Monday, December 29, 2014

Christmas Series 2014 – The prat in the hat goes racing again

Festive Fun or Freaking Freezing?

There has been a gap between blogs. In fact I missed a whole weekend of racing. We did manage to  race a couple of weeks ago. There was a light wind race that Luke won. Then there was a windy race that Luke won.

After a hectic Christmas we finally managed a weekend of racing on 27th & 28th December.

Saturday 27th was bright and sunny with a gusty northerly breeze. Gales had been forecast which, I think, affected the turnout. I arrived to be greeted by the ever-over-eager Jack Acton at an otherwise deserted club. Across the river a catamaran's shredded sails flapped forlornly; victims of the previous night's gale.They resembled Jon Arnell's underpants after a curry.

Over the next few minutes people started to arrive.

Jez, Ela's lost puppy, looking a little lost (Ela stayed home today). I gave him a friendly bear hug and helped him rig.
Mike Greenland turned up shortly after, followed by Keith “Michael Jackson” Barkway with his Mirror.
Rom and Richard are our race team and we agree to keep things simple with a Club line start, followed by a tour of the harbour marks and a finish back at Number 2 buoy.

Keith almost wins the start but is marginally over the line and returns. I wobble away in the lead for a long run down to number 3.
A fast reach across to number 4 is followed by a shambolic gybe that almost ends in a capsize. 
I cling to the windward deck in my silly yellow hat for a number of seconds. The boat forgives my clumsiness and we set off down to number 7 mark. I'm comfortably ahead and manage to avoid any  further stupid mistakes. Our final leg is a beat against the tide from number 7 up to number 2. The tide is ebbing strongly so I hug the shore, avoiding it for as long as possible apart from the final couple of tacks into the line. My race buddies aren't so lucky and it takes a while for them to finish.
It's a short race for the 300 – around 32 minutes. The beat back up the river in the gusty and shifty conditions takes more energy than the race. On several occasions I find myself head to wind and leaping cat-like across the boat to avoid the windward capsize. Exhausted I drag myself ashore – feeling the pain of having taken nearly a month away from the boat but pleased to have made the effort. Tomorrow will be another matter.
So pleased to be off the mud for a moment

Sunday – another bright sunny, cold day with the wind a touch east of North.
There are a few new faces today.
Jez is driving his mother's car up a Welsh mountain but Vicky, Beasley, Jack and Ray are with us.
Where is the water? It seems like someone pulled the plug out of the harbour today. Anticipating a rising tide we set a course. Beasley launches but this only raises the depth by a few centimetres.
Beasley doing his best to raise the water level
Sailing down to the start I realise that even with the RS200 rudder I can't get across the course without hitting the bottom. In the 300 this is more than bad news. I sail slowly around in the channel hoping the water will rise, and considering whether to skip the race altogether.

I finally grow a small pair of kahunas and decide to attempt the 1st race.
Vicky leads Mike and Beez around the gybe mark

By the time I reach the start, the fleet has already departed. I tack away into the channel, taking the only route available to the 1st mark (which means stopping to pull the rudder down in the channel then reaching down to the mark). I round in 2nd place behind Vicky but manage to sneak ahead on the 1st reach along the channel. The gybe around number 3 is uneventful but the 2nd reach back to number 6 is a predictably tedious affair with grinding noises from the half-raised rudder and bulging veins on my forearm from holding the tiller.

Trademark approach to the windward mark - reaching in on starboard.
 I eventually reach the bottom mark; stopping again to lower the rudder, and gingerly make my way back upwind with the fleet close astern. A gybe around the top mark followed by a scrape downwind across the mud to the finish. 
“Do you want another triangle?” shouts Jon (our Race Officer). “No ****ing way!” I reply, before sobbing quietly in the bottom of the boat.
As performances go this has to be one of the most frustrating, knowing that I've lost a minute or more in the race by being unable to navigate the shallows.
I take a swig of squash and tell myself to man up and get it together for the 2nd race. There's still a series to be completed and I have to keep trying.
Race 2.
Trademark start by your author. parked on the mud behind the line.
I'm determined to do better and hover in the deeper water near the pin end of the line before the start. The favoured end, however, is the Committee boat and with 40 seconds to go I head across to tack behind it. And here I run aground.
"Follow the twat in the hat"
The fleet starts as I attempt to get off the beach and out of irons, 30 feet behind the line. Almost sobbing with frustration I set off after the fleet, pausing briefly to lower the rudder for the umpteenth time. Taking my trademark route up the beat (sail on port to the main channel, reach back down on starboard to the windward mark) I actually manage to round narrowly ahead of the lasers. 
Finally leading around a mark!
The reach to number 3 is a blessing and I stretch away. The 2nd reach is another clunky one with the rudder half up but I concentrate on holding the boat flat and try to sail fast without pulling my shoulder out of its socket holding the tiller. With a reasonable gap at the bottom mark I stop to lower the rudder before setting off on the final beat. I scrape back down to the finish with the fleet slightly further astern than in the first race.

Back ashore we work out the results.

Jack sailed a great series - 2,1,2
Jack Acton had the most consistent results with a 2,1,2 over the 3 races. We were tied on points but my 1,3,1 scraped me home with the two 1st places. I can't say I'm relieved to have beaten our Topper sailor but glad I stuck with it and ground out (literally) a couple of results in difficult conditions. Shame really, because the sun and breeze were excellent. Do I cut another couple of inches off the short rudder? One to think about.

Happy New Year, folks. See you in 2015 :)

Monday, November 24, 2014

23rd November. Another windless day with no comedy capsizes to report :(

23rd November 2014

This blog is in danger of becoming a race report. Without comedy gems such as capsizes, tiller extensions snagged under buoyancy aids and fractured testicles there's very little entertainment happening aboard the RS300 at present. Spoiler alert - I didn't capsize today but you have read on to find the race results...

Pre-race preparation is essential for peak performance. On Friday night I prepared for Saturday's race by drinking several pints of lager with the newly knighted Sir Richard of Beasley. Needless to say, Saturday's result was a DNC.

