Monday, October 19, 2015

Not an event report. The RS300 Inlands.

“You’re writing the report!”

OK – let’s be clear about this one. I am NOT writing a Yachts & Yachting report for an RS300 event where I was too far behind to see who won and too busy trying to stay upright to notice what the weather was like or whether the start line was good, bad or indifferent. The only thing I remember is there were never more than 6 boats behind me and even if I knew who they were I’d be accused of cyber-bullying if I mentioned them by name. Nobody needs a defeat by me mentioned in the yachting press.

Even though I didn’t get near him all weekend, poor Steve Bolland hasn’t won any events that I’ve been to and it was also mentioned that there is never any wind on Sundays when I turn up.  Rich Le Mare’s trailer collapsed on the motorway last time out simply because I was following him. I am bad news for this fleet on so many levels.

One other reason NOT to write a report is because I’d be obliged to mention the fact that we were sharing a course with Phantoms.  When a class of boat requires you to bring several rigs to an event just in case the wind changes it’s not really a one-design, is it? And the “I’m still racing, GET OUT OF MY WAY” shouts from their back markers confirmed my suspicion that the fleet is full of elderly, tubby, humourless jerks. I speak with some authority on this matter as I am elderly, tubby and often humourless and I also spend my weekends in the company of Finn sailors. I don’t suppose Yachts and Yachting would publish that.

While most of the fleet slept in cars and vans, I managed to find a nearby B&B.  Next year I’m going to sleep in the car. The landlady was well intentioned but fussy. We had to sign a disclaimer to be able to use her internet and she insisted on typing the Wi-Fi password personally on our behalf. Having a browsing history is a bad thing. “Please, Carolyn, I want to Google “Bukkake” and can’t remember the password” We also parked half a metre too far from the lawn and blocked her drive. It deserved a mention. And my hikers dripped onto the bathroom floor while they were drying. It deserved a mention. And for £95 I think a rasher of bacon, a fried egg and a chipolata would have made a nice accompaniment to the muesli.

The Saturday meal at the pub was very pleasant. Sitting with Alistair “Two Soups” McLaughlin, Mark Taylor and Steve Sallis made for decent company and the food was excellent. A fresh-faced young person called Oli arranged it. Perhaps I should invite him to be a Facebook friend.  There were about 10 of my Facebook friends in the pub and I didn’t recognise any of them.  Facebook friends aren’t like real friends. You don’t forget their birthdays because Facebook reminds you. You can say “Happy birthday” without buying them a gift and you remember the names of their kids because the little darlings get mentioned in posts every time they use the bathroom correctly or pass a test. 

Richard Le Mare invited me to be his Facebook friend just last week. I discovered this is because the warranty on the boat I bought from him last year has expired so he’s no longer worried that I’m going to complain about all the breakages.

Meanwhile – back to the sailing. The race winners were Tim, Steve, Sam, Sam, Sam and Sam.   

In the Yachts and Yachting race report I’d be obliged to mention that there was a northerly breeze although as far as I could tell it came from every direction except the one I wanted it to come from. 

Every report tells you the race officer set a start line and the boats that started in clear air, spotted the shifts and went fastest (i.e. the best sailors) enjoyed an unfair advantage over me; which is why more than 20 of them always reached the windward mark before I did.

