Race 1 - B, M, E, H, Gate
The forecast said Westerly 20mph, but Dangerous Dave said it was gusting 30mph. Oddly though, all the Fireball posse were rigged on the shore when I rocked up (late), and they were pretty cool about the conditions. So we threw the boat together and raked back to 22'4", and hooned off to the start line with a few minutes to spare.
Or, as it turned out, 40 minutes to spare. I don't know what the story was with the ODs, but there was no course on the board, no on-station flag, and later no anchor or engine either apparently.
And hanging about in that kind of wind is a real pain in the bum. Your expensive sail is flapping about and visibly shedding £5 notes, and every tack threatens to introduce you to the underside of your boat.
It is not fun!
So predictably, over the next 40 minutes, various Fireballs capsized. Jane and Pat were doing really well, but inevitably binned it eventually and when they pulled the boat up, the forestay looked like a banana and it was game-over for them. Seven boats now. Shortly after, Richard and Dave decided that enough was enough too, and we're down to six. Bob and Paul were gamely swimming about as if they were used to it, but it's tiring and cold doing that.
Eventually the committee boat was back in the right place, with course and anchor, by which time yours-truly was way upwind of the start-line. You know how it goes, you do slow close reaches for ages because it's the easiest point of sail and you can stuff the boat up to wind when the gusts hit. But then you find you are miles upwind with a minute left on the clock, so you have to plot a course of full-power broad reach back through the start-line, preferably one not requiring you to avoid anything much on the way. So we wound up at the pin, tacked it round onto port and waited for the gun.
And here came the fleet - all on the line, all going like a train, and the gun went so we pulled the sails in and aimed to go behind them. As we did so, Colin & Karen's forestay gave up with a loud bang, and the jib fell down, and then there were five.
Being as we were on port anyway, we zoomed off to the far bank and looked for the wind-bend that lives over there. Tack when you can see the beetles on the bushes, and back out across the flat water and into the good stuff in the middle. Everyone else had gone for the club shore, possibly looking for the famous N to B wind-bend, but we were ahead when we crossed. Like us, I reckon everyone had the jib bars right up and right out, and centreboard half up too, so nobody was pointing worth a damn. So when we tacked onto port, we had to duck Badders & Jez, and carried on up to the top mark criss-crossing their path and arriving only marginally ahead.
Round B then, loosen the kicker a bit, hoon across the beam-ish reach to M, crap gybe but still upright, and then the excellent broad reach to E. I think we could maybe have carried the kite on this one, but I didn't work it out until too late, and anyway, we were enjoying it quite a lot with just the 2 sails. Badders & Jez gained a bit there, and maybe a bit more on the leg to H where we started the next lap.
OK, reality check - by this time Bob & Paul have capsized on the beat and (whilst still racing) are nowhere to be seen. Helen & Paul didn't like the leg to E so decided to pack it in. Paul and Nick are in third place, but are about to find out why you shouldn't attach your jib sheets to your jib with a bit of garden twine. So really now it's a 2-horse race, me & Paul against Badders & Jez.
At this point we tacked and took off towards the far shore again, via the start-line which now features as the Gate. Badders and Jez shot off to the club shore at high speed, and missed the Gate. The famous far-shore wind-bend was nowhere to be found on our first foray into the bushes, but we came out a bit and went back in for a 2nd bite, and it came good eventually. Badders & Jez reappeared just ahead though, and even had a go at tacking on our wind, which was fine by me as we'd got more than we wanted anyway at the time.
This time it's us in 2nd place round B and M, but we hauled them in on the fab leg to E, both boats bearing away like mad in the gusts and then gradually pushing back above the lay-line in what passed for lulls. There was spray everywhere, and I swear the sun came out a bit, and it was just great. We ended up just to leeward of Badders and exchanged some banter before getting water and gybing at E and tearing off to H in a cloud of spray.
Back through the Gate for the last lap, and again we started the beat in the lead but Badders & Jez went just that bit faster to arrive at B ahead of us. And again we caught them up on the long leg to E, whereupon a Dart hove into view and started to get a bit defensive as Badders tried to go past to windward. So we were neck and neck again, but this time we missed out on mark-room and followed them smartly round E, with the Dart and two Lasers just ahead.
Then it got really interesting. Badders went high to take the Lasers, necessitated by the fact that the nearest one had a cats-cradle of mainsheet wrapped around his tiller and was standing up in the boat and waving frantically, hoping to avoid death by Fireball. We'd caught another big gust so were bearing off below everything and watching with interest. Badders & Jez cleared the wounded Laser and was nicely upwind of the next one when the huge gust hit and drove them fast downwind - just clearing the bow of the laser by what appeared to be about 6 inches. There was then a bit of a lull, where they recovered and got back above the lay-line and (coincidentally) the Dart, before the next gust hit. Again, the Fireball reacted in the only way possible and took off downwind like a scalded leopard, only this time the Dart was in the way. The Dart sailor reacted admirably, bearing away to allow the Fireball to maintain its course, but I don't think that cats like that kind of stuff - his bow promptly went under a wave and he pitch-poled. When we went past to leeward about 2 seconds later, the hulls of the Dart were vertical, and I had to steer around his mast as it came down on the water.
On an adrenaline high, we were through, back on Pete's transom, and round H just behind with only the dogleg to the Gate left. Pete & Jez tacked straight away (bad move), we went a little further and tacked (also bad move). Neither of us were able to lay the Gate. Doh! Pete tacked again and we were able to sail across his bow ahead of him, arrived at the committee boat, and threw a tack in for the win. But no... the jibsheet was looped over the spinny pole and we wasted valuable seconds unhooking it. With Paul back out on the wire, both boats crossed the line at the same time for a photo-finish so close that I still don't know who won.
And I don't really care either. When you can have that kind of a duel in that kind of wind, who gives a damn who won.
And then back to the shore and, feeling that the day could only go downhill from here, packing up the boat. Hopefully we'll all be back next Sunday for some more fun in the Firebowl personal handicap event.