Monday, 15 December 2014

Yuletide sailing

Course:  M, D, B, T, J, OL, X, Gate
Wind:  SW, F4+

From the various forecasts and examination of the pressure charts, I was expecting it to be 'stupid' on the Bush Scale, but in reality it was never more than 'fruity'.  That didn't stop Paul Anthony's boat being blown off its trolley whilst on the slipway though...the moral of that particular tale is don't try to tie your outhaul on to the end of the boom while the sail is up.

Ho for the start-line, where we arrived with just enough time to sail once past the course board before ambling up to the pin end and tacking to cross the line when the gun went.  A pretty crap start then, but nobody else beat us to it.  Various other 'balls were sailing around the committee boat, sailing away from the line etc.  It was too cold to hang about while they got their shizzle together, so we zoomed off up the beat, closely followed by Bob & Paul and Helen & Paul.

Going upwind was 'refreshing', with significant amounts of ice-cold reservoir content going over my head at regular intervals.  Bob & Paul hung on well, and we soon overtook Jane & Pat who had decided that they didn't need to trapeze that last little bit at the top of the beat, followed by some slot-gasket inspection shortly afterwards.  Round M, and up with the kite for the leg to D, with Bob & Paul and Helen & Paul in line astern.  This was a bit too broad for my liking - basically a run in fact.

OK, round D and beat up to B, where Helen & Paul caught up quite a lot of ground - we were going fast but not pointing worth a damn, and Iain & Tom were catching up too.

B to T was a long leg and looked perfect for the kite, so we stuck it up.  It turned out to be a bit close though, and although we carried the kite almost all the way there, Helen & Paul 2-sailed it and didn't really lose any ground to us. Then a dodgy little beat to J followed by a little fetch to OL (note to ODs, that could have been a nice little beat if you'd left J out).  Then another near dead run to X and through the gate to start again.

This time we lost a lot of ground on the beat, and were 3rd behind Helen & Paul and Iain & Tom when we arrived at M.  Another dead-ish run to D didn't help, although I think we overtook H&P on the beat to B.  Iain & Tom had a very decent lead by now, but were 2-sailing it. We went high on 2-sails, then popped the kite and settled in for a proper blast. I&T did the same, but they were further down the leg so had less kiting space available, plus they appeared to be going a bit slowly anyway.  By the time we arrived at T, they were only about 15 seconds ahead, and we pulled some of that back on the beat to J.

So it was looking like game-on for a decent battle to the finish, but I&T promptly sailed straight off to the gate, skipping OL and X.  We plodded on round those, and arrived a little later to take the gun.  Helen & Paul laid it flat at J, Bob & Paul were a short distance behind them, and I have no idea what happened to Jane & Pat or Paul & Pete.

Iain & Tom had missed out the last 2 marks on account of having been fooled by the cunning way the course, which would have fitted onto one line, was split over 2 lines of the course board.

Having been fooled by the forecast of 'stupid, gusting mental in the afternoon', and a sore throat, I had committed to missing the PM race, so duly returned home for a lie down.  The wind promptly dropped a bit, leaving the afternoon's racing wide open to anyone who was left.

The Fireball Bush Scale (with apologies to Mr Beaufort)

0-4 mph - "Drifty/Rubbish"
Fireballers stay in bed, or wish they had.

5-9mph - "OK"
Fireballers decide it's got some potential, practise roll tacking very badly, do tactical stuff offwind. Some trapezing and planing on 3-sail reaches.

10-15mph - "Interesting"
Fireballs plane nicely on reaches and upwind. Rookies go to 22'4" and occasionally capsize.

16-23mph - "Fruity"
Fireballs plane everywhere. Rookies retire after 3rd capsize. Mid-fleet sailors embarrass themselves at the gybe mark. Some debate over 22'6" or 22'4" mast rake

24-29mph - "Stupid"
Mid-fleet sailors capsize at random, rookies stay ashore.  'Racing' gives way to "just sailing round the course while trying to stay upright".

30+ mph - "Mental"
You *can* sail in this, but it's not a great deal of fun.  Fireball sailors retire to the bar and criticise the technique of anyone else who is still out there.

Monday, 17 November 2014


Race 4 of the fleet championships - postponed from a month ago, when it was too damn windy.

Course: H, K, T, Y, N, Gate
Wind: light , ENE
Poorly Paul: Poorly - much coughing.

Light airs and grey, and I confess that I was hoping for some nice thick fog or a mirror finish on the water, so I could postpone the thing again and go back home. But it was not to be - the wind was on-shore enough that you could tell it was at least 5mph, and visibility was good.  This meant that we would have to race, and (worse) that I would have to share a boat with Poorly Paul, who was looking like a giant sack of germs.

So the deal was that we went into this race with an advantage over Peter & Mike, but if they won then they'd still get the fleet championships on last race tiebreak rules. Not a great turnout either, perhaps due to the light airs.  This is a shame, as anyone can win in this light and fluffy stuff, but there were still 5 boats out - enough for a decent race.