On Sunday morning the alarm sounded at 7 and I leapt cat-like out of bed and bounded down the stairs. Actually I groaned, rolled over and at 7:35 fell out of bed and crawled downstairs. This pretty much sums up my performance for the rest of the day.

It's damp (raining steadily), cold (less than 10 degrees) and windless (less than 10 knots). The dinghy park is full of Finn sailors debating which of their 4 masts and 7 sails will give them the winning combination for today's races. I get the impression that it's not worth turning up if you have a Finn with just 1 mast and 1 sail.

Simon Fry is joining them today. He's a professional sailor – been to the Olympics and America's Cup and all sorts of big events. But not in a Finn. Jon and Sir Richard of Beasley are coaching from the RIB. Simon will shortly learn how coaching should be done. (Verbal abuse, laughter, inappropriate use of Go-Pro)

The Finns are sailing their own race so the rest of us (Luke, Wire-Haired Terrier, Gary, Glen, Mike, Ann, Julie and myself) will do a single race around the fixed harbour marks. Luke sets a simple course using just 3 marks. He got lost on the race course yesterday and is determined not to repeat the mistake.

The Finns start first. The wind is northerly, which is always tricky, so I look at how they fare on the 1st beat. Ray has the best start from the committee boat end and goes left while the rest of the fleet go middle to right. Ray looks to be leading as they approach the windward mark so I make a mental note to do the same and head towards the line.

Our fleet is hanging back so I head down to the middle of the line with plenty of space. Luke and Sue have a coming together (not the good sort) and I hear shouting from Luke as he closes the door between Sue and the Committee boat. He's a brave man. Size alone won't protect him from her fury but she's in an amiable mood today and does her penalty turns without complaint.

I think I've had a good start but Luke's is better and very soon he's sailing over me. I tack onto port and abandon my pre-race strategy, heading right. We cross again as we approach the windward mark, Luke is 3-4 lengths ahead but inexplicably stays on port and overstands the mark by several lengths, allowing me to round ahead.

The long reaches across to 3 and back down to 6 allow us to stretch away from the chasing pack. Mike Greenland has recovered from a poor start and comfortably heads the Lasers, with Sue not far behind.

As we start the 2nd beat I'm 30 metres ahead of Luke. The beats are tricky and the ebb tide is beginning to have an impact. Luke and I remain separated by about 30 seconds for most of the race. He tangles with a rowing boat on the 3rd beat and loses a few lengths, I park myself at the gybe mark – coming to a near standstill. We're both making a few mistakes today but steadily pulling away from the Lasers.

On the final beat Julie's Topper is a lap behind but just ahead as we approach the top mark. I duck her on port and tack to follow her round the mark. She's setting up for a reach but I need to bear away onto the final run and my only option is to slow for her to round first. This allows Luke to close up and we're only a couple of lengths apart going down the final run to the finish. Luke goes high, I stay low. For a while we're neck and neck but I manage to hang on to cross the line about 15 seconds ahead. A close one.

Mike leads the lasers with Sue not far behind. Further back, Gary leads Glen with Ann and Julie finishing a couple of minutes later.

In the overall results Mike claimed a well deserved 3rd place from the Wire Haired Terrier in 4th. Julie, in her Topper, finished 5th, ahead of Gary, Glen and, finally, Ann in the 4.7.

We head for home with the Finns staying out for their second race. They're squabbling amongst themselves over rule 42. Rule 42 is only understood by Finn sailors. We're not getting involved.

My RS300 and I take a leisurely cruise upriver to Tuckton and drift back down to the Club as the Lasers come ashore. It's a cold wet day, especially for the race team, but definitely worth the early start.

Incidentally, the Big Ginge (Jack) managed a first and a second in the Finn fleet so his dad should be pleased with the boy's performance today.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Winter Series Race 1. Sunday 9th November

November 9th is Remembrance Sunday.

It's two weeks since the last outing and my wetsuit is still damp. It remembers the last sail. 

The Scow fleet are moaning about the 11am start they chose for their race 10 months ago. Apparently it clashes with the minute's silence. I'm fond of our elderlies but I sometimes wonder how they managed to win 2 world wars.

Mind you, if the Germans had invaded the sheer volume of complaints from our Scow sailors would surely have persuaded them to pack their bags and head home to Berlin. Angela Merkel should try serving a year as our Sailing Secretary.

To make matters worse, last night my brother complained that I'd not reported the race results in my last blog.

Well, it's a blog not a race report but to keep the Big Ginge and his dad happy I'm happy to report that I didn't win either race and I got my backside well and truly kicked by my nephew.

On Saturday Jack won. I was 4th. On Sunday Luke won. Jack was 2nd. I was 6th .

Glad to have cleared that up.

Today is bright and sunny. 14 boats take to the water with virtually no wind but high hopes that a breeze will emerge.

Shortly after launching I cross paths with the wire-haired terrier in her Radial. “Not looking very good, is it?” “I don't know, I haven't seen it”. Weather-based banter isn't my forte so I treat poor Sue to a short lecture on positive thinking before pumping my way downriver (I mean pumping the sail – not the rude version of the verb)

Among the 14 plucky competitors we have 2 Toppers and Mirror.

One of the Topper sailors was very drunk last night so we elected him Class Captain. He's struggling to grasp the consequences this morning “Darren, meet Keith. Keith sails a Mirror Dinghy, he's your responsibility now”. If Darren was returning to the scene of the crime hoping Saturday evening was a bad dream – his hopes are dashed.

We have the Rusty Rudders girls today and shrill noises shatter the early morning calm. Jenny, Julie, Anne, Gail, Lisa and Sue are in fine voice. They have impressive lungs. I retreat to a quiet place in the harbour amongst the wading birds and we watch from a safe distance as they are towed past.

Tony, still blushing from the high praise we lavished on him at last night's Junior AGM, has turned out in his Finn. So has the sneaky Laser sailor along with Mike and Glen. Peter Howard has forgotten his drysuit and remains ashore.

