Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Head to head - two RS300's race together for the first time

Monday 21st July.
When I arrive, Luke is at the Club. The other RS300 is ready to launch.
Tense moments – rather like Clint Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef facing each other down in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. No sign of Eli Wallach (Beasley)
Formal greetings are exchanged... “Evening Big Fella”...”Hello Grandad”

There isn't much water – Luke, being fleet captain, decides on a deep water course keeping to the main channel. I hope there won't be much boat handling involved, but he includes some mark roundings. We may have to tack or gybe, or both.  I'm seething at the unfairness of it all – the odds are stacked in his favour.

Overwhelmed by the urge to practice, 30 minutes before the start, I launch. This was silly. 20 minutes before the start I'm exhausted.

There's a good fleet today – Splashes, Solos, Radials and us – about 10 boats. The start line is short and we begin on a reach to the first mark. A Radial flirts with the shallows near the far bank and leads, but I'm just behind. Luke tangles with his Dad's Solo and is just to windward and behind.

I pass the Radial and float down the river – hardly a breath of wind up here. Luke is a few lengths back but as we reach the harbour the wind picks up from behind and he closes up. Almost overlapped we run down into the harbour, gybing onto port and accelerating away from the pack.

We stay like this all the way to the bottom of the harbour – I've pulled out maybe a few yards but the short upwind stretch to number 10 buoy sees me overstand the mark slightly, allowing him to close to within a couple of lengths. We remain separated by seconds for the next two legs but I'm dragging my rudder on the bottom at number 5 mark so bear away into deeper water. Seizing the opportunity, Luke stays high on the next leg and manages to power over me – taking a narrow lead around number 3 buoy. A slow bear-away, however, allows me to get back over the top on the reach down and a short plane gets me 30 metres in front – the biggest gap of our race so far.

For the next 40 minutes or so we remain in this order – separated by no more than a few lengths. I'm working hard, half expecting to make a mistake that allows him to pass. The lighter conditions are helping me – I'm pointing slightly higher upwind and occasionally sneaking out a couple of lengths offwind in the puffs. Luke isn't getting too many opportunities in this race.

It turns out to be a long race – we loop up and down the harbour a few times before the finish – the gap doesn't change too much. All the way down the fleet there are tussles taking place – we have good racing out here today and the weather is ideal.

Coming back to the finish we're met by Rover and two Finns who have come in from the bay. Rover comes over in his RIB to take a closer look and I ask if he wants to try the 300 after the race. The last leg turns into a fetch. I'm worried about Luke climbing above me or running into the shallows but the wind stays kind and I can just fetch the line. After an hour of racing I cross the line maybe 15 seconds ahead of Luke. He won't be pleased with the result but having two boats so close made for great racing.

Rover climbs aboard and I can spend a few minutes relaxing in the RIB while he sails the boat back to the Club. No time for socialising, unfortunately, as Luke and I are now late for the dreaded Committee meeting. All good things must come to an end.

Lessons learned:
The pressure of having a boat nearby is great for learning. Every tack, gybe and mark rounding counts.
Making lots of adjustments to the kicker to alter the power of the rig upwind. I'm a bit lighter than Luke and generally sailing with a much flatter rig.
Getting the most out of gusts offwind can gain a lot of distance – the RS300 accelerates so quickly compared to most dinghies.
Everything aches after sailing.

Was hoping this would be Luke's "trademark" tack, but he didn't fall in at all today.

The big fella doesn't enjoy light winds but he's not slow

Your author about to chin himself coming out of a gybe

Monday, July 21, 2014

I live with Fear every day - but sometimes she lets me race...

First Race! 

Actually 2nd race - I was in a race the first time I sailed the boat. This is the first race I might even finish. Wind less than 5 knots - hardly a comfort zone but hopefully not a capsize-fest either.
It should be noted that sailing an RS300 isn't for the frail and elderly.
Which is unfortunate because I am frail and elderly.

Left shoulder, right elbow, left knee – all causing varying amounts of pain and discomfort.

There was also the hangover from Friday night.

The plan for Saturday afternoon was to sail out to the bay for some gentle practice. My replacement (shorter) rudder should arrive next week so I intend to train until I'm confident that the RS300 can navigate the shallow areas of the harbour.
There was so little wind in the harbour I figured that drifting into the bay was likely to be a one-way voyage with no prospect of sailing home.
With 3 minutes before the start of the fast handicap fleet I drift up to the committee boat and ask the PRO if I can join in.
Ela has my watch and I don't have the course.
Chanting “6,7,9,6,5,4,3,5,3” to myself I line up behind the fleet in the final minute.

