Sunday, 29 December 2013

Festive sailing fun

It was one of those days when you look out of the window and wonder if you really want to do this. Cold, distinctly windy, and with a forecast which said that it would all be fine whilst implying that it probably wouldn't.

Anyway, at the club, faced with a very decent turnout of other Fireballs all busily being rigged, I felt it my civic duty to give it a bash. Peter turned up, sans Jez (who apparently felt it was too windy). Poorly Paul arrived and made unhappy noises about how it was likely to break the boat, but hey, there were Mo and Holly rigging up, and if they (quite old and quite light respectively) were up for it, what kind of wimps would we be if we didn't go too ?

Race 1 - M, P, T, J, OL, S

Down at the start-line it was looking very reasonable, sort of F3 gusting F4, until suddenly it was more F4 gusting F5, whereupon Bob and Paul capsized. We made a kind of so-so attempt at a start, about 10 seconds late, nearly dismembering the pin end Santa as we went...

Photo and Santa courtesy of Dunc

It was well windy by now, and we zoomed around the course with the boat bouncing satisfyingly from wave to wave. But there were no excellent 3-sail reaches to be had, it was all too broad to be fun or too close to fly the kite, and we had to wait until the end of the race before anything interesting happened. In this case, it was Helen falling out of the boat as she and Paul approached the shore. Luckily Paul knows how to helm, and Helen knows how to do the backstroke.

Photos courtesy of Malcolm Lewin

Race 2 - A, K, E, H, OL, S

Another late start by yours truly, and this time the entire fleet were about 20 seconds ahead. Still we manfully clawed back the gap, and by the time we tacked onto the lay-line for 'A' we were in 2nd place to Helen & Paul, who had overstood the mark somewhat. So I was expecting that they would blast past above us, but just as they came level, I observed that their boat was leaning quite a lot and their boom was in the water, and the whole shooting match was generally heading in our direction. So I mentioned to Paul that I foresaw an immediate future in which their mast would land on one or both of us, and we bore away to leeward of the mark and watched until the mast hit the water and the crew fell in. The fun being over, we then gybed round and came back up to 'A' on port tack around the upturned hull and set off in pursuit of Bob & Paul and Mo & Holly, who were now high-tailing it off towards 'K'.

'A' to 'K' was a nice broad reach sheltered by the hillside, but followed by a gybe at 'K' for a more interesting closer reach right across the lake to 'E'. Bob & Paul were in the lead, but they went out wide to gybe early, allowing Mo & Holly to drop their kite and come in close by the mark for water. M&H then went high, as you would, and we did the gybe thing, set the kite, and were neatly placed a few boat lengths behind Bob & Paul as we set off down the reach. Almost immediately the wind came in and we watched B&P bear off like mad before it caught us too. So there we were, 3 Fireballs all close enough together that one well aimed hand-grenade would take out the whole lot of us, and all hurtling along in varying degrees of control.

We spent most of that reach with the mainsail out on the shrouds, bearing off in the gusts and coming back up in the lulls, and generally finding that Bob & Paul were in the way as we did so. They were just as much at the whim of the gusts as we were, but I found that we could always sail a little higher than they could, probably due to my Paul being fatter than Bob's. So we went the long way round, below them, and we both went a little faster than Mo & Holly, and by the time we arrived at 'E' we were in the lead, with Bob & Paul 2nd and Mo & Holly third. And you could still have taken us all out with that hand-grenade, even though M&H hadn't flown their kite.

Anyhoo, we took our kite down for the next reach to 'H', and Bob & Paul left theirs up, which might have worked if they'd gybed a bit quicker and if, as Paul later reported, he'd been able to pull the sheet in to make it fly. So that left us and Mo & Holly to 2-sail the leg to H and start the beat up to OL.

At this point it got even windier, and Mo & Holly chased us up the beat only as far as the club shore, before capsizing as a prelude to retirement. Bob & Paul had a decent fight with Nick & Karen, and Helen & Paul capsized again down at H, but carried on to the finish anyway. We enjoyed a couple more goes at the fab reach, Alton Towers had nothing to match that one, and finally came off the water in high spirits.

Another excellent day's racing!

Sunday, 8 December 2013

A real blast

Well here we are in December, and the weather today was really nice. Better still, the forecast was 13mph, ie about perfect.

Race 1 - Y, K, OL, E, T, H, Gate

Assemble the boat and fix the sticky-out core of spinnaker halyard problem which had caused our ignominious departure from the Draycote Dash a couple of weeks back. Then ho for the start line, where we find that it is a bit windier than we had guessed, and that 22'8" is probably not an ideal rake. We stuck with it though, and coming off the start line we were well placed at the pin, but a bit slow, with Peter & Jez bounding past us to windward. Now I imagine I have done this to a few people in my time, but can I just mention how dispiriting it is when going upwind to have the other guys pointing higher than you and going at least as fast, particularly when they continue to do it for the entire upwind leg.

Round the windward mark then, in distinctly 2nd place with Colin & Karen breathing down our transom, and everyone else not far behind them. Peter & Jez generously tried to fly the kite to K, which turned out to be a BAD IDEA, but sadly not bad enough to let us overtake them.  Then down to OL, gybe, and waaaaayyyy heeeeeyyy, a fabulous reach right across the lake to E. this was one of those delightful slightly-too-close-for-comfort legs, where you had to pick your moments to sail high, and then blow all the gains on a bear away when the next gust came through. This is what Fireballs are best at, and although we weren't catching P&J, we were at least having a lot of fun trying.

Peter & Jez are presumably hidden from view by our sails in this shot, with Colin and Karen just behind

We all dropped the kites at E for a 2-sail reach to T, then another gybe and back up with the kites for the run down to H to start the next lap.

Another dispiriting beat, where we lost some more ground, and another rest-of-the-lap where we had fun but didn't gain much back, until the leg down to H where we went above the RS200 and they went below it, and suddenly we were right on their transom again. Round H, up through the gate, and then an interesting little tacking battle to dissuade them from sitting on our wind all the way upwind. We still hadn't caught them at Y, so sailed another lap just behind them, and eventually ended up at K, where they had just done their bear-away onto the run to OL.

At this point I figured we might be getting finished at OL, so went high with the extra speed that generates, and they spotted the danger and responded. Then I worked out that we weren't finishing there after all, so slung in a quick gybe and - after they followed suit - we claimed water at OL and were given just enough to squeeze through the gap. Jez told us we'd got loads of room, although our boom waving about by his head (but sadly not making contact) suggested otherwise.

Now we're off to E, and a repeat of that fabulous 3-sail reach. We both went a bit high of the mark and came down  to it on a broader reach, and it was there that it went a bit pear-shaped for us. There was a Fred plodding up to the same mark from somewhere below the lay-line and he was definitely entitled to water (sorry, mark-room). He was going to be going through about 180 degrees to go round, with a gybe in the middle, so would probably take about half an hour to complete the manoeuvre. With Peter and Jez behind us, I could see us being forced to go round the outside while they just dropped through the gap behind the Fred, so I went for the only possible alternative - getting round ahead of the Fred. We were already almost ahead, and as we were coming in from upwind I figured we might just sail across his bow right by the mark and be out of danger before he could hit us. Turns out I was wrong, and the Fred's bow clonked our gunwhale, followed by a bit of shouting from the driver.

Well the proper course of action was to do turns and watch Peter and Jez sail off into the distance, but that seemed a bit rubbish, so we carried on. P & J went low due to kite untangling exercises, but somehow managed to come past below us to be ahead again at T. We both gybed, and we 2-sailed up over them and through their wind before putting the kite up, resulting in us getting ahead again. This was probably the last leg before the fetch to the gate, so it was all getting a bit tense by this point. They got their kite flying and flew up past our transom and over our wind, getting themselves alongside and well placed to be on the inside at the mark. I had been luffing them up a bit prior to this, so just carried on sailing above the lay-line, thinking we might take them the wrong side of the mark in some last desperate move to get the win. But Peter lost the plot about 10 seconds later and bore down onto us, the boats coming together side by side in a fairly clear windward-leeward scenario with us in the right for a change. So they pootled off to get the kite down and do turns, and we zoomed round H and across the line for the win. Hurrah!

Except of course, we had infringed the Fred previously, so we were duty-bound to retire, and did so immediately we got back to shore. In hindsight, it would have made more sense to do the turns and claim a 2nd place, and if we had infringed another Fireball we certainly would have done so. But a marginal clonk from a Fred in the wrong place at the wrong time somehow seemed to be in a different category, and we were enjoying the race far more than we would have enjoyed getting 2 points from it, so it made some kind of sense at the time.

Back on shore, the rest of the fleet turned up and we all recounted our experiences. Paul and Helen had found the centre-board bolt on the floor of the boat, so had retired. Pete and Rohanna had done something unspeakable to the kicker on the fleet boat, and everyone had enjoyed themselves enormously.

The afternoon race was a bit lame by comparison. No fabbo 3-sail reaches, less wind, and pretty dull all round. We won that one, but it's not the one I'll be remembering.

Fleet boat with Pete & Rohanna (lovely)

Upside down boat with Paul & Helen (chilly)

Just saved it after gybe with Jane & Pat (scary)

Mo & Holly preparing to overtake Jane & Pat (slightly wobbly)

Many thanks to Rob Parker for the excellent pics. More of me next time please ;-)

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Normal Service

I have neglected this blog shamefully over the past few months - for the simple reason that a big work project landed on my desk when I returned from the Nationals, and I've been doing that ever since. It was also a big project with a stupidly short timescale, so it's required weekends and evenings to the exclusion of all else. Doh!