We were lucky not to have been luffed over the start-line by Paul & Pete, that would have been a monumental disaster.  But we got away well enough, albeit slightly behind Peter & Mike. In terms of boat-speed we were well matched against both Peter & Mike and Colin & Karen.  We tacked off and went right, then tacked back and headed for the middle.  P&M came across to meet us, were slightly ahead, so tacked on our wind and we tacked off again and went back to the right.  This happened about 3 times, and each time we were a bit closer when we crossed.  By happy chance, we eventually found a good lift on the right hand side of the beat up near H, and were able to tack above Colin & Karen and went round the mark neck and neck with them, with P&M a good distance further back. Hey hey, looking good so far. But it was a dead run down to K, and we had C&K sitting right behind us, so we went a little high (inshore-ish), and lost a lot of our lead as a result. Spotting P&M creeping up on the inside, we gybed across and passed behind C&K and ahead of P&M, then gybed back in time to be sat on by the latter and give water to the former. Not a great game-plan if I'm honest, and all three boats were now very much together again.

So, beat up to T, where we did a lot of little tacks to keep P&M off our wind, and C&K probably just took about 3 tacks and naturally got there first. Then kites up again and across to Y and back to N, with all three boats in line astern. Up through the gate, and start the next lap. We had left the other 2 boats a long way back by this stage, so we settled down to trying to catch P&M. This was going quite well - we took the right hand side of the beat and every time we crossed them we were a little closer, until we went left, whereupon we promptly lost a big pile of ground.  C&K however had pulled even further away and went round H with a decent lead.

The run down to K was painful, with barely enough wind to fill the kite, and we fell even further back on that leg. We gained a bit on the way up to T, but nowhere near enough, and were basically out of the running by this stage.  Fortunately, the race ended next time through the gate, and C&K had maintained their lead to take the win.  By this time, we were in danger of being overtaken by Richard & Clive.

So although we had had our bottoms decisively kicked by P&M, they had needed to win the race to take the series, which didn't happen.  Moral victories all round to Colin & Karen and Peter & Mike, but - as is so often the case - the fleet championship went elsewhere.

If we had tried to sail P&M down the fleet, you can bet that it would all have gone horribly wrong, so we didn't try. For one thing, you need quite a lot of skill to do that, plus I would have felt really mean even to try it.  But that's kind of what happened - they were just so busy fending us off that they let C&K get away.  We had a cracking race, and didn't really mind losing it all that much :-)

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Hard work

Sunday 2nd November - Fleet championships day 3

Wind 5-10mph SW
Turnout: 10 boats

Race 1: Course A, M, B, K, T, Gate

The first start was 'interesting', with almost everyone over the line when the gun went. We think it was late - anyway nobody got recalled.  Peter & Mike were consistently better than us upwind (not necessarily faster, just better), so we were playing catch-up for most of the time. There was a whole load of covering going on, and plenty of tacking battles needed to get clear air, on top of which the beat was a bit tricky, so you could lose loads if you went off the wrong way.  We spent the entire race staring at their transom until they lassoed 'A' with their spinnaker sheet and started dragging it down the lake. We took the lead and the race ended too soon afterwards for any comeback. Further back, Iain & Tom got into a luffing match with Colin & Karen and some Solos on the final run to 'T', allowing Helen & Paul to sneak past them both and claim 3rd place.

Race 2: Course M, K, N, T, X, Gate

In the afternoon, it was all playing out in a similar vein, lots of tacking battles and staring at P&M's transom, until we managed to split tacks just before a massive windshift came through. We were on the favoured side of this, but it was so big that we ended up reaching into the mark, and P&M still got there just ahead of us. Doh!  They then gybed out away from the shore on the next run, and we didn't, and we arrived ahead at 'K'.  Helen & Paul promptly turned up and caused us both some concern for the next lap or so, before disappearing out the back door for no obvious reason. P&M then came back at us in a big way up the last beat in a freshening breeze, but had to put in that last crucial tack to lay the top mark, giving us enough breathing space to get to the finish line ahead. Colin & Karen somehow got past Helen & Paul, and that was the end of that.  Some excellent racing - really close most of the way round, and very hard work to boot.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Smile please

October 26th - Wind 15-25mph

Race 1: Course: M, D, X, F, S, Gate

A decent turn-out for a non-fleet-championship day, although we were down by a few boats due to the wind strength and general wear and tear from the previous Sunday.

On the way out to the start, we deduced that the spinnaker halyard was stuck behind the jib halyard. I don't know why it does this - it's not like it was rigged any differently to last week or any other week before that. Anyway, the solution is to hoist the kite, grab the exposed bit of kite halyard with pliers, hold onto it, drop the rig tension right off, disconnect the hook, and thread the wire round behind the kite halyard to make the problem go away. When it's gusting 15+mph, you can only do this on a dead run, so we went for a little trip down into Toft Bay whilst doing it, and surprise surprise, by the time we'd got back to the start, we'd missed it.

So we zoomed off after the fleet, and it didn't take all that long to get back up to 3rd place, with just Iain & Tom and Peter & Jez ahead of us. Then at the end of the first lap, the latter pair mistook 'G for Gate' for plain old 'G the buoy', and went off for their own little trip into Toft Bay, putting us up into 2nd place.

We then spent half the race chasing down Iain & Tom, and had them nicely in our sights on the 3-sail reach to D, when the wind dropped a bit. So I stood up to get a better view of where the good stuff was, and was just reaching for the mainsheet to steady myself when the boat accelerated and I fell out backwards into the water. Now I clearly remember telling Paul about this (I shouted "aargh"), but he completely failed to look after the boat in my absence, and it promptly bore off and capsized to windward.