At this point in the report you would be provided a long list of names, probably in the order they rounded some marks. The most common name in the fleet was actually "Chris" as there were 3 of us.  Just behind us, with two each, were the Steves, Alastairs, Daves, Marks, Richards and Ians. The poor guys who couldn't even muster a single namesake included Sam, Luke, Tim, Stuart & Mike. But if you sail as well as these folks it probably doesn't matter.
"In wide, out wider" Another outstanding mark rounding by 393
The report should include some comedy moments. There were some capsizes on Saturday when it was windier than Sunday. I capsized first by attempting a gybe but fortunately this was before racing. Steve Sallis, a very good sailor, capsized during a race when he was 4th which proves how difficult RS300’s are – even for the best guys. Storky “2 Soups” fell in on the run but still finished miles ahead of me. Some of the slower guys (by “slower” I mean less than one capsize ahead of me) also fell in and elevated me from 25th to 20th or 21st in a couple of races.  Some of the Phantoms capsized while tacking; their sailors rolling like lardy marbles from the high side to the low side of their boats. I think I’m probably more of a Phantom sailor than an RS300 sailor. It’s a depressing thought.
Lardy marble attempts to reach high side of boat
And finally, every report mentions the prize-giving. We had one, too. A young man from the sailing club, wearing a red jacket, said some kind words. Pete and Steve presented some RS300 prizes – mostly to each other. Sam won so he also said some nice things about the sailing, thanked his parents and his girlfriend, and observed wistfully that he’d like to drink beer when he’s old enough. The Phantom sailors presented themselves with some prizes and we all went home, listening to the Scotland – Australia rugby on our car radios. 

Here are the results, in case you've missed the official race report:


Monday, September 14, 2015

The Midlands Double Header

There’s been a bit of a gap between blogs. I should address this and move on.

The Pre-Nationals training was going well until family and life events overtook the sailing. I managed to spend a lot of time in the boat during the early summer and the highlight was definitely a sunny morning practising in Christchurch Bay surrounded by a friendly pod of dolphins.

The lowlight was my Nationals performance – or non-performance – on days 3 & 4 when the wind and waves picked up. Crash and burn sailing feels like an unnatural act which is unfortunately something I failed to adapt to in my 1st year with the RS300. I really do prefer to keep the mast out of the water. Licking my wounds, I went away to sail my cruiser and upset people using strongly worded facebook posts about bungs and stuff.

So after a break of 2 months, Kinectic and I are on our travels once again to the Midlands Double Header at Attenborough and Bartley. Never heard of these places? Nope, nor had I. Here’s why.

Day 1- Attenborough.  A Lagoon tucked away inside a nature reserve just behind Matalan and sheltered in the lee of a huge power-station in Nottingham. The lagoon is actually quite lovely for kayaking, which is why kayaking is forbidden. An archipelago of Islands and reefs greets the unwary sailor. Chris Nicholson and the Team Vestas Wind crew should have trained here before the last Volvo Ocean Race – that reef in the Indian Ocean would have come as no surprise after a weekend at Attenborough. 

A lovely guy called Jonathan greeted us on our arrival. Jonathan sails his RS300 on the lagoon along with a motley collection of Supernovas and a competitive weirdo in a Laser. He was hoping we wouldn’t be nasty competitive jerks. We aren’t. I’m a comedy throwback from the 1980’s and my buddies are mostly the same apart from a few youngsters from the 1990’s and a couple of blokes from Scotland who claim to remember the 1970’s. Jonathan moors his RS300 on its side using a tyre to anchor the mast to the bank. I was admiring this immensely until a gust of wind blew his boat upright and it sailed away with the tyre hooked around the top of the mast. Jonathan isn’t as smart as he looks.

The sailing was great fun and incredibly physical. We did boat-handling every couple of seconds with windshifts, wind-shadows, gusts, islands and sandbanks adding to the challenge of racing 12 other boats. I didn’t finish last, mostly because enough people capsized. 

We were treated to a freshly prepared packed lunch between races aboard Attenborough’s wobbly floating clubhouse, moored on the lagoon. Rich Le Mare stepped aboard and my coffee slid off the table and onto my lap. If you weigh more than 100 kilos they should make you ring a bell or something to warn the other passengers that you’re arriving.  Apparently they are building a clubhouse on the shore next year. I think it would be a shame to lose the floating boat.

Overall I think Attenborough was one of the nicest places I’ve sailed and I enjoyed the experience, but too soon it was time to pack and make the 60 mile journey down to Bartley sailing club in Birmingham. Richard Le Mare was our host and tour guide so foolishly I decided to take advantage of his local knowledge and follow him down the motorway.