In the meantime however, I have managed a little bit of sailing. We had the Draycote Fireball Open Meeting and Inland Championships, which was a massive pain in the bum to organise and which rewarded us with almost no wind at all on the Saturday. The less said about that day the better frankly, but the Sunday made up for it rather nicely. It started glassy calm, but there was a bit of wind by 11:30am so we all went out, and the wind built from there to become really very nice, assisted by the strong sunshine. We had two excellent races, which helped to make up for the smorgasbord of disappointment the day before.

We were mid-fleet most of the time, and our exploits are not really worth recounting. Probably the most interesting thing was watching the tactics of Maria and Jez, who were sailing around in our vicinity a lot of the time. Going down the reach to the bottom mark, a leg full of Fireballs all blasting along in the sunshine and a F3 breeze, we were able to watch M&J's progress from not far off their transom. It was all luff, overtake, push up, luff, overtake, and repeat. I was impressed that this worked so well, as when I try to overtake anyone on the 3 sail reaches they promptly luff me off the course, but it worked for them. Except that all that luffing and overtaking put them well high of the mark, so they came down to it on a dead run (claiming water at the mark from everybody else as well). This is a win-win situation, as long as nobody throws a spanner in your works. On this occasion a couple of Irish guys were doing the same thing, and they fancied the inside spot too. So M&J luffed them up some more and there was a bit of shouting. I was watching this with some interest as our more straight-line approach had put us in the middle of about 8 other boats as we approached the same mark, and I was watching intently through the gaps and calling for water for 4, no make that 5 boats. But it appeared that the luffing match had gone on a bit too long and a bit too far, and I am left with the abiding memory of a Fireball with its kite still up hurtling past the wrong side of the mark, whilst another one slammed straight into the buoy. This probably wasn't a huge heap of fun for those involved, but with the sun glinting off the water and shining through the spinnakers of the latecomers, and boats literally all around us, it did make for a very memorable moment. Remarkably, there was no contact between boats either.

Later on, the Irish crew retired, although as they pointed out, they hadn't broken any rules. Having been denied water, they had gone the wrong side of the mark and had come back round without infringing anybody. Maria and Jez also retired, presumably due to having committed GBH on the buoy.

When watching this kind of thing, I am always struck by the sheer ambition of those involved. I sail around the open meeting course with the sole intention of staying out of trouble, and I make going-as-fast-as-possible a secondary goal. The boys and girls at the front of the fleet just go for speed all the time, and with clear air they can pull well away from the pack before engaging in any serious boat-on-boat tactics with anyone who is still in the vicinity. But when you are sailing around in the pack, whilst there is plenty of scope for making huge gains, equally there is plenty of scope for it to all go horribly wrong.

Laters dudes.

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Sunny and Stupid

Back at dear old Draycote again, where I turned up early to finish reassembling the boat, and still ended up tightening the kicker shackle with pliers on the shore as the 6 minute gun went. Out at the start, we made a decent fist of getting away given that we didn't have the watch running, but had a slow beat and were somewhere near the back at the first mark (B). Still, overtaking is what we do best, so we bunged the kite up for the leg to M, and found that it would go up, but only just far enough up that it dragged in the water. Get it down while rest of fleet sail past, drop the rig tension off, re-hoist, turn up at M in 3rd-last place. Gybe at M for broad reach to X, but spinny-pole ends are as Iain likes them, and Paul not happy. Gybe takes forever, and Paul moans like mad. Zoom down towards X, catch up with Bob & JT, then they promptly get away again and Helen & Paul and Colin & Karen catch up too. Round X, dead run to H, Helen goes past us to leeward, now 2nd-last. Paul gets kite down at H, takes ages, moans like mad. Beat up to P, some big windshifts, overtake Bob, Helen, Colin and Badders. Remarkable. Just need to catch Mo & Holly and Peter & Iain. Nice reach down to T, up through gate, and off we go again for the 2nd lap.

After that it got less interesting. We overtook Mo & Holly somewhere along the line, caught up with Peter & Iain, but just couldn't get past. We ended up in a little tacking battle, where we managed to break the cover and claim the favoured side of the beat, but it can't have been all that favoured as they just scampered away and ended up beating us by a decent margin.

Back ashore then, lunch, rebuild spinnaker pole to be more to Paul's liking, afloat and at the start by the 3 minute gun. It's windier than the morning race, plus gloriously sunny too, and we've raked back to 22'6", which feels good. Got a great start in that one, but we're still behind Peter & Iain at the top of the beat (B). Up with the kite, which was now working fine, and chase them down to J, gybe and hoon off to G on a very acceptable 3-sail reach, taking care at the corner of the wall where it can be a bit shallow. Still 2nd at the mark, but I think something bad happened to Peter & Iain somewhere around there, as we ended up zooming up the next beat to P neck and neck with them, both on Starboard, with us marginally upwind.

At the top of the beat they had pulled ahead and tried to tack across our bow, but the lead wasn't big enough and we were forced to tack too, to avoid holing them. They did their 720 while we scampered off around P, 3-sail reach to E, gybe, 3-sail reach to T. We had a pretty good lead at T, but regrettably I allowed the boom to go in the water while Paul was getting the kite down, and we capsized. It didn't take long for us to pull it upright again, but the boat was full of water and by the time we'd got the kite kite down we had Peter & Iain going round T on our outside. They had much better speed than us, possibly because they weren't carrying half a ton of water in their boat, but I kept them from tacking for the gate until we were both over the lay line, reasoning that the later I left the tack, the more water would have gone out of the bailers.

After tacking, Peter & Iain were upwind of us and overlapped, and they thought that this qualified them for water at the gate buoy.  I however reasoned that this was a windward mark and therefore that they shouldn't have any, particularly with me having a boat half-full of water, so I forced them the wrong side of the mark and they had to come back round for it.

We then had a cracking lap where they chased us around instead of vice-versa and Mo & Holly started catching up too. Peter & Iain snuck past us down at G, we tacked off, they tacked too, and we had a repeat of the previous lap going up to P, except with us to leeward this time. Remarkably, we went faster than them, pulling away with better boat-speed in the rising breeze to establish a decent lead at P. A couple of nice close 3-sail reaches later and we sailed up through the gate to take the win by a decent margin.

Unfortunately, I later discovered that my notions regarding mark-room at a windward mark were based on a misunderstanding of a previous version of the rules, ie a load of old cobblers, so we retired from the race. For those of you who didn't know already, the rules say that you get mark-room in the normal fashion if you are on the same tack as the other boat, and that you can't claim any if on different tacks. I'd somehow got the idea that the latter clause applied to same-tack boats, hence my feeble performance at windward marks for the past 4 years or so. Ho hum.

Anyway, a fabulous day's racing, and well done to double race winners Peter & Iain. We'll be back for another round next Sunday, arguably with a better idea of the rules.

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Nationals Pt. 3

With no wind on Thursday, we spent the entire day sitting about on the off chance that it would fill in, but sadly it didn't. So that meant an early start on Friday and three races.

The cat woke us up in the middle of the night again, prompting the long walk to the toilet block to relieve my bladder. Cat is sociable and comes along for the exercise, waiting until I am out of sight and then haring past me at top speed, although he has occasionally run into guy-ropes. But once in the block, he won't necessarily follow you out - Elaine once found him lying on his back in a shower cubicle at 3:30am with his legs in the air - we don't know why.

Friday dawned, and I could again hear the wind whipping about in the trees on the campsite, which didn't make me particularly happy at the thought of doing three races. But down on the beach the wind was pretty light, and the sun was out too. We put the big kite on, partly due to the lighter winds but mostly due to the fact that the normal (almost brand new) kite had a rip in it. Sigh.

Out at the start, the wind remained pretty moderate and we had a good first race, reckoning a 13th place when we finished. We then pulled the pins out and went to 22'8", and scored a rather less impressive 22nd-ish place in the next one. Then another good one, roughly 15th place at a guess (and I can only guess as the results haven't made it online yet). This was the sort of sailing I signed up for, sunshine, moderate winds, and a bit of tactical sailing. Not the huge waves and big winds of earlier in the week.

Then pack the boat up, bring the trailer round, tow it off to the campsite, back to the clubhouse for the prizegiving, much cheering and clapping of the winners, and we got a mug each. Another night of dubious comfort in the poxy caravan, and then the opportunity to spend 5 hours on the M5 getting it all back home.

Back in dear old Rugby the sun was shining and the wind was blowing, but having spent the entire week sailing I couldn't really expect to get to sail on Sunday too. So I took the boat back to the club, where a decent fleet of 9 Fireballs were out racing. The wind promptly dropped and it then rained on me for the entire time that I was reassembling the boat, so it's clearly not just Looe that gets iffy weather for Fireball events.

Fair play to the UKFA and Looe SC, who did pretty much all it is possible to do to make the event work, and should be proud of what they achieved. If we'd had the sunshine of the week before it would have been perfect, but you can't dictate the weather, so we had a mixed bag of sun, rain, clouds, a thunderstorm, big winds and massive waves instead. I would have like to have done a few gate starts, particularly on day 1 when we had more general recalls than I care to remember, but maybe these have gone out of fashion in recent years.