Naturally it took bloody ages to swim over to it and pull it up again, so we retired soon afterwards. Iain & Tom won that one, with Peter & Jez second.

Race 2:  Course K, OL, P, N, D, S, Gate

We were royally stuffed up on the line by Iain & Tom, so were on the back-foot from the word go. However, by virtue of getting onto the lay-line for the first mark instead of going miles above it, we ended up rounding K alongside Peter & Jez, with the rest of the fleet really close behind. We lost the lead with a dubious mark rounding down at P, but pulled a bit of a blinder by flying the kite from D to S, and getting it down before the big gust hit. Whereas Peter & Jez put it up later and kept it up longer, and we were back on their transom again by P.

At some point we got past them, and were looking pretty good up by K when disaster struck in the form of a big gust of wind and a jib that wouldn't uncleat. We only laid it flat, but it was for long enough that P&J got past, and possibly one or two other boats also.  The wind built up steadily from then, and P&J showed us a clean pair of heels, but we did manage to hang on to 2nd place, with Iain & Tom not far behind (they flew the kite from D to S the last time round, which was pretty epic).

Serious camera guy Andy Whitehead was out there with a gimbal mounted GoPro in the afternoon, and managed to make our assorted random good moments into a really neat video, with a decent soundtrack and everything. He managed to miss most of the windy stuff as the rescue boat he was in had to go and rescue things as soon as it got a bit fruity, but if a picture paints a thousand words then this video has to be worth a cool million. Watch and learn boys, watch and learn...

Fleet championships

Day 1: 5th October. A great start to the 2014 fleet championships. The wind looked rubbish when we first went out, but soon filled in and became trapeze-worthy by mid morning.
In the first race, Paul and I had a brilliant start, neatly messing up Richard & Clive in the process, and left the rest of the fleet trailing. We were never really threatened after that, and won quite easily with Peter & Karen 2nd and Mo & Holly 3rd at the finish. Richard & Clive were first Silver Fleet boat, with Dave & Nick keeping them honest all the way round.

In the afternoon, Paul and I had an OCS-go-back-and-try-again disastrous sort of start due to some serious luffing on the line, and were left trailing by just about everybody else. We spent the entire race playing catch-up, while Mo & Holly fought it out with Peter & Karen and Helen & Paul for first place. It was a pretty intense battle up there for about two and a half laps, until Mo missed the toe-straps while tacking and fell out of the boat. This slowed up Helen & Paul, who were just behind at the time, whilst releasing Peter & Karen who promptly zoomed off into the distance down the fabulous 3-sail reach, never to be seen again. Further back, David & Nick(also OCS-and-returned-at-the-start) finally overtook Jane & Pat right at the end of the race. There was plenty of good stuff going on in the middle of the fleet too, but I wasn't watching.

Many thanks to IainTom and Mike for setting some excellent courses, and to all the guys and gals who turned out to take part.
A great day!

Day 2: 19th October. Pretty windy to start with, rising to silly-windy by the end of the first race. Peter & Mike beat us pretty easily, even with stopping for a quick centre-board inspection halfway round. Bob & Paul were the only other boat to finsh, everyone else got blown away. A bit like my little GoPro lookalike camera, which was washed away off the deck, escaped from the waterproof case tied to the boat, and sank. There was some epic footage on that little sucker too.

By lunch time it was looking fairly OTT, so we postponed the 4th race and went home for a lie down.

And there's a video from Dave here, but I can't get it to embed in this post :-(

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Marriott Bucket

For the uninitiated, this is a personal handicap race series held over one day, where we start each race from the shore at intervals dictated by the skill (or lack of) of the persons concerned. The idea is that the slowest boats start first, the fastest go off last, and the whole lot meet in an unseemly mess on the finish line. It was originally called the Marriott Mug event, but we lost the trophy Mug some years ago and hastily replaced it with the Ice Bucket trophy - re-titling the whole event in the process. The whole thing is a bit anarchic, and gives our sailors loads of potential to comprehensively screw up their own chances of winning.

Sunday dawned bright and with a decent 8-10mph breeze from the East. We picked up the course and opted to join it at 'E', the idea being that we don't trouble the start line with our presence until the sequence is over, and we don't join in in the middle of another fleet's race. It's a tricky thing to get right when our start sequence covers 11 minutes, and as usual we got it a bit wrong.

Race 1 - E, Y, S, J, N, Gate, H

First off were Jane and Pat, who sorted themselves out and then made a beeline for 'D'. We had a bit of a shout to correct them, and a helpful Moth sailor went and told them where they should be going. Less helpfully, he said 'T', which wasn't even in the course.

Gordon and Bryan went off next at 5 minutes, neatly intersecting Jane and Pat who had gone round 'T' and were running down to 'Y'.  Presumably nobody said anything about the course though.

Then we released JT & Quentin, Bob & Paul and Helen & Paul, all at 8 minutes. Then, three minutes later, Paul and I started too. When we arrived at 'E', there were Jane and Pat, who had come back up from 'Y' and lost 10 minutes in the process, so it was clear that this wouldn't be their race. By the time we got to the mark, the entire Laser fleet were there too, so we had to avoid them while rounding, and also on the deadly dull broad reach to 'Y'.

Beating back up towards 'S', we spotted Paul Anthony in the front end of Caroline's Miracle, apparently holding the mast up. This is why you shouldn't allow Fireball sailors into small delicate boats - they only have to sit down heavily and the forestay pulls out of the deck. God knows what Caroline will put on the insurance form.