45 minutes later a plume of blue smoke and the smell of burning rubber alerts me to the possibility that all is not well with Richard’s trailer. We pull onto the hard shoulder of the motorway just outside Birmingham and it becomes clear that Richard knows a lot of things but sod all about maintaining trailer bearings.  After a short while we both stopped crying and decided the best course of action would be to put a new wheel on the bearing-less axle and make our way slowly through Birmingham city-centre at nightfall on a Saturday evening. 

The next hour of my life is something I never will forget. Richard took a couple of attempts to find a speed at which the trailer wouldn’t seize up in a plume of blue smoke. Our top speed was 23 mph which is frustrating if you’re in a 2 mile queue of cars following us down the Aston Expressway.  We eventually reached the centre of Birmingham where everything slowed down and I had a chance to take in the view. 

Never have I seen so many size 16 women wearing size 10 dresses. Spilling out of taxis and bars, it was a sight my eyes will never unsee. If you have a 4 foot wide bottom, displaying that part where it meets a pair of two foot wide thighs… it just doesn’t work on so many levels. As I looked away, I glanced a woman carrying a bright pink inflatable penis. 

Sadly, Richard’s guided tour of his favourite nightspots came to an end as we slowly clanked and screeched our way down to Bartley. Our RS300 buddies were already waiting for us so we headed off for a late night curry and a few beers before crashing at Richard’s for the night.

Day 2 – Bartley.

Nestled in the outskirts of Birmingham it would be easy to miss Bartley reservoir. It’s actually a fairly large stretch of water. Less pretty than Attenborough but deeper and without the islands. In theory this makes it easier for sailing. In practice, it’s still a puddle and therefore impossible to sail on unless you’re from the midlands.

Catering at Bartley is worth a TripAdvisor review. I managed to order a coffee (“Coffee, ploise”) but struggled with the language and didn’t get to sample the more interesting items on the menu, such as Bike On Sandwich, Kipper Tie and Pot Noidle. It was a friendly club, though, and once they’d finally unlocked the place, allowing me to use the lavatory, I became happy and relaxed again.

The wind was lighter than Saturday with very little hiking. I was happy with this as the amount of boat-handling at Attenborough, combined with a late night and badly inflated airbed, had left me physically shattered.  I managed a reasonable 3 races, the highlight of which was a 6th place – pretty much exactly mid-fleet.

Mid-fleet is tantalisingly just out of reach for me at the moment. I’ve managed to hang onto the back of the group just behind the leaders but not quite able to convert this into top 5 places. Steve Bolland, who is my current sailing hero, doesn’t seem to enjoy puddle sailing either. On the two occasions where I actually overtook him he was heard to say “Fuck it, I’m going home” and promptly retired. This can mean one of only two things. 1/ I am the benchmark he uses to confirm that things have got so bad he should give up or 2/ He’s beginning to respect me as a competitor and….ok, it means only 1 thing.

On reflection it was nice to get back in the boat and meet up with some great people again. Today, everything aches which is a good reminder that to sail any boat well you must be fitter than me. The Inlands are coming up soon and I need to build up the hours, ready for the next event.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The Pier Race that became the Fish & Chips Interclub

Saturday May 16th and an awfully big adventure beckons.