Beasley is the race officer. We assemble in no wind at the start. I suggest a postponement. He has a flag for that – which is handy. We discover that this is also our class flag so removing the postponement 30 minutes later becomes tricky. He takes the flag down promptly hoists it again. Tony has fallen asleep. He wakes up and arrives nearly 2 minutes late for the start.
Drifting around before the start.

Mike Greenland decides enough is enough and heads for home shortly before the start sequence. Shame really – he did the hard work getting there and just as the breeze arrives he bails out.

The start is a reach. The Rusties are all on the line and pointing towards the 1st mark. I'm so shocked that, once again, I bugger my own start and arrive a few seconds late at the line.
Trademark (bad) start by your author. Jenny leads.

We creep towards number 3 mark.

Gary is whinging at Jenny who appears to be trying to whack him on the back of his head with her boom. Julie joins in the assault using her Topper boom. Much as I appreciate the ladies' efforts to tag-team Gary I grudgingly accept that the racing rules are in his favour on this occasion.

We'll hear more about this back at the Club later.

Staying to leeward of the bunch I eventually break through the pack and round ahead with Tony about 30 metres back in his Finn.
Tony approaches number 3 followed by the wire-haired terrier

We beat towards number 4 buoy. The tide is ebbing strongly and the wind is barely 5 knots and very fickle near the shore. Sue is close behind Tony and the lasers are staying close. Today's race will be interesting as the wind slowly builds. Can I get away?
Tony leads Sneaky rule 42 Monkey and wire-haired terrier to number 4

In short, the answer is “no”. I reach down to number 5 with Tony about a minute behind as the fleet spreads out. A beat across to number 7 and the gap doesn't grow. We stretch away from Gary and Sue and head onto a long reach back up the harbour towards number 3 against the tide.

Beasley has been filming the rule 42 monkey in the Laser but as I approach number 3 he departs in the direction of number 4 buoy – our next mark of the course. As I round 3 I look for a shortened course flag – nope. I head across the tide and beat towards the next mark. Tacking onto the starboard lay-line I notice the “S” flag has gone up. 36 minutes after our delayed start I cross the line. Tony is just under 2 minutes back – close enough to give him the win.

The fleet follows us home – Gary just ahead of Lisa with Sue about 30 seconds back. Last boat to finish is Darren in his Topper. He's made a promising start as Class 5 captain – they had 3 boats out today and he generously followed them round like a faithful sheepdog.

We arrive back at the Club for lunch. Beasley attempts a Rusties de-brief with turns ugly as Gary attempts to bluster it out with the Ladies. There's only ever going to be one outcome to this one. You don't mess with the wire-haired terrier. Gary retreats. Peace returns and Beasley orders a large baguette. Normal service is resumed.

I got my arse kicked again today, by the way. Just in case you're reading this, Jon.

Results (for Jon)   
     Owner                   Class    Place
1    Tony Lock            Finn         1
2    Chris Arnell          RS 300    2
3    Lisa Booth            Radial      3
4    Sue Haynes           Radial      4
5    Gary Mehson        Laser       5
6    Jenny Barnes         Radial     6
7    Gail Howard          Radial     7
8    Ann Hadley            4.7         8
9    Glen Tizzard           Laser     9
10    Mike Greenland    Laser    11 (DNS)

Monday, November 3, 2014

October 25th & 26th - Clinching the deal as the Autumn Series concludes

The end of October means craning out and the conclusion of the fabled Autumn series...

Saturday 25th October.
Everyone (including the estate agent who stores 6 Finn sails in the boatshed but sails 5 times a year – go figure) is racing. Luke, Ginge, Jez, Ela, Ray,'s like a “who's who” of Class 4.

The wind is light and the line is short.

People with boat handling skills and large kahunas will start well today. I start terribly. To say I was in the 2nd row would be insulting to the people in the 2nd row. I am following the race.
Trademark start by Chris :(

Luke is in lane-holding mode with the Finns. I tack away into the wilderness. I'm in duck-worrying mode as I head far right out of the tide into the nature reserve. Ela follows me (she's lost too) Jez, predictably, follows Ela.

Half way up the beat I'm out of the tide and gaining fast. I tack back onto starboard, ducking Luke who is on port. I'm ahead of the Finns and carry on into a stronger breeze before tacking back onto port to lay the windward mark. Luke tacks back but he's out of the breeze and now a good 30 metres back, amongst the Finns.

Poor Luke with a grumpy Finn fleet for company

A long broad reach down the harbour... I keep my head in the boat and wobble away from Steve who is being pursued by Ginge.

Later I learn that wobbling is considered borderline Rule 42 by the Finn fleet. Which is interesting since moving the end of the boom continuously in and out by about a foot is classed as "steering". Anyway, I'm too busy staying upright to pump, and wobbly sailing is a feature, not a technique..

Rather stupidly I've set a course consisting of beats and runs. RS300's don't enjoy beating and running and this is turning into a Finn benefit. I remain in front but Luke remains buried with the Finns. At the finish I'm a couple of minutes ahead which is a comfortable win over Luke but not enough to challenge the Finns.

Heading back upwind as the fleet approaches the leeward mark

All good though – Autumn Saturday series in the bag. No time for beer or bacon rolls – we have a road trip to Glastonbury to spend the afternoon hanging out with faeries, hippies and witches.

Late finish – tumble dry the gear, dine in hell – ready for Sunday.

Sunday 26th October

Sunday is windy. Scary windy – gusts above 20 knots. I hope the race officer won't turn up so I can do the decent thing and sit on the committee boat instead. He arrives. I'm screwed.

We launch. Lots of Finns, Luke, Ela, Solos, Lasers and, finally, me.

I have a good start and try lane-holding in the middle of the Finn fleet. Luke tacks away, taking the same route up the first beat I used yesterday. Today it works and he crosses ahead. I find myself buried in the chasing pack of Finns as we head downwind. Ginge is shouting Rule 42 based complaints at Simon in his Finn. Finally clearing the Finns and into second, I gamely try to hang onto Luke.

