WSS3 Race Report from With Alacrity
Not quite sure how to describe this race, entertaining? It certainly had lots of place changes and an unbelievable close finish for most of the fleet, less than 1 minute separating 3rd from 8th and not sure if this is the first time I have seen a tie between Sigma 38s in one design racing as Pandanova and Mefisto couldn’t be split at the finish.
The run up to the start was verging on the bizarre, the wind had pretty well already completed the forecast shift to the East by the time we got out there but it just kept veering. The J109s, IRC3 and Sigma 38s all had general recalls which the RC kept implying on the VHF was because of the weather going tide – there was a bit of tide but not that much. I think the real problem was the wind was steadily shifting right which meant that everyone was lining up on starboard expecting to be sailing close hauled at an angle to the line, but by the time the starts came they were sailing on Starboard almost straight towards it, so everyone got there early. It got to the point where as fast as the RC moved the pin end to windward the wind was shifting further to make the line committee boat bias again.
By the time the re-starts were under way the line was straddling Ryde bank. Starting in the middle meant sailing in shallow water with less favourable tide so we wanted to hit one or other end of the line. When IRC3 got away on the second start the pin was favoured, but the wind was still shifting and by our 5 minute gun we thought the committee boat was marginally favoured, so we lined up for that end. Looking at the GPS track it looks like there was 10-15 degrees bias to the committee boat end by the time we started with the wind clocked right round to the SE where it stayed for the rest of the race.
There were some start line shenanigans at the committee boat in both starts - I won’t dwell on this except to note that some people get quite indignant over the tactic in this link: barging at the start – fortunately on With Alacrity we wouldn’t get so upset about it but curious to see how someone else might see it ; ) Anyway at the second attempt we were off but still sailing in the shallow water of Ryde bank, it took us a few minutes to work enough space to tack off into the deeper water just 50 metres to our right. For the second week in a row though we went 100 metres too far and by the time we tacked back the extra tide was negated by having overstood the windward mark (which was nearly a fetch from the start anyway). Marta got it right and just went far enough on port to get off the bank and lead into the first mark by 3-4 boat lengths whilst we squeezed round in 2nd place just ahead of Rapscallion.
The next run in just 6-7 knots of wind against the tide was slow, by now we were moving through the back markers from IRC 3. Marta went high to sail over a few boats but as we approached they started to determinedly luff obviously not wanting the whole fleet of Sigma 38s to sail over them. We were 25 degrees above the leeward mark anyway so decided to put in 2 gybes to find a lane to leeward instead. Unfortunately this just lost us 50 metres and we ended up in a luffing match with Rapscallion to defend our position. Eventually we decided to gybe off properly and find some clear air which paid and we briefly got to the front of the fleet until the boats that gybed off further right gained even more – wind shifts and gusts were having a big effect on VMG in different parts of the course. By now though the only thing that mattered was negotiating THAT mark rounding with around 10-15 boats from IRC 3 pretty well rafted up around the buoy. Marta went for the inside and seemed stuck on the buoy but managed to scrape around with a few feet to spare, Light got around on the outside of the bunch, we gave it another 10 metres clearance with Rapscallion and Mefisto next to us – somewhere in the melee Kindred Spirit got through in good shape as well.
It took a while but we broke free onto the next beat that had turned into a long fetch to Lee-on-Solent, with lots of boats to windward it was tough to get clear air – Rapscallion pressed the turbo button and sailed deep enough to find clear air to leeward and break through into the lead. We struggled down this leg and as the fleet bunched to round the buoy we had slipped back to 7th or 8th.
Exiting the buoy we sailed high and within 5 minutes were back up to 3rd, with so many boats around on a long light wind broad reach to the finish having clear air was paramount. Here though was the conundrum – to overtake you had to keep clear air which meant close reaching 20-30 degrees above the rhumb line to the finish and sail into deeper water with stronger adverse tide, sail low and immediately the Sigma 38s behind started to gain with Gallant especially looking very threatening. Ahead Rapscallion and Kindred Spirit were duelling for the lead but far enough ahead that we were not going to catch them by sailing the same course. At this point we were making barely 3 knots over the ground with more than 2 miles to go so was going to be a long leg. A few hundred metres to the right was East Bramble that marks the end of the North Channel but more importantly the shallow water of the Bramble bank which would give tidal relief to the finish at Air Canada. The only way to get there would be to gybe off though at right angles to the direct course and then gybe back in the shallow water on a close reach to the finish and hope the extra speed over ground would compensate for the time it would take to get to the shallow water – hmmmm, we dithered, debated, paused and dithered again. Rapscallion broke away from Kindred Spirit to sail deeper and eventually gybed off so we rolled the dice and went as well. Perhaps we went too far, Rapscallion gybed back earlier, and maybe gybing into the North Channem (faster tide?) 10 boatlengths back from Rapscallion was not an ideal starting point but the die was cast as the fleet split with most boats led by Kindred Spirit clear ahead staying high and Rapscallion, With Alacrity & Marta (not sure if they gybed or sailed deep to get there) hugging the edge of the Bramble bank close reaching towards the finish. Critically, I think, the wind increased to 10 knots and we were all bowling along much faster towards the finish. Perhaps if the breeze had stayed light the tide would have mattered more and the Bramble route would have paid – dunno, not sure I have any insightful conclusions. Anyway, Kindred Spirit with space and clear wind made it safely to the finish with a good lead, Rapscallion ended up 2nd. For us the there was a marginal net loss of a few boat lengths which made the last few hundred metres to the finish quite exciting but we hung onto 3rd place by the skin of our teeth as the rest of the fleet piled across the line.
In a race like this it is easy to blame your result on luck, but the raw truth is that in a tactically challenging race with loads of place changes the two Spring Series form boats came out on top again, this time with a fine win by Kindred Spirit.