After a week of gales, today was a bit of a let-down, with only 7-10 knots of wind. On the other hand at least we were able to sail, plus it was mild and occasionally sunny. During the previous week Gordon's boat had been blown over on top of Helen's, so we examined both for damage and found surprisingly little - just a bent shroud plate and a few scrapes in the cover and the pro grip. I expounded my theory on the value of tying the boats down at the transom using a stake in the ground and a rope round the pintle, and then we went sailing.
The good weather had lured a few more people out, and we had 7 boats competing for the first race. The start was about halfway up the beat for some reason, and quite close to the shore. And the Musborough shoal was pretty close too, but it all kind of worked anyway. Off we went, and having made a bit of a poor start were rapidly spat out the back door and ended up last round the windward mark (A). There followed a beam reach to B which was eminently kiteable, so we bunged it up and rapidly overtook Badders - largely because he had put one of his twinning line cleats on back to front and was therefore unable to cleat the twinner. Gybe at B, where we overtook JT, and another nice close sort of a reach off to M. The wind picked up a bit en-route, so that was pretty good fun, then a gybe at M and another beam reach to Y. We might have got past Pete/Rachel there (I forget), but the real gains came on the leg from Y to X, a dead run. For some reason everyone ahead of us went off on a broad reach towards S, so we just sailed a dead run and overtook 2 or 3 boats as a result. Colin and Karen could have thrown a big spanner in our works when they gybed and came back across, as they were on starboard and we were on port, but they very generously left us alone and we were able to claim water at the mark at X.
We then had a nice 3-sail reach to J, then a beat up through OL and all the way back to A. With the wind picking up nicely by this time, we set about chasing down Mo/Holly. It was an interesting beat as you couldn't go left due to the presence of the shore, and you couldn't go right due to Musborough, so up the middle was the only option. This rather limited the potential gains, but it kept the racing nice and tight and it didn't stop us from gaining a shed load on Mo and Holly either. We finally got them as we rounded the mark, and after that it was just a case of sailing round in the ever-increasing breeze and not screwing up too badly. Correctly spotting which legs were ok for the kite became the critical factor, so there was plenty of hoisting, bagging and gybing action, and it was all good. At the end we hit the finish line a little way ahead of Mo and Holly, but more importantly we'd all had a really great race.
The afternoon was less good. The wind had dropped and gone a bit more Northerly, but by the time the race got under-way it was due Westerly again and the beat was heavily biassed as a result. And too short. And the reaches were all a bit close and there was no dead run worth mentioning. So it was less of a race and more of a spinnaker gybe and close reach training exercise, which we eventually won, but definitely nothing like as much fun as the morning race.
There's a real skill to setting a course in marginal airs like today, and as has been demonstrated, it's a fine line between success and failure. Rules of thumb are:
Nice long beat
Short beam reaches
At least one decent length run
No broad reaches at all
If the wind picks up a bit then the beam reaches become very tactical for a spinnaker boat, as you have to decide whether or not you can carry the kite down all of the leg, or part of it, or whether it's better to 2-sail it. If the wind doesn't pick up then at least the reaches are short and they keep the dead run away from the beat. Non-kite boats also prefer a beam reach to a broad reach in marginal conditions, but they'll be primarily looking for a decent run to strut their tactical stuff.
Today's AM race had 4 beam(ish) reaches, a long beat and a medium length dead run, possibly a bit too reachy for some boats but with the extra bit of wind it worked well for us. Really well. In contrast, the PM race had 4 beam(ish) reaches, a smaller beat and a tiny run, and the wind was lighter, and it came across as definitely too reachy and a bit dull. The actual difference between the two courses was pretty minimal, but the perceived difference was huge.
It's always nice to see your advice being taken seriously, so I applaud Helen and Paul's decision to bang in a stake under the transom of their boat. Although, with the benefit of hindsight, they should perhaps have moved the boat further away from the arc of the sledgehammer before they started...