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.