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.
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 coped...now 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. :)