So with Jane and Pat easily dispatched on the beat, we rounded 'S' and had a nice 3-sail reach across to 'J'. followed by a slightly-too-broad reach to 'N'. Then a beat up to 'H', followed by a very sexy 3-sail reach to 'E'. We were gaining on the rest of the fleet now, and spent the next lap improving our position. We had pretty much caught up with Bob & Paul when they started sailing round in circles to retrieve Paul's hat, which had blown off into the water. This took a while, neatly removing them from the picture. Then up at 'S' for the last time, we were just behind Gordon & Bryan and I guess the pressure got to them as they promptly pulled off the best spinnaker hoist inside the jib exercise I have ever seen. This left us just chasing JT & Quentin and Helen & Paul, neither of whom we were able to catch. But JT & Quentin had done something unspeakable by way of a mark rounding sometime previously, and thus retired, leaving us 2nd to Helen & Paul. Not bad!

Race 2 - E, Y, S, J, N, Gate, H

Same course as before, which is a shame as we'd already been there, done that and got the T-shirt. We were joined by Paul Anthony & Caroline (of broken Miracle fame) - on a scratch handicap as Caroline had never trapezed before. This time we got away early enough to avoid the Lasers and the Freds, but the early starters had a much better reach out to 'E', and Paul & I were maybe 2 minutes worse off than we should have been by the time we arrived there, which is a big thing to overcome when piled on top of the 11 / 6 / 3 minutes we had already given away. Up front, Jane and Pat were having a good scrap with Paul & Caroline, with J & P getting the upper hand eventually. Mid-fleet, Helen & Paul were establishing a lead over JT & Quentin and Bob & Paul, with Gordon & Bryan ultimately falling behind them too.  All of this was quite exciting if you happened to be there, but from our point of view the entire hour was spent sailing around by ourselves, with Paul saying helpful things like "They're miles away, we'll never catch them".  

Then, on the last lap, we arrived at 'Y' possibly only a minute behind Bob & Paul and Gordon & Bryan. We went right up the beat, and were astounded to find that when we tacked, Bob & Paul had pretty much doubled their lead on us (and caught a load of other boats in the process). Still, we persevered, and arrived at 'S' just ahead of Gordon & Bryan. Helen & Paul had hit 'S' and done a 360, so they were back in the pack too, leaving us with a boat directly behind and four boats not too far ahead. Jane and Pat were maybe another minute off, so no chance to get them.

So, kite up and the wind kicked in, and we had a very satisfying reach to 'J', gybing maybe 20 seconds behind the pack. The leg to 'N' was a bit too broad for comfort, so we went last-ditch hero-or-zero and went high to pick up the extra pressure further out from the shore. It kinda worked a bit, but it was quite a short leg and we had to come back down again, and the net result was that the other four boats rounded immediately ahead of us, with just a quick upwind dog-leg to go to the finish line. 

All of a sudden, the water was full of Fireballs (and a few other boats), the breeze was on, and it all became very exciting. JT & Quentin had rounded first, and high-tailed it off left. Bob & Paul were also going that way (if memory serves). Paul & Caroline were doing much the same, but pinching up, causing Helen & Paul to make a hasty course adjustment and duck under their stern. Behind us, Gordon & Bryan had given us a few seconds grace, so we tacked off as soon as the finish-line looked do-able, and just went flat out for the committee boat. On the line it was pretty clear that JT was across first, but I couldn't tell if we'd got there next, or Bob & Paul, or Helen & Paul, or Paul & Caroline.


Back on the shore, the adrenaline buzz eventually faded, but we were grinning a lot for quite a while afterwards. It turned out that we'd failed to overtake any of the cluster of boats on the finish line, but I didn't care. 

And after all that, a dead-heat for the trophy, and only 2 points separating 1st place from 4th in the series. Results were:
Sailed: 2, Discards: 0, To count: 2, Entries: 7, Scoring system: Appendix A
1st14111Jane CollisonPat Collison5166
2nd14891Helen SalisburyPaul Roe1566
3rd14064Bob MorrisPaul Butler4377
4th14778Mike DeanePaul Disney2688
5th14705John TenneyQuentin Hayes8 DNF21010
6th14929Gordon StokesBryan371010
7th14843Paul AnthonyCaroline Noel8 DNC41212
 So another great day's sailing, in spite of the wind being a bit marginal. It was a shame we didn't have a few more boats out though. Congratulations to Jane and Pat for winning (on last-race tiebreak rules), and to Caroline for surviving an entire race and the epic battle for the finish-line.

She said she enjoyed it.

Friday, 18 July 2014

Cheque Book Sailing

Race 1 - P, K, Y, M, X, T, J, Gate

A great forecast, sunshine and 12-14mph wind, and 11 Fireballs took to the water. Pete Slack was guesting in the front of Bob's boat, which may or may not have been good for him, but was certainly very nice for us. Pete B's new boat, 'Old Shed', was making its first outing, all shiny paintwork and lovely stuff.

