Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Spring breakages

The forecast said sunny, warm, and 10-12mph, but the bushes in my garden said nothing at all. Paul also reckoned it to be a waste of time; fortunately I talked him into it.

We were in good company today, with the welcome return of three Petes swelling our numbers to a decent 8 boats. We'd have had the full set if Pete Slack hadn't been away :-(

Race 1: T, N, D, J, OL, E
The start line for the morning race was about a million miles from the beach, and given the feeble wind took a long time to get to. We then had a bit of confusion caused by some people not arriving at the start in time, and other people saying they'd wait for them and then not waiting for them, resulting in some other people who thought they were waiting getting decidedly worse starts than the ones who decided not to. Still, it gave us something to aim at. I won't go into detail, suffice to say that various people had a go at the lead, but we were pretty quick on the dead runs (of which there were many), and eventually came out in front.

Lunch time then, where somebody told Paul that this pathetic breeze was as good as it was going to get, resulting in a distinct disinclination on his part to spend the afternoon drifting around in it. But we went anyway, and a good job too as the wind picked up very nicely by the time we started and continued to rise through the race, and I for one would have been absolutely gutted if I'd missed it.

Race 2: T, S, Y, K, OL, J, E
Off the line we all went left except for Pete & JR, who port-tacked it behind everybody and took off to the right. For reasons that are unclear to me, this put them into a good lead, but I figured we could catch them. We were 2nd around T, bunged the kite up, and chased them down to S where we gybed and hooned across to Y on a reach that was slightly too close for comfort but nonetheless tremendous fun. It was at that point that things started to go wrong. We took the kite down at Y, I pulled a handful of kicker on and the cleat promptly exploded, shooting its constituent parts all over the boat. So I steered and played the mainsheet and held on to the kicker, whilst talking Paul through the reassembly process. When we'd tried most permutations of the available components, we eventually got the thing back together, albeit with only one nut securing it.

Remarkably we hadn't lost too much ground doing this, so were reasonably close to Pete & JR at K, OL and J. And when we both bore off for the run to E and Pete's kite went under the boat, I thought we were sorted. So we bunged the kite up, fixed the pole, sheeted in, and woe is me - the corner of the kite had come untied (again). Aaaargh!

We went through the usual procedure, gybing, posting the string round the forestay, gybing back, re-tying it and pulling it up again. Pete didn't get away at all during this time, but as soon as we'd got the kite pulling again and thought we were safe, he just sailed off into the distance. And worse, Peter & Mike were gaily sailing past us downwind and Colin & Karen were on our transom.

By the time we arrived at E, Pete was gone. Peter & Mike were vaguely catchable, and Colin and Karen were just behind us. So we set our sights on catching Peter, and at the end of the beat we'd been overtaken by Colin as well.

"Ah well", says I, at least we can blow them into the long grass on the close reach. So we pootled down the broad reach to S, gybed, sorted the kite out, and as soon as we sheeted it in for the close reach, the halyard cleat started slipping and it went all Aussie-drop on us. So I laboriously heaved it back up again, and it promptly came down again.

"Bugger it, we'll 2-sail it", we said, but by this time Colin & Karen were long gone. We clawed back just enough on the final beat to end up on their transom again, but there was no way past, and we ended up 4th.

By way of an observation then, sailing a boat that doesn't work reliably is rubbish, and is the best way I can think of to convert an excellent race into a waste of time. Now I have a hard-earned reputation in the boatpark for doing as little boat maintenance as possible, so you may be thinking that this boat unreliability stuff is well deserved. But in fact, it boils down to three things:

1)  New spinnaker sheets. The tapered ends on the new one are thinner than on the old one, so the knot on the end is smaller and can now be pulled through the eye on the kite when the breeze is up. It's taken me a while to work this out - but I have a couple of tiny bobbles ready and we won't be suffering from that one again.

2)  Excellent D12 spinnaker halyard. We've had this for ages and it really is fabulous, it is the only stuff that has ever been reliably taken up by the take-up elastic. But it is also a bit shiny and it needs a decent cleat. While I've been resting up with a broken wrist and Paul has been, well, just resting, one side of the cleat has gone a bit sticky and is no longer fulfilling its primary purpose. I shall replace it forthwith, and will endeavour not to break any more parts of my anatomy to avoid it happening again.

3) Exploding kicker jammer. Yeah, OK, that's down to poor maintenance. But the bolts had locknuts on them, they're not supposed to just come apart willy-nilly after 10 years of service. This, I submit, could happen to anyone.

So, roll on next week, when we may have the full complement of Petes and another chance to show 'em who's fastest. Meanwhile, donations of 3mm (4mm?) locknuts gratefully received.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Cool but not too cold

It was the sort of morning when you look out of the bedroom window at the rain, browse the forecast (which says 'snow later'), and opt to stay at home. But I hadn't sailed since New Years Day, and hadn't put in a full Sunday since last August, so I was damn well going to sail if I possibly could. Poorly Paul, fresh back from his all-you-can-eat-and-drink holiday in the sun, was also up for it, albeit a tad heavier than usual.

So off to the club, where we met a decent crowd of other suitably insane Fireball sailors, threw the boat together, ignored the flat tyre but put new spinny sheets on, and zoomed off to the start.

On the way to the start we put the kite up and discovered that the new spinny sheets were not the same as the ones we'd taken off. The old ones were made such that the taper would hit the bobble in the right place for the twinner to work. In spite of my asking specifically for this arrangement, the new ones from P&B weren't made that way and required a knot to be tied to meet the bobble, and of course we hadn't done this.  So spinnakering was going to be a bit amusing. I also discovered that my new waterproof gloves were almost impossible to put on over wet hands while steering the boat, but when on, they were definitely worth having.

