HWS Day 1 Report from With Alacrity – 10th October 2010
One of the problems with the seemingly ever-increasing size of the Sigma 38 fleet is that finding crew is getting harder with several boats sailing the HWS with less than a full complement– so if you are reading this and aren’t sailing don’t hold back in putting your name down on the class website crew list or email the Sigma 38 committee, you should be snapped up pretty quick!!
On With Alacrity we were grateful for the late additions of Jack & Peter to bring us up to a nearly full strength eight, and they did incredibly well on their first sail in a Sigma 38.
The first day of the HWS was glorious weather with 18 deg temperature, sunshine and a NE wind between 13 & 20 knots. Not quite a perfect summer sailing day but not a bad impression for October. In the gusts it was No 2 weather but with the average wind nearer 14 knots we went for the No 1 which I think was the right choice, though we were in the minority on the first start.
We were stitched up like a kipper on that start, with Festina tacking just ahead of us on the approach to the port biased line and stopping us from sailing down the line as far as we would have liked. Festina controlled us from ahead and Nuance harassed us from behind and we struggled to find a clear lane off the line, compounded by Festina sailing higher and slower with their No 2 whilst we really needed to be sailing a few degrees lower to get the speed advantage of the No 1 decision. After 5 minutes or so we gradually started to drop into Festina’s dirty air and eventually found a gap to tack off into clear air after a big duck of Nuance’s transom. Now we could stretch our legs and get the boat up to speed, we were already within 10 degrees of the layline to the first windward mark and watched in surprise as the bulk of the fleet carried on to the port layline and past it before tacking for the windward mark. This gave us a 4 length lead at the windward mark, all we needed to do was keep a loose cover on the boats behind sail smoothly and extend the lead whilst avoiding the dog-fighting behind.
Well that was plan A, and it kinda worked for the next few legs as we slowly increased the lead on Festina who in turn had pulled ahead of the chasing pack. On the penultimate windward leg though we either missed a few shifts or lost concentration, whatever the cause Festina was back to within 3 boatlengths and as we approached the windward mark our loose cover had turned into a slightly more desparate tight cover. As we hoisted the kite Festina gybe set, not usually a problem as we can gybe quite quickly after a hoist and not be much slower than a gybe hoist – but the kite didn’t make it to the top of the mast and by the time we had ground it up before gybing we had lost the advantage and were neck and neck going down the run. Festina were slightly ahead but still overlapped to windward, but crucially were going to be inside at the next turning mark. Time for some match racing tactics – we luffed gently to sail us both above the layline, but working hard to hang onto the overlap. If Festina broke that we would lose our luffing rights and would have to follow tamely into the next mark. We hung on to within 100 metres of the mark with us both sailing high and left it to the last moment before bearing away hard to the buoy and breaking the overlap before sailing into the 3 length circle. Must admit, this was a bit of a throw of the dice which I didn’t think would come off but it worked perfectly. We rounded ahead and luffed hard to make sure they couldn’t get above us but instead Festina dived off to leeward and were through our dirty air before we could get up to speed. We sailed along bow to bow less than a boatlength apart, hiking hard. First Festina gained a few metres and we were in danger of being lee bowed by their dirty air, then we gained a few metres and almost sailed over them. After 5 or 10 minutes of this we finally broke the equilibrium in our favour and close covered into the finish to hang on to a very tense first place.
The wind was down a few knots for the 2nd race on quite a fair line (if there was line bias I couldn’t work out which end was favoured), the tide though had just turned against us leading to a tricky tactical call. As the tide turns first inshore the tidal chart was showing weaker adverse current in the deep water, but it would be a brave move to sail into deep water when the current is against you as you need to have a lot of faith in the accuracy of the tidal chart!
Once again Festina tacked just before us on the approach to the line and slowed down in front of us, this time we ended up getting a hook overlap to leeward which gives us right of way and means they can’t bear down on us, a few people think I was trying to push them over the line before the start but the sad truth is slightly more embarrassing. To come clean: a) I thought there was still 40 seconds to go when the start gun went, and b) I thought we were both 20 metres below the line at the time. So, it was a bit of a surprise when the start went and we were both called OCS – bit of a cock up all round. Festina managed to wriggle back across the line quicker than we did, by the time we re-crossed the fleet were hammering upwind which gave us the chance to test our tidal theory and take a flyer towards the deep water !!
We maybe gained a bit here, but actually didn’t test it by sailing right off the Bramble bank into the main channel as we saw the fleets ahead getting big port lifts near the mainland shore. So we tacked off to the left in the expectation this would be worth more, though in the event it wasn’t as pronounced as we had hoped by the time we got there. With the tide building against us we gained more by not attempting to judge the starboard layline to the mark from a long way off, instead we tacked in early and approached the mark on port to tack around. The danger here is that you have no right of way over starboard tackers but it means you don’t sail extra distance to make the safe layline or have to do 2 consecutive slow tacks at the buoy if you don’t make it.
Rapscallion, Light & Nuance were still a long way ahead at this point and we were tucked up behind Festina in 5th or 6th place. On the penultimate beat we had squeezed past Festina after a ragged leeward mark rounding and had closed the gap to Nuance in 3rd place. Again, looking at the fleets ahead showed an even more pronounced lift on port from the wind bend near the mainland shore so we tacked early to the left. Sometimes with a wind bend it pays to sail into it beyond the initial header and this was the case now. We were only a 100 metres or so further left than Light but whilst they were sailing close hauled 5-10 degrees lower, we could point straight at the mark with sheets slightly eased making over 7 knots boatspeed. We rounded a few boatlenths ahead of Light for the final run – having scrapped our way into 2nd place we were determined not to give it away and covered closely around the final leeward mark and shorter beat to the finish. Rapscallion took a solid 1st place but we were very pleased to have worked our way back to 2nd and it was a very tired but happy crew as we cruised back to Hamble after the finish.
New Year is still a few months off, but after the first day of HWS With Alacrity has made a few Winter Series resolutions:
1. Have someone dedicated to calling time and distance to the line for the starts, it is too easy for the helm to lose time and positional awareness in the final minute or so when other boats are nearby.
2. Avoid having other boats nearby ! Sail in space and clear wind.
3. Keep watching for clues from the fleets ahead for the big strategic calls – both the J109s and IRC 3 should be starting ahead of us and sailing the same course as the Sigma 38s.
Should be easy eh? Hmmm, somehow think this is going to be a tight series.
One final note, I think a few boats took penalty turns on Sunday for rules infringements. Please check the SIs, penalty turns for either boat on boat or touching a mark do not apply for HWS and the only way to exonerate for a rules infringement on the water is to fly a yellow flag and accept a % place penalty......