Saturday, 29 December 2012


When you've not set foot in a boat for nearly 4 months and you know that you're still not 100% mended, it is with some trepidation that you eventually commit to a race. In my case, I had been putting it off for some weeks waiting for some sensible weather, but the Boxing Day pursuit was in my diary as a must-do thing so I was relieved to see that the forecast was looking good. I had also managed a 10 minute outing the Sunday before which suggested that I wouldn't be a total liability in the boat.

So off to the start-line then, with me a bit nervous and Poorly Paul having been out of Fireballs for even longer than me, but it's like riding a bike - you never really forget how to do it. We were without a watch though, as Paul doesn't believe in them and I had forgotten to bring mine.

The start-line was at about 45 degrees to the wind, as was the entire course, there having been a wind-shift of that magnitude some time since the course was set. Which was a shame, since it had been a nice reachy course and was now a nasty fetchy and runny one.

I rapidly decided that we needed to start on port tack at the pin end, which was always going to be a bit tricky what with us not having a watch and the other Fireballs being of the good-to-very-good persuasion - meaning they wouldn't be dobbering around near the committee boat and making life easy for us. The RS200 start was an excellent case-study in this, where Steve Irish had an easy get-away on port at the pin whilst the rest of the 200s were only halfway up the line on starboard - and by the time they'd tacked and got going he had a 30 second lead. Plus it appeared that Steve might be aiming at bagging the Club Championship trophy, needing only a top-four place to stitch it up (according to Poorly Paul, who takes an interest in these things). Frankly, I couldn't see us stopping him in a F2-3 on a course with no spinnaker reaches, and I was more interested in getting round without embarrassing myself.

So, 30 seconds to go, and we pushed in in-front of the rest of the fleet as they came up the line on starboard, then peeled off and gybed to make an approach on port. Pete & Serena booked themselves a place right by the pin on starboard, but got there too early and went over the line with a few seconds to go. Martyn & Richard peeled off as we had done and went for a spot further down the line, so I watched their approach and timed my own to be marginally ahead of them. Pete obligingly got out of the way to come back round the pin, the gun went, and we're off!

Normally I don't care too much about the start, but when you can lay the first mark without tacking it's important to be at the pin end and going fast. Further downwind Martyn & Richard, sailing the boat they campaigned into 7th place at the last Fireball Worlds, were going like a train, but (remarkably) we were just as quick and had our nose ahead of them. Pete & Serena were behind us, pointing higher, but in a drag race to the mark they were stuffed already. And so it came to pass that we arrived as first Fireball at B with Martyn & Richard breathing down our necks, tacked around it and started on the next leg to M which was another fetch. Nothing much changed there, then a dead run to D which we spent trying to keep Martyn's mammoth kite from taking all our wind. Then a seriously biassed beat to OL, where we caught up with Chris in the RS300, and another run down to F. We went left on this where Martyn went right, but we did OK out of it. Halfway along this leg the RS300 challenge expired in a graceful windward capsize - they are buggers to keep upright on a run. Then round F and into a gaggle of other boats for a proper beat to Y. The wind picked up to the point where my wrist started to feel a bit overworked by the mainsheet, but fortunately there was a significant port tack bias to this beat, so the wrist spent most of its time steering. At Y it transpired that I had forgotten the course, and tried to sail straight to T instead of going via E like everybody else. So Martyn & Richard promptly zoomed off, and by the time we'd got sorted out we ended the leg alongside the same slow boats we'd started it with - ie it hadn't gone well. And to make it worse, the wind had dropped again, so no planing offwind for us.

The leg to T was another fetch, as was the leg to B where we got past a Fred to windward and a Solo to leeward. Then M where we caught up with Steve Irish in the RS200, although he got away a bit on the way to D. We pulled back a bit on the leg to OL, and again went left en-route to F, overtaking Ally in the Miracle. Steve went right-ish, and we were level pegging as the rescue boats started massing around the leaders. A couple of 49ers had appeared behind us and we figured we'd lose out to at least one of them in the closing minutes of the race, so we gybed and just aimed the boat straight at F. Steve meanwhile went off towards H, possibly in an attempt to fend off the lead 49er, and when the rescue boats arrived it was 49er, us and Steve in quick succession. Further down the leg the winner was a Tera followed by Martyn, another Tera (I think) and a Solo.

So no glassware for us this time, which was OK as I had to zoom off for the family lunch at 2pm anyway. However I was very happy with the wrist's performance, and pretty cheerful about my own.

2013 could be a good year for sailing.

Bring it on.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Only when I laugh

OK, it's possible that you didn't sign up for reading about my medical history, but right now it's all I've got so you can take it or leave it.

Two weeks after the operation, I returned to Walsgrave to have the skanky bandage changed, where the highly efficient underpaid nurse was very good and even allowed me to lie down for 10 minutes after I caught sight of the wound underneath. Then off for another x-ray, then back to the packed-out waiting room for the chance of a quick chat with the Highly Paid Consultant. This one was clearly worth every penny of whatever it is that the NHS pays him, greeting me cheerily thus:

HPC: "Ah, Mr Ashton, do come in..."
Me: "Er, no, I think you're looking at the wrong notes there"
<pause while he finds the right notes>
HPC: "So you had the operation 6 weeks ago..."
Me: "Er, no, 2 weeks"
HPC: "Ah yes, OK, and now the wound is infected, yes ?"
Me: "Er, I hope not. First I've heard about it anyway."

Having established his credentials as a first rate professional dude, we proceeded to the, er, meat of the business. Obviously he couldn't check the wound personally since it was all wrapped up in a shiny new bandage, so I was instructed to get the community nurse out to look at it in a few days time. We then examined the x-rays for a few minutes and then I had to sit down again while I recovered. Finally I was packed off home with a bit of paper that explained everything I might need to know about the whole business. This told me that for the first two weeks after the injury I should have my arm held up in the air using the sling provided, but this being two and a bit weeks in and having not been given a sling in the first place, I figured this not to be terribly helpful.

A few days later I enquired locally about getting hold of a community nurse, but it appears that you need to have lost both legs before they'll come out to you, so I visited the practice nurse at the GP surgery and she cut the new bandage off and deduced that there was definitely no sign of infection. It didn't hurt a bit. A new bandage was applied and off I went.

Next day I went to St.Cross for my first round of physio, where I had to explain the whole story to some more nurses. At the first mention of the word 'infection' they insisted on removing yesterday's bandage and checking for themselves, eventually replacing it with an enormous band-aid, which was clearly going to stick to all the hairs on my arm and hurt like hell when it had to come off. I pointed this out to the battleaxe in question and she told me that I 'had to expect some pain if I wanted my wrist to work properly'. So that's all right then. By now I was starting to see why the NHS is so expensive to run - I must have got through about £5,000 worth of bandages all by myself so far, never mind the cost of hiring unsympathetic staff to stick 'em on.

Two weeks on, the swelling is subsiding and the bandage is off (yes, it did hurt), and I can look at the scar and show it to other people without having to sit down afterwards. I can use my right hand for light duties without whimpering at all, but the wrist joint is very stiff and inflexible. Moreover, it appears that the scar tissue is attempting to bond itself to all the tendons, bones and metalwork underneath as it heals, which could result in the whole thing being seized up for ever. The way to stop this happening is to do physio stuff to it, which hurts. I tried to fix it through exercise - sawing up a bit of wood in this case - but that just made the whole thing unusable for the next 2 days. So back to the physio stuff then...

Meanwhile we appear to be at T+6 weeks and counting, and I'm still nowhere near being able to get into a boat. I have spent my Sunday mornings watching the Draycote Posse strutting their stuff out on the water, and the racing still looks good even without me (and Peter Wood who damaged his finger in a Laser, and Badders, who is abroad). Various sailors still capsize for no apparent reason, various other sailors still sail way past the leeward mark on account of the kite not coming down, and a good time is apparently had by all.

Ah well, back to the physio then. Stretch that hand back - two - three - grit those teeth...

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Weekend sailing - wrong way

On this particular weekend, those of us who generally only get one day of sailing per weekend were spoilt for choice: would it be the Laser open on the Saturday (fab weather - 11mph - hard work) or the Fireball class racing on the Sunday (a lot windier). Werl, much as I like the Laser in the light and fluffy stuff, the notion of hanging out of one by my toenails for an entire Saturday really didn't appeal, so the decision was made to do a bit of light housework and gardening and have a blast in the Fireball on the Sunday instead. 

Needless to say, it didn't quite go according to plan...

Saturday - How to cut your hedge with assistance from the NHS:

Standing on a secure platform, go along one side with the hedge trimmers. Repeat this process on the other side. When your hedge is about 5ft thick, you can't reach the middle of it from either side, so you take your extending ladder and lean it against the hedge. As you climb, the ladder subsides into the hedge, bringing you closer to the Mohican bit in the middle. This is not a stable platform, but you are surrounded on 3 sides by hedge, so what can go wrong ?

Well, as it turns out, the ladder can lurch forwards unexpectedly while you have both feet on one rung, which causes you (or in this case, me) to start to fall backwards. So I went to put a foot on the rung below, but missed and got it stuck between two steps. When this happened, I distinctly remember thinking that I was all out of options and in trouble, and there was a blur of sky followed by stars as my head hit the road. By the time I worked out that I wasn't a concussion case, it was apparent that my right wrist was hurting a lot, so I went into shock instead.