Rudder 1/3 up, I reach in at the Committee boat end of the line just after the gun. Ducking under a Solo I manage to pop out of the fleet into clear air and I'm away. A minute later and I'm able to roll gently onto port tack and make my way up to the first mark. The wind is very patchy and shifting all over the place. Trying to squeeze myself into the gap forward of the mainsheet and concentrating on speed, I manage to keep the boat moving. A couple of wobbly tacks later I round the mark ahead of the fleet.

The wind remains very light and I'm starting to overheat in my black Rooster sailing top. No chance of removing it during the race, I take swigs of lemon squash as often as possible. I manage to pull the rudder fully down for a while, remembering not to cleat it. A drift down to number 9 buoy and back upwind for a while. Just enough breeze to squat on the side deck, I aim for the deepest water even if the best breeze is somewhere else.

The wind is all over the place – no chance to settle in the boat and a few duff tacks and missed shifts. That gap under the boom in front of the mainsheet looks inviting – dare I try to tack through that gap instead of the boat-stopping walk around the back of the cockpit? I decide not to try it on this occasion – will revisit that one later.

Rudder bouncing off the bottom of the harbour on the next downwind. Sweat in my eyes – it's uncomfortable out here but I've got a good gap behind me and haven't parked the boat too many times this afternoon. A long upwind against the tide in the main channel follows. The Committee boat is anchored close to the next mark – will he finish us there? I have no idea how long we've been racing – my knees feel like it's been hours already.

As I scrape my way across the mud towards number 4 buoy we encounter the Juniors in their Toppers. I am on starboard but hoping to keep clear of the kids. I hear some abuse being shouted in my direction – nothing to worry about – just a friendly greeting from Beasley and my brother, Jon.

Coming up to the next mark I see the “S” flag and hear two sound signals – this is the end of the race. Peeling off my hot-top (what a relief!), I finish the last of my drink and peer back down the course. I see the fleet starting the final leg. The wind has shifted – they're almost sailing straight to the finish – this could be a close one.

I finished in 41 minutes. Even in light winds it's exhausting. Really pleased with the result (I managed to win the race) but suspect that Luke would hand me a lesson in these conditions. Even more so when the wind comes up.

I've bought an RS200 rudder blade – smaller than the one I have – hope this works for the harbour.
Want to try tacking forward of the mainsheet in very light winds – just to see if it can be done.
Going to look at off the boom sheeting which seems popular in the fleet nowadays.
Have re-glued the deck bearing and mast foot in place.
Back out on Monday evening if the joints hold up.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Tuesday 15th July - pull a sicky and try again

Tuesday 15th July – took the afternoon off to go sailing with Timo. He's borrowing a Laser. I promise him a go in the RS300 – hoping he's going to fall out immediately and forever regard me as an elderly hero.

Wind is 10-15 knots. I fall out in 18 or above. In less than 10 I'm fine – today is marginal.

We launch and head down-river. Timo makes the Laser look easy. I make the Laser look fast. Must work at keeping the RS300 flat. If she tips she stops. Christchurch is gusty and shifty; we have the wrong type of wind today.

The wind increases on the way down the harbour. I take off on a broad reach down the channel. Working hard to stay flat but definitely more control than the first time I tried this. Managed to sneak ahead of the Laser – confident enough to throw in a casual gybe at the end. Too casual. Nearly lose front teeth on windward deck as I cling on. Timo didn't notice – or at least didn't mention it.

We try a couple of trips up and down the harbour – nothing too strenuous. Tempted to head out to the Bay but the wind keeps piping up and I'm not sure about capsize recovery at sea (my biceps and triceps have turned into bingo-wings, barely able to lift a pint of lager, let alone heave my bulk onto a daggerboard)

Timo's attempt at RS300 sailing went well enough. I considerately lifted the rudder half up to give him an extra downwind challenge and amused myself watching him spin out a couple of times. Annoyingly he stays upright and claims to be having fun. Sulking, I plod around in the Laser. It's all noise and splashing and not much speed. The RS300 slices through the water – the Laser prefers to punch through the waves and the water retaliates by slapping you in the face.

Wind gusting almost 20 now and the Laser is flying along. Sadly, so too is the Dutch kid in the RS300. At last – a capsize. Even better, it's him, not me. Delighted, I head towards him in case he needs help or wants to admit defeat. Not a chance, he's still grinning but admits the boat is a challenge and he's getting hungry now.