Not the most comfortable spot for a lonely RS300 sailor

I'm sailing OK but inexorably he pulls away. On my last reach down to number 8 I'm distracted by the upturned Jenny. No, that's rude - I mean Jenny's upturned Laser. She manages to wriggle back onboard and sets off just ahead of me. It's a worry – I'm about to lap her but she's nervously watching me. I know from bad experience that sailing with your head out of the boat means trouble – I'm willing her to not fall in ahead of me as I don't have the skills to change course quickly. We're OK – she rounds number 9 buoy ahead and I throw in an early tack to stay clear.
Doing my best but getting my butt kicked again...

Short beat back to the finish at number 5 and my race is done.Ela has sailed brilliantly today and stayed ahead of Luke's dad, John, in his Solo.

At the finish Luke is over 2 minutes ahead – probably the biggest defeat I've suffered against him so far. Our score is now 4:3 in his favour and I'm no closer to finding the heavy weather pace I need to challenge him. On the bright side I didn't capsize in winds exceeding 20 knots – so things are getting better. Luke congratulates me for finishing. I congratulate myself for being 50 and a bunch of other things I don't deserve credit for.

Luke's experience and power is going to take some overcoming. I'll have my work cut out in the months ahead.

The Autumn Sunday series is in the bag, the sailing gear is in the tumble dryer and I have a weekend off. Going to rest, relax and think about the Winter training.

See you soon, folks.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Time to stop celebrating 11th out of 14 at the Inlands....

The Inland Championship not only confirmed my frailties as a newbie RS300 sailor, it also highlighted my rustiness and deficiencies as a racer. I've been off the circuit for a lot of years and the handful of club races I've done each season has done nothing to stop my decline.
Survival sailing in 15 knots at the Inlands

Back at Christchurch, however, life goes on...

Autumn Saturday Series. I'm in with a chance of winning both the Saturday and Sunday series but this weekend it means a 6:30 alarm call ready for a 9am start. The boat is still snugged down on her trailer after Grafham so we make our way to the club with a grim forecast of 30 knot gusts. I've seen photos of RS300's sailing in 30 knots. It looks impossible.

As it turned out the weather was remarkably docile, rather like the solitary Scow sailor who arrived to find himself once again without a fleet. Jeremy, Ela, Mike and I launch. We allow our Scow buddy to tag along and join us on the start line.

The Scow finds the favoured end of the line (nearest the mud), but I'm close astern and tack away to lead around the 1st mark. We head downriver with Mike in his Laser following, while Ela is comfortably ahead of Jeremy in 3rd place.
The trouble with being ahead is you don't notice the rest of the fleet sailing in the opposite direction...

Our race consists of a grand tour around the harbour, followed by a reach back up the river to finish at the Club. The trip is uneventful with only a few planing gusts. Mike stretches away from Ela while Jeremy follows her like a lost puppy.

I'm safely ashore by the time the Laser finishes and make my way to Greggs to fetch bacon rolls for Ela and Jeremy. A pleasant little sail – the sunrise over the Isle of Wight was worth the early start.

Sunday dawns and the wind returns. My heavy weather nemesis, Luke, arrives. So does Jack. Today will prove a sterner test. Luke's dad, John, joins us with his Solo and we also have a Topper and a Scow for company. The trip down the harbour confirms my view that today could be the windiest race I've attempted in the RS300.

As the warning signal sounds I throw in a trademark practice gybe, capsizing directly in front of the Scow. He's seen me do this before but still it makes him laugh. I grin sheepishly from the daggerboard then clamber back aboard. Slightly shaken and lacking confidence I need to get myself back together before the start. I reach away from the line and throw in another gybe with 3 minutes to go. Nailed it. That feels better – I head towards the pin and tack back onto starboard to line up with a minute to go.

Luke and the Big Ginger Kid are close together at the other end of the line. For once I'm not being match raced – they probably saw my gybe and dismissed me as a useless capsize monkey – I'm not a threat today.

We head upwind on the 1st beat and I cross ahead. Using lots of kicker and downhaul the boat feels better balanced upwind. Luke gains slightly on the next tack and I have to duck him on port. Jack is taking advantage of the shifts in his Finn and also closes as we approach the 1st mark.

At the mark Luke rounds 1st while I have to slow for the Finn. Fortunately the next leg is a reach and I manage to pass underneath the Finn and close up on Luke. Another gybe completed safely and we head back down the harbour. Luke is about 30 yards ahead and holding the gap.

Slowly, inexorably, Luke pulls away. His boat handling is smoother and more assured than mine and as the race goes on I slip further back. Jack is hanging on and the gap between us isn't growing. The wind increases slowly and I have a wobbly moment on one of the later gybes and a couple of duff tacks where I drop the mainsheet.

Final beat to the finish – Luke is about 40 seconds ahead so I split tacks just to try something. Not a good idea – Luke finishes about a minute and a half ahead with Jack about 2 minutes behind me. 3rd place on handicap is not a disaster but once again demonstrating that I'm not fast enough or sharp enough in a breeze.

Back ashore and some lessons learned. Luke observed that I'd flattened the sail well and was sailing upright but probably pointing too high instead of going for speed. As I tired during the race my boat-handling became scrappy. The boat seldom felt out of control but fitness is key to coping in big winds. It gusted 23 knots towards the end of the race and I'm pleased to have I have to learn to race in these conditions.

Two more races next weekend and another chance to practice. Winter is approaching and I have some work to do. Looking forward to it. :)

Monday, October 13, 2014

RS300 Inlands.. important goals achieved

With hindsight, it was always going to be a struggle...
But lets focus on the positives.

The lamb shank at the Wheatsheaf
A comfy bed at Thorpe Lodge Farm
No traffic jams
Nothing broke or fell off
The only really annoying competitive jerk at Grafham was sailing an RS600
The RS300 sailors are a nice bunch and I achieved my goal of respectfully finishing behind most of them
I probably felt less ill than Steve Bolland on Sunday morning.
"Lets follow 10 or 11 boats for the first 4 races or until we figure out what's going on"

Now, the sailing...

