Nationals Report from with Alacrity – 30 Apr – 2 May 2011
After drifting around in light winds for most of the spring series, the wind delivered in spades for the Nationals in Weymouth Bay over the first May bank holiday weekend. Saturday was champagne sailing conditions with bright sunshine and wind mainly around 15 knots but with the odd light patch to keep us on our toes!
The 17 Sigma 38s were in their element and the racing was agonisingly tight around a full Saturday schedule of 3 sausage course races and 1 triangle/sausage. Persephone popped out to win the first race and then went on to win the 3rd & 4th, a great performance but a 7th in race 2 held them back in third place overall with the super-consistent Festina Lente & Mefisto tied on points just ahead with Festina in the lead through virtue of winning Race 2.
This was not our best day ever on With Alacrity, despite sailing solidly we messed up the first start by slowing down with 40 seconds to go when sailing hard for the pin would have given us a decent start and never found our rhythm for the remaining races. Sailing in Weymouth Bay reminds me of sailing in Cork – another venue where we have never excelled, very different from the flatter water of the Solent but not like sailing in proper offshore waves and we were simply not able to adapt quickly enough to the conditions. Another surprise was how patchy the wind was, in an Easterly breeze with no land to windward you would have thought it would be quite consistent but there were some big holes around the leeward mark and going the right way up the beat (and not overstanding the windward mark!) could make tens of boatlengths difference. Still it was tight all the way round throughout the fleet and we had our chances but could manage no better than 5ths overall in a thoroughly enjoyable days sailing. Perhaps the performance of the day was from Nuance who sailed brilliantly in their first ever Sigma 38 Nationals to finish the day in fourth overall.
Sunday was the double point offshore race starting in a solid 25 knots. Anticipating some much bigger gusts we went with a reef in the main with the number 2, most boats managed with full mainsail. After another average start we finally felt we had the boat in the groove and after the first 3 mile beat we were crossing tacks with the leaders in a stunningly close race. Festina somehow managed to wriggle free on the approach to the windward mark and were gone on the first reach whilst the rest of us were bunched tightly behind. Then it was “that” mark rounding where Festina and the first 4 boats left it to port whilst our course card said to leave to starboard. With a stream of boats rounding the wrong way we had to find space in the boisterous conditions to get around it the “right” way losing a good 60 seconds or so and several places in the process. Up the next beat the VHF exploded into life and it eventually dawned on us that 3 different versions of the handwritten course card had been distributed to the fleet. The rest of the race was a blast as we reeled back in our lost time at the mark rounding in a spectacular beat past Durdle Door along the Jurassic coast followed by an adrenaline fuelled spinnaker broad reach with the odd gust of 27 knots whilst we watched the speed over ground regularly touching 12 knots. After nearly 5 hours of sailing we approached the finish neck and neck with Mefisto battling for 3rd place to be pipped by them as we sailed into Portland harbour as they surfed down the waves alongside us.
Inevitably, there was a long inquest into the race ashore. I had hoped that as 14 out of the 15 boats that raced had sailed the same distance despite 4 rounding a mark in a different direction we could salvage a result but unfortunately the protest committee decided to declare the race void. I did feel for the race officer who was devastated at making the mistake on the course cards and to his great credit put his hands up to apologise, we are all human and fantastic to see that everyone appreciated that honest mistakes are easily made. In these situations as competitors we just need to put ourselves in the hands of the protest committee as an impartial body to decide what should be done, accept the decision and head to the bar!!
The forecast for day 3 was windy, but at first it looked like it was still sailable as the committee boat and the first boats left the pontoon – but within a short space of time racing for the day was abandoned in 30 knot gusts and we returned to the pontoons for an early prizegiving.
So ended another spectacular Nationals, I thought the standard of sailing in the fleet was hugely impressive and great to see the green boat ex-Beefeater back in their new incarnation as Aspiration along with fellow West country Sigma 38 Aquaessence. The organisation, social events and wealth of sponsors was fantastic. Huge congratulations to Festina Lente who put in another great performance to win again in style, we are already plotting how we can do better next year!