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.