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.

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