Before the OK's were banned from Grafham I used to race there. Inland sailing isn't something I do very often and clearly it's something you get better at with practice. “Get your head out of the boat” is good advice, but you need the mental capacity to sail the boat with your head out of it. This is something I lack. I need to keep my head in the boat otherwise my head, along with the rest of me, gets tipped overboard.

The wind was very light and, with the exception of Mr Le Mare I was the biggest sailor in the fleet. No excuse there. I've been eating pies for more years than I remember and I've had plenty of opportunities to eat fewer pies. Also, boatspeed wasn't my problem. Being in the wrong place and sailing like a donkey was my problem.

Starting: For 3 out of 4 starts I fell into the 2nd row of boats within seconds and found myself tacking away into the wilderness just to find clear air. In the 4th race I went to the unfavoured left end of the line, managed a clean start and celebrated by sailing to the left as the rest of the fleet went right into stronger winds. I don't do “head out of the boat” sailing. I enjoy watching tell-tales too much. I've done about 10 starts in the RS300 in a handicap fleet. It's not good enough.100 practice starts needed before my next event.
Self assessment: 2/10
Another trademark start...nowhere near the front row
Following the race from a safe distance

Boat-handling: My tacking and gybing was the worst it's been since my 2nd or 3rd trip. As soon as pressure was applied my technique fell apart. It improved as the races progressed but it took me half the event to start sailing with any composure. On the bright side as the wind came up in race 4 I didn't fall out and managed to avoid Tim whose rudder came off just as we were bearing away round the windward mark. 4/10

Tactics / Strategy: There's no such thing as bad luck. Just bad tactics. The top guys made sense of the conditions but I was generally on the wrong part of the course which, admittedly, was full of holes with pressure coming in from either side in a way that mystified me. Not having the presence of mind to look around and think ahead in difficult conditions guarantees bad luck. 3/10
Enjoying clear air off the start line for a change.

Mark Roundings: Touching the mark is legal but slow in light winds! I didn't push for any overlaps despite being close on a number of occasions. As the races went on I improved my roundings and even managed to climb up inside some boats on leeward roundings. Need to practice more. 6/10

Boatspeed: Actually mostly OK with the boats around me. Learned to use more kicker upwind as the day progressed with improved my speed and pointing. I managed to sail away from other boats at the back of the fleet and generally finished within a minute of the top 5. No complaints apart from the dismal lack of lane-holding in the early races. 7/10

Overall: 11th place out of 14. I really enjoyed travelling and racing in a new fleet. The atmosphere was fantastic and these guys are at least as friendly and certainly as alcoholic and my old mates in the OK class. Am I disappointed with my result? Not really – just a bit frustrated that I didn't sail to the best of my ability.
This is my "Inlands" face...confused

Thank you everyone for making me welcome. Well done Matt Jenkins for winning the event. My acceptance speech is filed away somewhere for later ...

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The final push for Inlands Glory

My hopes of a podium finish at the RS300 Inlands were cruelly dashed when a 4th boat entered. Now there are 10 of us – so a top 10 result is now in serious doubt. Time for last gasp preparation as I cling to the dream of not finishing dead last.

Saturday October 4th.
The alarm quacks at 7 (Ela has a duck alarm which always wakes me up in a good mood). There's only one reason to get up at 7 on a weekend – dedication. Actually, dedication and tides – that's 2 reasons. We race at 9am and today its wet and windy. The heavy weather training I need to prepare for the Inlands will happen today. I'm nervous and need to pee. A lot.
We arrive at the club. Four of us – Ela, 2 Lasers and me. The race officer and his team have turned up and seem disappointed to see us. Don't blame them – it looks like a day for staying in bed. We wait for the arrival of an ominous black cloud. It doesn't bring 40 knots – just rain. Lots of rain. The wind is easing – time to launch.
At the start there's less than 10 knots. This isn't what we expected but the rain eases and we start. The sneaky Laser sailor is to windward – I've misjudged the start again – I have an opportunity to ping him but today Jesus is smiling on me so I bear away then throw in a clearing tack onto port. No need to be nasty – let your sailing do the talking. A short hitch on port then a tack back as the wind shifts to the right and I'm clear ahead (you may want to draw that on a sheet of paper – it sort of makes sense). My sailing, for once, is doing the talking. It wants to shout “I'm in front, kiss my transom, suckers!” But I tell it to shut up and just sail.
Beasley and Gary are having a close battle today and Ela's very close in her Splash. I wobble and watch the other 3 as they race amongst themselves. Beasley briefly threatens Gary but the pies are taking their toll on his light wind speed and Gary eases away to a half minute lead at the finish. Ela's done well and we think she could be close on handicap. In the end she misses a top 3 finish by about a minute but a good effort. As the race draws to a close the wind and rain returns. We manage a few planing reaches then head for home.

Sunday October 5th

Cold but bright – the car says it's 4 degrees. Which is a good reason to stay inside the car with the heating on. Arriving at the Club there's no wind and a layer of mist drifting across the river. Tony arrives and so do a couple of elderlies in the Scow fleet. I need points in this series – any result will do – so time to rig.
A shrill noise alerts us to the late arrival of Sue. Diminutive but scary, she rigs her Radial as we prepare to launch. The safety boats do a good job of towing the fleet down to the start. I'm wearing a woolly yellow minion hat and all my layers and start to overheat. The wind is barely registering but we go into a start sequence nevertheless.
My starts are rubbish this weekend!
Sue is ahead so I bear away slighly and power through her lee at a stately 2 knots.
Tony's Finn is on my hip and the 1st beat becomes a long fetch against the tide to number 3 mark. I can't shake Tony off but at least I get to try a few rig settings on the leg to see what makes a difference.
I lead around the first mark by 3 or 4 lengths as we bear away onto a run. Worried that the Finn will roll past I'm pleasantly surprised to find myself just easing away. The wind seems to be dropping but finally I can roll in a gybe around number 4 buoy and come up onto a reach back down the harbour. Slowly I stretch away and round number 7 about 100 metres ahead – which translates into several minutes lead in these conditions.
The Scows are still working their way up the first beat and we exchange greetings “Painful isn't it” “Yeah I think I fractured a testicle on the daggerboard back there”
Another fetch back to number 3. Please shorten the course before the wind dies completely. The Race Officer agrees – I reach the line in 44 minutes – just ahead of the Scows who are coming up for the first time. I can't remember a race that finished at the first mark but that's how they've finished.
Looking back I see Tony making his way up from number 7 while Sue is still heading downwind. Unless the wind fills in quickly I've probably done enough.
I head for home – slowly. There is no sound from the Committee boat. Tony and Sue didn't get back to the line and were eventually towed back to the Club. A difficult race but worth getting up early for.

What did I learn?
The mainsheet block without the cleat is much better
Sitting forward alongside the mast in very light winds seems to work well.
Sail the boat flat or heeled slightly to windward as soon as there's enough wind to fill the sail. Use knee to push the boom to leeward.
Not luffing Sneaky Laser Sailors over the line just because you can is surprisingly rewarding. Champions should occupy the moral high ground. Another box ticked.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Preparations for Glory take a small backward step

This weekend I'm going to unleash my awesomeness on the fleet. There's nothing like 45 minutes of training to boost your confidence. I was feeling mean, focused and, most of all, ready.
Saturday 20th September – Ladies Cup Race
After a gap of nearly 30 years it's time to reclaim my trophy. I'm at the club early, rigged and ready. The big ginger kid doesn't do early starts. He's probably still making his way home and drunk-texting sleeping girls. Luke is at work so there are just 7 of us today.
The wind is light and I make a good start, just below and ahead of Tony Lock in his Finn. A short beat to number 3 buoy and I tack round with a decent gap after less than 2 minutes of racing. This race is in the bag! The leg to number 5 is a fetch – maybe – half way across I'm headed but it's too close to the lay-line for a tack so I carry on. Behind me, Tony lifts to the mark and I have to make a tack. The gap is halved and the race falls out of the bag
We reach across to number 7 buoy and I stretch away. Around the next couple of legs the lead looks comfortable again but another beat from 6 up to 5 goes tits up. I'm heading up on port, about a minute ahead of Tony who heads further right and tacks into a huge lift. By the time I tack back he's ahead. I carry on to the right into more breeze and manage to regain the lead by the next mark but on handicap I'm now in deep trouble. Next upwind leg I'm on starboard just laying the mark and another OAP in a Solo on a port reach aims straight at me. I have to throw in 2 tacks to avoid him and once again the Finn is on my transom.
Downwind and upwind one last time. Nothing good happens. I finish 30 seconds ahead on the water and 2 minutes behind on handicap. Tony has a 100% win rate on his comeback. Good for him. 
What did I learn today?
Ignore the elderly at your peril. Sometimes they never give up.
Sunday 21st September – Bart's Bash
Amazing day. Amazing race. 46 boats taking part. This will be good!
Somehow we fit everyone onto the start line – nobody is over – and we're off. The harbour is shallow up here so I take a long hitch on starboard towards the main channel. The Finn boys tack away and we make a long port tack to the first mark. Ray leads , I'm close for 2nd but have to slow to allow Simon's Finn to come in on starboard and tack ahead. 
Down the first reach we speed and there my race ends as the mainsheet block launches itself into the gap between deck and boom. I stop to gather all the spare parts now littering the cockpit floor as the fleet goes past. I should have grabbed the falls off the boom and pumped like a motherf**ker (just like the Finn boys are doing) but my bingo wings aren't up to the challenge. 
I blast around the harbour for an hour watching the action. An optimist wins the race on Handicap. Not sure if he's CSC or Royal Lymington today but I'm pleased for him. 
Back to the Club and the rest of the afternoon working out results and getting hopelessly drunk.
 What did I learn this weekend?
True Champions are humble and generous in defeat. Another box ticked :)

Friday, September 19, 2014

Gybe School and Tack Academy - intense training as I prepare for glory

According to Facebook I announced my intention to sail at the Inlands in October. Probably a rash or drunken decision – I've barely sailed an RS300 a dozen times and never managed to stay upright in more than 15 knots.
But a deadline looms so it's time to grow a huge pair of Kahunas and tuck them into my Big Girl Pants.
Wednesday 17th September. Gybe School.
A light North- Easterly and an hour of daylight. I launch and head out to be greeted by an unmanned Walker Bay dinghy drifting across the river. A fisherman on the far bank spots the drifting boat and moments later the owner emerges. My plan to sail past, pretending not to see the boat, is foiled. Taking a vessel under tow with an RS300 isn't simple, especially when it has no painter and a mast and the RS300 sailor has no skills.
I manage to come alongside and grab it, making my way slowly to the bank. Releasing it proved more difficult. Its mast hits mine whenever I try to push it forward towards the owner. His dog swims out to help and decides to climb aboard my RS300. We drift precariously towards the shore, me, the dog and the boat.
Eventually I manage to shove the dinghy across to the owner and the dog follows. I reverse back into the river and continue.
Today I'm mostly gybing. Coming in fast from a reach it's noticeable how little pressure there is on the sail as the boom comes across. Keeping the boat flat coming out of the gybe seems important. I heel to leeward as a gust arrives and almost capsize – it's less than 10 knots and I can still sail like a muppet. With darkness falling I head back to the club.
What did I learn today? I can rescue dogs and sail backwards. A true champion should be versatile, kind and generous. Box ticked.
Thursday 18th September. Tack Academy
Another light one with not much water. The wind is blowing straight up the harbour so today I'm tacking all the way out to sea (about 2 miles away).
Making my way down the harbour I notice Highcliffe Sailing Club's fleet launching and follow them out to sea. They are milling around at the end of the buoyed channel waiting to start. Tempted to ask if I can join in I decide there's not enough time to race and get back before dark so I carry on past them. Tacking is slowly improving in light winds – windy is another matter.
The wind is dying and the sun is going down – it's a beautiful evening – possibly the last one I'll sail this year. Time to head in.
Am overtaken by the chap in the Walker Bay on the way up the harbour who offers a tow. Expecting a grateful beer back at the Club I politely decline the tow but hurry back. There was no beer waiting for me.
What did I learn today? Sunsets are beautiful and gratitude lasts a very short time indeed. I'm not rescuing his sodding boat next time.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Autumn Series - September 7th 2014

Sunday September 7th 2014

Nursing sore balls and a hangover following a long bike ride and an encounter with a bottle of Polish vodka the previous evening, I drove through the early morning fog towards the Club. I don't know how you get vodka from a Bison but it tastes distinctive.

