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 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. :)

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.