Garmin Hamble Winter Series day 6 – 15 November– With Alacrity’s Report
After the storms of Friday & Saturday (I heard a report of 100mph winds at the Needles!), we were lucky to get a race in on Sunday even with some very tricky and hard to read wind. Surprised on leaving the Hamble to be hoisting the mainsail in just 8 knots, but it was soon up to 20+ knots 30 minutes before the start. This kicked off the debate on With Alacrity whether to go for No 1 or No 2 - as the breeze was very gusty and more like 15-16 knots most of the time we went for the No 1. Throughout the race the wind varied between 12 knots and 22 knots – and shifted through 25 degrees and back during the race for no reason we could work out or predict. We only felt like we were in the groove about a third of the time upwind, a sure sign that we were not adjusting halyard tension and sail twist aggressively enough during the race – but it is tough to ease off halyards and move the genoa car forward in a 12 knot lull when 5 minutes later the breeze is back up to 20 knots !
The start was a close shave for us, with port bias and a strong west going spring tide there was a lot of boats, for once, going for the left side of the start line. With our super-aggressive tactician calling for a start on the buoy we instead found a space for a “nice conservative start” a third of the way up from the buoy only to have J105 reaching down onto us from the wrong side of the line – we luffed up to make sure they had no room and at the gun they were only a half length to windward of us but called OCS. This means we were a lot closer to the line than we had planned to be and narrowly escaped being OCS ourselves (afterwards the race officer told us we were blocking out his view of half of the buoy marking the other end of the line, so bang on the line!). Unfortunately the J105 kept sailing for a minute or so giving us dirty air before peeling off to restart. As we had not been able to get up to speed in this time they were almost immediately replaced by Rapscallion who had now sailed over us and our position in dirty air was looking pants. We bit the bullet and tacked off onto port, ducking the transoms of a lot of boats before we finally got clear air and the boat up to speed. We were the lone boat going right now as we headed for the windward mark on Ryde bank so as soon as we sensed a small header we tacked back early onto starboard. Magically the lift held and as we crossed the fleet we were back in contention, not in the lead but not as far back as we expected to be. Light crossed narrowly ahead and immediately tacked onto us but we had the momentum to power through their lee and we sailed neck and neck alongside each other, at one point with our masts perilously close, before they were forced to tack off again. Almost as soon as they went we picked up another lift and helped by the strong current we realised we were just on the layline with most boats sailing further right and overstanding by 5 or 10 boat lengths. With a fair tide and a lot of luck we had nailed the starboard layline from a mile out and squeezed around the windward mark overlapped with Mefisto challenging for the lead.
We both hoisted the kites and set off on a very broad reach to a gybe mark at the Eastern end of the Ryde bank, we were overlapped to leeward and just had to hang on to have the inside rounding at the port gybe mark. Mefisto had other plans and surged ahead on the waves as we were perhaps partially being effected by Light and the chasing pack behind. At the gybe mark Mefisto had broken the overlap and were a length ahead. After the gybe we had the chance to attack Mefisto, but it would have turned into an expensive luffing match and with Light close behind we decided to play the long game and sail low to the leeward mark. As we crossed the 3 boatlengths circle we were ahead but still overlapped with Mefisto on the inside. To windward of Mefisto was a J105 who was steaming up from astern and may or may not have an inside overlap. We gave room to Mefisto who rounded ahead but just as we were rounding up to sit on their transom the J105 barged in calling for mark room – we had no choice but to avoid a collision and sail wide but we put the protest flag up as the rules say if there is doubt it should be assumed an overlap was not made or broken at the last moment. Hmmm, this was the same J105 who had sat on us from an OCS position off the start. The tactical position was not great as Mefisto was now a length to windward and we were sitting in the dirty air of the J105, fortunately they both tacked off given us the space to get up to speed and choose our moment to tack out to the deep water and fast flowing favourable current. Mefisto hit the port layline and from that far out must have overstood, we tacked up the middle to round 10 lengths clear at the second windward mark.
The gap stayed pretty static for the next few legs that included a genoa reach back towards the Hillhead plateau, but there was a scarey moment at the final windward mark. As we approached we saw some J105s circling and as we got to the buoy spotted someone in the water – we immediately stopped the spinnaker hoist and reached off in case we were needed though there were 3 other boats circling. Thankfully we saw the MOB being recovered so bore off to hoist the kite, but now Light and Mefisto had closed the gap and we had to cover closely to the finish to keep ahead of the resurgent Light who were going worryingly fast upwind.
A challenging days racing which was a lot closer than perhaps the finish times suggest. I thought the Sigma 38s all sailed around well to take the top 5 places on handicap in IRC 3 – the results show the gap between Marta & Gallant was just 1 second at the finish, be interesting to read that race report ?