Warsash Spring Series Race 1 – Report from With Alacrity – 14 March 2010
This class never ceases to amaze me, normally you would expect participation rate for the first race of the spring series in March to be quite low – ie if 10 boats enter the series maybe 6 or 7 will turn out for race 1. On Sunday all 9 Sigma 38s entered turned out to race, making us the second largest black fleet class on the water - just 1 less than the J109s.
The weather was also amazing, mid March and it was sunny! Really needed sun glasses at times and after the racing it was balmy enough to sit outside for post race refreshments. Not quite shorts and t-shirts weather but not far off.
Also amazing, but for a different reason, was the course. I know race committees have a tough job and I normally have plenty of sympathy for them, but the course set on Sunday really was awful. After 30 minutes postponement to re-set the course (does it really take this long?) we ended up with a first and second beat where you could just about lay the windward mark on port without tacking. To add to the misery a leeward mark was 30 metres in front of the start line, which means after the postponement the Sigma 38s (racing with IRC 3) were starting at the same time IRC 4 were broad reaching into their leeward buoy with predictable ensuing chaos. It wasn’t even as if the massively bias first beat was due to a last minute wind shift, it was clear from the IRC 2 starting 20 minutes earlier what the problem was.
Enough of the whinging, how did we tackle this on With Alacrity? Not very well ! The start was crucial, as you needed a lane to tack onto port as soon as possible, but the committee boat was going to be horribly crowded and we had no desire to bend the boat on the first race of the season so tried to find a gap a third of the way down the line. There was also a strong windward going current running so we hung back as it was going to be easy to be swept over the line. We were too conservative and the GPS said we were 15 metres off the line at the start but there were boats 3 boat lengths ahead that had to be OCS but the whole 26 boat fleet was called all clear and we were off. Within a minute of the start we found a space to tack onto port, it meant ducking a few boats but that was worth it to be heading in the right direction! As we rounded the last transom we were faced with 2 Sigma 33s running to their leeward mark on port, we reached off to avoid the collision and crossed ahead of the first but had to bear off further to avoid the second. For a few boatlengths we were running back towards the start until we could persuade the second Sigma 33 that as windward boat he really should alter course to let us past. This exercise cost an expensive 4 boatlengths before we were clear and back on a close hauled course towards the windward/fetch mark. In the melee Rapsacallion had managed to tack onto port and were 40 metres ahead but most of the fleet kept going on Starboard for another minute or so before tacking to follow us to the first mark.
The first mark rounding was equally chaotic, by the time we got there we had 3 faster boats reaching into the buoy overlapped to windward, and we had 2 boats to leeward with us stuck in a lane that was compressing as we reached the buoy. Rapscallion was clear ahead and, I think, tacked around the buoy leading the class. The boat furthest to leeward tacked onto starboard just above the layline and there was nearly a nasty collision. A protest flag went up from the starboard tacker and who knows what the protest committee will make off that, though I am happy to talk it through as really was nothing we could do being sandwiched with boats either side of us.
Anyway, finally the fleet spread out a little downwind and we set about reeling in Rapscallion, but having to keep a close eye on Light who were not far behind. At the second windward mark (or was it the third) we had the starboard advantage and rounded ahead only for the spinnaker hoist to go wrong to let them past again – some early season boat handling errors to work on there! On the final downwind leg we switched to the No 1 as the breeze that had been regularly over 20 knots was dropping to below 14 knots at times. This gave us the edge up the final beat as we took chunks out of Rapscallions lead until we finally crossed ahead 200 metres from the finish, but Rapscallion were now to the right and timed the final tack to perfection to have the starboard advantage at the finish – we couldn’t squeeze across ahead and had to duck their transom as they took a well-deserved 1st place in the Sigma 38s.
Certainly an action packed day and it was fantastic to be out sailing again after the winter lay up. On handicap we were nearly 3 minutes off the front of IRC 3, but think we all have plenty of room for improvement. In this fleet getting clear of the dogfights with other boats is going to be key to doing well on handicap and we were scrapping in the trenches all the way in race 1.