I can't remember much about the detail of the race, except that I was using my usual jib (an Alverbanks item I found in my shed), and we were consistently outpaced by Peter and Mike going upwind. Offwind we pulled back, generally getting onto their transom by the end of the lap, only to lose out upwind again. There were no decent reaches, and the only interesting bit of this race was on the leg from T to J. Peter & Mike had a decent lead but had become trapped in the lee of a Solo, and even with the kite up were plodding towards J at Solo-speed, ie not very much. We caught a decent gust and hooned up to them, whereupon I had to decide what to do next.

a) Go above the Solo, possibly get luffed for my trouble, possibly capsize, definitely end up high of the mark and facing a tricky kite drop.

b) Go below them both and stop dead

c) Go in-between, which is a stupid idea

So I went for (c) and inserted the boat carefully between the Solo upwind and the Fireball below. Pete said "windward boat", I called for "water for two" (the Solo being inside at the mark). I had a gentle go at luffing the Solo, but he didn't respond, so we just sailed on to the mark and went round 3 abreast. Peter later mentioned that there had been contact between his boat and my boom, which I hadn't noticed, but whether it occurred inside or outside the 3-boat-length zone I have no idea.

There are some interesting rules in play in these situations. The leeward boat (Peter & Mike) can luff, but has to allow the middle boat (me) room and opportunity to take avoiding action. The middle boat can luff the windward boat, in spite of having gained an overlap from astern, because the leeward boat is luffing him, and above the lay-line is now his proper course. The windward boat (the Solo) is probably not expecting this, and is anyway thinking that water at the mark will protect him, which it will as soon as he gets into the zone.

Anyway, after going round the mark we dived across the finish line ahead of Peter & Mike, cheers cheers, only it wasn't the end of the race, and they sailed away from us again and won easily at the end of the following lap.

Back on shore, 'Old Shed' was getting new trapeze height adjusting rope, due to the original stuff not cleating.

Lunch time, and Jon (Edge Sails) announced that the new jib was waiting for me to pick it up from the shop. We did this, unrolled it lovingly on the bank, and then spotted that it was a Pico mainsail or similar, ok, roll it up again, go back and get the proper thing.

The new jib (once we eventually found it) was a lovely thing to behold, so we couldn't resist chucking it onto the boat and doing the 2nd race with it. My feeling was that any jib-shaped thing is about as good as any other, after all there's not much potential for cleverness in a Fireball jib, you either make it a bit fuller or a bit flatter, how much difference can it make?

Well as it turns out, quite a lot. The new jib not only looked lovely, it also allowed us to point as high as anything and everything, whilst still going pretty fast. We came off the start-line a bit late but doing a fair impression of a scalded cat, and then tweaked it in a bit for a bit of extra pointing. Peter and Mike still beat us round the windward mark, but they never did the disappearing thing upwind again, and we spent a couple of laps chasing them round the course, including the long and highly enjoyable 3-sail reach from B to T, which was bloody epic every time. Really really good!

Then at the start of the last lap, we found a really nice lifting wind-bend, followed it after P&M tacked off, and re-emerged nicely in front of them at the top of the beat. Remarkably we held the lead all the way round the rest of the lap, but they had a bit of a surge at the end and we crossed the finish line for a photo finish, with us in front by a whisker. Very nice, very satisfying!

On shore again, 'Old Shed' had apparently had a very satisfying few minutes of racing before the block of wood to which the mainsheet jammer was fixed had popped off. This is the joy of cascamite glue, it goes powdery after about 25 years and stops fulfilling its function. The rest of that particular boat is doubtless glued with epoxy resin and will last forever, but this is a good object lesson in the perils attendant with buying old wooden boats. Anything pre 13,500 or thereabouts might very well have used cascamite glue, and anything built with cascamite will fall to bits eventually.

Jibs again - new jibs are not cheap, summat like £350 list price (if anyone actually pays that), and they only last 6 months to a year before they start to look manky. Hence my reliance on stuff I can find in my shed, which all looks manky but at least comes for free.

There is doubtless a bit more evaluation of the Edge jib to come, but it currently looks every bit as good as the P&B or North item in the hands of the average club sailor (ie, me). And the best bit - it's a whole lot cheaper.

Monday, 12 May 2014


Race 1 - B, M, E, H, Gate

The forecast said Westerly 20mph, but Dangerous Dave said it was gusting 30mph. Oddly though, all the Fireball posse were rigged on the shore when I rocked up (late), and they were pretty cool about the conditions. So we threw the boat together and raked back to 22'4", and hooned off to the start line with a few minutes to spare.

Or, as it turned out, 40 minutes to spare. I don't know what the story was with the ODs, but there was no course on the board, no on-station flag, and later no anchor or engine either apparently.

And hanging about in that kind of wind is a real pain in the bum. Your expensive sail is flapping about and visibly shedding £5 notes, and every tack threatens to introduce you to the underside of your boat.

It is not fun!

So predictably, over the next 40 minutes, various Fireballs capsized. Jane and Pat were doing really well, but inevitably binned it eventually and when they pulled the boat up, the forestay looked like a banana and it was game-over for them. Seven boats now. Shortly after, Richard and Dave decided that enough was enough too, and we're down to six. Bob and Paul were gamely swimming about as if they were used to it, but it's tiring and cold doing that.

Eventually the committee boat was back in the right place, with course and anchor, by which time yours-truly was way upwind of the start-line. You know how it goes, you do slow close reaches for ages because it's the easiest point of sail and you can stuff the boat up to wind when the gusts hit. But then you find you are miles upwind with a minute left on the clock, so you have to plot a course of full-power broad reach back through the start-line, preferably one not requiring you to avoid anything much on the way. So we wound up at the pin, tacked it round onto port and waited for the gun.