I sieze my chance, slithering back into the RS300 while he clambers into the Laser. We head up and down a final couple of times before returning to the club. An educational visit to Greggs the bakers follows shortly afterwards before I wave him goodbye.

What did I learn?
The harbour is as shallow as it seemed last week – still can't sail out of the channel with the rudder down.
Need deeper water and steadier winds to perfect the boat -handling – I'm not doing enough tacking and gybing drills by charging up and down the main channel.
Moving around the boat a lot more to keep the boat flat – learning to make small corrections earlier is important. I'm hardly cat-like but getting smoother.
Lots of kicker and downhaul upwind is good – but the downhaul doesn't release too easily.
The Pro-Stick 2000 didn't keep the mast collar in place. Back to the drawing board.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Lighter winds and a change of fortunes..

If the first attempt at sailing the 300 was a bruising affair it was the well-intentioned feedback from friends and family that had the most impact.

Instead of the expected mockery I was treated like a small child trying to ride a bike without stabilisers for the first time. “It was gusty” “You're a brave little soldier” “You did well, considering your age”. My brother would say “Hahahahaha you're crap!”. He's away, thank goodness.

I was hoping for less breeze than Saturday – not much less but enough to give me a fighting chance. When you climb back on the horse you're secretly hoping the horse feels bad about throwing you off. I wanted to show the boat I wasn't an idiot – less than 15 knots would help my cause.

The daggerboard now fits. Richard was enthusiastic with the fairing compound – it was a simple matter to sand it back. The front toestraps were loosened and I spent a few minutes looking at rig setup in the dinghy park before launching. Everything the guys say about the kicker is true. The rig flattens down just fine but you need to use the controls.

Waiting for the spectators to disperse (The RS300 attracts a lot of attention at our club. More so if everyone expects you to spear it through the middle of the Commodore's yacht moored across the river) I pushed off and turned downwind.

In lighter winds (today was less than 10 knots) I had time to find out more about the boat. Firstly, standing behind the mainsheet going downwind you're aware of the sound of water from the stern. Move forward and it goes quiet. I guess we're trimming bow-down in light winds. It's more comfortable than an OK up front but wobblier.

I tried more tacks today. What is noticeable is how easy it is to bring the boat to a complete standstill during a tack. Using too much rudder, moving aft - sticking the transom, and clumsy transition to the new side – I'm guilty of all of this at the moment. Some tacks worked better than others. It takes several steps to change sides on an RS300. It's more like a brisk walk actually. Up a very steep slope. I trip up and sometimes get out of breath.

With kicker pulled much tighter (roller on the 2nd or 3rd white line from the bottom) the rig looks and feels much better upwind. I'm not light by any means but in less than 10 knots I feel powered up in flat water. Trying to steer with fingertips and hold the boat very flat or heeled to windward - it feels good but I wonder how I'd be pointing with other boats around me. One for another day.

I invited Ela to try the boat. She floundered aboard while I dragged myself into her Splash. Disappointed that she didn't immediately capsize I spend the next 10 minutes following her around the harbour in the hope she might also find the RS300 difficult to sail. She doesn't.

We swap back and head for home in a dying breeze. There were no capsizes and actually this is how I remember sailing Luke's boat a few years ago. Unlike the Finn – which carries so much momentum that a good push off the slipway will still propel you around the race track 45 minutes later, the RS300 is all about accelerating and stopping. Need to learn to prevent myself from stopping her.

The breeze will return and I'm sure the beatings will resume. But today, at least, the relationship with my new boat seemed to be on level terms.

Things to address:

Need a shorter rudder - can't play in the main channel all season.

Tighten the rudder fittings

Stop parking the boat each time I tack.

Get fitter.

Find a permanent home for the mast collar.

Good points:

Ela thought she looked cool

I still make Luke Ridout look very good but he won't lap me in less than 5 knots.

