HWS Day 7 – 27 Nov 2011 – Report from With Alacrity
It was looking pretty grim at 8am as we looked out across Southampton Water on the way to the boat, so quite happy to get a text a few minutes later advising of a 2 hour postponement. Forecast was for the wind to veer to the NW during the morning and reduce to 15 knots – but it was still gusting to 25 knots as we headed out to the race course around 11am. We had time for a quick practice beat and there was a hint of a wind bend along the shore which could mean the right would pay – or was that the wind still clocking around to the NW before the start? Against this was the likelihood of wind divergence on the shore to the right (there did seem to be less wind inshore) and a strong windward going spring tide which would favour going left away from the shallow water – but not so far left that you were back into the shallow water of the Bramble bank. Hmmm, so we reckon that going left but trying to keep to the deeper water of the North Channel would likely pay...... or, the radical plan would be to head inshore and see if there was a wind bend following the shoreline out of Southampton water that would be worth more than anything else.
It was a huge start line with a port bias and the fleets were being combined so the Sigma 38s were starting with IRC3. The GPS tracks along with the waypoints we pinged for the start line show the bias was 12 degrees to port on close to a 600 metre line. This means anyone starting at the committee boat would be gifting a 150 metre head start to a boat starting at the pin end – of course that advantage would quickly be eroded if it was crowded on the left and you couldn’t get away in clear air.
We headed left and it was crowded, but we managed to find some space 30ish metres from the pin in a narrow lane as we blasted upwind. Light nailed the start and came away furthest left sailing high and fast with a reefed mainsail, next was a 34.7 from IRC3 that was struggling to hold position above Light, then us and Persephone were another half boat length to windward. It was an intense first 5 or so minutes as we all worked hard to hold a lane and not fall into the dirty air of the next boat, every metre mattered and as soon as you started to gain a combination of waves would knock you back a few metres and you would be fighting not to be sailed over. After a while though, we started to look with increasing agitation at the GPS as we were rapidly approaching the port layline with no sign of the deadlock being broken. It was a tough call, but eventually we decided there was no point trying to win a sprint in the wrong direction so bore away and slowed until we had enough room to tack behind Persephone and duck the next IRC3 boat. Thankfully we got this one right and were dead on the layline to the windward mark, gaining with every second as our closest rivals kept charging on starboard for another 100 metres or so. We made it to the windward mark first Sigma 38 and narrowly ahead of the IRC3 leader.
Next was a long reach out to a gybe mark, it was tight but with the tide building as we sailed into deeper water it was likely to be OK to carry the spinnaker. If we had been chasing we would have definitely gone for it, as it was we hesitated...started to hoist then decided against it. With an eye on the overall series positions we decided not to take the risk – all we had to do was finish ahead of P3 (who were a way back) and within a place of Persephone (who were closer behind but had decided not to hoist) to wrap up the series – so we played safe and genoa sailed this leg. It was definitely worth sheeting the No 2 to the rail if you decided not to go for the spinnaker, the inboard sheeting position is really horrible for a No 2 on a reach. Light did carry the kite and by the gybe mark had caught back up to have an inside overlap. We sailed wide to gybe and exit close to the mark to windward of Light but an A35 from IRC3 decided to sail into the gap despite having no mark room <sigh> but no problem, a quick hoist and we might still be over Light and back in front. The spinnaker did go up quickly but sadly, for the first time I can remember, we contrived to hoist it upside down – definitely not fast!! With hindsight it was a comical, if embarrassing, moment – but at the time there was...how can I say this....an urgency to fix it? Fortunately we managed to before Persephone got past and only lost a boat length or so to Light by the time we had the right corners of the spinnaker attached to the right bits of string. The aforementioned A35 was quite helpful down this leg as we sat on their stern wave to reel Light back in and, after a brief luffing match, get past before the leeward mark.
The next few legs were a blur, with a slim lead we just had to cover upwind so never got to find out if the right was faster (I don’t think it would have been). Persephone worked their way up to 2nd and P3 was rapidly moving up through the fleet as well. On the penultimate spinnaker leg the forecast drop in wind speed was evident and we nearly changed to the No 1, getting it on deck before deciding not to as the breeze was still sometimes touching 20 knots. Persephone did change to the No 1 and made the right call as on the next beat they were making big gains when the wind got lighter towards the end of the leg - eventually rounding just a length behind for an intense final run. Sigma 38s really are ridiculously closely matched – after trimming our hearts out we rounded the last leeward mark with almost exactly the same gap between the two boats.
This set up a classic beat to the finish near Coronation Buoy, with the wind continuing to ease (we had swapped to the No 1 for the final leg) we couldn’t risk any separation so it was time to cover hard all the way. Eventually we tacked ahead close to the port layline and Persephone had little choice but to slip into our dirty air and allow us to pull out a small lead at the finish line. Did anyone notice the tide had turned against us at the finish? We completely missed that until we were crossing the line. Max and the team on P3 made a spectacular recovery to take 3rd place and Marta sailed another good race, this time getting a better reward to finish 4th.
I always feel sad at this time of the season – just one more race now before we put the boat away for the winter, but we’ll be out to make the most of the last race of the year and will be fascinating to watch the big sail off between Persephone & P3 who are locked on equal points in 2nd place.
Protest Room Update
6 weeks after the Race 3 incident, and after 5 weeks deliberating our re-opening request the protest committee finally held a hearing after racing on Sunday. The re-opening request was eventually denied, which was disappointing and hard to understand. The problem with protests is not interpreting the rules, but establishing what really happened on the water which can be very difficult....definitely something to ponder. Luckily, it looks like it will not effect any overall positions which is some consolation.