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.

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