Painkillers were taken and an ambulance called, which took me to St.Cross hospital about 3 minutes away. But St.Cross won't take people who arrive by ambulance, you have to arrive by some other means (car/foot/bicycle) to use their A&E service. So back in the ambulance for the half-hour trip to Walsgrave in Coventry.

Much mucking about then ensued, with x-rays and a highly unpleasant injection "right into the centre of the traumatised area" as the bloke with the needle explained - prompting some unhappy words from the traumatised person involved. Then he grabbed my hand and the student doctor took my elbow, and they pulled very hard before setting it in plaster. Up until this point I had been cheerfully walking between the various departments, but they decided they would wheel me around from here on in, due to me having gone (in medical language) 'a funny colour'. So I lay on the bed and was trollied to the X-ray department again before being sent home. It was now 8:30pm.

Sunday - back to Walsgrave

I have observed that the most useful information often comes in the form of oblique statements and questions. I had the first inkling that Saturday's medical aggro was to no avail when the consultant said, "I see they tried to set your wrist yesterday...". He followed up with the telling question, "How did you manage to break it so badly ?".

So basically it's an operation involving metal plates and some very small screws, or the risk that your wrist never works properly again. Well I could see my Olympic sailing campaign going out the window at this point, so what else could I say but 'yes'. But it's too late to do it today, so back home to await the summoning phonecall for a quick in-and-out job tomorrow.

Monday - back to Walsgrave again

They hadn't called to say what time they wanted me, but I eventually got past the hopeless switchboard system and found that the answer was 'asap', so I packed an overnight bag and was in pre-op ward 52 by 11:30am.

Part of the pre-op anaesthetic package involves being parked in the waiting room and forced to watch 'Dickinson's Real Deal' (a pointless antiques related 'competition' gameshow thing hosted by a luminous lounge-lizard) for 4 hours. Not only does this numb the brain very effectively, but also has the advantage of leaving you with the opinion that, regardless of the outcome of the operation, your day can only get better from this point.

Then a swift change into the floppy gown with ties up the back that defeat even people who have both hands, and into the holding queue for the operating theatre. Thirty minutes later I was debating the quality of Rugby's schools and the various merits of the Android GUI compared to the iPad with some medical chaps through an oxygen mask, not feeling remotely sleepy... and then I was waking up two and a half hours later with a numb arm and no apparent side effects whatsoever. Result!

Sadly, it was now 6:30pm, so I was stuck in ward 33 overnight (while my overnight bag snoozed peacefully on ward 52). Those of you who have spent time in hospitals will know that the night time differs from the day only in as much as the lights are turned off. Nurses still stride about in hobnail boots, shout at the mad patients, play that game where they take it in turns to throw their car-keys into a metal waste-paper basket, and then take everybody's blood pressure at 1am with a machine that goes BEEP a lot. Then, just when you've finally got to sleep, they wheel some poor old bloke in at 5:30am, park him next to you and explain to him in a loud voice that he must be quiet "AS THERE ARE PATIENTS IN HERE TRYING TO SLEEP". He then turns his light on and off repeatedly for the next 30 mins, at which point the machine that goes BEEP is brought round again to signal the start of the new day.


After being advised by a doctor that it might 'smart a bit for a while', the wrist, repatriated overnight bag and me were all discharged and returned home to start the 6-week recuperation phase. 

And now...

In the immortal words of Homer Simpson, I have learned a valuable lesson from all of this, but I'm not quite sure what it is. It may be that you can go from mundane routine to disaster in an instant, and that we are only ever a few cm inside the safety zone. Or it may be that 9.8 metres per second per second is a hard habit to break.

Whatever, I know that I won't be doing much sailing for a while yet.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Weekend sailing - right way promised a SW 12 gusting 30 so there was always going to be potential for a real Fireballling day, and so it was.
Turned out to be a day of settings. Standing in the lee of the club house had a distinct 22′ 8” feel about it however since I trust the mathletes computer at the met office we put the pins in and went to see what it looked like round the corner.
Race 1. Decent start off the starboard end with the strategy of a long leg and then looking for the fabled Hensborough port lift into A left us 2nd as Colin and Karen (and everyone else) bang the right hand corner and rocket around in the gusts coming over the dam wall. Run to M in the breeze and then C&K chicken out and down the kite! A wide gybe and off to B on the port backer which had now arrived. Gybe and into a flying 3 sail reach to T, power on with the fat boys no2 kite. Noticed Capt’n Bob had the kite up as well down to B and watched the resultant luffing match. Surf down to E up to P across to S, gate and round again, breeze building nicely so no fancy stuff this time, speed and bang the right hand corner it is, gusts and all. Lost sight of the rest of the fleet in the spray at this point so contributions gratefully accepted……:) Third lap breeze up really nicely now depower boat stand on cunningham, massive kicker, cars out, board up, main on quarter. Wind veered ,strategy go left , no idea if it worked compass all over the place . No kite to B. Gybe flat, kite up and off to T awesome 3 sail reach, become aware of being silently stalked by the carbon knight, the chase for the 20 knot prize was on, and then he returned to the waves quicker than he’d arisen. Two goes at a gybe round T which turned into dead mans corner as the wind headed and refused a clean gybe.
Looked like there’s real good battle going on behind us but don’t have time to watch…Looking for a conservative finish until crew decides its fast enough to go water skiing, rescue mermaid and head for finish and lunch.
C&K sailed the race on 22′ 8” with an alto mast…..must have been real hard work.
On way in Paul and Helen fall in with Paul testing giving the boom an engineers stress test with his head. Medical examination later on for concussion inconclusive as tester talking same gibberish as usual, boom passed fine :)
Race 2, big breeze now so its more pins in and a bit of strut action for 60mm+ of pre-bend. Port biased line, bear off and out the middle flat out. Loads of big gusts around making the boat skip through the waves. Bear off at N to deadman’s corner again and broad reach to F, beat back to P, high speed two sailer, crew standing on transom to X , gate. Alto boat owners seen stretching halyard to fit on shore so keeping an eye on Helen and Capt’n Bob. Reaches not as exciting as this morning but probably best as we’re now surfing in up to 30knts at times. Team work counts as real wash off potential now with bow wave way down the boat. H&P lose it on dead mans’s corner on lap 3 I think. Capt’n Bob and Paul do a decent bit of yachting and come home behind us, quote “could have done with a bit more rake….”
Cuppas from the nice tea lady behind the bar, could have eaten lots of cake.
How its really done: 

A good day, sleep well everyone.

Monday, 10 September 2012

Woooo !

I had to talk Poorly Paul into sailing, as his garden apparently had no air moving around it at all. But the forecasts, bushes and the innards of the chicken I sacrificed earlier all said that the wind would build through the day and become 'interesting' by the afternoon.

Sure enough, the morning was a bit light and fluffy, but gloriously sunny. We waited for a wee while after our start for Pete and Rachel to arrive, and they thanked us by promptly zooming off into what would normally have been an unassailable lead. However in this case they didn't know the course and never got quite close enough to JT to find out what it really was, just a sort of vague idea shouted across the lake. So they sailed in the wrong direction quite a lot of times, and it came to pass that the three leading boats of us, Pete/Rachel and JT/Iain all arrived at 'F' together. I forget what happened after that, but we won so I guess it was good!

Lunchtime, and Pete explained that the latest thinking in Fireball tuning is to have more rig tension. I can't tell you how much as I don't want to frighten you, also it's calibrated on the one and only Badders rig tension gauge and would therefore mean nothing anyway. Anyway, we tried it on my boat and it went:

Where's your normal mark for the rig tension, ok, stick it there...
Measure shroud with magic gauge - 32 - more...
(Pulls rope very hard)
Measure again - 34 - more...
(Pulls rope with both hands)
Still 34 - more...
(Hurts hands getting that extra few cm, boat makes an unhappy noise)
35! Hurrah!

A squint up the mast suggested to me that the metal was looking a bit tortured up there, but I gave it a bit of a thump at deck level and it took on a vaguely sensible curve again, so what the hell.

So we sailed with it like that, and I can report that the rig was (as you might guess) definitely a lot stiffer than it had been. However, it's unclear whether this translated into speed since at any given moment at least one boat was carrying a load of weed around on their rudder or centreboard, so boat-speeds varied considerably from one moment to the next.

Off the line it seemed OK, but it was Richard & Kris who went round the first mark (N) first. Next was Pete/Rachel, with a brief pause for the crew to sit in the water. A 2-sail reach to OL, then a dead run to X which featured an small involuntary gybe in our boat and a consensus that we'd do it as 2 reaches next time. But we got past Pete/Rachel on that leg, and then kept the kite up for the tricky close reach across to 'P', while Pete attempted to dilute the crew a bit more. We made it in one piece and gybed for the fabulous reach to 'F', taking a detour to avoid the weed beds which nobody else appeared to be bothered about. On the way we spotted Dave & Josh going upwind from F, which suggested that they still had a very good lead on everyone, but I'm guessing they got something wrong as by the time we arrived there, they were behind Richard & Kris.

Sooooo, a quick beat to H and then a nice reach back across the weed beds to E. We went high to avoid the weed, and passed both Richard/Kris and Dave/Josh as they were sailing merrily through the middle of it. Behind us, Pete/Rachel were endeavouring to de-weed their rudder by sailing backwards, which allowed JT/Iain to get past them.

