What a difference a week makes! Last week flat calm and fogL this week blowing dogs off their leadsJ
Only four boats braved the predicted strong winds, Gareth, Paul, Peter H, and Roy. In view of the forecast I had elected to put my old sail up and moved the mast heel forwards for a bit more rake. Off the start I was just ahead but to leeward of Paul, with Peter H to leeward of me. The line had looked slightly starboard end but not bad. With the wind forecast to gradually swing from west to northwest it gave an interesting choice going to mark 8. As most people know it usually pays to approach 8 on port (don’t really know why, but the wind just seems to bend that way) but with the wind forecast to veer it should pay to go right initially and then come in on the lifting starboard tack. I wasn’t sure which way to go but reckoned I’d just go for boat speed and cover any move right. There was very little difference in basic boat speed between Gareth, Paul and Peter but it looked as if I was coping with the gusts and shifts slightly better pulling out from Paul and creeping alongside Peter. Since we all seemed content to drag race left I kept with that, eventually crossing Peter when he tacked, and basically making the beat in a long starboard tack and then a port tack almost to the mark. Tacking well in a blow is not easy with the extra kicker and rake (more on this later), important to get cleanly under the boom and then quickly onto the new side and sailing again before the boat slows down too much. I actually tack faster in a blow because the boat won’t coast much against the wind and waves so I get round quickly to get power on again. Unfortunately as I looked back at the first mark Paul was still very close but I saw Peter in the water.
Down the reach from eight to six positions stayed much the same – round the mark, lift plate, ease kicker, ease outhaul, ease inhaul, ease Cunningham for the broad reach. Before the start I had checked the angle from 6 to 4 so I went straight into the gybe. Although I was in quite a lot of wind, going into the gybe from a reach is actually easier than from a run because the boat is going quicker reducing the pressure on the sail. Paul hung on in the gust for while before gybing and I think I gained a little taking the more direct line. Had to be very careful not to get above the mark but keep the boat on a dead run. Boat balance on the run in a blow is important. Too little kicker or too much plate up and the boat will roll to windward. Too much kicker and the boat will want to head up (broach). You want the helm to feel neutral with slight windward heel. If the boat starts to roll to windward, sheet in a bit and luff slightly. If it keeps doing it add more kicker. If the boat wants to luff ease the sheet right out and ease a little kicker. If you have to fight the boat it will be slow. Then watch the waves because even on a reservoir by the end of the run there are waves to be used – try to avoid the bow ploughing into a wave, angle one way of the other to find a gap in the waves.
Round up at mark 4, flat out reach to 2, keep the boat really flat and again watch the waves. I play the sheet from the boom and if possible pull the traveller back to the centre to get an easier sheeting angle. Lots of arm exercise! Keep the boat flat, bear away in the gusts and luff in the lulls. Then we’re back to the leeward mark. I try to do some of the setup on the way into the mark, plate mostly down (but remember in a blow you don’t want it all the way down), outhaul on, inhaul on, some kicker on, traveller out if appropriate. I tend to not tighten the kicker until I’m fully sheeted in on the beat when I pop the main in the cleat and tighten the kicker to match the sheet tension. Paul was still quite close but on the second beat I seemed to get away a bit and after that the race was just great sailing in strong winds. The wind was slowly veering so as predicted it paid to go initially right then take a long lifting starboard tack.
Onto the B2B – the wind really piped up for the first start with a changed course (9,8,4,3) matching the changed wind. Off the start it was really blowing, not sure I’ve been faster upwind for a long time. I had the plate only two thirds down keeping the boat well balanced with Cunningham really tight, traveller well out, outhaul tight and mainsheet pretty tight. The boat seemed to be flying, staying very close to an RS200 just ahead of me and for a long way matching a Phantom just to windward of me. Finally the Phantom drove over me so I tacked – I had really wanted to go right but just didn’t have any opportunity – I was aware that Paul had tacked off. Blasted off towards the clubhouse to see Paul a long way down (I gather he got blown over in a gust). At the windward mark I was well in touch with the RS200s, Phantoms and the N12. Very tricky from 9 to 8 with the wind coming over the bank in huge gusts and lulls, then off down the run. By the leeward mark the RS and Phantoms had pulled away a bit and the 12 was about 50 yards ahead on me. Round up at four onto the reach towards 3 I saw that Alex Storey had fallen out of the 12 which was drifting downwind much faster than he could swim. Mike was keeping the 12 up sails flapping but the drift was much faster than Alex could swim. Not seeing a safety boat close I was a bit concerned and so tacked back and picked Alex up. Thought about trying to drop him at the 12 but reckoned the risk of collision/damage too high so dropped him at the committee boat. By this time Paul was past but with the wind really up and I was able to blast up the beat and get past. We diced all the way to the finish – great fun in that weather!
The second B2B was not so good for me. Off the start I was a fraction late with Paul to windward of me. Paul tacked right and I followed. In the drag race to the right I think I gained a fraction but the wind wasn’t really howling any more. Paul tacked back onto starboard and I wasn’t sure I could cross (think probably not) so I made a slightly late decision to go for the lee bow tack. That meant I rushed it... and rolled it. Bad move, thought I could pick the boat up quickly but as soon as she came up she also tacked and rolled on top of me. Quickly round behind and pulled up again, same thing, but this time I realised that the main was cleated so as the boat came over on top of me I reached in and un-jammed the main and also eased the kicker a bit. That took a few moments so by the time I had swum round she was going turtle so a much slower righting this time with the main free the boat was stable cross wind and I could get in and start again. Of course by this time everyone was about a leg ahead. