below and ahead of us, and then hooned off towards OL on port tack with no hope of laying it. Bob & Richard would have laid it - just - but we tacked onto starboard and came barrelling in at OL, which rather upset that plan. So they crash-tacked under our bow, causing us to luff like mad, but they didn't get the hammer down fast enough and we just carried enough momentum to get our nose ahead on the finish line.

Some highly dubious tactics then, but a great race. Was it worth getting out of bed for? - oh yes!

It apparently it made for good spectating too, as we found out later when we were introduced to some friends of Mo & Holly who were checking the club out with a view to finding a good place to fleet race their Fireball. They will be looking at the thick end of a 2 hour drive to get here, but are seriously thinking of signing up for the winter to take part in the sort of fleet racing that we offer. It's pretty much handicap racing or nothing at their current club, so you sort of get the idea that they won't be coming here for the chance to do handicap racing, and that clubs which lose their fleet racing also lose members as a consequence.

Any other thoughts - well only that the map outside the bosun's hut is a work of complete fiction, and that we still have a hell of a lot of water to play with, in and on.

And thanks to Andy Tyerman for this excellent pic which proves it quite nicely. I spy the horse-shoe shaped Musborough shoal, and it's not all that big either.

Monday, 28 November 2011

Fleet championships day 3

Perhaps better known as the Fleet Championships that the fleet forgot, day 3 was another low turnout, although that might have had something to do with the weather forecast. It was windy, one of those days when you get out of bed, open the curtains, look at the trees waving about and think 'hmmm, this is a good day to grout the tiles in the bathroom'.

But needs must and all that, we were going into day 3 with 3 firsts, Peter and Mike had only 1 but there were 2 more races to go and the tie-break is the last race, so we could still lose. And whilst it might sound a bit unlikely to you that they could win both races, from where I was sitting it was approaching a dead-cert. These guys go faster upwind than is morally decent, and they do it best when it's blowing old boots. Like today.

So we rocked up, rigged up, got changed and surveyed the scene. There were a load of Fireball sailors hanging about at the club, but it was clear that most of them weren't aspiring to do any more than that. And fair enough, as when we arrived the water had been positively frothy with the amount of wind hurtling across it. Right now however it was looking like about f2-3, the windsurfers were hardly moving, clearly it wasn't going to be mental after all.

Preparation is all, so a quick chat with the OD to get a feel for what sort of course we'll be having. Hmmm, it looks like it'll be an island-avoidance course with very broad reaches. Cue a jog down to the car-park to get the new big kite out of the car - it's pretty hopeless on close reaches but well worth having on the broad reaches and runs.

And we'd just fitted the kite to the boat when the wind came back. And it was pretty full-on. Out at the start line at 'T', the committee boat was being blown away from the line almost as quickly as we were, and while they were re-setting the anchor and avoiding becoming a shipwreck statistic on the dam wall, we managed to capsize briefly. And the course was nothing like what was mentioned earlier either, it suddenly had a lot of close reaches in it. So there we are in 30knot winds with a boat full of water and massive kite and lots of close reaches, and I was just starting to feel a bit unhappy about all this when, the red flag goes up, then down, the gun for our start goes and off we all go too.

We had a better start than Peter and Mike, but our boat was in the mood for going fast rather than pointing high, so they rapidly climbed above us. We tacked onto port and ducked their transom, they tacked shortly after, and then they just sailed straight over the top of us. Clearly this was going to be one of those races. They were a bit ahead of us then at the end of the first beat - a titchy 2-tack affair up to 'P', notable for the fact that you had to tack for the mark at the last minute before running aground on the new 'Middle Shoal' island. 

OK, round 'P' and off to 'M', a nasty 2 sail reach involving a detour around 'Y' to avoid the Musborough Shoal, and where Peter and Mike extended their lead a bit. Then another titchy beat up to 'B', where it was horribly gusty and they got away a bit further. At this point I started wondering if we shouldn't just pack in now and save wearing out the sails and the crew, with a view to being a bit more useful in the afternoon. But they tried to fly their kit from 'B' to 'D', and it was too windy and didn't work, so we were back on their transom again at 'D'. 

Next leg is to 'S', and Peter & Mike seem somewhat at a loss as to how to get there, largely (we discover later) because there is at least one island between us and it. They sail in a little circle, then hoon off to the right on a 2 sail reach, while we hoist the big kite and take off in more of a straight line. Crew soon reports Middle Shoal Island dead ahead captain, so we gybe and go left around it, then gybe back onto starboard and come back between the 2 islands, over that bit which the official map says is non-navigable, but which is far enough away from both islands to be a fairly safe bet. It's certainly further from both islands than 'S', the buoy we're now heading for, snag is that we have to go further to windward than I'd like to clear the Croft island (the big one), and then bear away onto a dead run for the mark. Meanwhile Peter and Mike are charging in on port tack and will be claiming water at the mark, always assuming that there's room for two boats between Croft and 'S'. On the offchance that there isn't, I'm steering a bit upwind of 'S' as it keeps us further from whatever shallows are lurking over there.

So we tool on down to the mark, 2 boats side by side, us on starboard and Peter/Mike on port. Then we get the kites down, then there's a sort of splashy noise and Peter & Mike are gone. It turns out that they'd managed an involuntary gybe while Mike was packing the kite, followed by a bit of a swim, followed by a total inversion. So we did the decent thing and disappeared into the distance, around 'S', another nasty 2-sail reach to 'T' and start the next lap.

Peter and Mike took about 5 mins to get the boat up - it turns out it's deep enough at 'S' to completely turtle a Fireball, although only at the expense of losing your burgee. Anyway, this was pretty much game over for them unless we capsized, so we made sure we didn't, and eventually took our 4th win to clinch the series.

We didn't bother with the PM race, although it was predictably much nicer weather by the time it started. Big commiserations then to Peter and Mike, who were going faster than us on a regular basis and probably deserved to win the Fleet Championships on the strength of it. The moral victory definitely goes to you guys.

More thoughts on the racing - these titchy beats really suck badly. All the shallows and islands are a big headache for the OD, but it looks to me as though it is now impossible to set a course which doesn't involve us sailing around an island or a shallow bit. So how about just accepting this and setting some decent length beats instead of stopping short, and then just aim to get us back downwind without going through Musborough, which is the only really big obstacle. We're quite capable of plotting a course around the actual islands without any help from the OD - it's something that some other clubs have been stuck with for years and it's not like it's all that difficult. Maybe stick a flag on the top of 'em if you want to help with identification, and have some more accurate depth soundings so we can see what's safe and what isn't. 

I also passionately hate close 2-sail reaches in a big blow, but I guess you knew that already 

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Marriott Bucket 2011 - day 2

Light airs and some fogginess greeted the fleet, my crew had already defected but these guys wanted to sail, so what the hell...

Being relegated to the role of race-starter and passive observer, I observed that the early starters threw away much of their lead by not being anywhere near the start-line when their gun went - in light airs you need to hang about nearby, not wander off in the opposite direction. This was why we started doing beach starts in the first place - there's less room for error.

You also need to let the kicker right off and pull a bit extra through to overcome the friction, otherwise your leech hooks to windward. Not letting the sail out far enough on the offwind legs is another killer.

Dave Merritt (new to the fleet in 2011) described his day thus:

The day started ominously for us. When moving down the ramp the sound of sloshing water could be heard coming from inside the boat. Closer inspection revealed around 4 gallons of water trapped in the hull! At least this explained the dismal performance of the boat on day 1 two weeks earlier (the reason for the water? - it turns out we have been sailing for 5 months without the front hatch cover on - not having seen the opening hiding behind the spinnaker bag!).

Race 1: managed to sponge out the water in time. Squandered our 1 minute head start due to using the wrong start box area. Jane and Pat quickly took the lead. We had a chance to regain the lead on the long haul from 'D' to 'K' but blew it after becoming confused about the course and sailing an unnecessary dogs leg. In the end were glad to finish second as the rest of the pack was closing in, only around 50 meters behind.

Race 2: Better start this time, maintained a lead up to 'H', then made the mistake of trying to fly the spinnaker on the close reach from 'H' to 'K' - Jane and Pat take the lead again. Round to 'OL' and then the long run up to 'P' via 'X'. Then a piece of good fortune - Jane and Pat forget to take in 'X'  and only realize when well past. We sail into a healthy lead and manage to maintain this until the finish - our first win!

Bob Morris described the 2nd race in some detail from his perspective as a late starter:

The course was J, H, K, OL, X P all to port. Dave and Josh Merrit led until just after rounding H when they tried to fly their spinnaker on a very tight reach to K. It was too tight though and Jane and Pat Collison correctly two-sailed it to take the lead. However the Collisons then missed out X and tried to sail straight from OL to P. They realised their mistake and sailed back to X giving the Merritts a big lead.

The Merritts having learned from their previous mistake sailed very solidly and never lost their commanding lead. Meanwhile further back down the fleet. Helen and Paul were being chased by Bob sailing in John Tenney's boat. We caught up quite a bit but then Helen gybed on to port tack after rounding OL to keep clear of a bunch of Solos. Bob stayed on the same gybe and took a more direct route from OL to X. Some unexplained timewarp thing happened on the leg from OL to X and Helen doubled her lead.

Behind Bob, Mo also gybed on to port tack and also gained on Bob and was on Bob's transom by the time we got to P. Helen went hard right after rounding P and again pulled out an even larger lead on Bob who was now trying to cover Mo to no avail. Mo easily got past Bob and began to relentlessly close on Helen ahead.

By the final lap Helen was catching the Collisons who were starting to look very worried as it seems that they could have been caught and their hopes of a second Marriot Mug victory quashed. The Merritts were still looking comfortable for a win. Luckily for the Collisons the race was shortened at J giving the Merritts a satisfying win which they thoroughly deserved. The Collisons stopped holding their breath as they crossed the finish line to finish second.

Helen by now was having to loose cover Mo and Holly which she did to finish 3rd. Mo finished just behind Helen in 4th place. Meanwhile Pete Slack and Serena had caught up with Bob and John Tenney on the final beat. This put a bit too much pressure on this untried and tested helm and crew combination and after a fluffed tack, Bob crossed behind Pete. However all was not yet lost. Bob approached the finishing line on port tack. Pete crossed just in front but could not tack in Bobs water and although he tacked as soon as possible after crossing Bob, the momentum effect of two heavyweights kicked in to take Bob and John over the line in 5th with Pete just behind in 6th place

The results were pretty close, Pat and Jane won the series with 4 points, Dave and Josh were a close 2nd with 5 points, followed by Helen and Paul with 8 points. 

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Fleet Championships 2011 day 1 & 2

Day 1: A pretty poor turnout considering that we've had loads of boats in previous years. We expected to be roundly mullered by Peter & Mike, since they've done that to us virtually every other race this year. But in race 1, although they led up the first beat to B and across the first sucky fetch to M, they never got away. So we chased them down the broad leg to OL, across a fairly decent reach back to D, and off up to B again. Second time around we hung on up the beat, hung on down the fetch, and went fast enough down to OL to get an overlap at the mark. Then we just sailed away and won easily. Surely some mistake.

Mike had hurt his back, so they didn't even do race 2, resulting in an easy win for team Mike 'n' Paul.

Day 2: Buoyed up by our success on day 1, we set sail in high spirits on day 2. Spirits were raised further by the sight of Peter & Mike running aground on Musborough on the way to the start - the grounded Fred with the crew walking around it up to his knees in water had looked like a pretty good hint to me, so we went well wide and avoided any unpleasantness there. Start down near B (about half an hour late), for a short beat up through a narrow corridor of water  between Musborough and that other new island up to X, and we popped out 2nd at the windward mark with Bob & Richard close behind and Peter & Mike close ahead. Kite up for a decentish reach to OL, which we almost went the wrong side of as I had remembered the course wrongly. Then a short beat to J, where we had to cover Bob & Richard, and I messed up the final tack, got the mainsheet around the tiller extension and nearly hit J as a result. Then a broad reach to D, where we took the lead for no apparent reason, followed by close reaches to A and then B. Those close reaches were quite tricky, and being just a bit too close, were not as much fun as they looked either. Anyway, round B, and a dull fetch back to the gate thereby wasting a bit more of the titchy beat, and off we go again.

Since we were ahead of Peter & Mike, and they apparently go upwind a lot better than we do, we spent every minute of every titchy beat sitting on their wind. Forget windshifts (which you couldn't do much with anyway due to having to sail up between the shallows), we just tacked when they did on the beats and luffed 'em up on the reaches. It was very hard work, and after the first 30 mins, not massively fun either. But we were going to win the damn race as a result...right up until the last leg from D to A. It was maybe a shade closer than before, maybe a shade windier, but for whatever reason we got blown down from the rhumb-line and they just charged past upwind, pointing higher and going faster. So we came 2nd in that one and were a bit despondant about it.

The PM race was basically the same scenario over a similar course, same titchy beat, same close reach to OL, but now we had a dead(ish) run down from OL to M, followed by a close reach to C and another to B. This time we had a fabulous lead at X and about 20 seconds in the bag at OL, but we blew it on the next beat and had to revert to tacking to cover again. Going upwind, every time Peter and Mike broke the cover they'd charge off and be level or just ahead when we came together again, and every time we would tack below them and sneak up under their bow and get our nose just ahead again. On one of the reaches from C to B we bagged our kite and spent some time contriving to stop them from overtaking us with theirs up, which was quite good fun (for us anyway). They finally drew level on the last run to M, and then for no very good reason we just edged out ahead again. With less wind than for the AM race, the close reaches were a bit easier to manage and we kept ahead for a win.

So far this has been less of a fleet championship event and more of a Mike & Paul sail round getting in Peter & Mike's way event - very hard work, very demanding, definitely very involving, but not necessarily a huge amount of fun. It has been tactical in the same way that a team racing event is tactical - lots of close quarters stuff with the boats staying together, and none of the usual windshift picking, "let's try that side of the beat, wooo, great lift" sort of stuff. What it needed was (say) Badders and Pete S to open it up a bit and keep us from getting too fixated on each other (plus a longer beat and fewer islands). I'd almost certainly have lost both races in that case, but I think we might have enjoyed it more as a result.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Marriott Bucket 2011 day 1

The bushes lied to us once again, it was nothing like as windy as they said...

So we got there to find a nice F2-3 and sunshine, plenty of willing (and not so willing) participants, Pete S with 'sale or return' crew JR on loan from Badders to stop him from going rusty, and all the usual crowd of disreputable fleet members. Game on for a bit of Marriott Bucketing then...

We opted to start on the water this time, due to the muddy shallow beach, and that turned out pretty well. The first race was a bit pants from my point of view, because I had to untangle my kite halyard from the jib halyard just before, during and just after my start, and by the time we got going, nearest boat Pete & JR were pretty much out of sight and stayed that way all through the race. I must confess at this point that sailing around in the company of no other boats is about the most tedious form of sailing there is in my book, so it wasn't a huge amount of fun for us, but we did get to witness some decent action nearer to the front of the fleet. Of particular note was a full-on luffing battle (with kites) on the last leg of the race, with Bob / Paul doing clever stuff against Paul / Nick, thereby letting JT / Quentin through and causing Paul / Nick to capsize just next to OL - a fitting end to race 1 of the Bucket.

The afternoon however was really good, with a bit more wind and a fantastic first leg which was a 3-sail reach all the way to A. This was the source of some immediate upset, with at least one of the early starters capsizing pretty much straight away, not helped by the fact that they'd already lost about 2 minutes of their lead by starting late.