Looking awesome downwind wearing the camera-hat
Today we’re heading round to Bournemouth to race home from Boscombe Pier; or Bournemouth Pier if we’re feeling really brave. For weeks we planned this and the forecast has been looking good for a few days. I’ve washed my sailing gear, plucked my nose hair and waxed my Kahunas. I’m looking forward to this.
Forecasts don’t always become actual weather, however, and today it’s blowing a stubborn 20 to 25 knots from the west. A quick call to Ken from Highcliffe and we agree to postpone and wait for the wind to drop. 30 minutes later, another postponement. Our sailors seem keen to go – we have Vicky, Jack Acton, Gary, Stacey, Ela, Luke, Tony and me. Tony says it’s too windy and heads for the shelter of Waitrose. Luke planned a camping trip which coincided with the exact time he was supposed to be at Boscombe pier. We’re two men down.  The bar opens. I resign myself to an afternoon’s drinking on the Club balcony and order a lager.
Half way through the lager I’m starting to feel invincible again.
Another call with Ken and we decide that Bournemouth maybe too much of a challenge but he assures me the sea is looking lovely today and we should go racing in the bay. I look at my club-mates with their eager little faces, down the rest of my lager and utter the immortal words of Lord Horatio Nelson “Fuck it, let’s go sailing”
Eager to record this momentous event and looking for innovative ways to look stupid, I’ve strapped my camcorder to a bright orange cycle helmet. For the next two hours I will film my orange cycle helmet from a distance of 2 inches. I need to figure out how to point the camera at the boat, not my head.
There’s no water – the plan was to sail out at low tide. Our boats fall off the slipway but we launch safely. Nearing the Run I see Ben Green approaching from the Highcliffe beach in his RS300. He flaps nervously at the top of the Run, maybe waiting to see what I do. He doesn’t know I’m drunk and my bright orange camera hat gives the impression of confidence.  I cruise past on the ebb tide and he follows.
2 minutes later an almighty crunch alerts me to the presence of the beach. I’m less than a foot from land. The land is right underneath my boat – I can’t see it. I raise the rudder and a slightly mangled dagger board. The tide floats me out past the last channel buoys and I make it into deeper water. I guess I’m not coming back into the harbour for a couple of hours.
I should mention the wind. I was mentally avoiding the fact that it was still gusting over 20 knots. It still is. Leaving the shelter of the shore the 1st gust strikes me and I’m very nearly in. The encounter with the sea-bed moments earlier sobered me up and my confidence disappears. “Where’s the start?” enquires Vicky as she sails past. “Out there” I reply with a slight tremor in my voice, rather like Scooby Doo. We bear away onto a run and head out to sea.
Back in the harbour, meanwhile, Stacey and Ela have brought the RS Feva out to play. Stacey orders more kicker. Ela obliges and snaps the kicker. They spend a long time rebuilding the boat and miss the first start. I’m not so lucky. I’m in time for the race.
1st race
We have 17 or 18 boats including an RS200, a Dart 15 catamaran and two RS300’s. Ben has only had his a couple of months but he’s younger than my wetsuit and looks lean mean and focused. Will youth triumph over experience today?
There’s a whole lot of pin end bias on the line and only the RS200 and I have gone there. The RS200 elects for a port tack flyer but I’m too close and he ducks behind. First blood to the old guy. Ben is towards the committee boat and surrounded by lasers. I head out on starboard for a couple of minutes.
At least the head-gear diverts attention away from the hiking style

 It’s pretty full on so I’ve flattened the rig down to about 80% of max and concentrate on sailing flat and fast. No lane holding needed here and when I tack back onto port I’m crossing everyone by a reasonable distance. I catch a bad shift up towards the top mark as I come back on starboard and the Dart and RS200 are just behind with Ben about 50 metres back – my lead was halved but I round ahead and bear away and…oh shit it’s windy! 
Overtaken by a reefed Wanderer
I’m hanging on for dear life as the boat launches itself across the top reach. A big gust – the boom hits the water – I’m going in. Well, not quite – I pretty much shat myself but managed to pull it back and powered across to the 2nd mark. Too busy to look back I forget the race and focus on nailing the bear away onto the run. I make it – just – some big wobbles but I’m heading back downwind. If someone takes a photo know I’m going to look like a stupid blue blob wearing an orange hat, trying to lay an egg. Does anyone look elegant sailing a 300 downwind in a big breeze? No time to worry about that now – I have to gybe. 
My trademark "I'm about to give birth" position
Do I hang on and get it done at the bottom mark or take the chance to get it done early? I’m still feeling artificially brave owing to the effects of the lager so I go for it and gybe early. No major worries and a short close reach takes me to the end of lap 1. I manage to look back and see I’m a couple hundred metres clear. Ben takes a bath on the 1st or 2nd lap which puts him out of contention and I hang on without any complete disasters for 5 laps when Ken finally shortens the course.
I’m tired but pretty happy with my race. I remove the helmet and my sunglasses and hand them to my brother in the RIB. Getting to my little food bag up by the mast is more difficult. I manage to grab a fresh water bottle and a banana without falling in but eating between races is a challenge. Toilet breaks are less of an issue – not crapping myself on the downwind legs is the issue.
Race 2.
It feels like the wind has eased. Stacey and Ela are in this race but Vicky has decided to sit this one out. I was so busy trying to sail that I hardly noticed the numbers of other boats that were capsizing and generally having a tough time. I definitely got more used to the conditions as the race progressed but confidence turns to complacency all too easily. I’m due for a slap.
The start of this race is more even and the RS200 team are going better. I’m away cleanly but the 200 leads at the top mark and kites it across the first reach, giving me no passing opportunity. Ben is fairly close but another swim puts paid to his challenge for the time being.
It wasn't my fault, honest