Round E and back up the beat, and this time it was our turn to find the green stuff on the foils. So that's what that yellow buoy meant. Duh!

We were still in the lead at OL, and took the run as 2 reaches this time which worked well. Then another iffy 3-sail reach to P followed by a glorious flat out kite leg to 'F'. Meanwhile the wind kept building, resulting in a few of the faithful taking a bit of a swim at various points.

Next time round the kite went up in a big knot when we hoisted it at OL, and by the time we'd untangled it and gybed we were looking at quite a close reach to X. The wind went a bit mad at that point, and we hurtled off in a direction which wasn't going to get us close to X, and made our chances of hitting 'P' after that look laughable. So we downed the kite and 2-sailed from there, although that left us going too slowly to gybe  at 'P'. We had a big wobble with the boom in the air before I bottled out and we tacked round, after which Paul refused to hoist the kite again. Spoilsport!

However it gave us a chance to watch Pete/Rachel (who had got past JT)) hurtling across from X to P with their kite up. It looked great, but what we couldn't tell from our viewpoint was that they were on a course more like 'D' than 'P', and when they finally got the kite down, JT promptly sailed straight past them again.

Next time we arrived at OL, and all too soon, it was over. We won, and I think JT kept his second place. And what an excellent day's sailing that was.

Many thanks to Colin Newman for volunteering to do OD duty on what was arguably the best day of the entire year, and for coming up with a couple of highly decent courses with only half the lake to play with. Lovely job Colin!

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Light and fluffy

So I’m still using the fleet boat, as that’s the only way that it will ever get completely fettled. Today’s job was to redo the elastic so it had some chance of taking up the spinnaker halyard. We spent about as long as was available doing this, then rushed out and arrived at the committee boat nicely in time for the start – maybe Paul R who was doing OD waited for us, if so then thanks Paul.

Rear commodore Richard went off 3 minutes ahead of the rest of us, as is his right as a Silver fleet boat, leaving us to fight out the start line with Mo & Holly, Peter & Iain, and a guest appearance from Ruth with Karen in Karen’s oldest boat. Pete S & Rachel were presumably late for the start, and everybody else was either on holiday, at an open meeting, on OD duty or generally elsewhere.

We started on port, but without enough speed to clear the starboard tack boats, whom we ducked in order to hit the RHS of the course. This worked well, and after a tricky beat we were 2nd at the windward mark (N) to Mo & Holly. The latter pair managed to hit the mark with their boom, and relinquished the lead to us as they did their 360 penalty turn.
The leg to K was a bit close for the kite, but we flew it anyway. Or tried to, but the whizzy new spinnaker halyard take-up system didn’t work, and then the spinnaker pole flew off the mast and hurled itself around the back of the jib just before we arrived at K. So we gybed, but by the time Paul had recaptured the pole, the kite was in an interesting tangle which required us to take the whole lot down. Fortunately the leg was a bit too close for the kite anyway, and (more fortunately) Mo and Holly chose K as a good place to capsize. This opened up the race a bit, allowing everyone else to get ahead of them, and this set the scene for a race-long running battle between those 3 boats.

We set our sights on catching RC Richard & Henry, but they weren’t hanging about. So, round P, a run to E, and a nice reach across the weed-beds to H. Now it took me no time at all to spot the weed on the rudder and remove it (lifting rudders are good for that). Round H, and it became apparent that the centreboard was also liberally entangled with weed, so we whipped that up, down again, and off again with noticeably more speed than before. A short distance behind us, Peter & Iain had to stop to de-weed their boat, and were waving the rudder around in the air when Ruth & Karen came across yelling ‘Starboard’. Hehehe.

Anyway, we did a few more laps of this with the wind dropping, and eventually finished 2nd to Richard & Henry (whom we never really got close to). And having proved the fabulousness of the fleet boat, we promptly retired sort of undefeated and went home.

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Bank Holiday Monday Pursuit race

So as it turned out, I didn't sail on Sunday this week due to the wind looking better on the Bank Holiday Monday.

On the plus side, the pursuit race on the Monday was pretty good, not as windy as the bushes promised but still quite interesting. JR had set a course which didn't suit Fireballs or assyms, but which probably worked well for Lasers and Solos. And we were faced with trying to keep up with Martyn and Richard in Pete's boat (fat chance) and Peter and Mike (who are also pretty damn fast).

Off the start line then, having been slightly frightened by ex-fleet-captain Richard in the moments before the gun, and it was pretty clear that Martyn and Richard were going upwind about 15 degrees higher and just as fast as us, while Peter & Mike were going about the same direction and speed. Up at the top mark 'Y' we were 3rd, Martyn dropped the mainsheet and the crew at that point but still got around in front of everyone and we all set off down to 'X' with kites up, in spite of it being a bit too close.

Now I *think* it was that first lap where we overtook Peter & Mike, and a Fred and an RS300 at 'X', I know we then spent the rest of the race getting in Peter & Mike's way so I guess it was there that we got started. So a beat up to 'OL', where Martyn got away a bit, then a close reach to 'B' where we flew our kites to good effect, then a long reach to 'S', also with kites and much mucking about and luffing up of the opposition. Then a beat to 'T' offering unrivalled opportunities to sit on Peter & Mike's wind, and a decent reach back to 'D' where we luffed them up a lot before starting the next lap.

We repeated this process for another couple of laps, occasionally changing positions and overtaking other stuff as we went, until we eventually dropped Peter & Mike out the back by virtue of a lucky gust, and could finally start racing for maximum speed rather than maximum disruption. By this time I was knackered from all the luffing, covering and close manoeuvres, and was also expecting to find that we'd wasted so much time defeating Peter that we wouldn't get a sniff of the chocolates. But no, the race carried on, and we eventually overtook the leading gaggle of Lasers and Laser 2000, and set our sights on Steve Irish & Phil Walker in the RS200. They go quite fast on those shy reaches where the Fireball struggles to carry the kite, but we left ours in the bag for a windy leg to 'B' and got past them on the way, then hoisted ours and set off to 'S' with the RS200 and Peter and Mike in hot pursuit.

It is a measure of the speed of a well sailed RS200 that it stayed with us all the way to 'S', chased us up the beat to 'T', and was still not massively further behind when we were finished halfway to 'D'.

Final score, Martyn & Richard 1st, Me & Paul 2nd, Steve & Phil 3rd, Peter & Mike 4th. Ex-fleet-captain Richard apparently had a few swims, and wasn't in the chocolates at all. Overall verdict, a nice chunk of Fireball fleet racing, with a bit of pursuit race thrown in at the end :-)

Next Sunday I'm back in the fleet boat, which will hopefully be finished and fully working by the end of it.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

What I did in my Holidays

Just back from a week in Saundersfoot with the Laser, trying to teach the kids to sail. The Laser is a bit overpowered for that sort of thing, but otherwise pretty much perfect. And as soon as you put it on the beach, you realise that it's in the right place. Simple, flat-bottomed, fairly immune to sand and salt, and ideal for just parking on the beach while you wander off to find the trolley. Which (this being Saundersfoot) is now about a million miles away as the beach is so flat and the waterline moves around pretty fast with the tide. So a fab holiday and pretty much the only sunny week of the summer, thus far.

Anyhoo, back to Draycote where the tide is measured in months rather than hours, the shore is rocks rather than sand, and the weapon of choice is the Fireball. And it being the end of July and warm/sunny, I finally took the drysuit out of the sail-bag and hung it up by the boiler for the summer before I left the house.

A bit of a poor turnout, werl not surprising, it's the holiday season, plus one of our blokes was on OD duty. Even then, we had 3 Fireball helms wandering around and failing to hook up with each other to take another boat out - our loss was the Laser fleet's gain in this case.

So only 7 'balls took to the water for the 1st race. We chose the starboard end of the line for the start and were treated to a view of Mo & Holly performing a perfect port tack flyer. But the beat was a tricky one and they went too far inshore further up, allowing us to sneak through and take the lead at the top mark, A. Then a dead run to M, followed by a nice 3-sail reach to D, gybe there and it's another (slightly broader) 3-sail reach to J, gybe again, reach to T and start the next lap. By this stage the fleet had formed into 3 chunks, with us and Pete/JR vying for the chocolates, Mo/Holly and Colin/Karen fighting it out for 3rd, and Bob/Paul  winning out over Richard/Kris, largely due to Richard dropping the main-sheet multiple times and his hat just the once.

The wind started to build, and I needed my hat due to the strong sunshine, and that reach from M to D just kept getting better. In these marginal-planing conditions it really helps if the reach is close enough to get the boat fully powered up, and this one was damn-near perfect. Pete/JR gave us a hard time up one of the beats - we'd followed the Solos inshore thinking that they knew what they were doing but all that happened was that Pete came with us and nearly overtook us, and Mo stayed out and gained loads. Still, we led the fleet round for a couple more laps, and the wind kept building, until eventually we couldn't quite carry the kite to D, although we had a lot of fun trying. But Pete/JR managed it, which meant they were hot on our heels when our twinning line broke all of a sudden on the following leg to J. Kite promptly flies off behind the mainsail, aaaargh, quick, get it down, pausing to unhook the spinny sheet from the end of the boom. Then effect quick repair - ie re-tie fluffy end of twinning line to the ring after first passing it over and under a number of other things. Then re-hoist kite, Pete has made good his escape but Mo/Holly and Colin/Karen are still just behind us. Zoom down to J, gybe, and observe the interesting cats-cradle effect that now passes for the leeward twinner - ah well, just got to get to T and across the line to finish. Which we do, meanwhile Colin has crashed into T just behind us, pauses to finish bagging the kite, does a 360 penalty and loses the place to Mo/Holly. So all very exciting, and a cracking race over-all!