The next leg was a decent length beat up to D, where we gained a load of ground on Peter/JR, and a broad reach down to OL before beating up to S. Somewhere along the way we overtook Pete and settled down to trying to catch the next boat.

The course took us next to H, then a dead run down to J, where we gybed and started on the fabbo 3-sail reach to A again, passing Pat / Jane who I think managed to capsize a bit as we went by. On the next beat up to D we overtook Dave / Richard, went hard left, and by the top mark had closed the gap considerably on Bob / Paul. They held us off all the way down to OL, and as they pinched up after rounding the mark, we went straight past below them and then used the extra speed to come up in-line and ahead (that doesn't often happen). Round S, H, run to J, and there's that 3-sail reach to A again, and we can see Helen / Paul and Paul / Nick about a minute ahead of us, kites up, hooning down the reach.

By this time it was getting a bit windier, and that was one really excellent leg - sun shining, little gusts chasing across the water, and the boat planing very nicely with us both at full stretch. Ahead, Paul / Nick laid their boat on its side up by the mark, saved it, and all three boats went around A within the space of about 20 seconds. JT / Quentin were marginally ahead too, and Bob / Paul had gained a bit due to our crummy rounding and were just behind us. Game on!

So about half of the fleet went right, and we did our usual crawl up the wall on the left, which left us crisscrossing Bob / Paul, involving much yelling of 'starboard', and much bearing away behind other boats as we went. This was now back in proper fleet racing territory, with 5 boats all focussed on getting to D first, with just the broad reach to OL to come and victory for somebody. The fleet converged on D, as you do, and I thought we were in the pound seats, with pretty much all the rest of the boats a bit behind us as we tacked onto port for the final approach to D. But wait, what's this, it's Bob / Paul steaming up on starboard, and they've got a lift, so now we're pinching for the mark, and they're definitely going to get there before us. We luffed up, they tacked, and we went round D together with the other 3 boats close behind.

Up with the kites then, but Bob / Paul are upwind and very keen on not letting us past to windward, so we're stuck below them, with Paul / Quentin just below us and Helen / Paul below them. We did some transom chasing on Bob, but he really really didn't want us going past to windward, and then we noticed Helen / Paul going very low, before coming up on a closer reach and popping out in front of all of us. Damn!

By this time we were back overlapped with Bob, Helen crossed the line to win, we had to give Bob water at the mark, opportunists Paul / Nick nipped in above us, and due to the somewhat biassed finish line, they pipped us too. So we ended up 4th, with JT / Quentin just behind us, all 5 boats crossing the line in the space of about 10 seconds, and what a great race it was!

If there is a 'day 2', it will be on the 20th Nov, and presumably it's all still to play for as the winners of the AM race today came about last in the PM race, and the winners of the PM race retired from the AM race.

Fingers crossed then for a decent day on the 20th, and if we get anything nice on the 13th for day 2 of the fleet champs then that would be good too.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

9 Oct 2011

Pretty good day yesterday, although the fleet appears to have contracted a bit (along with all the others).

I got stung by a wasp while getting the cover off my boat. The sleepy little beggers are all looking for a place to kip at this time of year and they don't like being disturbed.

At the start of the AM race there were only 2 boats near the line, so we waited for the rest of the fleet to turn up and chose start 6 (the spare one). The Freds did the exactly the same thing, although thankfully it was a long line and they fancied the boat end and we mostly fancied the pin, so there were no nasty crunching noises.

It wasn't particularly windy, so we had a nice running battle with Peter & Mike the whole way round which ended up with them beating us by a small margin - with everyone else somewhere behind.

The wind dropped at lunch time so we pulled the pins out and set off on 22'8". There was a bit of faffing about going on with setting the line down at 'F', and that corner's a bit crowded with islands, boats, shallows etc, so we took ourselves off to the island and had a little walk around on it. It's quite nice, sandy underfoot, no mud, a nice place for a picnic if you should feel the urge.

Anyway, back to the start, but the wind was picking up so we dropped the rig tension and put the pins back in. No sooner had we finished when it went completely mental. Peter & Mike were caught out while doing their mast rake and capsized, the gun went, and I was still trying to work out where the red buoy had got to. I eventually located it way down to leeward, so we sailed back across the line, then close hauled on port just avoiding the committee boat and the RS700 that was drifting towards it on its side (Hi Niall). Then off up the beat, and it was fantastic. The wind was really full-on, but not totally stupid, and we dropped the strut off, banged the cunningham on, and reached up the beat, overtaking Richard on the way. Then round X, 2 sail reach to J, beat to OL and K. Peter & Mike were gaining on us by this time, but managed to capsize at 'K', so we sauntered off down the reach to 'F' (sans kite, just in case), gybe at 'F', broad reach to 'G' and start again.

Everyone else apart from Peter & Mike gave up, so the pair of us sailed around enjoying ourselves, and they hadn't quite caught us up by the end although I reckon 1 more lap would have done it. There were no flat out screaming 3-sail reaches on offer, but the leg from 'K' to 'F' was quite amusing when we got the kite up on all the subsequent laps, particularly when the gusts arrived and you could hurtle towards the boats beating up through the pinch-point near 'F' at about mach 5.

And it was great; the waves were huge great rolling breaking things down at G, the sun came out, the wind was pretty even (no 45 degree shifts), and it was just an excellent sail. The shallows and the islands make the lake smaller, and they make you think harder about where you sail, but really that just highlights how good we have it at Draycote the rest of the time. Most inland sailing venues are smaller when full than Draycote is now, and lots of them have islands and shallows. And when we were down at G yesterday, there was still a huge length of lake (a mile at least) available for the beat if we'd gone up to A. For some reason we were sent to X, probably to avoid Musborough, but having been properly warned about it at lunch-time, I don't think we'd have had any trouble there. In any case, the Fireball catches its centreboard long before its rudder, so when the board starts retracting and making funny graunchy noises, you know it's time to tack or to adopt a more extreme sailing angle (45 degrees is good) to keep the foils from going too deep.

Party on dudes, and I hope to see y'all next week for the Marriott.

Monday, 26 September 2011

26 Sep 2011

OK, so it's about 100 miles downhill to get to the water, and when you arrive it's to find that the slipway ends about 2ft past the water's edge, and it's all thick stinky black mud thereafter. And WG lied about how much wind there would be...

But what we ended up with in the morning was a nice F2-4, ideal for a bit of serious fleet racing and just windy enough to be interesting. Sadly however the course was a bit deficient in the excitement stakes, with the offwind legs being either too broad or too close for the perfect 3-sail reach, and a finish at 'D' which was a lot further away from my lunch than OL would have provided, particularly in the prevailing offshore wind. Still, not a bad warm-up for the main event, and we won, with Pete/David 2nd and Bob/Paul 3rd. The latter 2 appeared to be enjoying some sort of duel throughout most of the race, thereby demonstrating quite nicely that a 25 year old, narrow-bow, all-wood Winder can compete quite effectively against a nearly new wide-bow foam-sandwich/kevlar item.

Ho then for the PM race, where we were joined by JT/Pete but lost 14870 to a bimbling session with Jez - something about an inverted mast - not fast! We had a different course which had proper reaches and thereby addressed all the problems I had with the morning one except proximity of the finish to the clubhouse. A nice safe start, with a 2nd hoot signifying somebody was over the line. It looks as though this was Bob/Paul, so they did the proper thing by tacking off, sailing round the committee boat and then capsizing as they re-crossed the line (in accordance with IYRU sailing instructions, appendix 5, rule 27b).

We pootled across to the wall at the first opportunity, but when we crossed the fleet it was Richard/Kris in 14326 in the lead, with us and Pete/David close behind. The former duo lost a bit of ground by aiming for 'M' instead of 'A', allowing Pete/David to take the lead by squeezing in front of us and doing the luffy-up dirty-wind thing to us on the final approach to 'A'. Then they tried to leave 'A' to port, recovered at the last moment, we tacked together and the first 3 boats were onto the reach to 'B' within about 10 secs of each other.

