Warsash Spring Series Race 4 – 3 April 2011 – Report from With Alacrity

Sleeping on board after a double handed race on Saturday meant I had a few aching limbs on Sunday morning but also didn’t get time to check the latest weather forecast. Still, yesterday’s forecast was for the wind to back to the South West during the morning so we had resolved to go left up the beats in the absence of a good reason not to....

We decided the start was not biased to either end so went for the middle and were well up on the line with tons of space and good speed on the gun – marvellous. In fact it was so good that within a minute or so we were in a position to tack onto port and cross all the starboard tackers who had started to our right. This was such a novel position to be in we did just that and cleared everyone to our right by a few boat lengths feeling very pleased with ourselves.

Five minutes later; “umm....wasn’t the plan to go left?”  Grrrrr, we were on a 10 degree lift but on the wrong side of the whole fleet who were all looking very good. In an oscillating wind we would have just hung on in there and waited for the wind to come back before converging with the fleet again, but if you believe it is a persistant shift you have to bite the bullet and get back to the inside of the shifting wind asap. We took it on the chin and tacked back, not so much ducking transoms but passing 10-15 lengths behind just about everyone else who got it right. Finally, we got to the left of the bulk of the fleet and tacking back on a line just to the North of Bramble bank we started to reel in the deficit. As we started crossing boats again we had recovered to within a few lengths of anyone who had stayed right.

The next big tactical decision was which side of Bramble bank to go, or at high tide could you scrape straight over the top? The windward mark, RORC, was in the main channel but looked far enough West that you could probably go to the North of Bramble and tack onto the Starboard layline to the mark. Our tidal chart said we had a tiny bit of favourable tide in the North Channel and a tiny bit of adverse in the main channel so we went North, I think everyone else went South. We were a bit conservative and went too far West to be well clear of the shallow water, but I think this route still paid especially as the wind started to veer back to the right (hey - I thought we decided this was a persistent shift not oscillating?).  Anyway, with our now customary overstand of the first layline we reached into the first mark in much better shape than we had thought possible 15 minutes earlier. Light got it right and rounded ahead, the super-consistent Kindred Spirit were in 2nd with us not too far behind in 3rd.

The next few legs passed without incident, we had the novelty of a spreader mark after the first windward rounding then the next beat was a cheeky short half mile leg that we could fetch in one tack which put the pressure on the spinnaker packers. The next run was almost a disaster as we had confused mark 4V & 4Y when putting the course in the GPS, but fortunately we didn’t fall for that one too badly !

By the penultimate beat the tide had set in to the West across the whole course, strongest to the South. So we were resigned to following Light and KS banging hard left upwind. Surprisingly Rapscallion just behind tacked off for the North Channel - presumably they decided this would likely be their discard so could afford to have a big roll of the dice to try to catch up?

This was a long windward leg to Williams shipping, Light and KS tacked for the mark first safely ahead, we decided they went too early so hung on hoping to scrape back a few boatlengths. Then we had an IRC back marker pinning us out so we ended up going further than we wanted before we had room to tack for the mark. By the windward mark Light had nailed it and with a strong favourable tide were going to be able to luff around the mark 10+ lengths ahead, KS were a few boat lengths ahead of us but we had both overstood and were cracking off to get to the buoy. Then it happened, as Light squeezed round the mark their spinnaker billowed out and caught on the buoy ripping as they sailed past – they did a great job in continuing the turn to extricate the kite which maybe made the difference between a repairable spinnaker and a write off?   KS were held out by the same IRC back marker who had stopped us tacking earlier and by the time we had the spinnakers hoisted KS and WA were bowling downwind alongside each other doing 7 knots in the freshening breeze. Incredibly, Light had switched to their heavy kite in double quick time and were just a few lengths behind. 

I am told With Alacrity has a reputation for being a quick boat downwind, so a drag race to the final leeward mark should have been right up our street. Well, Kindred Spirit shattered that myth by surging forward breaking the overlap and getting into a controlling position where they would have been able to gybe for the mark at will. Not wanting to meekly follow them into the last turning mark we gybed off early hoping they would misjudge the strong tide. As we converged at the final buoy, we had pulled back a few lengths but KS was still overlapped at the 3 length circle with right of way on the inside.  Hanging onto the kite to the last second we were clear ahead by the time we got to the buoy but KS still had right of way so we had to sail wide around to let them through, it was going to be nip and tuck whether we would exit in their dirty air or far enough up to be able to hold position alongside them. Unfortunately, we will never know the answer to that as KS snagged the genoa at the critical moment and with only their mainsail filling we comfortable pulled clear and covered them up the short beat to the finish.

Must admit to feeling slightly sheepish at getting to the front through the misfortune of the boats ahead, especially Light who had sailed an outstanding race up to the penultimate mark disaster. It was another fantastic day to be on the water though – I even have my first sunburn of the season!