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.