Down the broad reach to 'B', gybe at the mark, re-set the kites and off to 'H' - a proper 3-sail reach across pretty much the entire length of the race. Game-on!

Normally we all just go hell for leather down these legs, but Pete/David were looking a bit threatening, so we went up a bit to protect our air. Then we opened up a bit of a gap (by magic, I think), and observed Richard/Kris getting through into 2nd place. Then Helen and Paul turned up and had a bash at doing the same thing, although I can't recall if they succeeded or not.

Kites down at 'H', we were following a yellow miracle into the mark - rudder half up - which went wide of the mark (to lure us into the trap) and then tacked in front of us (springing it), but we hadn't taken the bait and went round the outside, leaving the Miracle parked up on 'H' as an obstacle for the rest of the pack. Quick tack to avoid the red 'shallows' buoy which was no longer actually floating by virtue of being sat on the 'shallow' bit, entirely high and dry, good job we spotted that then  . And off out for a beat up to 'T'. We're still in the lead there, and the 3 chasing boats are all close together and slowing each other down. The leg to 'D' looks a bit close, so we go high and then set the kite for a nice reach to the end of the lap, with the rest of the pack close behind.

So lap 2 is a replay of lap one, except we manage to stay in front on the beat. This time Richard/Kris were ahead of Pete/Dave and Helen/Paul at 'A', but Pete managed to nip inside going round the mark and eke out a narrow lead at 'B'. Then Richard/Kris overtook them again on that long leg down to 'H', so Pete went low while Helen/Paul went on a death-or-glory overtaking spree against both of them, Richard/Kris in particular. What should have happened was that Pete/David popped out ahead at 'H', having taken a more direct route, but in fact they ended up behind the other 2 boats, presumably there being more wind as well as adrenaline further to windward. Bob/Paul also made some inroads into the lot of 'em - still recovering from that startline penalty capsize.

So, beat to 'T', reach off to 'D', we and Pete/David flew our kites, but the other 2 boats didn't appear to lose much by not doing so.

Back up the beat to 'A', the wind was rising and Richard and Kris were starting to gain on us. Pete/David capsized while ducking behind Helen/Paul, and decided to call it a day. The wind was starting to come at us in big lumps now, which made the final reach to 'H' verrrry exciting, particularly as the usual bear-away-in-the-gusts concept was a bit foiled by the presence of a flippin' great island just below the rhumb-line. Anyway, we finally got the kite down when presented with the choice of continuing the fab reach on to 'G' or slowing down to go round 'H'. Up to 'T' again, kite up for a last reach to 'D', which was a bit crowded with Solos and Miracles for some reason, so we stayed out of their way - the kite didn't want to go there anyway, it had its heart set on some bushes on the shore near 'E'...

Further back on that leg, it appears that Helen & Paul had a small lead over Bob & Paul, but that their kite was refusing to leave the safety of its bag. So Bob & Paul bunged theirs up and came hooning down on Helen's transom at about mach 9. There then followed the usual concerns over which side they should overtake, followed by the usual sensible decision that the boat carrying the kite won't be going to windward past the one that isn't. So they tried to go through to leeward, Helen sat on their wind, there was a big splashy noise from behind the mainsail and whole the comeback thing ended there.

Anyhoo, wide round 'D', wait till the other boats have tacked for the line, do same, sail long way back to stinky muddy shore and the long climb back up the hill. Richard and Kris scored an impressive 2nd place, Helen/Paul 3rd, Bob/Paul 4th, everyone else somewhere further back or RTD.

Great day!

Sunday, 21 August 2011

21 Aug 2011

So, back at the back of the boat this Sunday for some more close racing with the bits of the fleet that aren't on holiday, mending the dents or at the Nationals. That's a mere 7 boats then, not a lot but certainly enough to provide some good racing.

AM race, and there was some dispute regarding how many of the fleet were over the line when the gun went. Bob definitely was, and came back. Pete was later judged by a jury of his peers (or 'kangaroo court') to have been over, but pleaded extenuating circumstances involving a flag being lowered to show all-clear. I can't comment as I was gybing round behind the lot of 'em at the time, having arrived at the pin a good 10 secs too early. Really must remember to bring a watch with me to the start-line next time.

Anyhoo, up the first beat, and Pete/Serena were doing the quickest job of escaping the crime scene, but we were hard on their heels with Mo/Holly not too far behind us. Round windward mark 'B' to starboard rather than the usual port affair (and the sky failed to fall in) and then down to 'D' on a nice reach which delivered some planing and trapezing action, and some fishing boat avoidance. The next leg to 'K' would clearly be closer, and we expected that our huge weight advantage would allow us to blow the lightweights into the long grass. But a big tangle up with the kite at the gybe left us further behind, and we didn't even go very fast, so that was a total bust.

OK, run from 'K' to OL and 'J', 3-sail reach to 'T', and start the next lap.

Well we played a couple of blinders up the next beat and popped out just ahead at 'B', but Pete/Serena were on the inside at the mark, and our boom touched their foredeck, and even I know that I'm in the wrong there, so we did a smart 720 and worried Ashley by getting in his way (sorry Ashley), and then zoomed off and had remarkably caught up by the time we got to 'D'. So now we get to blow them away on the tight leg to 'K' This time it transpired that I had cleated the insulating tape on the fluffy bit of the halyard rather than the halyard itself, and then the kite came halfway down, and by the time I got it up again, they were away. Chase them ound 'K', OL, 'J', 'T', and off we go again.

Some more frankly brilliant sailing got us to the top mark first again, and this time we managed an entire lap and a bit without any disasters. So we had a bit of breathing space when, on the last lap, the bobble on the guy-rope exploded under the strain, and we had to sort that out (it's what your cheek blocks are there for, apparently). Still, even with that and some weed, we claimed a first place in that one.

Lunch, and much discussion regarding start lines and positioning of boats on them.

PM, we tacked off the line and went right, fleet went left, big lift then occurred on starboard, so by the time they tacked onto port we were already in the pound seats. We then stayed on starboard all the way past 'M' and were nicely placed to the left of 'A' when the wind did a 90 degree shift and allowed us to carry on in basically the same direction but now on port tack. We now had a mahoosive lead, so spent the rest of the race watching JT/Quentin, Pete/Serena and Mo/Holly slugging it out for 2nd place. JT won that one, and if we missed out on the action then at least we enjoyed the sunshine and the 3-sail reaches.

Great fun!

PS, BIG BIG weed bed somewhere in the triangle formed by K, M and Y - we sailed across it once on the way from M to Y and it wasn't a good idea at all. Plus I got water in my ear while trying to remove it from the rudder. You have been warned 

Sunday, 14 August 2011

14 Aug 2011

I talked Poorly Paul out of sailing yesterday as I thought the 7-8knts forecast would be too light-n-fluffy for him, and although the bushes in my garden lied to us (again), this turned out to be the case when I arrived at the club. Serena had signed up to crew, perfect weight for the F1-2, occasional F3 we were looking at at 10:00am. So, gun goes, zoom off the line, Serena doing crewy things like mad, get luffed up by John & Jim and borne down on by Helen & Paul, finally spat out the back door. Tack and head for RHS of the beat, tack back when we get there to find we're lifted onto the lay line and everyone else is so far down the toilet that it's pretty much game over by the time we get to the first mark, 'B'. Sail down to 'M', across to 'Y', get on long run towards 'T' and start looking wistfully back at the chasing pack, who appear to be having a fine old time back there.

So I talked Serena into taking her kit off - well the harness bit of it anyway, I crawled into it (good fit, slightly painful getting it over my head though), and then we sailed around slowly, crashed into buoys, did turns, looked for weed on the rudder, and generally waited for the rest of the fleet to turn up.