Asymmetrics and cats can’t go dead downwind so the 300 glides past on the run and I take a narrow lead into lap 2.
Feeling more confident in the lighter breeze and needing to push a bit I begin to ease controls on the next downwind legs. I really shouldn’t have done that. ¾ of the way down the 2nd run an almighty gust hits – maybe 25 knots. I’m well forward with half kicker and no downhaul.  The boat reacts violently and decides I’m no longer welcome on board. For a few moments we look like we’re having rodeo sex rather than sailing but finally I manage to stuff into the wind and come to a standstill. I’ve avoided a capsize but I’m parked head to wind and on the wrong side of the leeward mark.
I tack round and just about manage to launch myself at the leeward mark as the RS200 goes past. The resulting gybe isn’t pretty but I survive and head off in pursuit.
On the penultimate lap I manage to sneak past but this time I decide to throw in a “tactical” gybe in 20 knots on the run and can’t nail the bear away afterwards. Too much kicker, I think. You need lots of it until it’s time to gybe – I haven’t figured it out. Anyway, another 30 seconds lost while I get myself going again and the RS200 is all over me. 
By the finish I’m a short distance ahead but I made a few mistakes in the race which will cost me. On corrected time the RS200 has won and I’m tied for 2nd with Jack Acton who had a great race in his 4.7.
Overall I managed to win with a 1st and a joint 2nd place. The sailing was actually good for my confidence and although I made a few mistakes I was pretty happy. Luke would have bitch-slapped my lardy arse but I’m making progress. 
Feeling more comfortable upwind in a breeze

We finished the day with a fish & chip supper back at Highcliffe. Ben came over for a chat and it feels great to have another RS300 sailor nearby. We’re going to have another attempt at the Pier race later and hopefully I’ll be brave enough to go out sober next time.
What went well:
The boat usually felt comfortable upwind in a big breeze
I survived two hours of racing and was able to walk afterwards
I didn’t mind looking like a twat with the orange helmet-cam

Things to work on
Keep doing more of the same to build fitness and confidence
Use the big rudder at sea. The cut down RS200 one stalls coming out of tacks
Fix the camera mount so it actually films something
Look out for scary stuff like gusts and waves before they clobber you

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Sea Series 1 & 2 - Olympic Courses with the Cruiser fleet

Today we race with the cruisers which means if you’re a dinghy on starboard they won’t see you and if you have mark room they'll have nowhere else to go.
There’s also a constant aroma of bacon butties and gin & tonic but they won’t share with dinghies.
No matter; because today I’ll be too busy sliding around the boat like a scalded cat to wine and dine with the keelboat sailors.
"We've run out of gin - summon the lifeboat"
We still call "Triangle - Sausage" courses "Olympic". This is how our club likes to remember Olympic sailing. Dragons and blazers and bearded men smoking pipes. I forgot to mention that Andy's joined Royal Lymington Yacht Club. They like a man wearing a blazer.

The forecast breeze is in the mid-teens. This is more than I’ve sailed on the sea and I’m not confident - in fact I'm downright nervous.

