Sooooo, today the Fireball fleet temporarily went over to the dark side and had a go at the dreaded windward leeward stuff. And what did we think of it...?
Well I think the first thing we learnt was that start 6 comes a long time after start 1, our usual home, so no need to be on the water before 11pm unless you want a lot of practise time. Then we learnt that a W/L course sucks very badly if the wind has gone round by about 30-40 degrees since it was set and you just get a continuous succession of heavily biased beats and runs that don't need a single gybe. And when you get back to the gate, one end of it is a lot closer than the other end, so everyone goes round that bit, thereby negating the sole virtue of having a gate at all. It probably also doesn't help if your crew is moaning at you all the way round, on the basis that the only bit of the race that he really enjoys is the 3-sail reach and this course was designed not to have any.
On the plus side, the race is quite short when you lose 15 minutes of it by starting at the end of the sequence, so ho for lunch and some proper discussion of the merits of the W/L course. Possibly it is because of my statesmanlike qualities, or possibly because everyone knows who I am, I promptly got the blame for the whole thing from everyone I met. First the Freds explained that I'd personally messed up their start by virtue of the Fireball fleet not being there for start 1 so they didn't know when start 2 was going to happen. Plus apparently it bothers them when we go round the windward mark and promptly dive straight back into the teeth of the approaching boats, eg Freds, and I have to say I agree with them there - it bothers me too. Then a well known Solo sailor asserted that the whole thing had ruined his race, although he didn't explain how - possibly he just didn't approve of Fireballs being on the same beat at the same time as him, who knows*.
Anyway, lunch time went on for ever and the wind actually dropped off in the interim. Now we were given a revised course, effectively doing B-N, whilst the RTC boats were given a couple of entirely different beats - which certainly reduced the potential for ramming Freds head on on the bear-away. And although the beat was still a bit biassed, the run was good enough that you *did* need to gybe and you could choose which end of the gate to go round, so it was proper tactical sailing even if we didn't spend a lot of time 'hotting it up' in proper W/L fashion. In fact we learnt the other failing of the W/L course for a Fireball - ie in light airs you just don't have the boat speed to go chasing the wind on the run. It's OK on the beat because (just like usual courses), you pick one side or the other based on what you think is going on, and the wind patches come down the lake to meet you with a closing speed of 10knts or more. Stick it on a run and observe good pressure on the other side of the leg, and by the time you've got over there it's swept on through, gone round the planet a few times and is now on the side where you started out, cheerfully propelling JT past your waved fist. It is, in short, a bit of a lottery.
I also observe that asymmetric boats *must* zig-zag down the run due to the restrictions of the kites, so choosing (say) the left side is only a matter of going left rather than right - you're not actually losing vmg to do this. But in a Fireball in light airs the fastest route, ie best vmg, is pretty much a straight line to the leeward mark. You *can* take off at 45 degrees to hunt the best wind, but unless it delivers in spades for you and (critically) not for the straight-line merchants then you would have been better off with the straight line. We have a lot more options, and therefore a lot more potential for getting it wrong.
So was it rubbish I hear you ask. Well yes, it was a bit. But in fairness it would have been pretty rubbish if we'd done the RTC course too. Paul hated not havng reaches, but there was never enough wind on offer to make reaching very interesting anyway. The beats were biassed, but that was nothing to do with the W/L course, that was just the wind moving from Northerly to Westerly through the day. The runs were a bit of a lottery - well name a light airs day when they aren't.
Personally I reckon that it just wasn't a very good day to do W/L, but that it probably was still more interesting than RTC would have been in the same conditions. To do W/L properly in a fireball you'd need at least 15knts of wind, but then of course I'd miss the fabulous reaches and I'd still have to put up with Paul moaning.
So probably not a huge success, but worth a bash and I look forward to the next wacky idea, which I hope will be gate starts - one to really upset the other fleets .
* Although I must apologise to Huggy, who I rudely tacked in front of while trying to cover Peter & Mike - sorry Huggy.