And here came the fleet - all on the line, all going like a train, and the gun went so we pulled the sails in and aimed to go behind them. As we did so, Colin & Karen's forestay gave up with a loud bang, and the jib fell down, and then there were five.

Being as we were on port anyway, we zoomed off to the far bank and looked for the wind-bend that lives over there. Tack when you can see the beetles on the bushes, and back out across the flat water and into the good stuff in the middle. Everyone else had gone for the club shore, possibly looking for the famous N to B wind-bend, but we were ahead when we crossed. Like us, I reckon everyone had the jib bars right up and right out, and centreboard half up too, so nobody was pointing worth a damn. So when we tacked onto port, we had to duck Badders & Jez, and carried on up to the top mark criss-crossing their path and arriving only marginally ahead.

Round B then, loosen the kicker a bit, hoon across the beam-ish reach to M, crap gybe but still upright, and then the excellent broad reach to E. I think we could maybe have carried the kite on this one, but I didn't work it out until too late, and anyway, we were enjoying it quite a lot with just the 2 sails. Badders & Jez gained a bit there, and maybe a bit more on the leg to H where we started the next lap.

OK, reality check - by this time Bob & Paul have capsized on the beat and (whilst still racing) are nowhere to be seen. Helen & Paul didn't like the leg to E so decided to pack it in. Paul and Nick are in third place, but are about to find out why you shouldn't attach your jib sheets to your jib with a bit of garden twine. So really now it's a 2-horse race, me & Paul against Badders & Jez.

At this point we tacked and took off towards the far shore again, via the start-line which now features as the Gate. Badders and Jez shot off to the club shore at high speed, and missed the Gate. The famous far-shore wind-bend was nowhere to be found on our first foray into the bushes, but we came out a bit and went back in for a 2nd bite, and it came good eventually. Badders & Jez reappeared just ahead though, and even had a go at tacking on our wind, which was fine by me as we'd got more than we wanted anyway at the time.

This time it's us in 2nd place round B and M, but we hauled them in on the fab leg to E, both boats bearing away like mad in the gusts and then gradually pushing back above the lay-line in what passed for lulls. There was spray everywhere, and I swear the sun came out a bit, and it was just great. We ended up just to leeward of Badders and exchanged some banter before getting water and gybing at E and tearing off to H in a cloud of spray.

Back through the Gate for the last lap, and again we started the beat in the lead but Badders & Jez went just that bit faster to arrive at B ahead of us. And again we caught them up on the long leg to E, whereupon a Dart hove into view and started to get a bit defensive as Badders tried to go past to windward. So we were neck and neck again, but this time we missed out on mark-room and followed them smartly round E, with the Dart and two Lasers just ahead.

Then it got really interesting. Badders went high to take the Lasers, necessitated by the fact that the nearest one had a cats-cradle of mainsheet wrapped around his tiller and was standing up in the boat and waving frantically, hoping to avoid death by Fireball. We'd caught another big gust so were bearing off below everything and watching with interest. Badders & Jez cleared the wounded Laser and was nicely upwind of the next one when the huge gust hit and drove them fast downwind - just clearing the bow of the laser by what appeared to be about 6 inches. There was then a bit of a lull, where they recovered and got back above the lay-line and (coincidentally) the Dart, before the next gust hit. Again, the Fireball reacted in the only way possible and took off downwind like a scalded leopard, only this time the Dart was in the way. The Dart sailor reacted admirably, bearing away to allow the Fireball to maintain its course, but I don't think that cats like that kind of stuff - his bow promptly went under a wave and he pitch-poled. When we went past to leeward about 2 seconds later, the hulls of the Dart were vertical, and I had to steer around his mast as it came down on the water.


On an adrenaline high, we were through, back on Pete's transom, and round H just behind with only the dogleg to the Gate left. Pete & Jez tacked straight away (bad move), we went a little further and tacked (also bad move). Neither of us were able to lay the Gate. Doh!  Pete tacked again and we were able to sail across his bow ahead of him, arrived at the committee boat, and threw a tack in for the win. But no... the jibsheet was looped over the spinny pole and we wasted valuable seconds unhooking it. With Paul back out on the wire, both boats crossed the line at the same time for a photo-finish so close that I still don't know who won.

And I don't really care either. When you can have that kind of a duel in that kind of wind, who gives a damn who won.

And then back to the shore and, feeling that the day could only go downhill from here, packing up the boat. Hopefully we'll all be back next Sunday for some more fun in the Firebowl personal handicap event.

Laters dudes.

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Sunny & Stupid II

9th March 2014 - a perfect day. Only the beginning of March, but it was sunny, warm, and 8-12mph - absolutely perfect!

Unfortunately, the Draycote Fireball fleet didn't quite live up to the occasion...

