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.

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