Perhaps better known as the Fleet Championships that the fleet forgot, day 3 was another low turnout, although that might have had something to do with the weather forecast. It was windy, one of those days when you get out of bed, open the curtains, look at the trees waving about and think 'hmmm, this is a good day to grout the tiles in the bathroom'.
But needs must and all that, we were going into day 3 with 3 firsts, Peter and Mike had only 1 but there were 2 more races to go and the tie-break is the last race, so we could still lose. And whilst it might sound a bit unlikely to you that they could win both races, from where I was sitting it was approaching a dead-cert. These guys go faster upwind than is morally decent, and they do it best when it's blowing old boots. Like today.
So we rocked up, rigged up, got changed and surveyed the scene. There were a load of Fireball sailors hanging about at the club, but it was clear that most of them weren't aspiring to do any more than that. And fair enough, as when we arrived the water had been positively frothy with the amount of wind hurtling across it. Right now however it was looking like about f2-3, the windsurfers were hardly moving, clearly it wasn't going to be mental after all.
Preparation is all, so a quick chat with the OD to get a feel for what sort of course we'll be having. Hmmm, it looks like it'll be an island-avoidance course with very broad reaches. Cue a jog down to the car-park to get the new big kite out of the car - it's pretty hopeless on close reaches but well worth having on the broad reaches and runs.
And we'd just fitted the kite to the boat when the wind came back. And it was pretty full-on. Out at the start line at 'T', the committee boat was being blown away from the line almost as quickly as we were, and while they were re-setting the anchor and avoiding becoming a shipwreck statistic on the dam wall, we managed to capsize briefly. And the course was nothing like what was mentioned earlier either, it suddenly had a lot of close reaches in it. So there we are in 30knot winds with a boat full of water and massive kite and lots of close reaches, and I was just starting to feel a bit unhappy about all this when, the red flag goes up, then down, the gun for our start goes and off we all go too.
We had a better start than Peter and Mike, but our boat was in the mood for going fast rather than pointing high, so they rapidly climbed above us. We tacked onto port and ducked their transom, they tacked shortly after, and then they just sailed straight over the top of us. Clearly this was going to be one of those races. They were a bit ahead of us then at the end of the first beat - a titchy 2-tack affair up to 'P', notable for the fact that you had to tack for the mark at the last minute before running aground on the new 'Middle Shoal' island.
OK, round 'P' and off to 'M', a nasty 2 sail reach involving a detour around 'Y' to avoid the Musborough Shoal, and where Peter and Mike extended their lead a bit. Then another titchy beat up to 'B', where it was horribly gusty and they got away a bit further. At this point I started wondering if we shouldn't just pack in now and save wearing out the sails and the crew, with a view to being a bit more useful in the afternoon. But they tried to fly their kit from 'B' to 'D', and it was too windy and didn't work, so we were back on their transom again at 'D'.
Next leg is to 'S', and Peter & Mike seem somewhat at a loss as to how to get there, largely (we discover later) because there is at least one island between us and it. They sail in a little circle, then hoon off to the right on a 2 sail reach, while we hoist the big kite and take off in more of a straight line. Crew soon reports Middle Shoal Island dead ahead captain, so we gybe and go left around it, then gybe back onto starboard and come back between the 2 islands, over that bit which the official map says is non-navigable, but which is far enough away from both islands to be a fairly safe bet. It's certainly further from both islands than 'S', the buoy we're now heading for, snag is that we have to go further to windward than I'd like to clear the Croft island (the big one), and then bear away onto a dead run for the mark. Meanwhile Peter and Mike are charging in on port tack and will be claiming water at the mark, always assuming that there's room for two boats between Croft and 'S'. On the offchance that there isn't, I'm steering a bit upwind of 'S' as it keeps us further from whatever shallows are lurking over there.
So we tool on down to the mark, 2 boats side by side, us on starboard and Peter/Mike on port. Then we get the kites down, then there's a sort of splashy noise and Peter & Mike are gone. It turns out that they'd managed an involuntary gybe while Mike was packing the kite, followed by a bit of a swim, followed by a total inversion. So we did the decent thing and disappeared into the distance, around 'S', another nasty 2-sail reach to 'T' and start the next lap.
Peter and Mike took about 5 mins to get the boat up - it turns out it's deep enough at 'S' to completely turtle a Fireball, although only at the expense of losing your burgee. Anyway, this was pretty much game over for them unless we capsized, so we made sure we didn't, and eventually took our 4th win to clinch the series.
We didn't bother with the PM race, although it was predictably much nicer weather by the time it started. Big commiserations then to Peter and Mike, who were going faster than us on a regular basis and probably deserved to win the Fleet Championships on the strength of it. The moral victory definitely goes to you guys.
More thoughts on the racing - these titchy beats really suck badly. All the shallows and islands are a big headache for the OD, but it looks to me as though it is now impossible to set a course which doesn't involve us sailing around an island or a shallow bit. So how about just accepting this and setting some decent length beats instead of stopping short, and then just aim to get us back downwind without going through Musborough, which is the only really big obstacle. We're quite capable of plotting a course around the actual islands without any help from the OD - it's something that some other clubs have been stuck with for years and it's not like it's all that difficult. Maybe stick a flag on the top of 'em if you want to help with identification, and have some more accurate depth soundings so we can see what's safe and what isn't.
I also passionately hate close 2-sail reaches in a big blow, but I guess you knew that already