It's all about
finding the calm
in the chaos
Image "Vashti at dawn"
Spring 2016. AgeD exactly 31!
Standing in the carpark at Tollesbury Sailing Club I was praying for a less complicated race course than the previous year and as our officer of the day talked us through the triangular course on the chalk board I hoped that Nick and I had a chance of remembering at least two of the three turning marks between us.
I quick look skyward revealed an upwind / downwind course so it wouldn't be Awol's day today. I had replaced both the rudder blade and the boom only a few days before to try and get some weight out of her transom and a flatter sail to windward but my efforts weren't going to last long, as I would later find out.
A swarm of smacks boats and gp14's were frantically darting around behind the start line with the odd winkle brig, mirror dinghy and merlin rocket scattered in between. To the innocent bystander we must have looked a mess. As it was my birthday I was suitably embarrassed with a sparkly banner at the masthead and Nick and I had a party on the race track with a superb picnic and selection of "fluid ballast".
The fleet would start to windward against a strong flood tide with a favourable port tack, with 10 minutes to go we lined up the possibility of a starboard start but with the flood tide and a skewed line it wasn't possible for Awol to lay the line on starboard. At the 5 minute gun we put Awol in the perfect starting position and with 90 seconds to go decided to begin our final approach with what appeared to be a perfect distance from the line in a steady 12 knots of wind. At that moment a mirror dinghy from nowhere luffed me up and half stalled underneath me, I was stuck in irons unable to tack away or bear down, until the semi-stalled mirror dinghy dropped the hammer and bore away for the start. This infuriated me, how did I not see him coming? We started 90 seconds late and bore off a touch for extra boat speed towards what looked like the windier side of the race track.
Ahead I could see Rory having already made his first cross and starting to come back over on starboard, Pete and Clare also on the starboard tack sailing away to the shallows and the far north of the river. Pete and Sarah were on a similar course with Judy between us and them. My total screw up at the start meant we had some work to do but Awol was sailing fast having been freed off a little. We went far into the shallows on the starboard tack, almost driving her up the beach before putting her over to try and lay our first mark. The mark was quite far to leeward but a strong flood placed us underneath it, we would have to sail this leg well and somehow claw to windward to lay the mark. Lift after lift we were climbing our way up and after half a mile of careful helming and darting through chop we slipped over the top and jibed around the mark one tack ahead of Judy. As is customary on the windward mark, beers were opened for the run back down, to be finished by the downwind turning mark.
We managed to close the gap on Pete and Sarah running downwind with an inch of rudder blade for steerage, all people and things on the foredeck and no centre plate at all. The fleet were bunched up in the creek where our downwind second mark was and we momentarily celebrated as it looked like they had been stuffed while we ran down. As soon as we rounded the downwind mark we realised the tidal flow into this creek was phenomenal and we hadn't caught anyone up. While the gp's were rounding the mark and sailing out in two tacks a collection of smacks boats beat their way back up the mark they had just attempted to go around, having been washed down by a torrent of tide. It took us three tacks to get back around the mark and a further 5 or 6 just to start getting out of the creek. 30 minutes later I was standing on the foredeck sounding by eye, while Nick helmed us across a very shallow marshland of Essex reefs that formed a shortcut we were advised to avoid. We ran aground a few times and scraped our way thorough.
It soon became apparent that we had missed the third mark because we were having too much fun and I put us about to go back around. At this point Judy and Pete & Sarah both passed us again, I should've known we couldn't be trusted to remember 3 whole marks on our own. We beat through the start line and up to our windward mark once again only this time Judy was ahead and Pete & Sarah had left us behind after adjusting their rig in the creek. After we rounded for the jibe the second time around, just behind Judy I employed some dirty tactics that don't really help anyone and carefully covered Judy on the run. Slowly we drew nearer, quicker and quicker. Judy tried to shake us away with some sharp manoeuvres but for a time I managed to stay upwind of every one until Karma came along. My lightweight plywood rudder blade that I failed to treat in any way had finally taken on too much water and softened to bend sideways.
Fighting with the helm and what felt like a floppy tabloid for a rudder, I managed to just about keep Awol on the run and luckily Pete the Knife had lent us a pair of oars on the way out, and I brought the galvanised blade for ballast up the bows. A literally "running" pit stop ensued which involved Nick swapping me an oar for a floppy rudder, I just about steered Awol with an oar in the notch, while Nick changed the blades in record time and swapped back over moments before the downwind mark. Sadly this left no time for beer on the downwind leg and we would be continually burdened with now tacking a boat and cans, either side of the centre plate housing. The chase was on once again but Awol was dragging her heels to windward with a few extra kilograms hanging off the back and we couldn't close the gap in time. Not a big points scoring day for Awol but a lot of messing about in boats and really that's what we all love best.
P.S - I highly recommend the fluid ballast branded "IPA Gold" it disappears quickly when required, essential for racing.
Clive Robertson, sailing all sorts since 1990.
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