Race 2 then, and the sun has gone in, it's raining, my wetsuit is wet and I'm distinctly chilly. Hat now vital for keeping the rain off my face, and where's the damn drysuit ?  At home, that's where. Ah well.

The start line was a clear port bias, right up until 2 mins to go, whereupon it became a starboard bias. Guessing the fleet hadn't noticed, we hung about for a committee boat end start, only for the wind to go back in the last 30 secs, and everyone else made a better start than us. And this time I think it was Bob/Paul who made the port tack flyer. Doh!

Still, we recovered nicely and were in the lead again by the end of the first lap. This time it was a beat to B, reach to M, broad-reach to E, run to F, beat to P, reach to T and start again. This was all fine and dandy except for the broad reach to E, which was way too deep and very very dull. However, the wind later went round (when the rain kicked in again) to be more SW, so the beat become a bit one-sided and the dull reach became a tactical run. Whereupon we experimented with doing different angles, gybing across, picking the wind patches etc, and it was GOOD. A short way behind us the race was shaping up nicely, Richard/Kris were well up at the front of the fleet at the beginning but faded gradually throughout the race, partly as a result of running into the back of Pete. Bob/Paul spent a lot of time in front of Pete/JR, and Mo/Holly and Colin/Karen were all mixing it all the way round. This time however there were no exploding twinning lines, so we won the race by a few seconds from Pete/JR, who had come round T behind Bob/Paul but somehow wiggled their way across the line before them. Another excellent race, and the sun even made an appearance when we were putting the boat away, so the 3rd race contestants had another warm race and maybe dried off a bit in the sunshine.

For me it was off home to continue building the shed, although I think maybe the last race would have been more fun.

Monday, 9 July 2012


As usual, I was still in my kitchen with an hour to go before the start of the race, but unusually we had more wind than was forecast when I finally arrived. We also had 10+ boats out, and one fewer than we would otherwise have managed due JT and Pat (Jane in the afternoon) doing impromptu OD duty due to failure of others to show up. Pah!

Ho for the start then, leaving the watch in the changing room again. Given that I was still in the changing room at 10:38 and the start is 10:45, I was surprised to find that the start sequence was not yet underway when I arrived. On enquiry it turned out that the team were looking at the winter start times (perhaps understandable, given the weather), so we corrected that misapprehension and the sequence commenced.  Pat & Bob used their B-fleet prerogative and went off 3 minutes early, we queued up with the rest of the boats at the pin end and made a decent start behind Pete/JR and just ahead of Helen/Paul.

There then followed a long drawn out chase sequence in which we caught up with  Pete & JR and they got away again, and Mo & Holly caught up with us and we got away again, and the rest of the fleet did their own thing but didn't trouble us at all.

So it was perhaps predictable that the first three boats would all be fairly close at the 2nd last mark 'Y', and by the time  Pete had luffed us up en-route to 'J', Mo had caught up too and we were all three pretty much together as we reached the end of the leg. Now we had more-or-less overtaken  Pete , and were furthest to windward and basically ahead. But 2nd boat  Pete was just maintaining a now-you-see-it-now-you-don't sort of overlap, so I spent the last bit of the leg peering across from my transom to his bow to see what he'd got at the critical 3-boat-lengths moment. So he called for water, and I was just telling him he hadn't got it when he surged forwards and clearly had, at which point I grudgingly gave him a bit of space at J.

Sadly, Mo in the most leeward and rearmost boat had by this time achieved what he later described as a glaringly obvious overlap on Pete, one so obvious he didn't bother calling for it. The net result of this was that I (who hadn't been looking at Mo and hadn't noticed) provided space for only one boat at the mark, and Mo ended up T-boning 'J' and sliding over Pete's transom. Pete then went on to win, I came second, Mo 3rd.

Back on shore it became apparent that the whole episode was basically my fault, so apologies were made and I retired from the race. This was still a bit tough on Mo, who probably would have won if the situation were replayed by the book.

In the afternoon the wind was lighter and distinctly fickle, and the first beat from J to P was very difficult to read. We were basically last around P, with Badders and Mo out in front. We went past Paul & Nick by virtue of bunging our kite up sooner, then rounded Y for the run to K. We overtook a couple of boats on the run, and Badders had got the course wrong, so by the time we got to K, I found I was giving him water at the mark (again!). Over the next couple of legs we gradually worked our way nearer to the front of the fleet, but down at J we were still roughly in the middle of the pack and had Badders sniffing around our transom.

Now at this point a lot of the fleet went hard left on the beat (starboard tack then), and we were doing the same sort of thing when I noticed a Tera way upwind which was on port tack and pointing about 45 degrees higher than he should have been. Taking this as a sign that a lift on port was available, we tacked off early, headed for the Tera, and were granted a 45 degree lift which took us straight to the mark. Meanwhile, still on starboard tack on the far left of the beat, Badders and a few others were being lifted so that they couldn't sensibly tack onto port, with the result that they ended up going much further than us and still couldn't hit the lay line. Net result, just Mo & Holly and us out front.

Over the next lap we managed to get our nose ahead of Mo & Holly, and then proceeded to sit on their wind until they were forced to go off in the wrong direction. A lucky lift later, we were around P in the lead and there was a little group of boats comprising Mo & Holly, Pete & JR, Colin & Karen and Helen & Paul all about 30 seconds behind us. We then sailed into a little patch of wind which they didn't get, and before we knew it we were about 3 minutes ahead of the rest of them, a position we held to the finish.

Back in the pack there was apparently a lot of place changing, and Pete & JR came out marginally ahead of Mo & Holly, with everyone else a short way behind them.

Not a bad day's sailing then, and home in time to build a bit more of the shed.

Monday, 2 July 2012


Apologies to all my loyal readers (all 3 of you), I have been neglecting you recently. I've certainly done a bit of sailing since my last report, but for the life of me I can't remember it so it can't have been that interesting.

Apart that is from last Sunday, the Inter-fleet championships, where the Fireball 'team' (for want of a better word) did a spiffy job and managed a very creditable 2nd place overall. We've won the thing a few times in years gone by, and for a nasty 15 minutes I did wonder if we'd managed to win it again, but fortunately no - 2nd place for us, and somebody else gets to organise the event next year.

Anyhoo, back to Sunday 1st July, and the bushes were saying 'ooooh, really quite windy Mike, are you sure about this?', but when I arrived at the club it wasn't all that bad, in fact no big deal at all. They lie to us, they do. They lie...

However, due to their nonsense, I had brought with me my old spinnaker and a mainsail that last saw action keeping building sand off the lawn and which bore some shovel wounds to prove it. I didn't notice these until we hoisted the sail, of course, by which time the 6-minute gun had already gone, so no time to effect repairs. Luckily the start line was a mere 50 feet away, and I already knew the course having had a hand in setting it, so we're good to go. Better still, some of the competition were late for the start, so it didn't matter so much that I had left my watch on the bench in the changing rooms.

So, first beat, a lopsided affair up to 'M', where we popped out in the lead but only by a bit, bunged up the kite, but the wind was a bit feeble and the bigger kite on the Peter/Mike boat soon hauled us in. We stayed ahead round 'D' and all the way to 'F', but once we were back on the beat, the boys soon got past and we spent the rest of the race trying to keep up with them, and failing. On the plus side though, the wind came up nicely on subsequent laps, and that 3-sail reach from 'M' to 'D' was really good, with flippin' great dollops of wind coming over the wall and smacking into the boat, requiring armfuls of tiller to get the crew back into proximity with the horizontal. And it turned out that if you went a bit high on the leg from 'D' to 'F', you could frighten yourself by catching your foils on the submerged island - we didn't bother with that but I know a couple of other boats that did.

Anyway, that race was really quite wet and the early sunshine had gone, and obviously I had been a bit optimistic in wearing a wetsuit in July because I was distinctly cold by the end of it. So I put on the drysuit at luchtime, only without the fluffy liner as I'd left that in the boiler room at home along with anything resembling trousers. So the eventual ensemble was drysuit over bare legs, with as many shirts as I could find on top (3).

And ho for the startline once more, this time rigging at the sound of the 6 minute gun, with a watch but discovering that my gloves were AWOL. So I attempted to don the 2 right-handed items that were loitering in the spinnaker bag, and compromised by wearing just one of them. Then afloat, and who is this upside down by OL, why it is our good friend Badders, he has been rammed by an International Canoe whilst putting his rudder on. Oh dear!

