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.