HWS Day 5 – 13 Nov 2011 – Report from With Alacrity

Another fabulous day’s sailing in the Hamble Winter Series – back after the mid-series break. We were not able to get much of a practice sail before the start as we used the time to re-whip the outer core of the genoa halyard instead – at least we spotted this one before it became a problem. Sounds like Persephone, who did get to sail upwind before the start, came to the conclusion not to go inshore up the first beat after testing it out - so maybe this was our stroke of luck for the day!

 We decided early to head hard left off the start, though it was a tricky tactical call. The early turn of tide against us was inshore on the left, but maybe if you went close inshore you would get past that?  The tidal chart showed some favourable East going tide still out in the main channel but we decided you would have to go a long way right to get this and even then would not be in it for long enough to matter.  In theory there should be compression on the left shore so more wind (not sure if this happened), there was slightly flatter water which should be faster but the deciding point for us was seeing the fleets ahead picking up port lifts along the shore which would trump anything else we could observe.

The line was close to square, our toys showed it was on a bearing of 15 degrees (we pinged each end of the line on the GPS) with a wind direction of around 100 degrees. So, 5 degrees bias to the pin but looking at the starts ahead it looked more like the committee boat was favoured. Easy choice then to go for space in the middle of the line and were surprised to find ourselves in splendid isolation with most of the fleet hanging a long way back from the line – maybe the after effects of the King & Queen the night before?  Persephone and P3 were the exception and for the first 5 minutes of the race they were 6 or so lengths to windward, probably close enough that we would not quite be able to tack across – though we had no intention of trying as we were determined to head left.  The decisive point came as we approached a busy leeward mark for a fleet ahead. Persephone and P3 tacked off, presumably to avoid the disturbance, whilst we grimly forged on through the dirty air to keep heading for the left shoreline.

Eventually we tacked back 15-20 degrees before the layline and happily soon started to pick up the left shifts. They were not ever-present, but the Tacktick gizmo showed the occasional 20 degree lift which started to pay big dividends with a half mile separation to the rest of the fleet. I know I keep going on about the effect of windshifts, but the maths is astonishing; if you can be on a 15 degree lift sailing upwind at 6.5 knots that another boat on the same tack doesn’t get you gain 50 metres every minute – that is one quarter of the distance sailed!!

The lifts did start to fall off as we approached the windward mark but we rounded 10 or so lengths clear ahead and were just starting to think our job might be done for the day as we genoa reached to the spreader mark. Well that thought was soon banished – our first mistake was to gybe hoist at the mark. We had the bearing to the next mark in someone’s pocket but never got it out to work out where to go next and kinda assumed the spreader mark meant we were sailing a triangle so needed to gybe set. Not a huge problem but the bear away set would have been faster and we soon decided to gybe back to cover the rest of the fleet who had mostly done this. Now things started to unravel as the pole trigger got jammed open mid gybe – it’s never a good sign when the foredeck team start calling for the tool kit to complete a manoeuvre! The minutes ticked by as we worked to keep the spinnaker filling without a pole, this is a good technique for the last few lengths into a mark rounding but I now know for sure it is not as quick as sailing with the pole up – there is a reason we carry those lumps of metal around after all!  We sailed almost half the leg without a pole before it was fixed and at the leeward mark our lead was cut dramatically – we had a race on our hands and Persephone in particular was looking strong up the next windward leg with P3 close behind in third.

The left still paid on this beat as we loose covered Persephone upwind, though by now the wind was easing and it was probably more important to sail in the wind if you could anticipate it. At one point we were sailing in 13 knots, still with the number 2 up. Just as we eased the halyards to power up the sails the breeze was back up to 18 knots and we were grinding them back in again. Towards the end of this beat we came across two trawlers. Already close to the layline we didn’t really want to tack off and as one of them changed course to cross ahead of us we had to slow down to pass safely behind. Persephone were also effected by the trawlers but the net gain was a couple of lengths to Persephone and our loose cover was turning into a slightly more determined tight cover as we rounded for the final downwind leg.  After a few gybes we managed to shake off Persephone and find our own path to the leeward mark. We called late to change to the No 1 which was instantly mirrored by Persephone and both boats just managed it before the mark. The gusts were getting weaker all the time so this was the right sail choice for the beat to the finish.

I guess the left was still the way to go upwind, but with just a few lengths separating us from Persephone it didn’t matter much to us, our job was simply to cover Persephone whilst keeping a wary eye on the ever-present P3 a little further back. Three times we tacked onto Persephone’s wind only for them to immediately tack off further left. The third time we were very close to the layline and we decided not to follow them left again to make sure the closing P3 didn’t get past us both – fortunately Persephone came to the same conclusion and we sailed to the finish line with them safely tucked up to leeward – just a final flurry of tacks to cross the line with a big sigh of relief that we had managed to hang on to first place.

Another fantastic and enjoyable race, we were fortunate to be allowed to separate for the favoured left side on the first beat (I think only Mefisto went the same way) but slightly disappointing not to be able to stretch away after this. A recurring pattern in previous races has been for the boat that gets ahead at the first mark to build a lead whilst avoiding the dogfights behind. The pole problem was costly and we need to work harder to avoid this kind of thing – boat preparation and making sure things don’t break is just as important a component of racing as boat handling, tactics and boatspeed - we came up short on Sunday. It did make for an exciting race though and pleased to have hung on for a valuable first place which makes the series very tight now – the next few races are going to be crucial!

Protest Room Corner

This was the first Sunday in three race days that I was not up in front of the protest committee – all for the same incident in Race 3. Someone told me on Sunday that race committees have to make quick decisions, often in real time, whereas protest committees have the luxury of taking as long as they want. It is now the fifth week after the incident and apparently there is still on-going debate whether to allow our request to re-open the hearing (we still firmly believe the DSQ for With Alacrity was incorrect). Perhaps the long deliberation means we have a good case, just hope it gets resolved before the end of the series!