Highcliffe anemometer informs us there is a promising 4 knot breeze which ranks somewhere between “perilous” (2 knots) and “out of control planing” (8 knots) on my RS300 comfort scale.

The girls are out in force today. Mike and I appear to be the only chaps taking part in the race. No sign of the big ginger nephew, Luke, or the sneaky laser sailors (although one of them arrived just before the start, loudly announcing his intention to join a RIB flotilla to the Isle of Wight). 

Anticipating a friendly, relaxed race, I write a course on the blackboard, at which point the ladies transformed into an angry frenzied lynch mob. I bravely suggest a shortened course then hide in the toilet until they launch.

In a light northerly breeze we race from the Club down into the harbour. The wind is fitful and I manage to park myself at the “wrong” end of the line at the start. Mike chose the right end of the line and leads in his laser as the girls and I give chase.

Because Mike is a true gent I elect to pass to windward and manage to glide by without incident. Mike slips back into the pack and we drift slowly down towards the harbour.

On our way to the first mark a large flotilla of RIBS surges past. The Isle of Wight rally has begun with an experiment to discover how easy it is to wash an unwary sailor out of his RS300. Muttering rude words about overweight twonks with BMW driver mentalities I regain my composure and wobble downwind through their wash. Feeling sorry for the citizens of Yarmouth, I head down the harbour as the mist clears.

Ela has started well – ahead of the girls she chases down the Laser and follows around number 6 buoy about a minute behind. The beat is tricky, though – light northerlies are a tactical minefield and we all struggle with some big shifts and holes in the breeze on our way back up to number 5 buoy. I manage 2 tacks in quick succession without actually steering. By the time I get moving again the fleet is closing in – any notions of an easy win are quickly dispelled – I need to sail better than this.

To my delight I see our windward mark is not only capsized but also in the middle of Mudeford Sailing Club's line as they launch into their start sequence. I sneak through the fleet on port and wobble downwind to number 7. Finally able to stretch away, I notice that Sue is leading the pack in her Radial. I'm not sure she knows it's a Radial – she entered the race in a Laser. She's a wire-haired terrier of a woman and sailing fast today.

Marion is also going well in her Radial. Marion has great qualities for sailor – she nursed my brother following his arse transplant a couple of years ago – which means she's unshockable and resilient. She's also a nurse, which means she was probably the world's best first date back in the days when she was dating.

Ela and Anne are battling it out just behind the Radials. Anne's 4.7 is pretty much identical in speed to Ela's Splash and Ela just leads by a few lengths. In the light winds both boats are seriously underpowered and struggling to match the bigger rigs for straight line speed today.

Around 45 minutes into the race, Rollo the Race Officer shortens the course. The rest of the fleet cross the line over the next few minutes with Sue in 2nd place on the water and on corrected time.

Mike, Marion, Ela and Anne finish in that order, separated by just seconds on handicap.

As we sailed home the sun finally broke through and a September morning felt like Summer again. Far off in the distance we hear raucous laughter and the rattle of badly maintained 2 strokes as our RIB flotilla finally leaves the citizens of Yarmouth in peace.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Evening Series August 19th 2014

Tuesday August 19th 2014
After a short break for the RS300 Nationals (I didn't take part but I did look at the photos online) it was time to return to competitive action.

I was fired up and feeling mean, fit and focused when I arrived at the Sailing Club. My spirits were briefly raised by the absence of Luke but the presence of the big ginger kid with the Finn (Jack - he's my nephew) reminded me I would be in for a battle.

Jack is very fond of his weird Uncle Chris and enjoys nothing more than match racing him to the back of the fleet. To escape his attentions I often have to employ boat handling skills such as spinning in circles and running away. I don't have these skills any more.

Joey has rigged her Splash. If the wind is light she'll be a threat. She's very fast and quite clever.There's also a Solo, a couple of Radials and a couple of keen looking youngsters in the RS Feva who could make life interesting. I think this race will be between the Finn, the Splash and the 300.

The wind looked menacing with reports of 20 knots plus gusts and some ominous black clouds lurking overhead (where else would a cloud lurk?)

10 minutes before the start I launch. The wind seems to be easing but a sharp gust capsizes a Radial. Need to stay awake today. Jack is throwing his Finn around as if it's a bath toy. He's a big lad. He could kick-start a Chieftan tank but he doesn't have a driving license yet.

Pre-start, I hang back behind the line. With 20 seconds to go I sneak forward but I'm distracted by the large black genniker the Feva boys have hoisted. My timing is slightly off and I'm behind the Splash and the Finn as we reach towards the first mark. I extricate myself from the bunch and follow the Finn downriver on a run. Not really where I wanted to be – Jack is going to make life difficult for me now.

The Feva boys have done a good job and start well. They're nattering away, doing teamwork. Every 3rd word is “Jonny” One of them is called Jonny.

A large bunch of boats drifts lazily down the river. I take my place in the procession and wait patiently.

Slowly I move past the Finn. I stay to leeward – if I go high he'll luff me all the way to France. Jack moves to cover my wind so we remain in tight formation down to number 3 mark. I'm on the inside as we approach the mark and Jack throws in an early gybe in an effort to come back over me. I was born 50 years ago, not yesterday – I gybe too and the RS300 accelerates away.

