HWS 2007 Race 4 Report – With Alacrity - 28 Oct 2007


The Sigma 38s, along with the whole IRC3 fleet were treated to an imperious display of controlled heavy weather sailing by Festina Lente on Sunday as they blasted off the start line into a commanding lead and never looked back. The rest of us were left fighting for space in the traffic in a gusty south westerly wind. The breeze oscillated around 25 knots, sometimes dropping to 21 or 22 but with frequent gusts getting close to 30 knots – on With Alacrity 30 knots is officially known as “rather sporty”.


We opted for a No 2 and one reef before the start along with most of the Sigma’s, though noticeable that Festina trucked around with full mainsail – we found the reefed mainsail enough to handle. In truth we were under-powered in the lulls but the reefed mainsail was plenty in the gusts and gave us more control for the frequent manoeuvres to avoid other boats in the crowded race area.


Our race was effectively screwed from the start when we didn’t cross the line until almost a minute after the start gun, we thought there must have been a windshift in the last minute before the start because rather than sailing into the committee boat end we suddenly found ourselves barely able to lay the middle of the line with a minute to go. Talking to other boats though and checking the excellent Bramblemet weather station it does look like we just misjudged it horribly and ended up in dirty air as we approached the line rather than being able to blame it on our imaginary windshift.


Light and Vitesse got off the line well not far behind Festina, closely followed by Persephone and Beefeater - we set about trying to reel them in but this was a day when you paid a high price for mixing it in mid fleet. In windier conditions the margin of safety you have to give to avoid other boats is that much greater that every time you duck a starboard tacker you are giving away 3 or 4 boatlengths rather than 1 or 2 in lighter conditions – and we ended up ducking quite a lot of starboard tackers.


On the second downwind leg we were working hard to catch Vitesse with Light & Persephone a few hundred metres further ahead when we saw Light Gybe and go into a huge broach, lying almost flat with the keel clearly visible. As they came upright we thought they had lost a danbuoy over the back but as we got closer we saw them struggling to recover a crew member over the stern. We were just debating whether there was anything we could do to help when an eagle eyed crew member spotted another person in the water a hundred or so metres behind. We immediately dropped our spinnaker and headed over with Vitesse and an X332 and stood by as the X332 recovered the 2nd person from the water. Once we were sure there was nothing we could do we cruised around the rest of the race course and were quite happy to hear on the VHF that there would be no second race for IRC3 as we crossed the finish line. All in all too much of the wrong kind of excitement today and looking forward to coming back after the mid-series break for a return to more gentle light air winter sailing.