While he pulled his boat up, we hung about near the shore end of the line, no idea how long to go because I had failed to start the watch due to mucking about with gloves. But off it went, and off we went too, managing a near perfect port-tack flyer. Sadly Peter/Mike made it to 'M' before us this time, so we chased them down the fabulous reach to 'D' again. However the wind had gone more Westerly, meaning the reach was closer, and the big kite I had installed at lunchtime didn't like it very much. So the boys gradually pulled out a huge lead, but we kept chasing them around on the offchance they might fall over, and the course didn't fail to keep our interest up. The reach from 'D' to 'S' took us above the island, and was broad enough that the more cautious sailors could safely fly their kites, followed by a dead run to 'G' where at least one of the more cautious sailors capsized anyway. Then a beat up to 'N', followed by another broad reach to 'J', fetch to 'OL, and off again up to 'M'.

As the race wore on, it became apparent that nothing short of all-out nuclear war was going to stop Peter & Mike, but Badders was closing on us and the wind was rising. My sandy sail turned out to be quite flat, and if you ignored the brown marks and puncture wounds it actually looked quite good, with the top of the sail blading off nicely. The wind was getting up to that interesting level where lots of other things capsize but Fireballs just plane upwind even faster, and you don't have to exercise your mainsheet arm too much because the mainsail is just hovering in the backdraft from the jib, while the spray explodes off the bow providing a rollercoaster ride that Alton Towers has no answer to.

It was, not to put too fine a point on it, bloody fabulous.

Meanwhile my left hand was holding up remarkably well for something that really ought to have had a glove on it, and the Badders threat was fading in the teeth of the sandy-sail's upwind performance. The excellent reach from 'M' to 'D' just kept getting more excellent, with me doing my Top Gear presenter impression, yelling 'Pressure' at random intervals like a well known overweight mouth-on-a-stick, only with more hair and less money.

On the way down to 'G' the last time we narrowly avoided what appeared to be a tree branch that was ambling along in the same direction, and were later regaled with the story of how Colin & Karen had run over it. Bob & Paul had capsized and subsequently retired, which allowed Helen & Paul to capsize with impunity. Which they did. Mo & Holly had also retired after the capsize on the run, and Peter & Mike won by a country mile. Badders & JR and Helen & Paul turned up shortly afterwards, and presumably a few others too.

Gathered in the bar later on, we all agreed that it had been a cracking good day's sailing!

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Fleet Captain Ahoy!

Sailing is a great way to spend your birthday, and last Sunday was no exception. There was less wind than we had been led to expect, but still enough to be interesting.

In race 1 we launched when the 3 min gun went, and made a decent start at the favoured (committee boat) end of the line, unlike some of the fleet who were still sailing towards the start-line, and others who were sailing away from it !

It was a good course, taken from the computer and slightly tweaked. We went right on the beat and crawled up the wall to H, clearly to good effect as we were first round. Behind us were Peter & Mike, Bob & Paul and Badders & JR, with everyone else a bit further behind. Up with the kite then and a very nice 3-sail reach to D, gybe, and a broad reach to M which turned into a run by the time we'd gone high to protect our air. Then a beat to P followed by another decent 3-sail reach to J, then down through OL to K and start again.

Somewhere behind us Badders & JR had overtaken Peter & Mike, but we'd got ourselves a very decent lead, which we extended with another good beat to H. Bob & Paul were still in the mix too, hanging on grimly to 3rd or 4th place, not bad for a 25 year old boat.

Then the long close reach to D, where we had next to no wind at all and everybody else came hooning down with a gust which they apparently picked up at H and carried them all the way along. So we started that leg with about a minute's lead and ended it with about 10 seconds on Badders & JR, with Peter & Mike close behind them.

So we plodded down the run exchanging banter with Badders, whilst Peter & Mike gybed off and found a very nice little patch of wind that brought them level with the pair of us. Thankfully it died off before they could zoom past us, but when we rounded M we were all three boats in line astern with about 10 secs covering the lot.

I observed that boat further up the beat and to our right were lifting well on port tack, so we stayed on port and headed in their general direction, while Badders enjoyed his own personal special lift which threatened to allow him to sail straight over the top of us. Peter & Mike put in a couple of tacks to preserve their clear air, but then went very slowly and never looked like much of a threat. But we'd have lost out to Badders if we hadn't found a header and tacked on it, and we'd still have lost out if he'd tacked under our bow, but fortunately he ducked us and sailed on a bit further. With the benefit of the new lift on starboard we were now above the lay line, so made it to P first, up with the kite, and a nice leg to J with Badders & JR just behind. Two hoots were heard as we rounded J, and we just managed to get the kite set before they sailed over the top of us. A bit more wind had us trapezing, kites up, across the finish line with about 2 seconds in it and a win for us, hurrah!

It's always nice to win on your birthday, so fair play to the fleet for letting us do it. Maybe a bit more of a margin next time please.

After lunch we were given a longer course and less wind, which was a lot less interesting. And Peter & Mike had tweaked their boat to give themselves a straighter mast (= fuller mainsail), resulting in them going a lot quicker and being almost impossible to catch. Pete S & Rachel pulled off a perfect port tack flyer under my nose on the start-line, but threw it away on the wrong side of the beat along with a lot of the rest of the fleet. So we plodded around following Peter & Mike, and they eventually won by a country mile. But the middle of the fleet apparently had a much better time of it, with four boats rounding J pretty much in a lump and then fighting it out for the places on the final leg to OL, it doesn't get much closer than that!

And what could be better on your birthday than to be elected fleet captain at the AGM after sailing..?  Well, quite a lot of things if I'm honest, but nobody else looked interested so I guess it had to be done.

Party on, dudes.

Monday, 14 May 2012

FireBowl Day 1

The first day of the ever-popular Firebowl personal handicap pursuit series, and what-ho, we found ourselves with bright sunshine and a moderate westerly wind, which tempted me to wear my wetsuit instead of the drysuit for the first time this year. We also found ourselves with rather fewer people than we'd expected, Mo & Holly had the excuse that they were on OD duty, but where were the rest of you ?

Well my crew, 'Poorly' Paul also had an excuse, ie he was poorly, so I leapt into the front of Dave Merrit's boat and lumbered him with an extra 2 minutes on his handicap by way of compensation, although frankly the quality of my crewing is now so low that he probably should have been sent off 2 mins earlier instead.

Then we went into the start sequence, and off went Pat and Jane on zero along with Captain Richard and Henry, followed 2 mins later by Dave and me. Somewhere behind us were Helen & Paul on 7 mins, Bob & Paul on 8 mins, John & Quentin on 9 mins, and bringing up the rear Colin & Karen and Pete & Rachel on 10 mins. Although the latter pair obviously felt that their handicap was too easy, opting to start about half an hour later.

So we zoomed off to E, up the beat to D, across to P, and started down the dead run to F, where we launched the kite for the first time. It took a while for me to get the thing untangled, but eventually we were going very nicely in a rising breeze and the two boats ahead were looking a lot closer, definitely ripe for the taking. As we approached the gybe mark at F, I mentioned to Dave that he might like to luff up a bit while I got the kite down, just in case, so I was slightly aggrieved when the boom came across while I was standing up getting the kite down, pinning me to the shroud while the boat capsized. I rapidly clambered out of that particular position and hung about in the water finishing off packing the kite, figuring that Dave had got us into this so he could damn well sort it out without any help from me (I do get a bit grumpy when I get wet - it's a well documented character flaw). Anyhoo, Dave pulled the boat up and I got scooped up with it, and we opened the bailers and set off again. Round F, across to H, up the long beat to Y, 2-sail reach to K, OL, and then a fabulous 3 sail reach to E and the start of the next lap.

By this time Helen & Paul were nearly with us, and it didn't take long for them to overtake us, but we kept in touch with them and even pulled the leaders in a bit. So we were still 4th and looking good for the last beat, when a huge wind-bend materialised on the South side of the lake, and just about everyone promptly zoomed past us (and Helen), leaving us last at the finish, and wet.

Lessons learned from the morning:

1) When you're on a dead run, watch the jib. If it starts trying to goosewing (ie, coming across the boat to the opposite side to the mainsail) all by itself then you are in the danger zone for the dreaded involuntary gybe. It does this because the Fireball mainsail won't go out to 90 degrees due the shrouds being in the way. So if you sail dead downwind then the airflow across the mainsail reverses, and it starts going from leech to mast, pushing the jib across as it goes. This is not only a good indication of possible doom, but also dog-slow, so you really don't want to do it for any length of time.

2) On a reach, when the gust hits, bear away as a first response and adjust the mainsail second. Likewise when it goes away again, luff up and sheet in.

Race 2 was not the same as race 1. I changed into my drysuit in anticipation of another near-death experience, and we tweaked the rig settings a bit. We again went off after 2 minutes and flew our spinnaker to T, gaining a lot of ground on the lead boats (who didn't). Then a beat up to N followed by a long dead-run all the way down to S. We went wide on the run, David being a bit wary of involuntary gybes now, and then gybed early for F so the kite was flying by the time we got there and hardened up for the reach to H. This was pretty excellent, if a bit short, and also took us through the club start-line where the Solos were massing for their start, so a bit 'interesting' too. I think we overtook Jane and Pat there, or maybe not; Richard and Henry were still well ahead though. So a beat up to Y and a distinctly 2-sail reach to K, followed by a run past the clubhouse and OL to J. Then a gybe at J and that short leg to T to start again.