Next year it is in Tenby. Will I be going?  Hmmm, not sure. Ask me again in 2 months time when I have recovered from this one.


Since I have returned home, it appears that a number of you have read the blog and that more people are interested in the cat's exploits than mine. So for the benefit of these people:

We took Jasper (aka, Mr Fluffy) with us, rather against my better judgement, on the basis that two weeks is a long time to leave him home alone to be fed by neighbours or locked up in a cattery. Week one was spent in a house by the beach in Saundersfoot, where the weather was fabulous. Jasper went for walks on the beach on his lead, which he dislikes intensely, and I made sure it was always somebody else on the other end of it as there is something distinctly wrong about being a bloke with a cat on a lead in public. Particularly a cat which tends to fall over at random intervals to have a chew at the harness.

Jasper said he liked the sand but was unsettled by the big lumpy crashy thing at the far side of it.

For week 2 of the holiday, given that we were spending it in a caravan we were never going to be able to keep him in reliably, so we gave him a few walks on the lead to acclimatise him, then put on the GPS tracker collar and let him roam free. The promise of a bit of tuna every day kept him from straying too far, although he seemed to expect it at some very odd times of the night too. He also liked to accompany any member of the family down to the toilet/shower block, and would go in with you and explore - much to the amusement of the other campers.

Travelling in the car he just lies down in the footwell and falls asleep, and on arriving back home trotted straight round to the neighbours to complain about his treatment and claim 2 weeks worth of the chicken chunks she gives him. He then came back home and settled down for a bit of a nap in his special place:

A great cat-bed. When he's not there, it washes clothes too

Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Nationals pt. 2

Day 4 - Wednesday
Awoken in the night by the sound of rain, the noise of the wind, and the cat on my pillow. Decided then that I was officially not looking forward to the forthcoming day's sailing, but what can you do but man up and get on with it.

Down to the boat park, where crew has rigged the boat, got changed, and is standing to attention awaiting orders. Wind down here is not nearly as scary as on the campsite, so we pulled the pins and went from 22'4" to 22'6".  It was onshore too, so a bit tricky getting off the beach with the fixed rudder and I held off tying it on until I was sure we were clear of the beach.

Out at the start line, where there was noticeably less weed floating about than there had been on previous days (when I spent half my time trying to avoid big lumps of it, and the other half trying to remove it from the rudder without falling overboard). Also observed that there wasn't even enough sunshine to make the Tack-Tick digital compass work

So the gun goes, and we're off, and the first thing I noticed as I sheeted in hard was that the mainsheet outer was coming apart at the point where it goes through the cleat. Spent the rest of the first beat trying not to damage it further, but it inevitably came apart and then started to bunch up. So it came to pass that we rounded the windward mark and stuck the kite up, and the fluffy end of the mainsheet outer refused to go through the hole in the boom resulting in my being unable to let the mainsail out. This is not good. I was just pondering what might be done about it when there was a clonking noise from the back of the boat and the steering went light. On closer inspection, this was because the rudder had just popped off and was taking no further part in the whole steering business. With great presence of mind, I alerted the crew to this state of affairs by shouting "oh bollocks!" marginally before the boat bore away madly and capsized on top of us.

It went upside down fairly smartly, and we were left swimming round it with me clutching the rudder. I experimented briefly with putting it back on the boat whilst I was in the water, decided this was a stupid idea, and climbed onto the upturned hull to do it from there. So I hauled myself onto the hull and strolled off to the transom, whereupon the movement of the boat caused me to fall off into the water again. Once again I clambered onto the upturned hull, stood up, and was promptly pitched off head first into the water.

At this point I gave up on the whole rudder thing and lashed it to the boat using the spinnaker sheet. I then hung around in the water until Iain pulled the boat up, and we got the kite down, put the rudder on, and re-rigged the mainsheet so that it ran outside the boom and could therefore function normally. But by this time we were in danger of being lapped, so opted to go back to the shore for a bit of mainsheet repair and a rest.

On the way, we passed Pete & Steve who were pootling homeward even more slowly than we were. It transpired that the tendons in Steve's arm were unequal to the task of crewing, so game over. 

Getting a new split-tail mainsheet in Looe in under an hour was clearly not an option, so we got the needles and whipping twine out and did a stitch and whipping job on both the fluffy ends, resulting in something that would let me hold onto the normal thickness of rope but cleating it on the inner core only. Then back out to the start line for race 2.

As usual we made a bit of a crap start, but tacked off, played a few shifts and hunches, and were doing ok at the top of the beat in spite of the mainsheet now being a bit unreliable in the jammer. Up with the kite, whereupon we found that we had really quite decent speed on the reaches, with several places taken and not many lost. There is a bit of a knack to 3-sail reaching in waves, basically you bear away down the wave-front for a bit of surfing, and then luff up when you get to the trough. Or maybe you don't, but that's what I did and it seemed to work ok.

Going up the beat we were being out-pointed, and I could see no way of avoiding it. But the compass had found enough photons to enable it to work again, and a bit more considered tacking on the shifts managed to put us ahead of the nearest boats regardless of their better pointing abilities. Going down the run, the boats we had just overtaken were doing it as 2 broad reaches where we were more-or-less dead running, and it was interesting to see what the net result would be. In the end I think we lost a little ground to the reaching boats, but it was only a very little given the length of the run, and we overtook them again on the next beat anyway. Still, worth bearing in mind for next time.

I have no idea where we came in that one, but I know we were ahead of Jez, so presumably we didn't do too badly. I then emptied my wallet (again) to purchase a new mainsheet from the local branch of P&B, handily located in Dave Wade's kitchen, so we should be ok for tomorrow. Hell, even I can put a mainsheet on a boat without screwing it up. Usually.

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Nationals pt.1

The first thing you realise when you sign up for the nationals is the massive increment in effort between this and the requirements of sailing at your local pond. In the latter case, you turn up at roughly the right time on a Sunday morning and pull the sails up. For the Nationals, you have to first do a load of planning, upgrade your boat insurance, get the car serviced, get the caravan serviced, do the wheel bearings on the trailer, get a GPS tracker for the cat, do all those (many) little jobs on the boat, and generally empty your wallet in the cause of achieving all of this. You then find that the excellent weather is about to break, so your anticipated light-moderate breeze under clear blue skies translates into mournful staring out of the window at the trees bending double while the rain beats a tattoo on the roof.

Day zero - Saturday
After a mere 7 hours of driving very slowly on the M5, I finally arrived at the boat-park to find that Iain had done everything, and a good job too. Return to campsite with high hopes for tomorrow, and off to bed. Awoken at 3am by the sound of rain and the realisation that most of the air has leaked out of the inflatable mattress, leaving me lying on the ground. Eventually crawl out and find the foot pump, but the magic has gone.

Day 1 - Sunday
Wake to discover that the fridge no longer works on (free) mains electricity, so resort to running it on expensive gas. Arrive late to boat park, where Iain has once again done everything already, all we have to do is wheel the boat down to the sea and pull the sails up. Wheel boat onto beach with spinnaker pole sticking out from mast in spite of Iain's suggestion that we detach it, catch it on another boat, brand new mast-end fitting promptly shears off. Stare at crew in disbelief, crew stares back, tactfully refraining from saying anything. Then go and get old pole-end fitting out of toolbox and do a hasty replacement job. 

Afloat in time to miss the practise race, we observe that it is pretty windy and onshore so the waves are huge. Whilst waiting for the start of the first proper race and the multiple general recalls that follow, the wind and waves both increase noticeably. By the time we finally get off, it's all gone a bit mental. Zoom off up the beat, boat climbs huge waves with aplomb, and we're doing pretty well at the top mark. Kite up, off down the first reach, gybe nicely and set kite, and it's looking good. Then disaster struck as I was washed out of the boat by a big wave half way down the reach, capsized, and loads of boats sailed past while we retrieved it. Sailed on, but the waves were getting a bit hideous now. Going down the run we were overtaking the waves, climbing up the back of real monsters, getting to the top, and looking down at the trough ahead with some trepidation (aka naked fear) before the boat took off surfing down the wave at stupid speeds. Still, we made a few places back over the next few laps and were only a bit behind Pete at the end.  Iain had gone a funny colour during the race and was sick over the side when we finished, so we packed it in at that point. Pete & Steve stayed on for the next race, although Steve damaged his arm before they finished that one. Karen (who was refusing to fly the kite on self-preservation grounds) just did the one race.

Day 2 - Monday
Awoken at 3am by cat bouncing around on my bed and, when chastised, biting me. Possibly driven mad by sound of rain beating loudly on the roof, he eventually departed in the direction of the children, possibly to bite them too. By morning my wetsuit was nearly dry, so I put it outside to finish off in the thin morning sun, whereupon it promptly got rained on. A drysuit day then.

At the boatpark, Iain had rigged the top of the jib in a different manner to usual, so i pulled it down, re-tied it, and discovered that the tail of the halyard had gone up inside the mast. Stare at crew in disbelief again, then head for the toolbox and the rare-earth magnets to re-thread it. In process, discover that jib halyard sheave no longer goes round, but unable to fix that with WD40 so ignore it. Get halyard sorted laughably quickly and ho for the beach. Down here the wind is quite light and offshore, but out at the start it is possibly windier than yesterday and cross-shore. As a result the waves are smaller and lumpier, but as the day goes on, increasingly large. We had a couple of good races, but were slower than we thought we should be, possibly due to de-powering too much. Pete & Steve took the day off to let the arm recover a bit, Karen was still leaving the kite in the bag on the reaches, but chanced it on the runs. The sun came out and stayed out for most of the time, glinting seductively on those big ocean waves as they broke  into spray and foam, so we felt we were getting our money's worth for a change. Really good fun!