And they did, although Mo & Holly seemed to be taking an odd route, but anyway we had a fine old battle with Helen & Paul, Serena didn't put a foot wrong at the back of the boat which kinda made up for some of the catastrophes at the front, and we finally just pipped them all across the line at the end. Cheers cheers for multi-talented helm and crew.

Lunch, yum! Learnt that Mo & Holly had written down v1.0 of the course, everyone else had got v2.1, with the correct colours for rounding of the buoys. Hence the confusion in their boat, not helped by watching Serena and me doing little loops next to some of the marks after hitting them.

So we went for it again in the afternoon, me up the front, Serena steering. Some less than excellent tactics and some weed up the first beat put us near last at the top mark, Bob & Paul were doing a horizon job, Helen & Paul and Mo & Holly somewhere in between, John & Jim and Richard & Karen languishing behind, also suffering from weed I suspect. So we chased everyone round for a couple of laps, with some catching up and some dire crewing leading to some falling further behind again, and some amusing conversations on the shy 3-sail reach to 'M' when the wind picked up:

Serena: "We'll need to do an aussie drop"
Me: "OK, go on then"
Serena: "I don't know how, I've never done one as a helm..."
Me: "Ah, well, errrm"

Still, we were still vaguely in contention when we had a leg to 'M' a lap later which was both windier and broader than usual. Short way past, en-route to 'K' on the run, we bunged in a gybe in the teeth of something even windier still, and wooohooo, we're now charging down a broad reach towards 'K' going a lot faster than we had any right to expect. I sniffed the air, read the clouds, parted the mists of time and divined the very future, and declared that we could probably carry the kite around 'K' and all the way to 'X' from here. Then I looked at what the lead 3 boats were up to and changed my mind - they were hurtling off towards 'H' rather than 'X' with the kites up and a distinctly out-of-control appearance. So we bagged the kite, took 'K' to 'X' as a high speed 2-sail reach, and it was one of those defining moments that stay with you....

The wind on the water coming at us in big lumps, me well back and well down on the wire, playing the jib while Serena gives it full welly with the main and the steering stick, the boat absolutely flying along. The sun glinting off the water as the lead boat stops, bears off, spirals in to windward way below us and the others park up to bag their kites. And now more wind, more speed, and a smart gybe at 'X', and then looking back at the buoy as Mo & Holly and Helen & Paul gybe around it just behind us, and Mo and Holly bin it...

(And sorry guys, I really felt for you there)

And then on down to 'T', 'J', 'OL' for a final lap before the finish.

In theory it's not the winning, it's the taking part. But in fact it's the overtaking part that is most satisfying, that and the hooning along at high speed while you're doing it. An unexpectedly excellent day's sailing then, and I suggest that it would be worth buying yourself a Fireball purely to install Serena at the back of it and watch and learn while you enjoy the ride.

Monday, 1 August 2011

1 Aug 2011

Well the weather didn't promise much, but it was still excellent anyway, F2-3, sunny, warm/hot with a distinctly shifty S - SW wind. Race 1, and the beat was well biassed but very hard to get right once you got up by the shore. Peter and Mike were round first and started building their trademark huge lead, but the rest of the fleet was all together as we pootled past OL and down the short run to 'T'. Then a dull broad-reach to 'X', followed by a nice tactical run to 'F'. Then follow-my-leader sort of fetch affair to 'E', and start again. I can't remember where we were placed at this point, but there were boats all around and I have a feeling JT and maybe Badders were ahead of us, and there's nothing you can do on the fetch except pull the jib in a bit harder and hope the boat in front doesn't.

But the next beat was fascinating - there was at least one substantial wind bend in play, possibly two, not to mention the tendency for the right-hand-side to have more wind. So it came to pass that at the top of the beat, Peter/Mike put in a little tack at 'K' and rounded the mark, promptly sailing into a patch of nothing at all under the lee of the clubhouse. Everyone else (with us in about 5th place) came down the right hand side of the beat, lifting like mad, easing the jib and in the teeth of a surprisingly big lump of wind, and carried that momentum round the mark and straight into the dead-air, where all 6 or so boats ghosted past OL together, with us closest to OL and thus technically in the lead. Wooohooo!

But you don't get very far by being the leeward boat on a broad-reach in no wind, so we gybed out as we passed the mark, hoping for the wind patch a little further out whilst strongly suspecting that it would fill in nearer the shore anyway. Well practically everyone else followed us out, and we gybed back for the inshore stuff. And guess what, the boats that carried on out got nothing, whilst Badders (who hadn't even gybed) got the good stuff. He was followed by the two Pauls (both crews) in 14016 (24 year old boat, that one) hot on his heels and we were somewhere alongside and just claimed water at the mark. Meanwhile Peter/Mike had gone from a good first to a fairly appalling last place. Game on, now to hunt down Badders and JR...

So we followed them to 'X' and then parked ourselves on their transom for the run (port tack), resulting in the pair of us going a bit further left than would be ideal. We pounced on them about halfway down and got ourselves alongside, but they gybed away onto starboard, leaving us hung out on the left. We decided that the pressure out there was good though, so we went on further, picked up more wind and pulled off a gybe where the kite didn't collapse at all - not bad for a single-ended pole boat. Now we were able to steam down on starboard in the good pressure, claim water at 'F', kite down, gybe and take the lead for the fetch to 'E' (which had morphed into a close reach and was considerably more interesting this time round).

So all we've got to do now is cover Badders/JR up the last beat and we're laughing. So we did this, not too close, just enough to stop him doing a 'Badham special', but then we got up near 'K' and he starts going the wrong way, I'm tacking to cover from a clear lift onto something nasty, that's not clever at all. And right on cue, here comes Colin/Karen, zooming up the lifty bit like a train, and it's proof if any were needed that we're going the WRONG WAY. So we tack off, leaving Pete to plod over to the left side of the beat, and follow Colin/Karen over to the right. And although we've lost the lead, here come a shed load of other Fireballs and at least we're still in front of them, whereas poor old Badders is now coming back to find another 3 boats have got past him. My heart rate currently doing about 120 bpm at this point....

Nip round the mark, up with the kite and claim a decent 2nd place across OL. The entire fleet then finished within about 60 seconds of the leader, which is pretty good going.

And the PM race was looking good too, halfway round, 4 or 5 boats duking it out for the lead on the run, and a cracking leg from 'T' to 'C' which worked well as a 2-sail reach on the first lap and equally well as a 3-sail reach on the 2nd. Brilliant! Right up to the moment when we picked up a huge load of weed on the rudder. And then some more, and then a bit more. And what with going really slowly while it was there and stopping altogether to get rid of it, we ended up about 5th. Pity, cos we were vying for the lead when it first struck, but by the time we finished you'd have needed a calendar to time the gap between us and first couple of boats Peter/Mike and Badders/JR.

Still, a great day on the water, just got to make myself a thing for clearing weed off rudders now 

Sunday, 17 July 2011

17 July 2011

It really was awesome Pete, as you say. Although I probably should have included a little tick against the text "Unrivalled opportunities to run aground"...

It all started a bit light and fluffy, and I was feeling a bit short changed in windspeed terms. The wind had shifted, so the beat was a bit one-sided even before we started. We did OK and rounded 'N' 3rd behind Colin/Karen and Peter/Mike. Broad reach to 'OL', where we all took our kites down except for Peter/Mike, who opted to find out the hard way that you couldn't fly the kite to 'D'. So they went low, Colin went high, we did a little wiggly course that took us up in the light bits and down in the windier stuff, and so popped out in the lead at 'D'. Yay!