The wind was rising, and we spent the next lap being hunted down by Helen & Paul, who overtook us at the start of the beat from H to Y. But by dint of some excellent sailing, we got ahead of them when we crossed halfway up that beat, snuck ahead again at the mark, and then pulled away a bit on the reach to K, which the rising wind was making more scary than last time.

Somewhere on the run past OL we got the kite halyard caught round the spreader and spent ages getting it off, and Helen and Paul got past and then kited it to T where we played it safe, so were ahead on the beat to N. But their kite launch went awry as they started down the run to S, the spinnaker went under the boat and forced the centreboard up, and then there was a splashy moment which raised a small cheer from our boat. As a mark of respect to the fallen (and to avoid running 'em over) we kept our kite down until we'd passed the accident, then bunged it up and sailed on round.

By this time, the only boat ahead of us had disappeared, so we were presumably in the lead. On the last beat up to Y it was getting seriously windy, but Dave was handling it like a pro. It helped that we'd removed a chock from the mast at lunchtime, and had wound on enough outhaul to get the sail flat, plus a bit of cunningham too. As a result, the boat was bounding upwind in fine style, with me easing the jib in the really serious gusts (more on this later). Towards the end we observed Pete S & Rachel closing in, but we crossed the finish line with at least 30 seconds to spare, winning the race.

Back at shore it turned out that loads of people had capsized, including Bob & Paul who had tried to 'shoot' the mark at Y and capsized to windward as a result. It also transpired that we'd forgotten to sign on, so the first place went to Pete S. Only, hang on, he'd forgotten to sign on too, so John & Quentin got the win, hurrah !

Lessons learned from the afternoon:

1) Mast bend makes a BIG difference going upwind when it's windy. Obviously you need to rake back, but that may not be enough. Take the chocks out or let the strut off about 1", get the outhaul tight and wind a bit of cunningham on, and a decent lump of kicker too. The sail should look flat, and the top of it should fall away to leeward so it's not contributing much to the party ('blading off' is the technical term).

2) Again upwind, when the gust hits, the helmsman/woman dumps an armful of mainsheet to keep the boat upright, natch. But at some point there will be so much wind that the sail refuses to go out any further and just flaps about instead. This happens long before you run out of mainsheet, because the wind blowing off the jib past the back of the mainsail supports it. So the handsome and talented crew observes the mainsail doing the flappy-about thing and eases the jib. This does lots of things, all good.
a) it depowers the jib, so it's less likely to capsize you
b) it reduces the extent to which the air off the jib is supporting the mainsail. The helm can now ease the main further if needs be.
c) it opens the slot, so you go faster
d) it allows the helmsman/woman to pinch a bit if they want to, further reducing the power in the jib. When the jib has a decent curve on the foot you can pinch without losing too much speed, whereas if you try it when the jib is tight in you just stop and then the boat falls over.
Obviously you need to pull the jib back in again when the gust has passed through...

Then there was race 3, where Jane & Pat capsized and Richard & Henry didn't, but the rest of us had already got changed and were re-living our experiences in the bar.

Day 2 is on May 27th.

Friday, 27 April 2012


No sailing for me this evening due to the tornado that swept through my garden at 6pm. Scary stuff:

School over the road

Next door's willow tree

It took until Friday to get phone and internet hooked up again, but we got away pretty lightly really.

Monday, 23 April 2012

22nd April - 12 boats

OK, time was I wouldn't have thought twice about us having 12 Fireballs on the water, but times are hard, so it gets a mention. Also worth mentioning that none of the Peters turned up, so that's another 4 boats we could potentially have fielded, plus a few others. Still, 12 boats isn't bad.

Having been lamentably late for the start last week, I made sure I was at the club by 10am this time. However, I may have squandered some of that time talking to the OD, as I tend to do to ensure we get a decent course. As it happened, the OD team didn't need any help from me at all and set a couple of very nice courses, so many thanks to Will, Marcellus, Harry and Dennis.

Then I wasted some more time arranging for the couple of rookie boats to go 3 minutes before the rest of the fleet. This isn't something we make a habit of doing, but I figured that in the gusty conditions they'd probably need all the help they could get, and it can't be any fun for them watching the rest of the fleet disappear over the horizon on the first beat.

Then a big rush to get to the start line, only to find that we'd missed the start again!

We started about 1 minute before the Freds, which I had thought was 2 minutes after our start, but on further consideration is actually 5 minutes late. Various other Firebals were also a bit later than they should have been (but still ahead of us), JT for example was apparently re-tying his outhaul when the gun went. Bob/Paul went on the gun however, and had a serious lead over everyone. And the rookie boats were still on the shore, doh!

So we charged over the start line, where Jeremy kindly told us the first mark, and set off up the beat to 'Y'. Then a short kite leg to 'K', followed by a beat to 'M'. The beats were really good, windy enough to get you planing to windward and with some interesting wind-bends which could gain or lose you a big lump very easily. Then round 'M' and bung the kite up for 'D' - a leg which Will had intended to be a 2-sail reach but which was just about kite-able if you didn't mind the occasional massive bear-away in the gusts. Great fun.

Then gybe at 'D' and off to 'J', designed as a 3-sail reach but which was really only good for two. We tried the kite, but the bear-aways threatened to put us across the small island , so we got it down and were plenty powered-up without it anyway. Then round 'J', 'OL' and off on a broad leg to 'H' to start the next lap.

A lap later we had overtaken the rest of the fleet except for Bob/Paul, and were reeling them in. Up at 'M' for the last time we chased them across the lake, both boats careering off in the gusts and coming back up in the lulls, and I wished (not for the first time) that I'd got a camera on the bow of the boat to record some of this stuff for posterity. Then a gybe at 'D', we got our kite down, Bob left his up, and they took off in the gust and sailed straight across the little island. I spent some time waiting for them to come to an abrupt halt, but they zoomed on regardless, so it looks as though we've had a lot of water over the past week. We went high and then put our kite up at about the halfway mark, and when both boats eventually rejoined the lay-line, we were marginally ahead. Kites down, nip round 'J' and then across the line to win. Woohoo, very good!

So we had a bit of a chat with Bob and the rest of the crowd as they arrived on the shore, and then went to examine Helen's Fireball, which was apparently feeling a bit poorly and having a little lie down on the shore...

It turned out that Paul had been forced to lie on the centreboard once too often, and the centreboard had delaminated, resulting in an asymmetric load-response curve and a Paul-goes-headfirst-into-the-water-again scenario. In case you're interested, it's the leading edge of the board that fails - there's a lot of shear pressure on it when it's loaded and of course it takes all the knocks when you run over things, so it's an obvious (if rather unusual) fail point.

Lunch then, and much laughter about the need to get to the start on time.

And so it came to pass that we arrived at the startline for the PM race with an entire 40 seconds to spare, and would have made a decent start. Except that Colin/Karen hadn't turned up yet, and they had generously waited for ages for us last week, so we were honour-bound to return the favour. So we hung about until they arrived and then zoomed off once again to chase down the rest of the pack.

The beat was to 'M' this time, and it was notable that Colin/Karen were able to stay ahead of us for most of it, although I think we pipped them around the mark. And then, spread out ahead of us was the entire fleet, all on their way to 'D' and not one of them flying their spinnakers. Well this was something of a red rag to a Paul, we knew we could kite this leg as we'd done it in the morning. It was a bit windier now admittedly, but also slightly broader, so what the hell. So we stuck it up and absolutely marmalised the entire fleet, most of whom weren't even trapezing, ending up alongside Mo/Holly. Gybe at 'D', and predictably the next reach (to 'T') was too close for comfort if you were flying the kite, so we got ours down and chased Mo/Holly all the way. There was then a quick beat up to OL followed by another 3-sail reach across the lake to 'E'. But this one was a bit closer, so we ended up doing the fabulous Aussie-drop to lay 'E'. And then, since 'E' is in a bay, we had to employ 100% of Paul's lard on the wire to get out of the bay before we could sort the pole out for the run down to 'F' and the start of the next lap.

By this time we'd got a bit of a lead over the fleet, so we messed about a bit up the beat and then waited for Colin/Karen and Mo/Holly at 'T'. Then we 2-sailed the next reach to 'E' and left the kite in the bag for the leg to 'F' too, which allowed Bob/Paul to catch up. So we were all set for a fabulous 4 boat battle on the last lap. We spent the entire beat chasing Colin/Karen and not catching them, whilst swapping places with Bob/Paul. Then the excellent reach to 'D', and we were still all together at the end of that. Then, ah the shame of it, I allowed the kite to get seriously wineglassed after the gybe (note to self, pull the kite sheet in immediately after the gybe every time), so we had to take it down and 2-sail the next reach. Colin/Karen and Bob/Paul managed to fly their kites, so were ahead at 'T', so we only had the titchy beat to OL to catch them up. Predictably we failed to do this, Colin/Karen crossed the line first, and we ducked Bob's transom on the line but he managed to tack and cross just ahead of us, so we ended up losing out to them about 1 second again. Mo/Holly turned up a few seconds later, followed by the rest of the fleet over the next few minutes.

Last home were Richard and Oliver, who arrived just as I finished putting the cover on my boat. But in spite of getting the 'Full Richard Experience', Oliver is now a convert to the madness which is Fireball sailing, and will be available to crew for you from the beginning of June, plus possibly the odd Wednesday evening before that. He's young and keen, so don't let him get away guys.

