HWS Day 6 – 20 Nov 11 – With Alacrity’s Race
Well that was quite a race, just when I was convinced that whoever gets around the first mark ahead will hang onto the lead until the finish we get a race like this with more place changes than we have had in the whole series to date. Zanzara and Marta made the early running, swapping the lead around the first lap, eventually overhauled by Persephone who took the lead twice, Rapscallion hit the front briefly on the final run and With Alacrity also got ahead before dropping back to third and recovering again for the finish – and I may well have missed something as we had our hands full all the way round – amazing.
Like last week we had an Easterly breeze, though a little lighter, 10-14 knots – perfect. The start was further out on the edge of the Bramble bank with a tiny bias to the pin end. We were also on a different page of the tidal chart with a favourable neap tide upwind across the course, slightly weaker out in the main channel on the right and slightly more down the edge of the Hillhead plateau and in the North channel. This week we couldn’t see any port lifts on the left shoreline plus our forecast was for the wind to move around to the SE by lunchtime – it was not an easy choice, but at the last minute we decided to spurn the line bias and start by the committee boat so we could tack off to keep to the right of the fleet and gain as the wind clocked round. Well that was the theory!
In the event, our GPS tracks, along with the start line waypoints we put in. show the line was bias 8 degrees to the pin (more than we had thought), doesn’t sound much but on a 300 metre line this hands 50 metres advantage to anyone starting at the pin v the committee boat. We also executed the start badly, lining up well with P3 above us we thought we had pushed them over and bore away to make sure we would not be OCS – but they aced the start leaving us in dirty air and forced to tack off a few minutes into the race. No problem, as we were happy to go right of the fleet – though it felt awfully lonely out there as if we were taking a flyer, but the GPS tracks show we actually tacked up the middle of the beat along the edge of the deep water whilst everyone else went left.
As we converged on East Bramble, the first windward mark, the forecast veer hadn’t come (actually the breeze was remarkably steady on this leg, our GPS tracks only show 2-3 degrees variation of COG on each tack up the whole beat) and the boats furthest left had done better with Zanzara and Marta popping out ahead – perhaps there was a wind bend, less tide or compression (more wind near the shore) – I don’t know. Interestingly Zanzara had started at the pin and Marta had been the next boat down from us at the committee boat so there was more than just line bias that made the difference, though it was all quite close at the first mark. We rounded, I think in 4th, just ahead of P3. There was a short broad reach to a spreader mark where P3 did a great job in making and hanging onto an inside overlap at the buoy to draw alongside us for the next run. The good news was that P3 were our closest competitor for the series so as they gybed off we went with them to make sure they couldn’t put places between us and to look for the chance to get back ahead. We hung them out to the left, hoping to break the overlap on the way into the leeward mark but they were more than equal to us and pulled off a great gybe drop to round tight to the buoy clear ahead leaving us in their wake. I think P3 believe we were trying to sail them down the fleet on that leg, but if so we didn’t do a very good job as we rounded the previous mark a length or so ahead of Rapscallion and at the leeward mark we called water on Rapscallion and Gambit so little change. Truth is we were just trying to get ahead but were out-sailed for the second time in the race.
Suffering in P3’s dirty air we tacked off to the left – well it had been the way to go in the first windward leg! Sadly this was the wrong call. On the first beat our GPS tracks show a true wind direction of 96-98 degrees, at the start of the second beat it had clocked round to 104 degrees and as we headed left it carried on around to 112 degrees and stayed there – anyone who went right at the start of the second beat, as P3 did, gained from this shift. We didn’t! By the windward mark we had lost more precious boatlengths rounding in 5th or 6th. Persephone had broken into the lead and were leading the charge down the second run.
We have had quite a few comments about this downwind leg asking why we took such a big risk to split from the fleet and go left – but it didn’t feel like this at the time. As we bore away on Starboard gybe our course over ground was 20+ degrees from the mark, once we gybed onto port we were only 5 or so degrees off the buoy. We couldn’t see much tidal advantage from going right (you needed to cross the North Channel at some point to get to the leeward mark) but the tidal chart showed a North going tide pushing us left to right close to the mark, so little harm in being slightly to the left of the rhumb line. There was also a suggestion afterwards that there may have been a tidal driven wind-shift from this favouring a starboard approach to the buoy but not sure I could spot this. Looking at the GPS tracks though we again pretty well sailed down the middle almost in a straight line to the buoy, just needing a short gybe back onto starboard for the final approach – it was the rest of the fleet that took a flyer and headed right!! I think we probably sailed 100ish metres less distance with our route. The added bonus was that once separated from the fleet we picked up more pressure – unfortunately I can’t claim we saw this coming. We got a massive lucky break and as the leading pack wallowed we cruised along in significantly more wind into the lead at the leeward mark.
It was a tricky third beat, we managed to extend away by covering Persephone early on but the fleet was closing with Rapscallion making steady progress on the right. We just tried to play any small shifts we could see up the middle trying to keep a loose cover on the closest of the fleet. Our GPS track shows we started this beat with a TWD of 100 degrees, moving to 115 halfway up and back to 110 by the windward buoy (hmmm not a million miles off what it did on the second beat so could well have been a wind bend). So again the right paid with Raspcallion getting the most noticeable gain from this. Still there were more snakes and ladders left in this race as we tacked close to the starboard layline with P3 tucked up safely to leeward and Persephone 4 lengths behind. As we approached the mark we were headed, happy to sail into it as we could make a neat final tack to the mark – but instead of following us into it Persephone were lifted higher and followed a line of breeze just to windward which they carried all the way to the mark. By the time we realised they were not sailing into the same wind we had it was too late to cover and they were back in front as we tacked around the mark – now with Rapscallion just a length behind in third.
Another broad reach to a spreader mark where we bore away to be nicely on Persephone’s wind, Rapscallion immediately gybed off and were quickly alongside us and then a nose ahead. We gybed to go with them and we were both soon past Persephone who decided not to follow and broke away to the right. Every metre mattered now as we trimmed down the run and eventually got clear of Rapscallion by gybing earlier for the final leeward mark – Rapscallion sailed on too far on port before gybing and rounded 4 lengths behind whilst Persephone had lost out further on the right. It was just a short beat to the finish and we breathed another big sigh of relief as we crossed for another very close win and watched in awe at the battle for 5th as Light, Zanzara and Marta finished within a few seconds.
A fascinating race where we were fortunate to get the break on the 2nd run that propelled us back into contention. I felt for Marta and Zanzara who sailed a great first lap and deserved a better result – if this had been a shorter race in the first half of the series they would surely have been comfortably in the top 3 at the finish. Classic one design racing.