2010 Nationals – 28-31 May – Race Report from With Alacrity

Offshore (Race 1 & 2 combined)

The offshore race started with a bang at Gilkicker with Pavlova III reaching into a non-existant gap between us and the committee boat, we had to bear off hard to avoid the collision and protested – after a few minutes P3 peeled off to do penalty turns but by then our start was screwed and we were in deeper water than we had wanted (more adverse current) before we could tack along the mainland shore. The boats that headed across to the Island shore seemed to do better on this first short beat and we rounded the first mark in 5th or 6th place with Persephone, Monet & Rapscallion clear ahead as we hoisted spinnakers to  head out of the Solent for the next turning mark at Nab End. At the forts Rapscallion dropped their kite and headed up – obviously some navigational confusion and we had pulled back a couple of places for the next beat to Bembridge.  Half way up this beat P3 attempted to cross us on port, after recovering well from their first penalty turns,  and we had to do another big bear away to avoid sailing into their cockpit – another call of protest and after a slightly longer delay to think about it P3 did a second 720 penalty.  We picked up a few favourable shifts on this beat and had closed to within a few boat lengths of Monet and Persephone when we decided to make our move and sail close inshore before the final tack out to Bembridge – this has worked well for us before as there is a surprising amount of tide once you are clear of the island for the last half mile to Bembridge. This time we misjudged (over-estimated) how much current there was and just allowed Monet & Persephone to extend back out to 100m or so lead for the Bembridge rounding.

The next downwind leg saw few place changes in the gradually lightening breeze, but the fleet was tightly bunched as we rounded Winner buoy in 3rd place.  Now the short legs were over and it was time for the big tactical calls as we beat in a 9 knot SW wind to the Needles fairway, via St Cats, against the last hour or so of adverse current.  This was a desperately tough decision – the tidal strategy said to head inshore to avoid the last of the East going tide and pick up the early turn of tide in Sandown bay and around Dunnose. The forecast though was for the wind to back, eventually becoming Southerly, but not for another 3 hours or so (if you believed the forecast) – if it came in early this would favour boats that kept offshore.  Even if the shift didn’t come early, there was a big risk in a light SW that there could be no wind in Sandown and more offshore. Well, we decided inshore was the way to go, but we weren’t prepared to go out on a limb and risk ending up last so we opted to try to keep to the right of the fleet. Slightly unorthodox, as when you are following a tidal strategy you normally have to pursue it right inshore to get the full benefit, but that was the best we could come up with. So we tacked off at the buoy and headed about halfway to the Island shore before tacking back onto starboard – Monet, Persephone and Rapscallion headed off shore. It was dark now and hard to track the navigaton lights, each time we saw a light more inshore than us we tacked back onto port, frequently crossing behind unidentified Sigma 38s. The only thing we could tell is that we gradually seemed to be pulling ahead of the lights further offshore as we beat across just off Sandown Bay. There were some quite big 20 degree shifts that at times made us look in a great position, but sometimes pants. By Dunnose we were confident enough to tack in to within half a mile of the headland to pick up the tidal acceleration and were soon being whisked along at over 8 knots over the ground. Here we realised for the first time that we had somehow popped out at the front of the fleet – but only by a quarter of a mile or so. As we beat towards St Cats, Gallant slipped ahead closer inshore, this was worrying but we should be in stronger tide around St Cats a half mile further offshore.

At St Cats the wind switched off as we bounced through the mini overfalls with just 0.2 knots boatspeed. It was hard work just keeping the boat pointing in the right direction with little steerage and the waves pushing the bow 50 degrees off course one way then the other. This was a virtual restart of the race with Gallant alongside us inshore and another 4 or 5 boats now just 50 metres behind. As the waves eased off we were reaching in 2-3 knots of wind, after some debate we hoisted the spinnaker (sometimes in very light wind the spinnaker is slower on a reach than the genoa) and the boatspeed shot up from 1.5 to 2.5 knots.  I think this was the decisive moment as believe we were first to get the kite up (it was hard to tell in the dark) and we eased away from the boats behind. By dawn we had a half mile lead and were trying hard to soak down fearful that the wind would drop and the tide would sweep us the wrong side of the Needles Fairway turning mark – anchoring downtide of the next buoy would be painful ! As we approached the Needles the wind filled in to 8 knots and we broad reached in to Needles Fairway to round a mile clear of the closely bunched chasing pack.  The next few hours were a blast as we shy spinnaker reached across Poole bay towards the next turning mark just past St Albans with the wind peaking at 18 knots. With the tide turning back to the East we rounded the buoy and reached back along the Purbeck coast to the finish at Poole – slight confusion at the finish as we debated whether a line bearing 360 degrees was to the North or South of Poole bar buoy, it looked like North making it a Hook finish. In the end we decided to cross both possible interpretations of the line, then watched in fascination the battle for second which was won by Gallant (who sailed a great race and been close to the front all the way round) narrowly ahead of P3 (who had made a great recovery from the penalty turns). 