Race 1 - K, OL, J, S, P, N, H, E, Gate

Sidling up to the start-line with 15 seconds to go, I luffed Pete & Diggers, who vaguely luffed Helen & Paul, who didn't take much notice, so I got the fleet boat's boom bouncing off my head for my pains. Inspired by the desire to escape from this, we went flat out for the line a full 5 seconds before we should and were over the line when the gun went. So we went back, restarted, and chased the rest of them up the beat. Obviously you can't afford to give Pete & Mike an inch, and we had, so they scampered off in short order, leaving us to battle it out Bob & Paul, Helen & Paul, Paul & Nick etc. Round K, through OL, round J, and a run down to S followed by a beam reach to P. Jane & Pat tried to kite it to P and managed to capsize right in front of the start-line, so that was one less to get past. But by the time we were on the next beat it was clear that Peter & Mike were doing a horizon job, they were up by K again in no time, and, er, hang on... we weren't going to K, we were going to N (which is close by, but not that close). Weyhey, game on, we and everyone else piled on up to N and took off down the rather tasty 3-sail reach to H, leaving Peter & Mike plodding back round OL, J and down the run again. It turned out they had only written down the first line of the course!

So after that tasty reach, we gybed and had another tasty reach to E, then up through the gate and start the next lap. K, OL and J came and went, and we were on the run down to S for the 2nd time with Colin & Karen and Paul & Nick, when they both decided to go off to H instead. Weyhey again, just got to catch Bob & Paul now. Another lap on, Bob & Paul decided to fly their kite from P to S and we decided it was a stupid idea, and it was, so we got past them and went on to win in a highly undeserved fashion, purely due to sailing round all the right buoys in the right order.

Race 2 - K, OL, J, X, S, T, P, F, E, Gate

Another great course, straight off the course computer but expertly chosen by JT.

This time we had a good start and spent most of the race sitting on Peter & Mike, at one point getting a really decent lead on them. But there were a lot of other Fireballs getting in the way, and we couldn't seem to get past Bob & Paul, which gave Peter & Mike a chance to come back at us. This multi-boat battle eventually resolved itself on the reach from X to S, where Bob & Paul had a decent lead but decided that F might be nice at this time of year, so sailed off into the distance and were completely out of the race by the time they came back. We rounded S with Colin & Karen and Peter & Mike, and the latter pair arrived at T before us, and we then had a continuation of the 3-boat battle all the way to P, F, E and up through the gate. Naturally it is accepted practise that when you've been keeping a boat behind you and they overtake, the race will promptly end, so we grabbed ourselves a close 2nd behind Peter & Mike and ahead of Colin & Karen, and then plodded back to the shore to de-rig. When we arrived there, we spotted everyone else doing the K-OL-J leg, still racing, and it occurred to us that maybe the race hadn't finished after all!

Ah well, too late to do anything about it, so we went ashore, followed closely by a few other boats who were hoping for a finish at OL and didn't get one. Peter & Mike carried on for another lap and finished at the gate, came ashore, then found they hadn't signed on. So in the end, Helen & Paul won the race, again by virtue of sailing the right course rather than by going particularly quickly.

Obviously it's nice to win, but in an eight-boat race it's clear that seven boats (14 people) won't do so. What's more important is that they all enjoy the race and go home feeling good about it. On Sunday, with the sunshine and the mild Southerly F3, the excellent course and the close racing, I think we hit the spot very nicely.

Monday, 3 March 2014


Well the forecast said 10mph, no hang on, 16mph or maybe a bit more. The bushes in my garden agreed with the latter, and it wasn't particularly cold or raining, so off we jolly well go!

Race 1 - A, H, J, OL, C, D.

As it turned out the bushes lied to us, it was 20+ mph and fiendishly gusty. We went for a high-speed port end start, which might have gone better if we'd had maybe one watch between the two of us. So we ended up making a fab start about 5 seconds too early, came back round the pin and set off to chase the other 5 boats up the beat. Richard and Clive had the benefit of a 3 minute headstart, due to them being in the Silver fleet, but they binned it twice on the first beat and got to the first mark last. JT and Dave got there first, closely followed by me & Poorly Paul, Pete S & Karen and Helen & Paul. Bob & Paul had had a bit of an episode by this time, so were a bit further back.

The reach was perfect and pretty full on, with everyone flying their kites. Sadly JT forgot to bear away while Dave was getting their kite down, and had a bit of a bath as a result. We took the lead and charged up to J with Pete & Karen a short way behind us and Helen and Paul hanging on behind them.

J to OL was a short 2-sail reach, and the wind built rapidly as we traversed it until we were absolutely flat out and wondering whether we'd be able to lay OL. Then some bastard turned the wind off, the boat came over towards us, and Paul went off to the far end of the elastic while I just sort of floated about with my feet still under the toestraps and my body in the water. We hung about like that for a while, until the wind came back, and by sheeting in I was able to drag Paul back to the side of the boat and lever us both out of the water. Then a smart gybe round as we'd drifted the wrong side of OL, tack, and join in just behind Pete & Karen again.

We went high of C and put the kite up, which was good fun but no faster overall than just 2-sailing all the way there. Gybe at C, and 3-sail to D to start the next lap.

Lap 2 was a repeat of lap 1, except that when the wind turned off up by OL, I fell out of the boat completely this time. However I managed to steer and hang on to the mainsheet from in the water so that Paul was hoiked back into the boat. I should explain that when Paul is dropped in the water he goes kind of catatonic, remains hooked onto the trapeze, and just floats around until I sort everything out. I lost him completely once, and a passing Fred had to bring him back. But I digress.

Once again Pete & Karen had gone past while we did the drifty thing, so we chased them down to C and D using just the 2 sails this time, and changing places with them a couple of times on the way. As we arrived at C we were privileged to see JT & Dave on the same leg but with the kite up and fairly flying along. Sadly they binned it again getting the kite down at C, then again when they gybed, so that was game-over for them. Personally I'd have Aussie-dropped it and maybe avoided both baths.

