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

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