Determined to focus I stand in front of the mirror as I’m changing. “You’re a big sexy bear of a man. You have balls of steel and you’re ready for anything. Now come on and let’s get this done!” 

Suddenly, a toilet cubicle opens. Awkward moment. I dive for cover.

Back at the slipway, Andy has arrived to rig his Finn. He doesn’t speak to me today. Maybe he read last week’s blog.Tony, Steve, Ray and Ginge make up the rest of the Finn fleet. 

Jack Acton is ready with his 4.7. He looks sleepy. Apparently Jack, Drew and Cian had a sleep-over last night and were up till midnight flicking Haribo sweets at each other. Anyone wishing for a more innocent age should join our club. We go all dreamy at the mention of Valerie Singleton.
Who is Valerie Singleton?

With the race planned for 2pm we’ve launched early and by 1pm some of the dinghies have gone out to sea. Ela is at Mudeford Quay taking photos as we depart. Most of the sailors smile. Andy makes his “I’m not earning any money today” face.  Basically it’s a scowl.

I'd rather be selling bungalows

The harbour entrance is tricky – a long winding run along the shore surrounded by breaking waves. I’m catching a motoring Hawk in front but there’s no room to pass so I have to slow down. On a run that’s difficult but I manage to stay out of trouble until we exit the channel.

The short broad reach to the start terrifies me.  It’s gusty and I’m struggling to stay in  control with short steep waves throwing me around. I pass the start line and pause to re-group. Another stern talking to myself and I head upwind for a warm-up lap. Around the top mark and back down the two reaches of the triangle and I’m feeling a little more confident. The wind seems to be easing – in fact it’s going to die away to a whimper later but I don’t know this yet.

Back to the start to watch the cruisers.
"Today we will mostly be flying the leeward hull"
BeasleyCat is on the water again – with Graham helming. We have 5 Finns, Jack in his 4.7 plus me. 

Luke is our man down. “Powered by beer but disabled by shots.”  He’s becoming the weakest link in our RS300 fleet. I wonder whether I might finish as 1st Christchurch boat at the Nationals, simply by staying sober enough to sail some races.

Anyway – our start is uneventful apart from Ginge being OCS and having to return. We plod up the 1st beat in a dying breeze and short chop which really doesn’t suit the 300. I round the windward mark 4th but manage to get through to 2nd by the end of the triangle. The 2nd beat is shifty and I manage to hook into a couple of decent shifts, while avoiding the cruisers, and round ahead. Back down the run (which is basically a reach) and I’m about 30 metres in front of Ray and Steve.

We're off!! Except for BeasleyCat and Darren in the Topper.

Approaching the line on the next beat I see the Race Officer shortening course for the Oppies and Topper just ahead. I cross the line, hearing no sound, and continue upwind. 

Behind me, Andy, Steve, Jack, Tony and BeasleyCat all stop. Ray follows me and Jack re-joins the race. We complete another triangle and the race officer confirms we’ve sailed the correct course.   

By the time I finish Steve and Andy have left for the day and gone home. Fortunately the rest of our fleet stays out for race 2.

Race 2 is held in progressively lighter winds. I get a good start; Ray is OCS, and lead around the 1st mark. Jack and Tony are close behind and I wobble around the course without managing to shake them off. At the end I’m probably a couple of minutes ahead which may be good enough for 3rd but it won’t win the race.

Sailing home is a very long slog up the narrow channel but it’s turned into a warm afternoon and a good way to finish the weekend.

"I'm terrified but if I drown this is the smiley face I want you to remember"
What went well?
I smiled for a photograph
Andy can’t argue about his finishing time because he didn’t actually finish a race.
Gary wasn’t there – he’s still pissing off the Mudeford fleet
The Finns are heading to Greece next week so I may win a race while they’re away
I went home sober

What to improve
Don’t forget beer money next time.
Take more bottles of water – 1 isn’t enough
Fit the tacktick compass – I’m sure the wind shifted.