Next week is the Fireball fleet AGM, so I'm hoping to see y'all there.

Party on dudes.

Colin & Karen worshipping their new boat, Mutley's Revenge.

Monday, 16 April 2012

15th April

Mark Twain once said that a lie will go twice round the world while the truth is tying up its shoe laces. He knew a thing or two and he didn't even have broadband. I mention this because the good old public DWSC forum is about to be locked, presumably to encourage us to use the new private members-only forum. Personally I've always preferred to make a fool of myself to as large an audience as possible, so I'll be staying on the outside. Anyone who thinks that opinions can be hidden away behind closed doors when we have so much choice of media is deluding themselves - the words just move from somewhere that the club can observe and respond to, to elsewhere where the club doesn't know what's being said and no response is possible. A bad idea IMHO.

On the positive side the water level is rising pretty quickly now, probably summat to do with all the rain we've been having (duh!). It should continue to rise if the forecast for the coming week holds true.

Back at the sailing, the weather was cold, F3, onshore, some sunshine. Poorly Paul was elsewhere, so I inherited Quentin from JT who was feeling a bit under the weather. As I was still in my kitchen 1 hour before the start of the race, and then had to wait for Quentin to turn up when I arrived at the club, starting on time was always going to be a bit of a challenge. And so it came to pass that we arrived at the start line some time after the Freds had started, to find Colin/Karen waiting for us. I figured we'd have to wait some more to pick up Bob/Richard, so we pootled around until Colin pointed out that Bob had already gone and was now at the top of the beat. So we set off in hot pursuit, had a good old ding-dong battle with Colin/Karen all the way round, and ended up just behind them at the finish. Bob was already on the shore by now, well, fair play, he is sailing 25 year old boat, probably needs the points.

A spot of lunch, and then off to the start-line again, this time arriving before the start of the race. We made a decent enough start for a boat with no functioning timepiece, and made our way up the beat in close competition with Bob/Richard and Colin/Karen. Jane/Pat were out there somewhere too, but we didn't see much of them. At the top of the beat, it was Bob/Richard in the lead, with us and Colin/Karen pretty much neck and neck. And so it remained for the next two and a half laps, with various changes of 2nd and 3rd place while Bob built up a huge lead - at one point it was huge - we were at 'T' while they were getting their kite down at 'M'.

We had a lot of trouble getting past Colin/Karen. Usually I just pull a bit of a blinder up the favoured side of the beat and emerge far enough ahead at the windward mark that we can break free with the huge kite on the reach. This didn't work at all - my fabulous windshift picking skills were going flat out but Colin just kept on reappearing from under the jib, still slightly ahead of us in spite of going the other way. And on the offwind legs it appeared that they'd got their own huge kite which was more effective than mine, what with mine being on top of the wardrobe at home - the one in the boat being a more standard cut.

Coming round 'K' for the last time we were right up on Colin's transom, so he luffed up hard after rounding the mark (as you do) and we carried a bit more speed and punched through beneath them. Unusually, we kept the speed and managed to come out ahead as we both sailed up the wall before tacking off for 'P'. After tacking, Bob/Richard were a lot closer, maybe only 30 secs ahead. So we rode the wind-bend up to 'P' and  rounded just behind them. Then a bit of a wineglass problem with the kite lost us a bit of ground, so they were clear ahead again when we gybed at 'T' for the final leg to OL.

A nice big lump of wind filling in from behind got us planing and converted the leg into one of those momentarily perfect items where you can just about carry the kite at the expense of the occasional leeward-gunwale-under-water moment while the boat is picking up speed This ended up with us haring towards Bob's transom at about Mach 5 while Bob had to contend with the conflicting requirements of sailing towards OL while stopping us going past and responding to the gust as it landed on his boat. It was all very exciting, but we were a little too close to OL to mount a serious challenge. We managed to get alongside, but Bob ended up crossing the line with his bow about 2 ft ahead of ours, big smiles all round and an excellent finish to a great race. More points for Bob/Richard in the 25 year old boat, and thoroughly well deserved.

After the Gybe. A pic not remotely relevant to the racing just described, but kinda good so I thought I'd include it. Thanks to Sue Ann for sharing it with us.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

It must be spring

Unlike last week, the weather was clement. Springlike even, cloudless blue skies and more wind than the forecast had led us to believe was possible. Well, F3 anyway, certainly worth the effort. And it appears that few others agreed, as we had 10 boats out for the first time in ages, and very good it was too.

We spent the first half hour or so re-threading the mainsail halyard down the mast using my matched pair of rare-earth magnets that I had acquired for just such an occasion. Thread the tiny magnet down from the top with some whipping twine in tow, attach halyard string when it pops out at the bottom, pull halyard string back up mast, and bum! the twine broke. Rescue tiny magnet from halyard string, re-tie to the twine, re-thread from the top of the mast, tie string to twine, pull it all back up again. String emerges warily into the sunshine, tiny magnet too frightened to come back out, twine breaks, tiny magnet now taken up residence inside my mast.

But still, after all this, the mainsail went up and so did the spinnaker, so a job well done if slightly expensive in magnets.

Out at the start line, the course was distinctly iffy, but the line was perfect. We opted for the port end on port tack without a stopwatch, and were predictably mullered by Badders/JR and Colin/Karen who also started on port tack (but with watches) and then by the rest of the fleet who turned up shortly afterwards yelling 'starboard'.

Half way up the beat we were comprehensively down the toilet, but we banged the left hand side and were gifted a tasty lift on port tack which turned the tables on, well, everyone. So we rounded E in first place with Colin/Karen close behind and set off along the next leg to C. This was a long beam reach, perfect for a Fireball with a kite in marginal conditions, but with the wind coming off the land it was also bloody tricky. I would personally not have set that leg in a million years, but it did prove to be decidedly involving if a gust came over the headland while you were there with the kite up. Non-spinnaker boats must have hated it though, and later in the race the wind went more Westerly, meaning you couldn't fly the kite at all and had a choice of going low for the extra breeze further offshore, and having to tack back to the mark, or staying high and suffocating from lack of oxygen.

Anyhoo, we stretched our lead down that leg, went round C and bore off for the run to B. The wind dropped, so we were able to watch Badders/JR dicing it out with Colin/Karen and Helen/Paul as they all chased us, and not too far behind them were Bob/Paul, Gordon/Richard, Paul/Nick, with JT/Quentin and Pat/Jane bringing up the rear. The 10th boat was still on the shore, but hey, not a bad turnout all the same.

Gybe at B and trek off towards K, with Badders emerging as the main risk behind us. Round K, OL, nasty fetch to T and start the lap again.

Not much memorable occurred on that lap, except that the fleet all bunched up on the beat and various people overtook various other people. To be honest there was so much place-changing going on that I lost track of who did what to whom. I recall a fabulous 4-boat luffing battle broke out on the reach from B to K, which allowed 6th place Paul/Nick to get through into 2nd place. Boat 10, Pete/Jez joined in behind us near K, but we left them behind on the next beat and they then somehow managed to capsize. Then we were treated to the sight of another 4 Fireballs trying to get around E at the same time, Badders apparently got the tiller stuck and nearly took out Helen, somebody (possibly Helen) hit the mark, and turns were done accordingly. Then Helen/Paul capsized to windward on the reach of doom, we went hideously low with the kite up and by the end of the leg were tacking for C into a due Westerly. The same fate befell 2nd place Paul/Nick, which allowed Colin/Karen to catch them up, and Bob/Paul were not far behind.

The dead run from C to B had become a beam reach under the wall, which again doesn't sound ideal but with the kite up it was a real blast when the wind kicked in. We tore past B fully powered up, and it was with some regret that we bore off for what was now a run down to K. Behind us Paul/Nick had similar misgivings about abandoning such a fabulous leg just because the course dictated it, so they went on a short distance past it too. Colin/Karen gybed smartly behind them, and it was the latter pair who took line honours as a result. Shortly after them came Bob/Paul and the the rest of the crowd, and I reckon a good time was had by all.

We didn't stay for the PM race, I was due some time to share my cold with the family and Paul had to mend his toilet, plus the wind was dropping as the forecast had suggested it would. I took the opportunity of helping the OD with the course (hope that turned out OK), and when I left there were a lot of Fireballs drifting up the first beat in a manner which suggested that things could only get better, if only because the wind couldn't possibly drop any further. The morning was definitely the best bit of the day, and demonstrates very nicely that if you've got enough boats to sail round with, you can enjoy yourself hugely even when the wind and course aren't really ideal.

Back at course setting, what we had today was about 10 knots of wind and a forecast which suggested that it would drop by midday to about 5 knots. The temptation then is to set a large course to suit the prevailing conditions and the only immediate comment about today's course would be that a beam reach right up under the lee of the hills on the far side of the lake is not a good idea. It was also too long for the slower boats given that the wind was going to drop.

As a rule of thumb, when you are expecting anything less than about 8 knots, try to keep the reaches quite short and quite 'beamy', avoid broad reaches like the plague, and try to get a decent length beat and at least one matching decent length dead run into the course. Reaches are fabulous when you can get planing, but when you can't they're a bit of a dead loss so need keeping to a minimum in the light and fluffy stuff. Runs however are good because they're tactical, but they've got to be genuinely dead or you're wasting your time.

