Nationals 2007 – Race Report from With Alacrity
After finishing first Sigma 38 in the double point offshore race to St Malo we found ourselves in the unusual position of being the boat best placed to cause an upset in the Nationals – was it possible we could disrupt the serene progress of Festina Lente and hold off Persephone & Light who both comprehensively outsailed us in the Winter and Spring series? We have been working hard on boatspeed over the last few months but this would be the first time we would be sailing close enough to other Sigma 38s to see if the hard work paid off. The stakes were clearly high with both Persephone & Light sporting new sails for the event.
Two races were planned on Sunday afternoon off St Malo but in the event we drifted around waiting for a fitful breeze to settle enough to set a start line. Eventually race 1 was cancelled and the line was set for a single race with a course around the cans following the channel back towards St Malo with a finish by the marina. With 20 seconds to go we spotted a line of breeze on the right and tacked onto port which meant we were going slowly at the start but at least we were heading in the right direction. Light followed us off to the right but we got into the breeze first with the rest of the fleet still becalmed near the left end of the start line. We rounded the windward mark just ahead of Light and almost 10 boat lengths to the next boat. Then disaster struck as we hoisted the kite with the lines led through the pulpit. By the time we sorted out the knitting and gybed we were close reaching into the next gybe mark trailing Light & Festina Lente. Light opted to drop the kite for the next tight reaching leg, Festina hard on their tail with the kite up could not pass though and as they slowed each other down we were right up with them as we bore away at the next mark. As Light hoisted their kite both Festina and With Alacrity slipped by but it was incredibly tight as the three boats sailed downwind just a boatlength apart with the boats ahead luffing high to keep clear wind. After a short while we were well out of the channel and rocks became a real concern but no-one wanted to be first to bear away and allow the next boat to sail over the top. Suddenly Light started shouting warnings back to Persephone who 10 lengths behind were sailing a slightly higher course. We looked back to see the sickening sight of Persephone stop dead in the water as she grounded hard on the rocks we had just skirted by less than a boat length.
As we continued towards the finish the wind died and Festina gybed off with us following and Light continuing to the left. With the wind down to a few knots we almost managed to get inside Festina in a controlling position but they worked enough clearance to gybe and cross us on port just 5 or 10 metres clear and eventually drifted across the finish a few lengths ahead. The left did not pay for Light as they trailed in fourth being pipped on the finish line by the resurgent Premier Cru.
That evening we enjoyed a rib ride to Dinard YC with a drinks reception for crews, the despondent crew of Persephone had spent the evening assessing the damage and the next morning they regretfully opted to retire from the championship and head for home.
light air day started with a sausage race off St Malo. This time the fleet
joined in with yachts sailing in Minquier week who
were to race with us down the spectacular
This was a 20 mile coastal race to St Quay, our destination for the second night. We were caught out way too far from the line as the warning signal went as we were sorting out food and navigation – stupid for us not to stick near the line but a bit harsh that the race committee went straight into the next start sequence without any announcement of start time, we were expecting them to give us a short break for lunch! Anyway, proving what good sports the S38 class are they requested a restart with everyone in the starting area and we got away second time but in dirty air behind Festina with Light and Premier Cru in danger of sailing over us from leeward. With nothing to lose and suspecting more wind inshore we made a short hitch on port and half an hour later it paid as the wind died but we held a line of breeze to slowly reel in Festina. The next headland was a tactical nightmare with the shifty wind gusting off the cliffs but switching off half a mile out. The inshore route paid as we passed Festina in a private line of wind leaving them trying to tack into the wind line in our wake. We thought about covering but by now we were almost around the headland pointing in the right direction with the next line of breeze in sight a few hundred metres ahead, but we sailed into a huge hole and sat stationary as Festina picked up the breeze by the cliffs and went past again into a 10 length lead. We cleared the headland and for the next few hours tracked Festina upwind with almost no change in the gap proving finally that our early season boatspeed problems had been fixed. The course was shortened at the next buoy a mile ahead and we threw in 10 or 12 tacks, more out of curiousity than anything else, but Festina matched each one and weren’t going to let us get any separation as we crossed the finish with no change in the gap.
Another sausage race inshore with winds gusting well over 20
knots and some huge, hard to read shifts at the windward mark under the cliffs. The start was pretty
even but Festina picked up the shift into the windward mark and rounded a
length ahead of us with Light hot on our heels. Fearing another 25 knots gust
downwind we opted for safety with a crew that had not sailed together before
and decided not to risk the spinnaker gybe. On the next beat we picked up a few
shifts to close the gap to Festina but got on the wrong end of the shift into
the windward mark again and headed downwind with Festina safely ahead and Light
right on our wind. Light went for the gybe but with their
This was another 20 mile coastal race this time to our Tuesday night destination – Lezardrieux. With Festina now 3 points clear we were sailing this race more for pride as it would require a real disaster for Festina not to take the nationals, it ended up being another close and intense race. This time we got the better of the shifts and rounded the windward mark in the lead, Light had been over the line at the start and were well down by the windward mark. We two sailed the first few minutes of the reach with Festina a boat length behind as we both gauged whether the spinnaker would pay. Eventually they hoisted and we followed but they got the better hoist and sailed over us. It took us half an hour to get into the groove in the gusty tight reach sailing on the edge of broaching before we worked our way up onto Festina’s quarter wave. Over the next hour we tried 4 or 5 times to sail over Festina, each time getting desparately close as we both luffed with mainsails flogging, and each time we dropped behind and started all over again. Eventually we were rewarded, catching a gust to surge past with Festina unable to defend – a rare moment for the With Alacrity scrapbook! As we passed, Festina went into a huge broach and eventually dropped the kite leaving us 10 lengths clear and on a roll. By this time we were further to leeward than we had planned and the course ahead to the next buoy looked like a minefield with the chart plotter showing submerged rocks littering the path ahead. We were pretty sure we would clear most but not being familiar with the water we decided to opt for caution and drop the kite for the clearer path through inshore. Then disaster struck as the genoa refused to go up and we diagnosed a horrible wrap of halyards around the kite at the masthead. By the time we sorted it out with a bareheaded spinnaker drop Festina was through again and to compound the problem we could not re-hoist the kite after clearing the rocks and run down to the buoy. We rounded 10 lengths adrift for the beat into the shore and worked the shifts to halve the gap by the mouth of the river. With two miles to beat up the river with the current against us we tried to eat into the lead but could not make any more inroads. Halfway up the river Festina crossed to the opposite shore where we expected less current, this would have been our next move but there was little point in following Festina so we continued up the East edge of the river but Festina stretched away to take their fifth consecutive win in the inshore series.
congratulations to Festina Lente and their crew who won the championships after
sailing a great series – they really do not make many mistakes. We had our
chances to cause an upset but at the critical moments our boat handling was not
quite good enough. We are very pleased though that the boat is going well and
there is little difference in boat speed between the front 5 or so Sigma 38s so
plenty to look forward to with
Postscript – after the excellent end of series dinner at Lezardrieux yacht club your correspondent has to admit to picking up the first “sailing injury” of the week when missing my footing on the pontoon and twisting a knee as I fell into the drink at 2am, to much amusement of those around me. Pleased to report that the bottle of champagne I was carrying was saved and just wish to clarify that it was a very dark and narrow pontoon and the mishap was definitely not alcohol induced – it could have happened any time!