One final lap then, one more excellent 3-sail reach from A to H, then up to J and a very cautious trundle along to OL, with Paul refusing to go out on the wire this time. After us came Pete & Karen, who had done the entire race without falling in the water at all, which is worthy but a bit dull. Then Helen & Paul, who paused to have a bit of a swim round the boat en-route to OL, at the same time that finally Bob & Paul were doing something similar on the A-H leg with the kite up. And when Bob (A.K.A. Captain Capsize) finally turned up at J, he managed to sail pretty much the entire leg to OL with Paul bouncing along in the water behind him. JT & Dave and Richard & Clive had retired to the shore some time previously.

With the capsize count now well into double figures, we can count that as a massive success for the fleet. However, we were all too knackered to do the 2nd race, so went off home for a good lie down.

More next week!

Parking up by OL on the 2nd lap. Some skill involved in not capsizing here, but did I get any thanks for it ?
Photos courtesy of Dave Hope

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Why do we do it?

Another cold winter's day, another decision to sail anyway even though there was ice on the boat cover and not a lot of wind, and frankly not a lot of enthusiasm either. But the weather over the Xmas and New Year break was rubbish, the Boxing Day pursuit was waaayyy too light, the New Years Day pursuit a tad too windy and lacking in anything that resembled proper competition. So we have to get our sailing where we can, and this Sunday looked as though it might deliver the goods. OK, a bit light to start with, but Draycote was in the middle of a major low-pressure system, and as it moved off the winds would build rapidly to something a bit more interesting.

Race 1: M, N, B, S, K, P, D

So off we go, fingers a bit cold, Pete S and the tall blonde pull a port tack flyer in the fleet boat, very good!  One lap in, we've got a huge lead somehow and the wind is picking up, so we stop and sail around by the committee boat while everyone else catches up. Then Paul decides he has to do some knitting with the spinny pole, which gives everyone else another minute or so, and we set off in pursuit. The leg from M to N is pretty broad, but then we gybe and head for B which is a close 3-sail reach. At this point we encounter Paul & Nick, who appear to have capsized a bit. We make our way carefully past them, set the kite and hoon off to B, passing Helen & Paul on the way as they'd taken their kite down. Quick gybe at B and a fun 3-sail reach to S, where Helen & Paul overtook us again. But when we approached 'S', oh dear, what is going on?   Bob & Paul have mistaken this mark for 'P', gone round it to port and are zooming off towards D. Colin & Karen are following them. Helen & Paul are going above the mark whilst getting the kite down, so we round to starboard and cautiously start the beat, whilst keeping an eye on Helen in case any capsizing on top of us should be on the agenda (see previous post).

After that it was pretty easy. We finished at D the next time we got there, Helen & Paul were 2nd, narrowly pipping Pete & Diggers, then Colin & Karen, Paul & Nick (I think), and finally Bob & Paul, who had demoted themselves from first place to last at 'S'.

So we won that one, but only by default.

Race 2: M, X, P, K, T, D

Wind still picking up, slightly diminished fleet charges up the beat to M, then bonza 3-sail reach to X, gybe, titchy reach to P, beat up to K, close-ish 3-sail reach to T, slightly dull reach to D and start again. I'm not quite sure how events transpired for the first bit of the race, but it wasn't until we were halfway through that we started to make up some ground on the leaders. By the time we'd done the beat to M for the 2nd time, we were 2nd to Bob & Paul, and the wind was getting a bit fruity. Up with the enormous kites then, and we both took off for X with booms on the shrouds and a healthy dose of bearing away in the gusts. This was great fun of course, but it wasn't doing much for the angle of attack on 'X', and we and Bob ended up having to pinch up in the lulls on the final approach, with much dumping of mainsheets and many a worried glance at the incoming pressure fronts ('gusts' to you). So it came to pass that we were about 10 boat-lengths out from X and going at a fabulous pace, kicker off, boom on the shrouds whilst just holding the lay-line, when we spotted something very nasty heading towards us across the water ahead. I was already leaning into the boat in anticipation when it hit Bob & Paul ahead of us like a high speed steam-roller, prompting a mahoosive bear-away that would at least put them the wrong side of the mark and could only end badly. As it caught us, I recall the boom bouncing on the wave tops as I casually tripped the kite halyard for the Aussie-drop. And hey, that was so cool, the kite went for a lie down behind the jib, the boat came level again, a handful of mainsheet to hold it there and we hurtled straight to X through the teeth of the squall, for all the world like we knew what the hell we were doing. In our wake, Bob and Paul were climbing over the side of their boat and making for the centreboard, and I understood for a moment how Ghengis Khan must have felt.

After that it was far too easy. Bear away round X, re-hoist the kite, gybe, off to P, then K and finish. Poor old Bob was overtaken by everything again and ended up last.

When we came ashore, back in the real world, the ice on the cover was still there, still icy, and the grey clouds were darkening as the thin winter light faded. If you were watching, you'd see a cold drab day and some cold amateur sailors, and you'd wonder why they bothered.

So why do we do this, this pointless activity in the cold and the wet, the results insignificant even if we win?

We do it because every now and then, in those long split seconds that separate triumph from disaster, we are lifted out of our everyday humdrum existence into some adrenaline-charged fantasy that consumes us totally.

We do it because it makes us feel alive.