I didn't have to wash mud off the sail today.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

First sail 5th July 2014

The difficult journey from RS300 owner to RS300 sailor began today.
Simple enough to rig. 1st issue was the recently refurbished daggerboard didn't fit into the slot. So glad to have spotted that before leaving the slipway. Borrowed Luke's – he wasn't there.
Once afloat I realised the piece of tape with the course written on was stuck behind the coiled up halyard and painter so I couldn't read it. As it turned out, this wouldn't be a problem.
Surviving the gusts, lulls and shifts as I headed down the river I was feeling reasonably confident, if rather uncomfortable perched / squatting in the bottom of the boat.
Once in the harbour the wind increased and so did the problems. Toestraps were pretty tight – enough to make locating them with feet pretty difficult. The wind was very puffy, though – so staying “locked in” on the side was a disadvantage when the breeze disappeared, dropping the windward wing into the water.
The wind swung further aft and increased as I turned down towards the start area. I went from being overpowered but stable to overpowered and unstable in a matter of moments. A gust hit and the boat accelerated so fast I found myself falling backwards towards the transom. Lying on my back with my legs in the air I somehow managed to keep the boat under the rig until I recovered some composure.
For the first 10 minutes or so I'd managed to avoid any significant boat handling errors, primarily because I'd also managed to avoid any tacking or gybing. Time to address this.
First tack – slow and uneventful. Managed to get back on the side and decided to make my way upwind back up the channel for a couple of minutes. Met the rest of the fleet coming down and tacked back to follow them to the start. Another out of control but survivable blast downwind. At least I could console myself with the fact that everyone else was planing – I wasn't imagining the fresh breeze.
Pre-start mostly consisted of me attempting to bear away to get behind the line while glancing at my watch and concluding that not knowing the 2nd mark of the course was not a priority at the moment. I decided to attempt a gybe. Bear away reasonably firmly, weight into centre, grab falls of mainsheet, heave and leap cat-like onto the new windward side. It wasn't pretty – several seconds of wondering whether to continue my windward journey onto the daggerboard before the boat swung back to the vertical. At least I was behind the line and upright. And suddenly aground.
Rudder blade – too deep for the harbour. Start line out of main channel and near an island. Amused looks from the seagulls as they waded past. I was dragging the rudder and heading towards the shallows with 2 minutes left to the start. Uncleated the rudder which immediately lifted to 45 degrees. Now I was off the mud but pretty much without any steering. Managed a slow tack and drifted back towards the line, hoping for enough water to lower the blade before the start.
After the worst start in recent memory I held on starboard across the harbour. Pinned back by a handful of lasers I was committed to a 1 tack strategy, sailing up on port underneath Hengistbury Head. At least, I hoped, the water would be deep enough for the rudder and the breeze slightly less near the shore (the tactical advantages of sailing in a stronger breeze and tacking on windshifts are now set aside). Another tack completed without incident and so begins the long port tack to the windward mark.
So far, so good – but here come the starboard tackers – one of them is Beasley. Do I tack, slow down or duck? Do I have the skills to pull any of these manouvres off? Too late – must tack. Can't tack – no skills. Into the water I go – close enough to the mark to be a navigational hazard to most of the fleet. Too busy to hear their laughter I pull the boat upright, slithering back aboard like an overweight eel, and set off in pursuit of Ela in her Splash.
Arriving at the 2nd mark just astern of the Splash I opt for the wide entry / narrow exit approach favoured by top sailors. The gybe proved beyond me. For the 2nd time in as many minutes I find myself clinging to the daggerboard.
Upright again – not knowing the course no longer a concern – a long line of Finns, lasers, Radials, 4.7's, Splashes, Toppers and Scows are leading the way. Getting to the 3rd mark is a concern. 50 metres down the leg and the rudder is hitting the bottom again. On a planing broad reach I bail – stuffing the boat into wind and coming to a standstill while uncleating the rudder. Minutes later (soon to be lapped) I find some deeper water and gamely head down to the next mark with at least a notion of completing the course. A gybe followed by death-roll and windward capsize brings an end to my race. I drag the boat upright for the 3rd and final time and opt to play in the deeper waters of the channel for the next 30 minutes or so before heading for home, bruised, exhausted and pretty much defeated.
Checking the anometer readings at Highcliffe Sailing Club, I see that the average wind speed was 10 – 14 with gusts up to 18. Hardly survival conditions but proof (if needed) of how far down the learning curve I am in the RS300.

Things to address:
Need a shorter rudder – Luke's cut 6” off his which is probably enough to get him around the harbour most days.
Practice tacking and gybing without the pressure of trying to race. Need to do more boat handling drills and get the basic technique sorted.
Get fitter – I'm not capable of training hard (beyond 60 minutes) at my current level. 3-4 capsizes will finish my day – need to sort this.
Lengthen front toestraps.
Get the daggerboard to fit the boat (sandpaper!)
The mast collar (stuck with sealant to the mast pot) came adrift. Need to glue it back.

Good points:
Ela thought I looked cool
I make Luke Ridout look very good.
I won't get bored with sailing for a very long time.