Broady reach to 'S', followed by another heavily biassed beat to 'X'. Short close reach to 'T' followed by a decent reach to 'F', and we still had a decent lead when we got there, although you had to suspect that Colin/Karen and Peter/Mike were slowing each other down a bit behind us. So, a quick trip to the far bank from 'F', and then tack for the long leg across to 'N' again. And then the centreboard started coming up, and I noticed some white buoys all around, and I thought 'hmmm, this might be the shallow bit maybe'. So we leaned the boat over on its ear, as you can't afford to p*ss about in shallow water for too long with a fixed rudder, and sailed over the island, which appears to be no more than about 18" deep in places. Colin also came a bit of a cropper there, but Peter and Mike had tacked at 'F' and come out straight away, which put us on parallel paths with them a bit behind... no, level.... no, ahead of us. Their boat speed was making us look a bit silly. So we followed them round N, OL, and were almost at 'D' when I realised that the island had bequeathed the rudder a nice lump of weed right at the bottom. So we stopped up at 'D' to remove the rudder and the weed, but promptly went into irons and started sailing backwards. While we were doing this, another 3 boats sauntered past, leaving us in 5th place and slightly grumpy.

But the good news was that normal service had been resumed on the boat-speed front, so we were able to fight our way past Helen/Paul and Colin/Karen, which set us up for a very nice 3-sail reach from 'T' to 'F' on the transom of Pete/David. This reach had turned a bit closer and windier than before, and it was a very exciting dogfight all the way down the leg, with both boats bearing off in the gusts and then cranking it back upwind in the lulls, with us just marginally overlapped to windward and a bit wary of planing over Pete's boat from my vantage point about 2ft off his transom.

We were fortunate that we acquired an overlap at 'F', but went a bit too far inshore (again) and after tacking we were looking at those white buoys again. So we bore off around them this time, which meant that Pete/David could wiggle up and lee-bow us on the long close-hauled leg to 'N'. So we had to do the luffy-bear-away dance again, and eventually we got them nailed below us and then zoomed away in a big gust for a bit of a lead round 'N' and across the finish line in 2nd place.

Then back to the shore for a chance to watch the next 3 boats all coming round 'N' together, fighting it out on the reach and all crossing the finish line together in the space of about 3 seconds. We reckon that Colin/Karen had it in the bag right up until the final 10 yards, when Richard/Kris had a bit of a surge and got their nose ahead. But I could be wrong...

So at lunch time I rather stupidly told Peter (winner of the AM race) that he had been totally lucky what with us getting the weed and that he wouldn't be winning this PM cos I wouldn't be making that mistake again. In fact I believe the exact phrase I used was 'we will crush you utterly', which probably wasn't a very sensible prediction to make.

Out at the startline, the wind was still a bit lighter than I was expecting, and I was starting to wonder if WindGuru knew its meteorological arse from its elbow. So we sidled up to the line, starboard (favoured) end, right by the committee boat, gun goes, perfect start. And you have to give the OD team a lot of credit for this, because the moment the gun went, a massive hoolie hit the fleet, followed moments later by torrential rain that made your head hurt. And of course we like it like that, except that for some reason I couldn't make the boat point anything like as high as anyone else, and rapidly went from being above the fleet and marginally behind to below the fleet and marginally behind, which isn't nearly so good. So we tacked off rather than fall further into the dirty air of everything (including an RS800 which was also there but probably shouldn't have been). And the fleet carried on with more wind and they got a nice lift on port tack when they all tacked, and we didn't, so we were last at the windward mark (B) and the fleet had all gone and the wind had all gone too.

So that's not good then.

Pony off down to 'M', nice reach, gained a bit there, gybe at 'M' and go very low with a view to having some close reaching later. Well that worked OK, and we were within sniffing distance of the back few boats by the time we got to 'S'. Beat up to 'C' next, and we're not even too far behind Badders, game on! So we overtook the Helen/Paul and Richard/Kris. And then the latter pair overtook us again, and we just squeaked around 'C' ahead of Helen, Badders has gone and I'm wondering if the rudder's got the green lurgi again. Kite up, not much wind, aim at 'J' and keep Helen to leeward while waiting for something useful to turn up by way of wind.

And then a lump of wind *did* turn up, and it caught me by surprise, boom in the water, crew falls into the boat, arrgh, capsize!

So I went over the top and got on the centreboard, observing as I did so that there was a heap of weed on the rudder again. I then pulled the boat into a horizontal position and invited Paul to get into it to be scooped up. He declined to do this because it turned out that he had managed to remove the rudder from the boat while idling away the dull moments in the water at the transom, and was now holding the rudder in one hand and the boat, via the rudder tie-down string (all 6" of it) in the other. So I tripped the kite halyard, pulled the boat up, bagged the kite, put the pole away, turned round to assist crew and found he was about half a mile away, floating about in the water like a bathing hippo, still hanging on to the rudder and exchanging pleasantries with the rescue boat crew.

So I spent the next couple of minutes sailing back to him, by myself in a boat that was full of water and had no rudder, and I can tell you that it's not easy to hit the crew from that sort of distance and avoid taking his head off. But I got him in the end, retrieved the rudder, welcomed him back aboard and off we went again.

Now by this time the fleet had about 5 minutes head start on us, but that's just tough, somebody has to come last and it might as well be us. So off we went again, down to 'J', up to 'OL' narrowly missing a few Solos and Freds at the mark (sorry boys), across to 'X', back up the poxy beat to 'B', a very fast reach to 'M', and when we got there we were still last by a country mile and there still wasn't enough wind to get us planing on that broad reach. So I formulated a plan to go high, get the boat planing, and if that meant gybing at the end, well ok. So we went high, causing some brief concern to Graeme in the Dart 15 who was up there too, and the boat took off like a scalded cat when the next gust came through. So we bore off, and it got windier,, and we bore off some more, and it got windier still. And by now we were heading straight for the mark in full back tank mode, simply hammering along, and a load of Solos below us were absolutely flying too - I have never seen a Solo go that fast - they were probably only 10% off whatever speed we were doing, albeit pointing higher as they were doing a straight line compared to our arc-of-optimum-planing course.

So we arrived at 'S' very shortly afterwards, got the kite down (too slowly, too late), pulled the sails in, headed up towards 'C' and promptly ran over the damn island again.

Centreboard came up, boat went sideways, crew went in the water again, so I towed him along for a bit cos it helped to cant the boat over and keep the rudder safe, then reeled him in again when the depth improved and off we go again.

Up the beat, round 'C', hoon down the reach to 'J', up to OL and finish utterly and comprehensively last.

But, and this is the important bit, still grinning like a cheshire cat. We don't often get sunshine and warm air and water and torrential rain and enormous lumps of wind all in one day, and I have to say that regardless of my lamentable performance, that was an excellent sail. Well done to everyone who didn't capsize and who beat me, ie all the other Fireballs.

I'll just have to crush you all next time 

Thursday, 7 July 2011

7 July 2011

And it was good fireballing weather. Perhaps not so great for some other classes - the signing off sheet for the 1st start had a big row of 'RTD' entries and one 'Exploded', but we found it all pretty tolerable. I think our only iffy moment was when Paul found a new way to entangle the kite and was on the foredeck retrieving it when a big gust arrived. Apart from that it was a real hoot, with all but one of the reaches a little bit too close to 3-sail comfortably, so we tried 'em all anyway. 'C' to 'D' was probably the pick of the bunch - clear air, flat water and no worries about laying 'D' - just a mild concern about how close you could get to the far shore en-route to 'E' after you'd passed it before dropping the kite.

Commiserations to Richard and Kris, who blew us into the long grass off the start-line and were trucking upwind like true heavy-weather merchants when their outhaul came detached. Very Unlucky !

All in all, a great evening's sailing!

Thursday, 30 June 2011

30 June 2011

Well that one broke up the week rather nicely. Being a bit short of crews, the assembled furballers played musical chairs with the available boats and I ended up at the front of Richard Glen's, which is not a bad place to be.

Off to the start then, where I observed that the shrouds on Richard's boat didn't make the melodious 'boing' sound that fireball shrouds should make when twanged by the restless crew. More rig tension required, more than that....bit more...(boinggg) that sounds about right. And then get the strut forward a bit too to get the curve looking right, and we're good to go.