Thus endeth the sermon, and here's hoping for more sun, more wind and another excellent turnout next week.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Wet and windy

So today was the first Sunday in months that there's been any significant wind, and it also happened to be the first day in months that it has rained. Copiously. Plus it wasn't exactly warm, so I think Paul was a bit surprised when I suggested that we go for a sail.

With a gusty onshore wind and the rain, rigging the boat was no fun at all, and to make it worse we managed to break the main halyard while hoisting the sail. In consequence we ended up rolling the boat over and tying it up with string, only not really quite as high as it should have been. Piddling about in the wind and the rain was making me feel cold, and there were a few moments when I wondered what the hell I was doing out here.

Then ho for the start line, where it occurred to me that we probably shouldn't have the rig at 22'8", but too late now. We joined a surprisingly large number of boats at the start line - the other 2 Fireballs (poor turnout as Helen, Paul and Pete were all on OD duty), maybe 5 Solos, 2 Freds, 5 Lasers, an RS300 and a Supernova if memory serves. And off we went, with the wind picking up nicely and the driving rain camouflaged by the spray from the bow-wave. A the top of the beat (P) we had a bit of a lead and the next leg looked vaguely kite-able, so we went high and chucked it up and had a very nice reach across to A. Then a bit of a biassed beat to B, followed by a reach to OL and J, and the end of the lap.

We seemed to have a bit of a lead by this time so we hung about for Colin/Karen and JT/Nick, and then set off up the beat again. Sadly the potential for competition faded a little as Nick promptly did a swallow dive into JT's best mainsail, so they retired.

Up at P we were a little behind Colin/Karen and with a slighly broader reach this time both of us flew the kites and had a very exciting leg to A which left us still pretty much neck and neck at the end of it. A lap later we had changed places a couple of times and were just behind, so again flew the kite on the leg to A, but it was closer now than before and by the time we'd got it set we were in danger of sailing over the side-deck of Colin's boat. No particular gains there either, and we rounded A and B just behind them. Fearing that this might be the last leg we went aggressive, pushing up above the lay line, trying to sit on their wind and coming in to OL sailing by the lee. Had this been the last lap it would all have been for nought, as they beat us across the line. But it wasn't, and we had forced enough confusion in the other boat that we were able to take the lead. Back at B we were still leading by a decent margin, so only needed to get the kite up and hoon across to OL to win the race. Whereupon the kite promptly jammed halfway up, went under the boat and rapidly became a hopeless case. We collected it up and did our best to get to OL as quickly as possible, but Colin and Karen zoomed past and crossed the line ahead of us.

There's no particular reason why there should be a moral to this story, but if there is one then I guess it is that you should hang on in there, cos the other boat might just self-destruct for long enough that you can overtake 'em.

Then ashore, lay the boat over, untie knots, dismantle stuff, and at the end of it it was still raining and I was still toasty warm from all the exercise of the previous hour or so.

Yeah, pretty good!

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Just another day sailing round the cans

(In the absence of anything to write about this week, a little piece from November 2009)

To set the scene, there we are in the Fireball just going round mark ‘A’ in a twenty-something mph WSW, half way around the 3rd lap of a fleet championship race. We’re in 3rd place and we’ve just lapped the RS300s, so you can tell it’s fairly windy. The next mark is ‘C’ and Pete in the boat in front is already halfway to ‘B’. He’s gone high, up by the wall, with a view to putting his kite up at some point, but he’s not rushing into it as we all know from previous laps that putting the kite up anywhere on this leg where you can’t get a decent angle to ‘C’ is a BAD IDEA, various boats tried it on the previous laps and it wasn’t pretty. Thus far, I have been sailing with self preservation uppermost in my mind, which is why the more risk-inclined boats are either well ahead or massively behind us.

But I want that 2nd place dammit. If only we had a turbocharger, or some big red button I could press to engage warp drive…

And I swear the big red mad spinnaker winked at me from its bag.

So we bung it up, and the wind promptly notices and comes over the wall in a big lump, and the world starts to go past us considerably more quickly. The initial acceleration is a fairly intense while the various forces battle it out for supremacy, and there’s a few iffy moments and the odd wobble. While this is going on, the slim delicate rudder blade whispers occasional messages suggesting that some of my demands are not entirely reasonable and that steering will become an optional extra if I continue in this fashion. And then it’s all under control again and there is nothing quite like this; the boat is fully engaged, crew flat out on the wire and all three sails are pulling 100%. Gust builds upon gust but we are now going so fast that the boat does little more than twitch as it skates across the flat water at the top of the lake making a noise like tearing aluminium. These adrenalin stretched moments are where sailing, poetry and art collide, this is as close to perfection as it is possible to get, and perfection is fast.

We’re going nowhere near the right way though, ‘D’ looks more likely than ‘C’ right now, and the further away from the wall we get, the windier it is. So as we pass ‘B’ (but way downwind) doing mach 5, I dump the kicker and the mainsheet and tentatively nudge the boat up a bit, and it still feels good. But it’s not going to be good enough to lay ‘C’ and we know from experience that this reach gets closer as you get near the water tower. Pete has gone for his kite too, but there’s no proper wind up there by the wall and his kite doesn’t look happy. A few hundred yards further on and it’s clear that ‘C’ is not going to happen without some help, so I pull a bit of mainsheet in and trip the spinnaker halyard. Paul bangs the sheet in tight and the big mad red kite goes for a quick lie down behind the jib, spread out flat by the wind. We nudge our way cautiously up to ‘C’ where the wind is much lighter, and note with some delight that Pete is now about three boat lengths behind us.

This is great, but there’s more to come. We bear off round ‘C’ for the run to ‘D’, the plan being that we continue on port tack to the far shore while sorting the kite, then gybe and it should be a decent run down to ‘D’ from there.  But I only get as far as giving a quick heave on the kite halyard, and before it has any real effect there’s a Flying Fifteen dead ahead which has just gybed onto starboard, and it’s clear that going round it isn’t an option. I yell something unhappy at the world in general and chuck the boat into a gybe. Crew does the thing with the pole and the wind kicks in again, and now we’re hurtling towards ‘G’ on a run with the kite still mostly horizontal, and I can’t pump it up because it’s so damn windy that the force on the halyard when doubled by my 2:1 pump system is more than I can cope with. So I resort to pulling directly on the halyard, but the take-up restricts the amount I can pull to about 8 inches each time and I am distracted by having to steer the boat and keep it upright and other minor details like that as it crashes grumpily from one wave crest to the next. The boat doesn’t like this, the kite is making scornful noises at me, and somewhere behind us I can feel Pete catching up. And now we’re in danger of going past D, so we sling in another gybe and incredibly still haven’t capsized when the dust settles on that one. In a rare moment of inspiration I tell Paul to leave the pole where it is (on the wrong side), thereby avoiding crew leaning over foredeck on a dead run in big waves type issues, and now I find I can hoist the kite up because it’s all tucked away behind the mainsail out of the wind. It goes up, we get to ‘D’ and I look back and decide not to mention to Paul that the Flying Fifteen we met earlier has just been blown flat behind us, as we go for the gybe….

Which we survive. And since the pole is already set for the reach to ‘S’, Paul bounds straight out on the wire and the big mad red kite sets instantly and is laughing insanely (or maybe that was me) as we hurtle past ‘D’ with the spray from our wake blowing off downwind. The waves are proper big out here and the wind is full on, and although I dumped the mainsail after the first five seconds, when we bear off in the gusts it fills anyway because we’re not far off a run and we go even faster. The boat bounces gleefully over the waves, atomising the water where it lands, and it’s still accelerating like it wants to get to the scene of the accident nice and early. And this is sooooo good, but even while I’m giving silent thanks that the Fireball is so manageable in these conditions, I’m also aware that the near future does indeed hold the probability of some kind of high speed unpleasantness and swimming.

Still, we get about three-quarters of the way along the leg and are still roughly on course and mostly upright. Now at this point there is a crew-boat interface problem, maybe wave related, maybe just the bouncing about, and Paul disappears briefly. When he reappears he is lying along the side of the boat with his legs near my ear and he’s dropped the spinnaker sheet. The boat is still upright and still bouncing across the waves, but it’s slowing down now, coming out of hyperspace, and the big red mad kite is making highly disapproving noises and shedding £5 notes by the second. Some sort of telepathy then occurs, where we both know that it’s time to quit while we're ahead (ie, still alive) and get the kite down, although nobody actually says so. So we do and it comes back to its bag like a soppy old rottweiler, tired but happy.

I risk a quick glance behind us, and Pete is now about a hundred miles back but he’s coming down the reach encompassed in a ball of spray like some sort of a wet doomsday machine, and you can just tell even from here that he’s not at all happy about how those last few legs played out. So we nip round ‘S’, pull the sails in, adopt the position and sail a steady and uneventful fetch up to J and OL and a very welcome finish.

We found out later that Pete had problems getting the pole to go on the mast on the way to ‘C’ and then managed to put the spinnaker sheet over the end of the boom, so our barnstorming victory was perhaps a little less impressive than it originally looked. And after all that, we didn’t even win, 2nd place was all that was on offer.

But in my head, that part of that race stays with me, tucked away in my collection of sailing memories of times when we tested the limits of what is possible, to the point where fantasy and reality briefly merged into one. And it was all absolutely great.