The rest of the fleet poured across the finish line over the next 10 minutes or so. There were a few surprises in the results with the very well sailed Monet & Rapscallion finishing 8th & 9th only just ahead of the rapidly improving Gambit who were in touch with the fleet all the way around. We headed into Poole with an overwhelming sense of relief that we had managed to avoid any major pitfalls in the offshore race.

The rest of Saturday was spent catching up on sleep and some last minute maintenance before the fleet were shipped over to Parkstone YC for a class dinner in the “wedding marquee”.

Inshore Sunday (Race 3, 4 & 5)

With 2 discards if more than 6 races sailed, it was possible to discard the double points offshore race meaning it was impossible to know who we should be covering for the championship in such a closely matched fleet. Our strategy for the inshore series was to sail conservatively, try to avoid hitting corners (unless we were behind) and try to get consistent top 3 results. This strategy almost worked for us at last year’s nationals until we were pipped in the last race to come second by one point!

Sunday’s first race was in 15 knots westerly, we were set a typical Poole Regatta sausage course with the windward mark close to the beach which meant there was some big windshifts up the beat and a big lift on starboard approaching the windward mark. In such shifty conditions it is very hard to come out in front by sailing conservatively up the middle, usually one extreme side or the other will pay off in any one race – you just hope that on average consistent results will win out over the series. So, it was a surprise that we managed to scrap our way to the front in race 3 & 4. I like to think it was that our boat handling was a little better in the earlier races, we have probably done more racing than most other boats in the lead up to the Nationals and it was noticeable that boat handling improved through the fleet as the regatta went on. In truth though, there was an element of luck in picking up the favourable shifts in those first two inshore races - we were trying just as hard and sailing just as well in the remaining races and didn’t win again!

Some controversy as 3 boats missed sailing through the finish line (which was read out as part of the course) on the first round of race 3. We put our protest flag up, but in the end decided it was not going to effect our result so did not pursue it – maybe we should have done. The race committee, though aware that 3 boats did not sail the course, decided not to take action and the resulting protest & requests for redress lingered on to the last day of the regatta before they were eventually disallowed for being too late.  

Race 5 was a classic, the wind had been up to 20 knots since race 4 so was quite boisterous with most boats sporting a number 2. Rapscallion got into her stride to take the win but it was neck and neck between Persephone, With Alacrity and Monet for second. At the final leeward mark Persephone were overlapped inside of us so we sailed wide to round up hard on the wind hoping to get a controlling position above them, but Persephone was wise to this and did a great rounding tight out of the mark to leave us in dirty air. We threw in 2 tacks, each matched perfectly by Persephone – but by now any further attempts to tack out from Persephone’s cover would mean Monet could slip by us both. So we opted to protect the 3rd place for the short beat to the finish. In the event with 2 discards in hand this was enough to win overall with a day to spare.

Inshore Monday (Race 6 & 7)

After way too much crispy duck pancakes at the class get together in the all you can eat Chinese, light winds greeted the fleet on Monday. Not just big shifts but big holes in amongst the bands of breeze to catch the unwary. We got off to a good start and rounded the first windward mark a boat length behind Persephone. On the kite run, with just a 2 boat length gap between us & Persephone we ran out of wind whilst Persephone dribbled away on a puff. Even worse, the rest of the fleet was sailing down on new breeze from behind and we watched in frustration as our second place evaporated and we ended up 6th at the finish after the race was shortened to one round of the sausage course. Rapscallion picked up a 2nd to add to their 1st in race 5, Monet were consistently in the hunt on these inshore races and both Kindred Spirit & Aquaessence were both enjoying the light winds to record finishes a step up from Sunday.

Race 7 (I think, or did this happen in race 6?), the start looked hugely port biased and the fleet lined up early to get to the buoy end of the line. Somewhere with about 4 minutes to go there was a huge windshift which made the starboard end favoured again, we managed to bail out and sailed back to a huge gap at the committee boat with only Zanzara for company, but the shift also brought everyone up to the line too early and there was a general recall. The re-start, under black flag, saw the fleet away cleanly but the wind was getting very light now – especially at the windward mark under the cliffs. We scraped round in front but with Rapscallion and the rest of the fleet very close behind. Rapscallion passed us on the run as the wind died to a whisper, there was some huge holes to get through up wind with some animated debates on board about which way to go – in the end I did what I was told (!) and we looked all set to finish with a second place, until Monet picked up some breeze after banging the right corner and pushed us into 3rd as the race was shortened at the second windward mark.

So ended another great Nationals, the format of packing so much sailing into a bank holiday weekend (so most people do not need to take a lot of time off work) is definitely the way to go. I think the fleet is incredibly closely matched at the moment, which makes for amazing one design racing. Persephone epitomised this by finishing 1st then last in the final 2 races, but there were plenty of examples of slightly less extreme jumps throughout the fleet. For With Alacrity, it went better than we could have hoped, but it always felt much closer than the results perhaps show. This has already been a hugely enjoyable sailing season, but with RTI, Cork & Cowes still to come amongst the JOG races and winter series there is still plenty to look forward to!