A practice start revealed that the red buoy was trailing cable about 2ft below the surface, so if you went upwind of it you'd get hooked. OK, we won't do that then. And remarkably we were able to start on port tack in the middle of the line with no trouble at all, and sailed off cheerfully watching Pete & Serena trying (unsuccessfully) to tow the red buoy away.

The course as set was mostly alright, with a beat from T to N, 3-sail reach to K, 3-sail reach to X, run to S, broad reach to H, close reach back to T. We chased Badders round for a bit, with me demonstrating why I don't usually crew every time I got the kite up, and the wind then went NW, which removed all the beats and left us with a drag race. Pete and Serena got past us when we were held up by a slow-gybing MPS at H, and they went off to harass Badders, while JT & Paul gained on us. Then the wind went Northerly, and dropped off a lot too. OK, kicker completely off, check, outhaul very tight, check, strut forward another inch, checkety-check. Whereupon we cruised up to Pete's transom on the new beat from K to X to S and then slipped inside at 'H'. Pete & Serena were a bit too far in the lead to catch, so we spent the last leg to T keeping an eye on the other two boats just behind, finally finishing 2nd.

Ashore then to check the rig tension, which was now apparently 560lbs on the forestay and 780lbs on the shrouds if you can believe the gauge, personally I don't, but that's pretty impressive on a 20 year old boat if it's true. Don't try this at home kids, your boat might explode.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

19 Jun 2011

So that was pretty good then, perhaps slightly spoiled (for me) by the discovery that I'd contracted some kind of super-bug variant of the cold virus during the day. Some kind of deranged Father's Day present from my son as it turns out, most people just give me socks 

But prior to all that, the actual sailing was pretty good. Big thanks to the Commodore, Rear Commodore Sail and the Club President, plus anyone else who stepped up to help, for giving up their sailing so we could race. This was well beyond the call of duty.

And a pretty good turnout for a Father's Day too. Richard and Kris were back, and Badders and JR and '505' Jezzer, along with a good chunk of the usual posse. Dunno where the rest of the club had got to though, hardly any other fleets to be seen, probably all at home with their socks.

The first race was great as long as you didn't mind not winning. There was a running battle between about 6 boats which went on for most of the race, and by the time we'd worked out who ought to be in front of Mo and Holly, and where Colin and Karen should finish after capsizing from being in the lead and whether or not K was in the course (it wasn't), well, Badders and JR had done a horizon job. We pulled a lot back, but we'd have needed another lap to allow their various disabilities to overwhelm them.

So lunch, and a chance to swap jibs, as the heavy-weather item had mysteriously gained about 3 little rips during the first race. Normally I'd have just taped it up, but Shed-jib #1 was on hand, so why not use that. Then off again for the 2nd race.

I'm not going to criticise the course, particularly as I had a big hand in setting it, but I think it might have been a bit too reachy and too similar to the AM race. This is what you get if you park the committee boat in one place and lay a startline and then leave it there, coupled with the port rounding top mark. All of sudden your initial huge choice has whittled itself down to about 3. Anyway, apologies to those who had light crews and couldn't match the fat fellows on the shy reaches - we'll do more broad stuff next time to make up for it.

Anyhoo, this race was notable for the rate at which the fleet got up the first beat, and included a spot of Gordon and Richard charging around yelling Starboard at people, which caused a bit of consternation. Then we settled out to a running order dependent on how fast you could get down the reaches, but it was still a great sail with good wind and sunshine.

Then a chance to watch the 3rd race, in which Bob and Paul manfully flew the kite from Y to K and then went for the double with the leg to 'X'. Sadly, the wind got a bit fresh on the approach to X, and more sadly their Ozzie Drop technique appears to be somewhat deficient - more of a crew-drop than a kite-drop in fact. So they ended up with the crew in the water, still on the trapeze, boat cheerfully sailing off until it was pulled in to windward by the trapeze wire. Pete and Jamie trotted round with no kite at all and a conservative attitude to gybes, and I suspect ended the race miles ahead, although I'd gone home by then for a lie down.

More good news, we've apparently picked up another couple of new members and a boat to go with them, so if you see anyone you don't know in a Fireball, be sure to say hello and offer any assistance that you can.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

FireBowl 2011 - day 2

Hang on, status review...

Aching muscles - check
Unexplained bruises - check
Mild sunburn - check
Vague feeling of euphoria - check

Yep, got all those, so it must be the Monday morning after a good day on the water. And what a day - good tactical beats, long edgy do-we-don't-we 3 sail reaches, big lumps of wind arriving at regular intervals and some very close racing. Copious thanks to Jan and the rest of the OD team for getting everything absolutely spot-on yesterday, no mean feat and much appreciated.

And well done to Gordon and Richard for winning the Firebowl - whilst their handicap might have been a bit on the lenient side, there's no doubt that they worked hard and sailed well to win the event. Speaking as one who very nearly capsized, just keeping the boat upright was distinctly tricky in some of those gusts. And whilst I don't know who got second place overall, I'm guessing that Colin and Karen or Pete and Serena must be in line for it, and well done to them too. There was some distinctly good sailing going on out there yesterday.

Highlight of the day for me was the end of race 2, when four Fireballs crossed the finish line in the space of about 10 seconds. This close quarters boat-on-boat racing gets the adrenaline pumping like no other form of racing that I know, and is conducted in a delightfully gentlemanly manner too.

An excellent day's racing. This is definitely what we are here for.

12 June

So, as flaming June gets into its stride, the Fireball fleet turned out once again to do battle, and if they were put off by the persistent rain then they didn't show it.

All my hats have now been blown off and sunk, so I was wearing a fetching rubber balaclava which works well with the baggy drysuit look, and has the added benefit of keeping the rain off my head.

Pre-race fettling
I found five jibs in my shed the other day, and I reckon that four of them are better than my current heavy-weather jib. So I used shed-jib no.1 today. It turned out to be a flat-cut Alverbanks which didn't do anything particularly well, but didn't do anything particularly badly either. The black logo matches the duck tape on the mainsail quite nicely.


Only half the lake due to a load of Fevas doing summat up the other end. There must have been around 10 Fireballs aiming for the pin end of the startline, so we got ourselves in pole position, ducked beneath Pete/Serena who had parked up in front of us, powered up and then just failed to lay the pin. Gybe round, start on port behind everything, 7th round the windward mark as a result. Up front, Pete & Serena are showing everyone the way round, which went fine for 'J', 'OL','K' (where we overtook a few boats) and 'T', but not so good when Serena read her 'F' as a 'P'. By this time we were in 3rd place, no, make that 2nd as the lead boat heads off to 'P'. So we chased Peter & Mike round for a bit, then got ahead of them somewhere or other, can't remember where but they were definitely behind us when we got to 'F' a lap later. There was a Miracle there too, and in the confusion Peter drove his boat into the back of mine on the bearaway round the mark. Cue 720 penalty turns, and we were able to cruise round for a win, with Peter & Mike 2nd and Cap'n Bob & Paul 3rd.

On later inspection, the damage to my boat was a tiny scrape on the transom, and Pete had a bit of a gouge under the bow where it got friendly with my rudder. Considering the speed we were going, that's remarkably light damage - I was expecting gaping holes. Cheers for Winders and their big pot of kevlar.

All the lake this time, and a bit more wind too. The Fireball fleet had turned up as usual, but for some reason there were only about 3 other boats on the water. This time we started a bit better and after a blustery beat were 1st round the windward mark at 'J'. Kite up, zoom down to 'S' and gybe for the 3-sail reach to 'C'. Digressing briefly, 3-sail reaches from one end of the lake to the other when it's windy are a big item on my sailing agenda, so I was particularly looking forward to this one. And it didn't disappoint either. Big lumps of raw unpasteurised pressure turned up at regular intervals, and the boat hurtled across the lake with the crew only vaguely in control and catastrophe waiting on its next victim. Which, oddly, wasn't us this time. Peter and Mike bottled it first after a brief spell in hyperspace where they gained a load of ground on us. We got a good way past 'D' before the shoreline started looking a bit imminent and we bagged the kite. Then smartly round 'C' and another hard beat up to 'K'.