Day 3 - Tuesday.
Now designated a lay day as wind forecast to be gusting 40mph, although BBC weather said 12mph, and in the event probably no more than about 8mph. Shame, as I would have liked a bit of light-airs racing. Still, it gave me a chance to lie in after being woken (and bitten) by the cat at 4am that morning.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Jib Musings

Two races for the price of one in this episode.

Race 1 - Bank Holiday Pursuit Race - M, B, C, Y, K, OL, J, H, S

This one was really great. It was proper windy, but not stupidly so, and a bit sunny at times too. Rig at 22'6", medium kite. We had a big advantage at the start because we knew the far end of the line was 'S', whereas a lot of other people assumed it was the orange buoy. 'S' was about twice as far from the committee boat as the orange item, plus further upwind, and we were all alone up there when the gun went, so charged across the line on port tack for an instant 30 secs advantage over Pete & Rohanna who were at the orange mark and apparently going backwards. We then carried on charging upwind, and the boat felt just fabulous. The windier it was, the faster we went, with gentle easing of the main in the gusts and none of the usual windy-day moments where you have to pinch up to avoid putting the boom in the water and the boat slows down.

By the top mark (M), we were almost up with the Fred which started 3 minutes ahead of us, although we didn't gain much on the next few legs which were a slightly-too-close-for-the-kite reach to B, an-almost-run to C, and a close-reach back to K via Y (which was a totally pointless mark, being dead in line with C-K).

Then a little broad reach past OL to J, and a dead run down to H before hooning back past S to start the next lap.

Now it was somewhere around this point that I noticed that the jib-bars were right out, which was the reason for the fabulous boat-speed up the beat. You doubtless all know that when it is windy we move our jib-bars out and up, but in my case the movement out is generally a grudging 2" affair, and the bars don't go any higher on my boat than their usual position.

So if you take any wisdom away from this, let it be that you can make your life a lot easier in windy conditions by moving the jib-bars right out. And up too, if you have that option. You don't point so well when they are out, which probably makes 'up' the preferred solution, but it's all better than just struggling along on the verge of capsizing. And when you've got the boat going nicely, try moving the bars back in a bit (that's what I did).

Anyhoo, by the top of the next beat we were in amongst the Lasers, and after that I was expecting Solos, but they never materialised so perhaps they'd all given up by this time. We were passed by a Dart 15 on the way to H, and stayed with him all the way up the next beat, there being surprisingly little difference in speed between us. If we'd had any decent 3-sail reaches we might have seen him off, but there weren't, so we didn't. Ho hum.

So we finished 2nd to the Dart, with another Dart somewhere behind us in 3rd place. More importantly, we had a great time!

Pete & Rohanna survive the close reach to K in fine style.
Photo courtesy of Paul Roe

Race 2 - Sunday 2nd June - P, Y, M, C, X, K, OL, Red (near J)

This one was all over the place, varying from a very tasty F3 to a rather feeble F1. The course was great though, particularly the beat from M to C. We had beaten Peter & Mike (and everyone else) in the morning, and were keen to see if we could do it again.

The line was port-biassed, so we came in on port and joined the pack as they sauntered down the line with 20 seconds to go, tacking below them and parking up - the committee boat was at the port end of the line and we didn't want to get too close to that. Helen and Paul promptly charged past us and (finding the same issue), managed to be entirely over the line when the gun went. We made a decent start ahead of the rest of the fleet, but instantly found Peter & Mike were climbing over the top of us, pointing about 15 degrees higher. I have found this to be a real bugger - there's nothing you can do about boats that can point higher than you whilst going just as fast, except get ahead and then sit on their wind.

In this case that wasn't going to happen. We tacked onto port, were clearly going to have to duck Peter & Mike, they tacked on our wind, and a mere 60 seconds into the race we were looking a bit stuffed.

Then it got interesting, with some sizeable windshifts coming down the lake. You don't want this if you are sitting on another boat's wind, as you have to stand on until they decide to tack, by which time you've lost ground. So we made the most of the shifts, tacking instantly they arrived, and then tacking back when the other boat made the tack to cover. And it kind of worked, after a bit of tacking Peter & Mike headed off on starboard into a nice patch of wind, while we went the other way on port. We both then found a bit of a lift on port, which meant that we could lay the windward mark just nicely while they were way above it, and the nice patch of wind came and found us so we zoomed up to the mark (P) and a nice healthy lead. The rest of the fleet had gone right, and although they'd avoided any tacking matches, the lift on port had not done them any favours when they tried to come back across on starboard.

Anyhoo, we sailed round the rest of the lap, Y, M, C, X, K, OL, Red, and were still in the lead at the end of it. But we had a bit of a dodgy bit on the next beat to S, when the wind headed us as the prelude to a nice patch of pressure, and we tacked, and suddenly we were sitting in no wind and being headed again. So we tacked back, but as a result Peter & Mike were on our transoms again. Then a bit further on port, where Paul helpfully told me that there was nothing below us on starboard "except a Solo, but it's OK, it's pink" (presumably pink boats are so non-threatening that you can safely ignore them). Then onto starboard ahead of Pink Solo, round P, Y, M, and off up the decidedly tricky beat to C.

About halfway up this beat, we found ourselves on starboard crossing marginally ahead of P&M, so executed a smart tack onto their wind, on the basis that it would be rude not to. Peter put their boat into super-pointing mode and just sailed up out of the cover and continued to point about 20 degrees higher than we could manage even after he'd got it into clear air. We were deeply impressed by this, partly due to the angle of pointiness, but mostly due to the fact that while it was going on, we were going about twice as fast as they were. By the time they gave up and tacked off we'd pulled out about 30 seconds lead, and when we tacked and got a juicy lift and some pressure, that extended to over a minute.

Even I can't easily lose that kind of lead, so we all sailed round in splendid isolation for a bit longer (rather dull, a bit like handicap racing), and then the race finished.

I have a theory that you can point too high, particularly in the light and fluffy stuff. When there's not much pressure to be had, trying to squeeze it through a narrow jib slot can be a bad idea. The jury is out on this particular occasion - it could have been that we had a personal gust and nothing else. But you have to wonder when two otherwise very equal boats manage such a large variation in boat speed whilst going in the same direction in the same bit of the lake.

Windy weather - jib bars up and out. Right out, get settled, then bring them back in gradually until it stops feeling fast.

Light airs - jib bars also up and out, but not so far. 'Out' to widen the slot, 'up' to counteract the tendency for the weight of the jib to pull the clew down and close the top of the slot.

Anything inbetween - jib bars in their normal positions, assuming you know where that is.

Obviously - it goes without saying that if you go faster than me, you already know better and can ignore all this.

Thus endeth the lesson for today.

Karen and Colin demonstrate how to tackle the run in light airs - weight well forward, good sunglasses.
Photo courtesy of Malcolm Lewin

Monday, 13 May 2013


DWSC members will know that the Firebowl event is one of our two yearly personal handicap events, although it will need to be renamed as the Fire Owl event if the iPad's predictive text gets its way. The basic premise is that everyone starts from the shore at varying intervals, depending on how fast they are expected to go. We then zoom out and join the club race at a point in the course carefully calculated to avoid putting us in the middle of the Lasers, Solos or Flying Fifteens - although this aspect of the plan doesn't always quite hit the spot.

On this particular morning I was standing on the beach holding two sets of handicaps - the ones for medium airs and the ones for windy weather. It looked distinctly moderate, but I suspected it would pick up. Anyhoo, after much deliberation I went for the moderate numbers, and off we jolly well went.

Now I confess I don't remember too much about the first race, but the potted highlights are:

  • Peter & Mike's boat not even being in the water when their start occurred
  • Colin & Karen being somewhere out on the water for theirs, although they did come back after everyone else had gone.
  • Richard & Digby getting into some sort of trouble before they'd even got to the first mark.
  • Pat & Jane capsizing by J
  • Bob & Paul having one of those tack-or-bear-away misunderstandings when I chanced upon them going up one of the beats. Bob tacked and Paul didn't, with the predictable result.
  • It getting pretty chuffin' windy
  • Richard & Digby capsizing 3 times.
  • Some absolutely fabulous 3-sail reaches, which gave the hotshots a chance to annihilate the less confident sailors, which was great fun but not really what we were here for.

At the end, it was Dave and Iain in the lead, with Peter and Mike second.

Then lunch, where I dug the windy-weather handicaps out of my coat pocket and inflicted them on the assembled crew. These are broadly similar to the originals, but with bigger gaps between the starts so the slower boats get a bigger advantage. Dave & Iain reported having bent the screwed rod on one of their spreaders.

So off we jolly well went again, and the first thing we observed was that the wind had dropped a bit, so we were again on the wrong set of handicaps again. Doh!

This time it was early starters Pat & Jane who did something silly on the way to the first mark, and had a bit of a swim as a result. Not fast.

Down at the first mark (S) we were just ahead of Peter & Mike, when they had some sort of kite-not-going-down-properly issue and parked up by the mark, giving us a nice little lead. We then found a very effective route up the beat to B which gave us a mahooosive lead over them and also put us in amongst a load of other boats, notable Pete & Rachel, Bob & Paul, Helen & Paul and JT & Quentin.

A run down to D gave a number of the above boats a chance to get away a bit or pile back over the top of us when they had a bit more pressure by virtue of being upwind, but a smart gybe at D put us back into the fray, and we charged down to E neck and neck with Helen/Paul and Pete/Rachel. We arrived there as the filling in the sandwich, which was a bit scary considering the speed we were all going, but we got the kite down and chased Pete down the next reach to H, leaving Helen & Paul behind as they sorted out their kite.

Round H, through the gate, and a beat up to Y, where nothing of any great interest occurred, then a 2-sail reach to OL and a broadish thing down to S to start the next lap.

The next beat wasn't as great as the first, I think we got ourselves clear of all the boats behind us and overtook Bob/Paul, and again it paid to go right to start with and then hard left for the 2nd half. Going round B, the boats ahead looked to be a long way off, but by the time we'd done D and were approaching E, it was getting windier and they were looking more catchable. We spotted that they were all trying to fly the kite  from E to H and were having a bit of a hard time of it, so we bagged ours and tried for a 2-sailer, which worked quite well. Up ahead, Richard & Digby were in the lead but were blown well down from the lay-line and had to beat back up. Colin & Karen had piled past Dave & Iain, and Paul & Nick were hot on their heels. C&K claimed water at the mark on R&D, but the whole lot (including ourselves) were right on their tail as they tacked for the finish line. And I wish I'd got a photo of it, because when we tacked at H, there were 4 Fireballs right in front of us, all charging for the line, and all finishing close enough together that the poor old OD struggled to write the numbers down.

When the dust and the spray had settled, Colin & Karen had won, followed by Dave & Iain & their broken spreader, Paul & Nick next, and then Richard & Digby (1st to 4th in about 60 seconds). Everybody else turned up in the space of the next 60 seconds or so, and we all headed back to the shore for a well deserved rest.

Only 4 boats turned out for the last race, which is 4 more than usual and gave us 80% of the total turnout. It was looking good for Colin & Karen, particularly when Paul & Nick laid the boat over on the tricky close-reach under the shore from K through OL to J, although they just managed to keep the mast out of the water. And then tragedy struck, when a similar lump of wind hit C&K, resulting in a capsize with the kite up and the end of their chances of taking the trophy. Paul & Nick went on to win that one, with Pete & Rachel 2nd and Richard & Digby 3rd.

When the final results were released, it turned out that Dave & Iain & the broken spreader had won trophy by one point from Paul & Nick, with Pete & Rachel 3rd. Full results here:

Well done to all concerned, and we hope to see you for the rematch - the Marriott Bucket event in September.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Fleet boat

It was monster windy on Sunday, but sunny with it, so a few of us did a bit of bimbling on the fleet boat instead of risking our own boats by going sailing. I'm pleased to report that the fleet boat has come through the winter with no trouble, and still looks like a nice bit of kit.

The only thing that has ever been wrong with it has been the spinnaker halyard take-up system, which reliably failed to take up the excess halyard and left you with a big pile of rope on the floor of the boat. So we applied ourselves to sorting that out.


It was clear that the perfectly good super-stretchy elastic was failing to take up the halyard because either:

a) the blocks in the system were all a bit small and a bit old and a bit rubbish


b) the halyard itself was a bit thick (4.5mm) and unyielding, and didn't like going round corners

I didn't think that the budget would run to replacing all the blocks with super-spiffy ones, so we opted to replace the halyard itself. A quick browse of the chandlery's rope section revealed a soft 3mm item going by the name of 'Swift Cord', which Badders said he'd been using with excellent results, so we had ourselves 15 metres of that. For the record, the old halyard was about 13.75m, but I figured that the extra metre or so could live happily enough in the take-up system, and then we'd have a bit spare if the top of it ever got mangled and needed cutting off. And at £2.20/m it was a lot cheaper than some of the more exotic stuff.

We were easily able to pull the new rope through the mast and all the blocks and eyes by taping it to the end of the old rope and pulling that, and the whole job was complete inside 15 minutes. We then tested it, and the results were fabulous - the kite was far easier to hoist than before, and more importantly, the elastic was easily taking the stuff away. Getting the kite down seemed easier too.


We finished off by putting a couple of cut-down plastic knitting needles onto a string on the rudder - these are used to lock the rudder down when sailing but of course are weak enough to break if the rudder hits anything unyielding, eg the bottom. An excellent system, but you do have to keep replacing them.

Meanwhile, Peter & Mike had rigged their boat, got changed, blasted out to the start, and then come back in again. Apparently it wasn't too windy, but Mike's drysuit had developed holes over the winter and he didn't like the idea of swimming round in a holey drysuit in water which is only a few degrees above zero.

Fair enough. Roll on next Sunday and something a bit more sensible.

Monday, 8 April 2013

Light n fluffy

Poorly Paul was poorly today, and in fact had been since Wednesday, so I had time to book somebody else to sit up the front. The lucky person this week was Rohana, who was the first (and indeed, only) applicant for the job.

The forecast said light to moderate, and the bushes said "not a lot", which turned out to be more accurate. Still, we were there, it wasn't snowing, and there was some wind and some mercury above the zero line, so what the hell.

Race 1: N, OL, X, S, H

Rohana and I were a little late for the start of the first race, which obviously never happens under normal circumstances, and nobody at all waited for us. But given the conditions I figured we should be able to catch a few people, particularly Badders whose leech was standing out a mile on the first beat. Sadly we went the wrong way up that first leg and were still last at N, and indeed also every other mark on the first lap if memory serves. Up front, it was Paul & Nick who were making the early running with an apparently unassailable lead, followed by Bob & Iain,  Helen & Paul , Pete S & Rachel and JT & Pete M in ever-changing variations of order. Pat & Jane were up front for a while too, but I think they lost out badly somewhere along the line.

It appeared from the first lap that there was a wind bend up the first beat which favoured an early punt left (on starboard), in defiance of the obvious port tack bias. So we gave that a bash and wound up a lot closer to everyone else by the top of the beat on the 2nd lap, and ahead of Badders & JR if memory serves. We then deployed the kite on the close reach to OL, and ducked inside Colin & Karen when they went wide at the mark. Not much happened on the way to X, but when we arrived there it appeared that every boat ahead of us had stopped, so we were able to catch up with the whole lot of 'em quite nicely on that leg.

Sadly they all got going again, so we were only able to overtake Paul & Nick on the next beat, and they were probably used to it by then having been overtaken by any number of other boats. So Bob and Iain won, and we came in fifth or sixth, a position which initially meant very little to me, and then meant even less when I remembered that we hadn't signed on in the first place.

Race 2: M, K, P, C, Gate

On the way out to the start we passed Paul & Nick, who were trying to pull the boat upright near OL, having capsized it with the kite up. Apparently a gust had arrived and Paul had bounded for the high-side while Nick went out on the wire, leading to a windward capsize and a nice swim. Impressively, they carried on sailing after this.

We had remembered to sign on for this one and even turned up on time, and the wind was much better than the morning too. Although the port biassed line had gone more starboardy between me sussing it out and the start occurring, and then we couldn't tack due to Pete S & Rachel chasing us for the first few minutes on starboard tack, which turned out to be an entirely non-optimal route up the beat. So once again we weren't doing too well at the top of the beat, not actually down the toilet but definitely sniffing a smelly one.

The next leg (M to K) started as a very-close-reach / fetchy sort of thing, but opened up to be kite-able about halfway along, then nip round M and choose your route down the run to S, where the wind came and went in various places, and we overtook quite a lot of boats for no better reason than that we went straight there while they gybed around and did clever things. The next leg took us back to where we started, ie, C, and was a close reach which allowed Rohana to trapeze very satisfyingly whilst flying the kite. We were in 2nd place to Badders & JR at the end of it, and this time were able to hit the left hand side of the beat for a very decent lift straight up the wall on port tack while Badders went hard left on starboard. Colin & Karen came with us to keep us company, and everybody else went off with Badders.

Werl, when we tacked off some distance past B and peeked under the mainsail, Badders was a million miles below us, still going left, apparently so far behind us as to be in a completely different time-zone. So, cheers cheers, we only had Colin & Karen to deal with. However you write Badders off at your peril, and 5 minutes later he'd found a decent lump of pressure that had passed us by, tacked onto port, and been lifted  straight up to the mark to arrive a mere 3 boat-lengths behind us.

Round M in first place, but the other two boats were right behind. Sail along the close-hauled bit of the leg, then hoist the kite for the broader bit. But woe, Colin & Karen came charging over the top of us with their kite full of wind that we hadn't got, and right behind them is the dreaded Badman looking to get an overlap to leeward at the rapidly approaching mark...

And then it all went funny, the kites collapsed, the steering went floppy, and I had a strong impression that we might now be head to wind. Well Badders was getting his kite down, so Rohana did the same for us and by the time she'd finished we'd gone from a starboard tack reach to a close-hauled port tack affair, which resulted in us beating up the rest of the leg to the mark. Helen & Paul, arriving at the same place shortly afterwards, described how they stopped dead here, while another Fireball sailed past them on one side on a beat and a Fred sailed past on the other with its kite up.

Back at the main event, all three boats rounded in a big lump, but the wind dropped and by some deviousness the other two promptly sailed away from us and pulled out a massive lead. This being a dead-run, we were then able to observe a load of other boats, Pete S & Rachel notable amongst them, going left down the run looking for the pressure that was building on that side, all threatening to come past us too. Fortunately the wind found us before they did that, and better still we caught right up with Badders & JR and Colin & Karen, and were going fast enough round S that we had to go below the latter boat, rather jammily punching through their dirty air and coming out ahead. We'd brought the kite down in anticipation of this being a close reach, and it was.

Badders kept going high, so we plodded on manfully (and girlfully?) on a lower course and ended up sort of neck-and-neck. Then everyone put their kites up, but it didn't look good to me so we just headed up onto a 'proper course' sort of line and waited until Badders couldn't carry his any more and had to take it down. Colin & Karen kept theirs up, but it didn't appear to be helping much. These super-big North kites aren't great on a close reach, and being a bit heavy they don't always seem to work well in light airs either.

Then the wind dropped and we all just sat still for a couple of minutes. There was clearly summat good coming towards us down the lake, but it wasn't here yet and would get to Badders first when it arrived.

And then, like manna from heaven (whatever that is), the tiniest of zephyrs landed in our sails and we took off towards C at the heady speed of about 2mph, and when I looked back 30 seconds later, Badders and the rest of the crowd hadn't moved at all. Go figure. So we arrived first at C to the sound of 2 hoots, which made me a very happy bunny indeed. Back in the pack, Pete S & Rachel tacked up to meet the approaching pressure, which got them past Colin & Karen and onto Pete's transom at C. We did a quick right-left job and sailed across the finish line, Badders followed us, Pete S tacked immediately at C and was lifted to just hit the far end of the line, thereby dumping Badders into 3rd place, and Colin & Karen got 4th with everyone else not far behind.

By now the pressure had arrived properly, so we all zoomed back to the shore and a nice post-race drinky. Rohana generously said that she had learned a lot, although one suspects that the main lesson might have been to avoid sailing a Fireball in light airs in the future. Still, if you find yourself in need of a crew at any point, she can carry off a fine roll-tack and can gybe a symmetric kite with the best of 'em. Bonza!

So a damn good day's sailing, and the prospect of there being a good few boats out this coming Wednesday evening too.

Spring is here. Party on dudes.

Wednesday, 3 April 2013


Having missed a couple of weekends due to the arrival of snow at the most in-opportune moments, I was very happy to find that today was free of snow, rain, hail, and boasted a sensible amount of wind too. So we rocked up (somewhat late due to losing an hour what with it now being BST) and started to assemble the boat. Rig as usual, plus:

  • Inflate dodgy tyre
  • Put bobbles on the end of new spinnaker sheets so they don't pull through
  • Lubricate the kite halyard cleat, which was sticking so disastrously last time out

By this time we were clearly going to miss the start, especially as it was a million miles away down at 'C' (ie, as far away as it is possible to be). But the other 2 Fireballs were similarly tardy so I wasn't concerned - we could start at the end of the sequence, no worries.

En route, a kindly Solo sailor sailed upwind a way to tell us that we were 20 seconds from our 3 minute gun, which came as a bit of a surprise, but was information gratefully received.

When we eventually arrived at the line, it transpired that the OD team had waited for us, thereby condemning everyone else to a noticeable delay before their start. Did I mention that it was pretty damn cold ?

No ?

Ah well, it was undeniably pretty damn cold, and some elements of the Laser fleet seemed to be a bit unhappy about having to hang about in those conditions. A Laser sailor bellowed something to this effect at me, which seemed a little pointless given that we'd only just arrived and had no way of altering the situation. Compare and contrast with the attitude of the Solo sailor who was going to have to wait even longer, I'm saying nothing.

Race 1 - T, J, OL, M, B, Y, C

Anyway, off we went, with my attempts at shutting Badders/JR out at the committee boat a complete failure, so we were last off the line and tacked off right. Thirty seconds on port tack, then back onto starboard. When the other boats tacked and crossed ahead, they'd pulled out a decent lead in not a lot of time. Well we're not having that, there's clearly some goodness to be had on the left hand side of the beat, so off we go!

So we went a decent distance left, found a lift towards the bank, eventually tacked back onto port and were lifted up a rather nice wind-bend which extended all the way to the first mark. Below us, running in parallel, were Badders/JR and Pete/Rachel, neither of whom were pointing as high as we were, being as they were on the outside of the bend. So, with a couple more tacks at the top of the beat, we went round 'T' in first place and set off towards 'J' with a very healthy lead.

"Game over", said Poorly Paul as he fixed the pole onto the mast and I hoisted the kite. But no, apparently not. The kite went halfway up and stopped dead. Oh dear. Much pulling up and down of the kite made no noticeable difference, and we went round 'J' with it still at half mast, ie bloody useless, and a much reduced lead.

There followed a dead run through 'OL' to 'M', where I discovered that if I let the rig tension right off, the kite would go up. So we hung on to our lead down to 'M', then reached off to 'B' in fine style. Arriving at 'B' we discovered that the kite wouldn't come down either unless I let the rig tension off, at which point we found ourselves going upwind with the jib luff looking like a banana. And can you get the rig tension back on again with one hand while steering with the other..?  Well no, not really. So we experimented briefly with Paul steering, but that didn't go well either, so we trotted off up the beat to 'Y' with minimal rig tension, and were still there-or-thereabouts in the lead going round it, bore off for the 3-sail reach to 'C', and whoop-de-bloody-do, the kite wouldn't go up again.


After some experimentation it transpired that the kite would only go up or down if the rig tension was completely off, which made hoisting and retrieving it a bit of a faff:

Bear away
Release rig tension
Hoist kite
Re-apply rig tension
Sail to next mark
Drop the rig tension
Retrieve the kite
Re-apply rig tension

Repeat until hand hurts, then repeat some more

Well you can't race seriously like that, and with three laps and two hoists per lap, we were clearly not going to do well. However, we were still in with a shout on the last beat, albeit from a position where our overall position couldn't get any worse, ie behind both Badders/JR and Pete/Rachel.

"Go left", said Poorly Paul, who tends towards the notion that if it worked last lap, it couldn't fail to work this time either. Well with 30+ years of experience under my belt, I know better. We were on port tack and already near the lay-line and going further left just didn't look sensible. So we followed Badders/JR up the middle of the beat, and b****r me, in comes Pete/Rachel from the far left like a Communist on a jet powered bicycle, straight past the pair of us, round 'T' and off towards 'J'. Naturally our kite wouldn't go up at all on that leg, so no chance of a fight-back, so we settled for a lowly last place and a lunchtime of kite-maintenance.

Once ashore, we discovered 2 things wrong with the kite halyard:

1) It was wrapped once around the luff wire, although Paul swears it wasn't when he rigged it
2) It had a tiny half-hitch (slip-knot to you) in it, about halfway up

It appears that this precise combination is sufficient to jam your halyard with the kite halfway up, presumably when the knot meets the luff-wire and catches on the sheave at the top.

Well getting slip-knots out of 3mm D12 when they've been pulled very tight for the last 'n' months is non-trivial, and it took us about half an hour, working in shifts with a fine screwdriver blade and a total disregard for the integrity of the D12, before the thing came undone. And honestly I'm still amazed that it did - when we started it looked like a little shiny bump in an otherwise perfect bit of grey D12. When we'd finished the lump had gone but it was all a bit fluffier.

Then a load more hanging about, as the next race was a pursuit and therefore we would be going at 2:30pm instead of 1:15pm. Still, it gave us a bit of time to warm up and to replace the nuts and bolts holding the kicker jammer on, which the eagle-minded amongst you will remember had exploded last time out and were only now attached with equal measures of friction and hope.

Race 2 - H, J, OL, M, Y, X, D

Then off to the committee boat (which thankfully wasn't waiting for us this time) and the opportunity to make an even worse start than this morning. So we went left, tacked when the shore loomed, right a bit, then left some more. And lo, it appeared that the fabulous wind-bend was still there and still doing its thing, because we popped round the windward mark ahead of Badders/JR, hoisted the kite, and joy of joys, it went up so beautifully, and whoosh, off we went.

There then followed an entire race where Badders/JR failed to catch us, whilst we overtook everything else out there for the simple and rather dull reason that we were in a faster boat. We were aided and abetted by some rather fine reaches, notably H to J and X to D, both of which were great fun. The run from J through OL to M was pretty much dead and therefore a good thing, offering us the opportunity to choose between the wind channel inshore and the gusty stuff further out, although when we got it wrong it allowed Ally in the Contender back past us. Finally there was a very close reach from M to Y which would presumably have made a heavy Laser sailor very happy, but they'd all gone home and it did nothing for yours truly at all.

We took the lead when we overtook a tiny yellow boat en-route to K, did the dull leg to Y, and observed the finish boats congregating around X as we approached. They held station ahead of us until we arrived at D, and then finished us just as we were getting the kite down and were too busy to notice. At the same instance a flying Moth flew past - I hadn't even seen it coming although there's not a lot I could have done if I had. As it turned out, it was Tom, and he hadn't actually started the race, having joined in with the other Moths some time later. So he had the moral victory while Poorly Paul and I took the little silver RNLI trophy that Pete Wood got last year and which clearly hadn't been cleaned since.

All in all then, a mighty fine day's sailing. Many thanks to the OD team who must have worked so hard to make it all happen.

Monday, 18 March 2013

Snow joke

Well the forecast was pretty clear that we could expect some decent sailing weather today. A variety of forecast sites agreed that it would start off a bit fluffy, but we'd get 9 or 10mph winds by 1pm, maybe a bit of rain, not too cold etc. So most of the winter-sailing bit of the fleet turned up all keen and ready to go, and some of them were even changed and rigged...

And then it started snowing

And the wind dropped to nothing

And we stood in the wetbar for hours hoping it might just snap out of it, but it just carried on snowing

So we all went home.

And, predictably, by the time I was at home eating my lunch at about the time the afternoon race normally starts, it had stopped snowing, there was a little bit of wind and the sun came out.

So basically, it had snowed at precisely the right moment and for just long enough to screw up my day's sailing, and then stopped.


I found out later that one pair of blokes had stayed and gone sailing, and Nick was one of them:

Me and Paul wish a few more people had stuck it out as the sailing this afternoon was alright in the end - we've certainly raced in less wind and it wasn't too cold out there. There were times when I couldn't see the luff of the kite for the blinding sunshine!

So four solos and one lonely Fireball went out to play. The committee had clearly listened to feedback from last week and sensibly set just five marks for the course - X, N, T, J and OL. We had a cracking start, full speed across the line, slightly after the gun went but we were in first place. Good power up the beat, I was even sitting up on the side tank but not quite clipped in. First at X we bore away and set the kite. It was a reasonably fast reach to N where we gybed again. Couldn't keep the kite flying as it was pretty tight to T so down it came. Gybed at T and set the kite again but it was a slow run next to the dam wall down  to J. Some Fireballers might have headed up to sail higher and faster and possibly overtake but as we were the only ones out there we just went straight to the mark.

Heading up round J we kept the kite flying and with Paul on the leeward side now was my only chance to trapeze. Kite down and close hauled round OL back to X. Second lap the pressure had dropped and I was on the other side of the boat now, nowhere near the windward side. Our new jib tell tale on the trailing edge was keeping Paul happy - our slot looked to be working even though the pressure was light. As the sun came out we were hoping for some thermal effects but they never quite switched on.

Lap two was a repeat of lap one except we dropped the kite before going round N. Some more experienced Fireballers may have been able to fly their kites on the tight reach from N to T but as we were the only ones out there we'll never know.

Lap three it was getting almost tropical with the sun but the thermal wind never materialised. The wind must have shifted though as on (what turned out to be) the last lap, having dropped the kite again at N, Paul reckoned we could fly it to T. Up went the kite and as long as I pinned it in it flew. Not too sure we were going much faster though. Kept the kite up as we gybed around T and ran it straight down to J where we didn't need to head up too much as the hooter from the race box told it was finish next. As we came in, sensibly dropping the main before approaching the slipway under jib alone we were puzzled to see the Solos all get finish guns and continue sailing for another lap. Boat put away and as we signed off the race committee told us that the Solos were making the most of the abandoned race from this morning by getting in as much sailing as they could.

After showers and walking down back to the cars we were surprised to see that the Solos were still out. Yes it's not long before the clocks change and we start doing two races in the afternoon......

Monday, 11 March 2013

Double Hat Day!

I looked out of the window and the bushes were dancing about amongst the snow flurries, so when Poorly Paul rang to tell me how cold it was, I didn't put up too much of a struggle and we chickened out of the day's racing. Still, got to go up to the club to help Clive and Rod to rig the fleet boat - they've never sailed a Fireball before and have chosen today to have their first go.

Remarkably, they were still keen to go out when we met in the boatpark in the teeth of an Arctic F3 blowing in from the NE, even with the promise of a lot more windyness to come later on. But in deference to the conditions, we decided that I would chaperone them (one at a time) in the boat on the offchance that this might help a bit.

Now the fleet boat is built like a brick outhouse but is not set up for strong winds or any sort of technical trickery, so it came to pass that Rod and I went out with it set on 22'8" and nothing more than a few armfuls of kicker available to de-power it. Still, Rod demonstrated himself to be a bit of a star player considering he'd never set foot in a Fireball before. So having made short work of going upwind and arriving up near F entirely intact, we turned it round and chucked the kite up. Geezers who are used to asymmetric kites are generally confused by the symmetric job on the Fireball, but it's only a matter of pulling the right strings, and we carried off a couple of gybes with some aplomb, followed by a tasty 3-sail reach through the Laser fleet's start line, and even got it down without issue.

Then back in to swap Rod for Clive, and for yours-truly to put the dreaded trapeze harness on, then off for some more splashing about. The wind was getting a bit fruity by this time, but what the hell. Clive normally helms a Vago, but took to the Fireball like a duck to a sandwich, while I tried not to be too crap up the front end. We managed to lay the boat flat a couple of times (largely due to me not letting the jib go) but I managed to save it by unhooking from the trapeze when I attained the vertical, and then holding onto the trapeze loop and leaning back - from which point you can save just about anything. Then we did a bit of kite flying with Clive crewing, which was pretty good, and then Clive took us back ashore again. All safe and sound, we took the mainsail down and were standing in the water sorting out the trolley when Paul and Nick attempted to mow us down as they came ashore. Welcome the the fleet, boys!

Clive and Rod said they enjoyed the Fireball, which (they said) was a lot roomier than the Vago as well as being faster, a lot less twitchy on the helm and more stable. Fingers crossed, you might be seeing a lot more of these guys.

Meanwhile the first race had already taken place, and Pete Slack was your man on the water:

With a forecast of -1 degrees and 17knts NE feels like Siberia it was always going to be a “Double Hat Day”. As per form the the Fireball Fleet sailed forth to look expectantly at the course board on the back of the committee boat. A trial beat confirmed the forecast of up to 25 knt gusts so we put the pins in and raked to 22' 6”. [Tech note 1 for the technically minded put the pins in whilst onshore, easier to pull then out if the wind drops rather than fight to put them with frozen fingers in the rising breeze].

As we hadn't sailed for a while we did the honourable thing and let the rest of the fleet get off to a flying start, giving Paul and Nick the opportunity to lead at the windward mark. Casual fine reach with occasional gusts to have a look at the trees by E, inside Capt'n Bob, up with Big Blue and under Paul and Nick and off on a cracking 3 sailer on the waves to K with Capt'B in hot pursuit, beat K to J and then a kite up and off to D. But not quite, picked up a collection of humongous snow covered gusts mid lake and took the warmest decision got all the boat out the water and planed to C......beat back to D, look back to see we've fooled Capt'n Bob into doing the same and capsizing :)

Helen and Paul scoot past, run on to C gybe early and sneak on the inside of Helen and Paul, set up for the 3 sailer to B, Rachel wires and sheets in, bang! twinner lets go [tech note 2, use D12 for twinners, standard dynema rope polyester cover wears or breaks on the knot by the stainless ring], kite down-wind heads so probably a good idea. And back to the full length lake 1.5mile beat to S, glad we're not in a laser!!

After a tentative first lap confidence recovers and we blow away the cob webs in the breeze and waves, though some also enjoy it so much they take a longer route round N and P as well....

A special note to the two guys who took the Fleet boat out, looked to be going quite well.

In for a warm and pleasant lunch and tea with the spectating old dears...............temperature drops even further so CBA sets in so off to the bar.


[Tech note 3 for a committee somewhere, there's a certain challenge writing down a whole line of race marks in feels like -5, the search for a second line may well be a lower in the priorities with the prospect of full immersion in a gusty F4/5].  

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Spring breakages

The forecast said sunny, warm, and 10-12mph, but the bushes in my garden said nothing at all. Paul also reckoned it to be a waste of time; fortunately I talked him into it.

We were in good company today, with the welcome return of three Petes swelling our numbers to a decent 8 boats. We'd have had the full set if Pete Slack hadn't been away :-(

Race 1: T, N, D, J, OL, E
The start line for the morning race was about a million miles from the beach, and given the feeble wind took a long time to get to. We then had a bit of confusion caused by some people not arriving at the start in time, and other people saying they'd wait for them and then not waiting for them, resulting in some other people who thought they were waiting getting decidedly worse starts than the ones who decided not to. Still, it gave us something to aim at. I won't go into detail, suffice to say that various people had a go at the lead, but we were pretty quick on the dead runs (of which there were many), and eventually came out in front.

Lunch time then, where somebody told Paul that this pathetic breeze was as good as it was going to get, resulting in a distinct disinclination on his part to spend the afternoon drifting around in it. But we went anyway, and a good job too as the wind picked up very nicely by the time we started and continued to rise through the race, and I for one would have been absolutely gutted if I'd missed it.

Race 2: T, S, Y, K, OL, J, E
Off the line we all went left except for Pete & JR, who port-tacked it behind everybody and took off to the right. For reasons that are unclear to me, this put them into a good lead, but I figured we could catch them. We were 2nd around T, bunged the kite up, and chased them down to S where we gybed and hooned across to Y on a reach that was slightly too close for comfort but nonetheless tremendous fun. It was at that point that things started to go wrong. We took the kite down at Y, I pulled a handful of kicker on and the cleat promptly exploded, shooting its constituent parts all over the boat. So I steered and played the mainsheet and held on to the kicker, whilst talking Paul through the reassembly process. When we'd tried most permutations of the available components, we eventually got the thing back together, albeit with only one nut securing it.