Finally into clear air and on a reach – the Finn isn't going to catch me on this leg and I stretch away. On a reaching leg the 300 is a delight and the gap opens to 30, then 50 metres. By the time I reach number 10 buoy at the bottom of the harbour my lead is out to a minute. We're close on handicap but I'm in clear air and sailing my own race.

The Splash is going well – ahead of the Solo and close to the Radials. Joey is still a threat and the Feva boys are making a decent effort, using the genniker at every opportunity and still chatting like a couple of old women in a supermarket who've just spotted Judith Chalmers.

The wind never really materialised. A black cloud threatened something but apart from a couple of depressing windshifts and a few spots of rain the weather was uneventful. I crossed the line 3 and a half minutes ahead of the Finn which was enough to win the race.

Joey finished 3rd in her Splash while the Feva boys (Jack and Jonny) managed a decent 6th place in the dying breeze. They head back down the harbour with the big black genniker. We see them paddling back to the club about 2 hours later just as darkness falls. I guess they don't have homework this week.

Lessons learned
Sailng gloves work – no bloodstains on the boat today.
Racing is more fun when there's someone you really want to beat (Jack, Luke, sneaky Laser sailors)
When you feel more relaxed in the boat you don't expend so much energy (for the 1st time I felt comfortable and didn't come home exhausted)
Upwind there's a groove and I'm struggling to find it. Need to work on this.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Passport ready - time to join the cruiser fleet!

Thursday August 7th 2014
No Luke today.
Do I take advantage of his absence to grab some sneaky points in the Evening Series or take the advice of my RS300 pals and do some training?

There's a cruiser race in the bay this evening. This provides an element of safety (my drowning will be filmed by Beasley and appear on You-tube accompanied by silly giggling (Beasley) and loud coughing (Jon). Yachts also give me something to pace myself against. I head for the open ocean.

Wind is lighter today – probably never more than 10 knots. It's just enough to gently hike upwind. Downwind....we'll come to that in a moment. 

Before the start I'm feeling pretty comfortable with life, but mixing it up in the pre-start with cruisers ("Starboard!" "Darling, what did he say?" "He said "Starboard, or something" "Tell him to bugger off, I was in the RAF, you know")  takes some getting used to. I dive away from the line and leave the big boys to plod slowly around while they pour their gin.
Blistering acceleration as our plucky RS300 powers off the line

The start! I'm near the committee boat and into clear air. A couple of minutes pass and I roll onto port tack. Ahead I see the Highcliffe Sailing club fleet rounding their windward mark. We're on a collision course but I'm not too worried – they're all on port and heading downwind so we have right of way.

When the gap narrows to 20 feet it becomes very clear that the RS400 sporting an assymetric kite has no intention of keeping clear. I'm going to lose really badly in this collision so I crash gybe away from him and curse silently. Even when I'm not actually racing I'm pretty competitive and this guy has got on my tits.

I tack around and carry on – having relinquished my lead in the cruiser fleet to Nigel Burt in his Evolution 26, Resolution, I'm feeling a little cheated. Our inflatable mark is identical to the 3 that Highcliffe just laid. We're lost. Thankfully one of the Highcliffe sailors in his Europe helps us by loudly declaring “Shit! I've sailed to the wrong ****ing mark!”

Encouraged and grateful we tack towards our mark. Tabby II – a very large and ponderous Sadler 32 is lurching towards the mark on port. Resolution rounds ahead and I slow, waiting for the Sadler to tack round. It tacks.
Seizing my opportunity I dive into the gap vacated by the tacking Tabby II – preparing to power through her lee.
Did I forget to mention that Tabby is a Sadler 32? Note to self – NOTHING powers through the lee of a 32 foot boat unless it has a 50 foot mast. I'm parked, no wind.

Tabby chunders along and the breeze returns. I bear away onto a broad reach and continue in pursuit of Resolution. The benefit of having only 1 incompetent crew member to supervise (me) and no spinnaker becomes clear. Resolution is attempting to do boat handling. Mine is already done, I'm fumbling for the water bottle instead.
While she hoists her kite I reach up across her stern and adopt a menacing position on her windward hip. Nigel tells me to bugger off or capsize or something. I pay no attention as I'm preoccupied with finding a safe, stable and comfortable position for myself as I lurch downwind.

20 minutes later and by now in considerable pain I'm concluding that downwind sailing in an RS300 is possibly the worst experience of my life. The Evolution 26 has remained stubbornly abeam all the way down this leg while her relaxed and tanned crew have sprawled themselves comfortably on the deck, drinking beer. I, meanwhile, have shifted awkwardly from standing to crouching to kneeling every 5 minutes while occasionally stifling sobs of pain and frustration.

Around Chewton Glen mark we turn (this mark of the course is in Hampshire – I've actually left the county during the race) and we begin to beat back towards the finish.

Still in pain I'm finally able to stretch out and hike. The beat, I hope, is my opportunity to catch and overtake the Evolution.
No such luck. I dived low to avoid her wind shadow and she's stubbornly lifting to windward  and staying pretty much abeam. To make matters worse, the J24 which had a pig of a start is now climbing through me.
We split tacks a number of times on the long beat home but by the finish mark I'm about a minute behind both boats. As they continue onto their second lap I decide I'm done for the evening.
The Class 3 boats, including Tabby and my brother and Beasley in the Sonata, also finish after the one lap – and I stayed ahead of them at least.
Coming back into the harbour I'm greeted by Ela in her Splash. We beat back to the club in a dying breeze and glorious sunset. By the time I reach the slipway I can barely move. Today I can barely move. Tomorrow I'll go sailing again.

Lessons learned
Downwind in waves and light winds introduces a whole new dimension of pain.
Upwind I'm faster than a Sonata but slower than a J24
The Cruisers won't include me in their results so next week I'm packing a set of flares, a liferaft and an anchor.
By not stealing some points in the Evening series I've taken the moral high ground, especially compared with the sneaky laser sailors.