2011 Nationals report from Zanzara.
We started the weekend with a pleasant drifting sail down to Portland in the company of Persephone, Marta and Gambit. Initially with spinnakers up away from the Needles, the patchy wind and hazy conditions meant a fair bit of use of the iron jib, interspersed with jib up jib down, kite up kite down and frequent chats on the vhf to see if our friends in the haze had any breeze where they were. Around six hours from Lymington we motored into Portland harbour to the sights of Monet and Festina Lente practicing out in the bay.
We were soon tied up on the pontoon which quickly filled with the arriving fleet and the buzz and chatter of crews meeting up. The sight of seventeen Sigma 38’s lined up side by side was stunning, and I know I was not the only owner to take more than a passing glance down the line of masts, comparing rake and prebend.
Friday evening we all adjourned to the bar for an entertaining brief from our race officer and a pleasant evening was spent enjoying a few beers with friends not seen for a while.
Saturday day 1
With three of the crew missing due to family issues, we weren’t expecting too much. The breeze was enough that we would miss the weight on the rail and only six pairs of hands were always going to be one pair short of easy manoeuvres, so our aim was to get round the course in one piece and hopefully limit the damages bound to be done in a no discard series. The brief prestart practicing was interesting; I had to make the final swap of crew positions with one minute to go before the start of the race!
Race one – we started somewhere second row in the middle of the melee and settled down to a pogoing race of good boat speed, balanced with rusty manoeuvres. Lesson one was brand new offshore No1 genoas do not like to be shipped in front of the down haul, especially with the pole quite forward! Having yachted away from the bottom marks with sails in the wrong places a couple of times we were starting to remember what we were supposed to be doing and eventually finished 12th, surprisingly not too far back on time and reassuring close to good boats.
Race two – reassured by the not too disastrous finish of the first race we hit the start at speed, bang on the line two thirds of the way to the pin end, we hadn’t really seen much of a bias on the line and were pleased to have clear air. Towards the top of the beat we were approaching the starboard layline on port and appeared to be comfortably up the order, perhaps around fifth, there were two boats of issue coming up the layline on starboard and it looked good to duck the first, and cross the second before tacking in clear air to the first mark. I then realised Rapscallion to windward also needed room to duck the first and giving that room meant we wouldn’t make the cross on the second boat so would have to duck both, and so did Rapscallion! I am not too sure what was going on with the rear guard on Rapscallion as they then sat on us to over ten boat lengths past the layline before tacking, and while I was busy, politely suggesting they tacked, I had somehow not got the message to the crew that we needed to! So after the good start we ended up dead last at the first mark. We made it back to 14th by the finish which wasn’t too bad considering.
Race 3 – two thirds down the line, again at speed we were off again in clear air, just Light to leeward, they seemed to like the pin end all weekend. This time we made it round the first mark somewhere in the middle of the top ten and it felt good to spend a lot of the race crossing close to With Alacrity, finally pipping them at the line by a few seconds for a satisfying 6th place and not too far back from the front of the fleet.
Race 4 – confidence was up now and we were expecting big things for the last race of the day, everyone seemed to be doing the same for the start, loads queuing up at the committee boat, Light milling around the pin, I think they were hoping to pull off a port flier so we went for the same again, storming down the line, my usual conservative attitude cast to the wind, this was great, we were going to nail this, until I noticed Sigmagician pinching up to the pin end, too late to duck under them, too late to slow, so up we went, over the line and I didn’t need the announcement on the vhf to know we were OCS, Light were also OCS and pealed off around the pin. Not quite so easy for us with boats above and below, we could neither tack nor bear away and had to go into irons in order to clear behind Sigmagician and head back to the line. As we recrossed, to the relief of the all clear called at the line, the fleet were off in the distance. We decided to make the best we could of the shifted air behind the fleet to get straight across to the starboard layline and at least hope to stay in clear air from there, even if we overstood, then tacked to the top mark, and when we finally got there we were surprisingly not dead last, after Sigmagician had craftily managed to force both us and Light over the line we had managed to pass them, although judging by the distance they were coming back from the left they had experienced problems of their own. We pushed hard, passed a few and made it up to 12th again by the finish.
With two more crew to come we felt confident for the rest of the weekend, we had surely put our bad luck behind us, and headed back in for the pontoon drinks, post race banter and welcome BBQ in the academy bar that evening.
Sunday Day 2
The Navigators coastal race – in the boisterous conditions and the course on paper in a sealed envelope, I felt it best that it stayed at the chart table so assigned one of the crew to sort the Nav, we knew the race started with a short beat, so all I needed to know was the first rounding and next mark, there was plenty of time to sort the rest along the way. We had a great start, clear air just to leeward of Festina Lente and were storming up the first beat, matching them for speed and height, this was going to be a good day.. Unfortunately my Nav had not been in the briefing, so when I asked for the first rounding at the windward mark which we already knew was going to a mile or so to windward he had looked at mark 1 on the list, so gave me the first rounding as to starboard then off to Atomic! It was not until we had left that mark astern we realised other boats were leaving (both?) the first marks to port and questions were asked! By the time we had reached back leaving both the first marks to port, not knowing which one was the right one we were once again dead last leaving the first mark. We had a long way to catch up but it was going to be a long race so we just got on with it, trying every gamble we could to try to get a result out of the race, by the second mark we had made it back to around 12th and were not too far off the main pack, as we were heading off to the third mark we were quite surprised to see Monet behind us start beating off along the coast rather than reaching out with the rest of us, but with our own navigational gaff already we didn’t really worry about it, we arrived at the third to find 3 boats coming round the other way which lead to a bit more confusion and slowing down while we checked we were actually rounding the right way although with that quickly sorted we headed off again, now in touch with Persephone and With Alacrity, well in touch with the dirt from their sails at least. After a few tacks off for clear air and with the bit between our teeth approaching Atomic I underestimated how close the spinnaker run out to the shambles would be and decided to go all out with the light weight kite to hopefully gain more places. But that wasn’t such a good idea, and after the second or third round up the kite refilled with an almighty crack and we were left looking at bare tapes and a lot of tattered cloth. Some slick work by the crew and we were back up to speed with the heavy weight. With the now shortened course it was a fast reach in followed by a fun run, surfing the waves back into the harbour entrance. It was a scary drop close to the fort before rounding the corner to the finish, Light were obviously in equally charging mood and left their drop even later and closer to the fort, hats off to them, we just about hung on to the finish to be 9th or 10th on the water. It soon emerged there had been some discrepancies with the course sheets so with no chance of finding a fair result for the day the race results were scapped, but it had been a fun one, and good practice for some hopefully equally brisk offshores to come.
Sunday evening’s class dinner was very enjoyable, we had the pleasure of sharing a table with the crew of Festina Lente who were great company, and after a fun evening which apparently went on a bit longer than I thought it was just the last day to go.
Monday 3rd day – winds were gusting 30+ out in the bay and there were reports of a short 3m swell which didn’t sound too much fun, I have to admit to being in two minds about risking my new main out there so I was quite relieved when the call came in that racing was abandoned, called wisely early saving most of us from having to venture out there and we were able to stay comfortably tied to the dock.
And so ended a thoroughly enjoyable weekend, not the results I had been hoping for, but some great racing and fun evenings. It just leaves me to thank my crew, and the crews of all the other boats there for making such a great atmosphere throughout the weekend, and to Frank Newton and his team for making the Saturday in particular one of the best run and enjoyable days racing I have ever had.