Remarkably we hadn't lost too much ground doing this, so were reasonably close to Pete & JR at K, OL and J. And when we both bore off for the run to E and Pete's kite went under the boat, I thought we were sorted. So we bunged the kite up, fixed the pole, sheeted in, and woe is me - the corner of the kite had come untied (again). Aaaargh!

We went through the usual procedure, gybing, posting the string round the forestay, gybing back, re-tying it and pulling it up again. Pete didn't get away at all during this time, but as soon as we'd got the kite pulling again and thought we were safe, he just sailed off into the distance. And worse, Peter & Mike were gaily sailing past us downwind and Colin & Karen were on our transom.

By the time we arrived at E, Pete was gone. Peter & Mike were vaguely catchable, and Colin and Karen were just behind us. So we set our sights on catching Peter, and at the end of the beat we'd been overtaken by Colin as well.

"Ah well", says I, at least we can blow them into the long grass on the close reach. So we pootled down the broad reach to S, gybed, sorted the kite out, and as soon as we sheeted it in for the close reach, the halyard cleat started slipping and it went all Aussie-drop on us. So I laboriously heaved it back up again, and it promptly came down again.

"Bugger it, we'll 2-sail it", we said, but by this time Colin & Karen were long gone. We clawed back just enough on the final beat to end up on their transom again, but there was no way past, and we ended up 4th.

By way of an observation then, sailing a boat that doesn't work reliably is rubbish, and is the best way I can think of to convert an excellent race into a waste of time. Now I have a hard-earned reputation in the boatpark for doing as little boat maintenance as possible, so you may be thinking that this boat unreliability stuff is well deserved. But in fact, it boils down to three things:

1)  New spinnaker sheets. The tapered ends on the new one are thinner than on the old one, so the knot on the end is smaller and can now be pulled through the eye on the kite when the breeze is up. It's taken me a while to work this out - but I have a couple of tiny bobbles ready and we won't be suffering from that one again.

2)  Excellent D12 spinnaker halyard. We've had this for ages and it really is fabulous, it is the only stuff that has ever been reliably taken up by the take-up elastic. But it is also a bit shiny and it needs a decent cleat. While I've been resting up with a broken wrist and Paul has been, well, just resting, one side of the cleat has gone a bit sticky and is no longer fulfilling its primary purpose. I shall replace it forthwith, and will endeavour not to break any more parts of my anatomy to avoid it happening again.

3) Exploding kicker jammer. Yeah, OK, that's down to poor maintenance. But the bolts had locknuts on them, they're not supposed to just come apart willy-nilly after 10 years of service. This, I submit, could happen to anyone.

So, roll on next week, when we may have the full complement of Petes and another chance to show 'em who's fastest. Meanwhile, donations of 3mm (4mm?) locknuts gratefully received.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Cool but not too cold

It was the sort of morning when you look out of the bedroom window at the rain, browse the forecast (which says 'snow later'), and opt to stay at home. But I hadn't sailed since New Years Day, and hadn't put in a full Sunday since last August, so I was damn well going to sail if I possibly could. Poorly Paul, fresh back from his all-you-can-eat-and-drink holiday in the sun, was also up for it, albeit a tad heavier than usual.

So off to the club, where we met a decent crowd of other suitably insane Fireball sailors, threw the boat together, ignored the flat tyre but put new spinny sheets on, and zoomed off to the start.

On the way to the start we put the kite up and discovered that the new spinny sheets were not the same as the ones we'd taken off. The old ones were made such that the taper would hit the bobble in the right place for the twinner to work. In spite of my asking specifically for this arrangement, the new ones from P&B weren't made that way and required a knot to be tied to meet the bobble, and of course we hadn't done this.  So spinnakering was going to be a bit amusing. I also discovered that my new waterproof gloves were almost impossible to put on over wet hands while steering the boat, but when on, they were definitely worth having.

Race 1 - T, OL, Y, B, D
Down at the start line I observed that there was a significant port end bias, so with 30 seconds to go we went for a port tack flyer. Fortunately all 5 other boats were only halfway up the line on starboard, and finding it hard to lay the pin, so we had a clean getaway and were first round the windward mark as a result. Behind us on the reach the entire fleet were all grouped up in a big Firebally mass, and we watched with some amusement as various boats luffed each other up or attempted to put their kites up (I think JT managed it). Then round OL and onto the run to Y, where the entire fleet sat on our wind and gained a lot of ground, before various bits of it got into luffing matches and shot off sideways. Helen and Paul made a neat job of avoiding this by going low, and were just behind us at 'Y'.

The leg to 'B' was a bit too broad to be interesting, but the gybe at the end slowed us down as Paul had to do many stringy things to make the twinner work. Helen and Paul made a spirited attempt to get past us to leeward, and in fact succeeded, but had gone a bit too low, allowing us to re-take them when they had to get their kite down early. This was a nice close 3-sail reach, requiring mucho cunningham and judicious easing of the kicker, also some hanging out - reminding me how unfit I am.

We had another 2 or 3 laps of that, with Helen and Paul hanging on to our transom and the rest of the fleet making various random sorties in our direction and then dropping back again. Somewhere on the last beat Bob & Paul capsized due to a communication failure - Paul was still discussing tacking to lee-bow a starboard-tack Fireball whereas Bob had already made up his mind. Cue a major tea-bagging for Paul, while Paul & Nick in the other boat made their getaway.

And so to lunch, where the wetbar had notably more Fireballers in it than all the other fleets put together (it's not often we outnumber anyone these days, so I have to get my point scoring in where I can).

Then adjust the spinnaker sheets to have knots in all the right places, and off to the start of the next race. We flew the kite out to the start, and it was good.

Race 2 - T, OL, S, Y, D
There may have been anchor problems on the committee boat, as we were pretty late but still had to hang around while stuff was sorted out. During this time we observed that it was noticeably colder now than it had been in the morning, plus a fair bit windier. Starboard bias on the line - Helen and Paul were a bit over-keen, got there really early, and were observed trying to sail backwards back across the line with 20 seconds to go. So, staying well out of their way, trot up to the line, gun goes off, Colin and Karen capsize, rest of fleet zooms off. I love that bit just after the start when all the (upright) boats are haring off together, all apparently going at exactly the same speed, really exciting stuff.

We were again first to the windward mark, and (I think) at OL, but Helen and Paul were close behind us. The next leg to S was a closer reach than we were expecting, and just as we arrived at S the guy rope parted company from the kite, which clearly wasn't a good thing. So we gybed and retrieved the kite, and set about trying to get the errant sheet back round the forestay and onto the corner of the kite. While we were fiddling about, Helen and Paul zoomed past us to leeward with their kite up, so we parked the string and set off after them. Fortunately for us, it got a bit windier and they had to pause to take their kite down, so we blasted past, gybed around Y and went back to re-stringing the kite. This leg was quite broad, but for some reason they chose not to kite it, giving us time to finish the string thing and test it out, and still be ahead at the mark (D).

Back up the beat to T, we were still ahead of Helen, with John & Quentin in 3rd place but quite well back. Two-sail reach to OL, gybe, then hoist kite for that uber-cool reach to S. But woe, the kite wouldn't go up, and we dobbered off towards D hauling on the various ropes, all to no avail. Helen and Paul had chosen OL as a good place to inspect the centreboard, but JT & Quentin had caught up and were hooning off down the reach in a thoroughly excellent fashion. So, big sigh, once again we put the kite back in the bag and went after them on 2 sails.

Gybing around S, we were right on their transom, and we both set off towards Y at high speed, ducking and weaving as the gusts blew in. We were sat in the flat water directly behind them, but couldn't find the extra speed to get past, so we just sat and enjoyed the ride. And it was worth it, both boats charging across the lake, all four blokes thoroughly engaged in staying upright and coaxing maximum speed out of their craft.

And then we were at Y, where we gybed a bit wide in case JT decided to go swimming in front of us, but no worries, both boats rounded just fine and we followed them down to D, still sans-kite. Now at this point JT ought to have bunged his kite up and waved goodbye, but he didn't, so we were close enough at the end of the leg to take them out on the next beat and win the race.

Further back, Colin & Karen were involved in an epic battle with Bob & Paul, the latter being somewhere behind but determined to catch up, and the former being hampered by flappy string. The story is that the knot on the end of the mainsheet had come undone at some point, and somehow the whole lot had been dragged out of the boom. Some hasty re-rigging had fixed it up again, but with the mainsheet on the outside of the boom instead of running along the inside. The net result was that every time they tacked, the mainsheet dangled down from the boom and lassoed the unfortunate helm, requiring Karen to untangle him, plus some swimming when this didn't happen quickly enough.

So Bob & Paul did a great job of catching up by flying their kite across from S to Y (which looked absolutely epic boys, I take my hat off to you), and Colin and Karen finished the job by capsizing while untangling after a tack. I'm not sure if either of them beat Paul & Nick, but I'm pretty sure that Helen & Paul came in third after us and JT. And that was it, put boats away and retire to the bar and a nice drinky.

Now, this being Monday, I hurt all over and my skin appears to have turned into the sort of thing you might find in a museum wrapped round a bit of ancient pottery. Not sailing for 5 months apparently removes whatever feeble levels of fitness a chap used to have and leaves previously damaged wrists susceptible to all sorts of interesting pains on the day after. Not a lot of work getting done today, that's for sure.

But it was great, and well worth it!