Race 1 - T, OL, Y, B, D
Down at the start line I observed that there was a significant port end bias, so with 30 seconds to go we went for a port tack flyer. Fortunately all 5 other boats were only halfway up the line on starboard, and finding it hard to lay the pin, so we had a clean getaway and were first round the windward mark as a result. Behind us on the reach the entire fleet were all grouped up in a big Firebally mass, and we watched with some amusement as various boats luffed each other up or attempted to put their kites up (I think JT managed it). Then round OL and onto the run to Y, where the entire fleet sat on our wind and gained a lot of ground, before various bits of it got into luffing matches and shot off sideways. Helen and Paul made a neat job of avoiding this by going low, and were just behind us at 'Y'.

The leg to 'B' was a bit too broad to be interesting, but the gybe at the end slowed us down as Paul had to do many stringy things to make the twinner work. Helen and Paul made a spirited attempt to get past us to leeward, and in fact succeeded, but had gone a bit too low, allowing us to re-take them when they had to get their kite down early. This was a nice close 3-sail reach, requiring mucho cunningham and judicious easing of the kicker, also some hanging out - reminding me how unfit I am.

We had another 2 or 3 laps of that, with Helen and Paul hanging on to our transom and the rest of the fleet making various random sorties in our direction and then dropping back again. Somewhere on the last beat Bob & Paul capsized due to a communication failure - Paul was still discussing tacking to lee-bow a starboard-tack Fireball whereas Bob had already made up his mind. Cue a major tea-bagging for Paul, while Paul & Nick in the other boat made their getaway.

And so to lunch, where the wetbar had notably more Fireballers in it than all the other fleets put together (it's not often we outnumber anyone these days, so I have to get my point scoring in where I can).

Then adjust the spinnaker sheets to have knots in all the right places, and off to the start of the next race. We flew the kite out to the start, and it was good.

Race 2 - T, OL, S, Y, D
There may have been anchor problems on the committee boat, as we were pretty late but still had to hang around while stuff was sorted out. During this time we observed that it was noticeably colder now than it had been in the morning, plus a fair bit windier. Starboard bias on the line - Helen and Paul were a bit over-keen, got there really early, and were observed trying to sail backwards back across the line with 20 seconds to go. So, staying well out of their way, trot up to the line, gun goes off, Colin and Karen capsize, rest of fleet zooms off. I love that bit just after the start when all the (upright) boats are haring off together, all apparently going at exactly the same speed, really exciting stuff.

We were again first to the windward mark, and (I think) at OL, but Helen and Paul were close behind us. The next leg to S was a closer reach than we were expecting, and just as we arrived at S the guy rope parted company from the kite, which clearly wasn't a good thing. So we gybed and retrieved the kite, and set about trying to get the errant sheet back round the forestay and onto the corner of the kite. While we were fiddling about, Helen and Paul zoomed past us to leeward with their kite up, so we parked the string and set off after them. Fortunately for us, it got a bit windier and they had to pause to take their kite down, so we blasted past, gybed around Y and went back to re-stringing the kite. This leg was quite broad, but for some reason they chose not to kite it, giving us time to finish the string thing and test it out, and still be ahead at the mark (D).

Back up the beat to T, we were still ahead of Helen, with John & Quentin in 3rd place but quite well back. Two-sail reach to OL, gybe, then hoist kite for that uber-cool reach to S. But woe, the kite wouldn't go up, and we dobbered off towards D hauling on the various ropes, all to no avail. Helen and Paul had chosen OL as a good place to inspect the centreboard, but JT & Quentin had caught up and were hooning off down the reach in a thoroughly excellent fashion. So, big sigh, once again we put the kite back in the bag and went after them on 2 sails.

Gybing around S, we were right on their transom, and we both set off towards Y at high speed, ducking and weaving as the gusts blew in. We were sat in the flat water directly behind them, but couldn't find the extra speed to get past, so we just sat and enjoyed the ride. And it was worth it, both boats charging across the lake, all four blokes thoroughly engaged in staying upright and coaxing maximum speed out of their craft.

And then we were at Y, where we gybed a bit wide in case JT decided to go swimming in front of us, but no worries, both boats rounded just fine and we followed them down to D, still sans-kite. Now at this point JT ought to have bunged his kite up and waved goodbye, but he didn't, so we were close enough at the end of the leg to take them out on the next beat and win the race.

Further back, Colin & Karen were involved in an epic battle with Bob & Paul, the latter being somewhere behind but determined to catch up, and the former being hampered by flappy string. The story is that the knot on the end of the mainsheet had come undone at some point, and somehow the whole lot had been dragged out of the boom. Some hasty re-rigging had fixed it up again, but with the mainsheet on the outside of the boom instead of running along the inside. The net result was that every time they tacked, the mainsheet dangled down from the boom and lassoed the unfortunate helm, requiring Karen to untangle him, plus some swimming when this didn't happen quickly enough.

So Bob & Paul did a great job of catching up by flying their kite across from S to Y (which looked absolutely epic boys, I take my hat off to you), and Colin and Karen finished the job by capsizing while untangling after a tack. I'm not sure if either of them beat Paul & Nick, but I'm pretty sure that Helen & Paul came in third after us and JT. And that was it, put boats away and retire to the bar and a nice drinky.

Now, this being Monday, I hurt all over and my skin appears to have turned into the sort of thing you might find in a museum wrapped round a bit of ancient pottery. Not sailing for 5 months apparently removes whatever feeble levels of fitness a chap used to have and leaves previously damaged wrists susceptible to all sorts of interesting pains on the day after. Not a lot of work getting done today, that's for sure.

But it was great, and well worth it!