Peter & Mike arrived there and tacked for the mark before us, then promptly capsized for reasons which never became entirely clear. We sailed at the wreckage, tacked smartly before hitting it and were on the lay line for 'K'. Now for some reason there was a Sea Cadets rowing boat up by the mark, and it is a well documented fact that my boat is a strange attractor for all things with the row-boat gene. So the rowers duly started rowing the thing into the space between us and the mark, and we had a bit of a shout (cos we knew what would happen next, after last time). So they stopped rowing but that old momentum thing carried them onwards, and I luffed up a bit more and shouted 'row backwards' at them. And we'd just got close enough to the bow of their boat that I could read the small print below the boat name when they stuck the oars into reverse and backed out of the way. Woohoo, disaster averted, round 'K' and off for another lap.

By this time the tape which held the super D12 kite halyard taper-point together had succumbed to the water, so the kite was definitely on it's last few hoists before the fluffy end came loose and jammed it. So we flew it down the runs, but bottled out of the long 3-sail leg to 'C' - and I have to say it was harder work without the kite than it was with it, albeit we arrived at 'C' rather than the nondescript shoreline between 'C' and 'D' this time. Peter and Mike positively had us for breakfast up the last beat, following our route while pointing higher and going faster (I blame my jib for that. And my mainsail. And the crew, hell, anything). So up at 'K' we were only a few boat lengths ahead and a bit low of the mark, but managed to squeak round it, nearly capsizing to windward as we went. Then a short but very hard leg in the gusty stuff under the clubhouse shore to cross the line, whereupon we looked back to see that Peter & Mike had capsized again. Pete and Serena came in third, which is pretty awesome considering that Serena weighs less than my sailbag.

Anyway, that was enough for us, so we and the rest of the posse headed for the bar via the changing rooms, and a well deserved rest 

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

8 June 2011

And another excellent evening's sailing there. Windguru promised 15-20knots of wind, the bushes agreed, and both were right (for a change). But it came in interesting lumps, which keeps you on your toes. And such is the popularity of Wednesday evenings at present that the water was pretty busy, and you had to be constantly on the look-out for other boats too.

So, start at H, zoom up the beat to 'Y', almost first boat there (nice), off to 'K' with kite up (lovely), gybe at 'K' and broad reach to 'S', gybe at 'S' and close 3-sail reach to 'H'. We'd got quite a decent lead by this stage, but we had a bit of trouble getting the kite down due to the pole flying off round the forestay, so spent a bit of time sailing past 'H' on a broad reach towards the wall at high speed while Paul rescued all the stuff again. This allowed Pete & Serena to get past - quite a long way past in fact - and we had a bit of catching up to do.

We spent the next 4 or so laps catching up and then doing battle with the other Fireball, the B14 and our own inimitable tendency to screw up. An amusing fast gybe at 'K' nearly threw Paul out to windward with the unexpected G-forces, and the rapid abort resulted in us running by the lee, with me trying to steer and not fall out on the leeward side, boom dragging in the water, as far from 'textbook' as it gets.

Paul went on to experiment with the spinnaker pole in a bid to find out how many things he could inadvertently clip it to. Later, down at 'H' (and I agree, it's too close to the wall), a Laser capsized on top of another Laser right in front of us, which made for an interesting mark rounding. And just when we thought that flag 'S' was up and we were going to finish, suddenly it wasn't and we didn't, and had to sail round again. That's not a complaint though, it was a short lap and good fun, so why not.

All in all then, a very good evening's sail. We'd have had a reasonable turn-out too, but JT bailed out to go and help run the race (thanks John, and well done), and Martyn's boat is all wrapped up for the Worlds. Mike S was around too, and Iain might have been better off in a Fireball as it turned out.

And it's due to be windy again at the weekend too. Fantastic 

Monday, 6 June 2011

And another Pursuit Race

So after my fishing-boat problems last Monday, surely today could only be better.

Well, sort of.

Got there and it looked OK, F4-5, and onshore so it felt worse than it was. Various other Fireballers were wandering around thinking it might be too windy, so I reassured them that it was fine, no worries.

Then rig boat, apply a bit more duck tape to the trailing edge of the mainsail to bolster the temporary diy repair to the leech I did about 14 months ago, and hey for the start line.

Well we got there pretty easily - it was just off the beach so no big deal. The course was a bit pants on first sight, but in fact with so few boats out there it probably made good sense to keep them all up one end of the lake and well away from the rocky lee shore down by A, B and C.

Anyway, off went the gun and off went the Fireball fleet. Gordon and Richard disappeared pretty much immediately, but they were still alive later so I guess it turned out OK. Iain and Tom had a better start than us (natch, I didn't even start my watch) and were pointing higher than us up the first beat, but I figured that there was plenty of time left and that capsizes might play a bigger part in the final result than raw boat-speed. So we played it cool.

Round 'H', and an interesting 2-sail reach to 'E'. The reach was windy, but the gybe point was under the hill and very easy. Then back out into the blowy bit for a the broad-reach to 'K'. No kites here, it was a bit too close to the wind, but Iain and Tom obligingly capsized while rounding the mark, and we got past. Now a heavily biassed little beat to 'X' and another 2-sail reach to 'J'. Gybe round 'J' and down to OL to start the next lap.

By this time I had noticed that the outhaul wasn't really on much, and wound it on tight, also put a bit more effort into the cunningham. This, coupled with the special arrangements I had made for pre-bend made the boat really come alive upwind. Basically I sat there pretending to hang out and trying not to be washed off by the waves, and the boat just hurtled upwind all by itself. We took out most of the Lasers on that beat, and had a go with the kite on the 'E' to 'K' leg just for good measure, but it turned out to be too close still. Somewhere down near 'K' we caught the teeny-tiny boats, no idea what they were, which only left a couple of Lasers ahead of us.

Another blast up to 'X','J', 'OL' and start another lap. This one was much the same, except we went high on the 'E' - 'K' leg and then put the kite up, and that was pretty easy.

I lost count of the number of laps after a bit, just sailing the boat took up pretty much all of my attention, plus the occasional glance a the duck-tape to check that all was still well up there. In truth it didn't look too stressed though - the leech was wide open and that bit of the sail, ie the bit near the top, wasn't really doing much work at all. Better still, we seemed to have overtaken everything quite a long time ago and the Darts and remaining Fireball weren't really gaining on us at all.

And then, suddenly, they were gaining on us. My upwind tactic of banging the left hand corner of the beat clearly wasn't as good as going right a bit, and there were Iain and Tom a lot nearer than before. So we felt we needed to put a bit of speed on, and that will-we-won't-we spinnaker leg to 'K' looked like the place to do it. Round 'E' and up with the kite - a few moments of grace before the wind came in again from over the hill and we were off.

Now somewhere down here it all went horribly wrong. It seemed entirely under control, boat hooning along very nicely, and then something large and crew-shaped hit me quite hard and I fell onto the boom. Witnesses say that a wave knocked Paul backwards, but I have no recollection of this. Anyway, the boat was upside down, kite round the spreaders, Paul lounging about in the water looking like the victim of an industrial accident and moaning about his legs. Pretty much game over, I decided. At which point it became apparent that the race was about 5 minutes from finishing and we could have won it quite easily without the kite, (or even the mainsail if necessary) 

I will draw a veil over the rest of the proceedings, apart from saying a big thank-you to Dunk and the other rescue boat guys, and Richard Botting and Stu (more rescue and stand-in crew), and Badders and Martyn (who de-rigged the boat for me). I don't generally need much help from anyone when I'm racing, but when I *do* need it, it's usually a bit of a catastrophe and it's very reassuring to find that it's there in spades.

Great sailing !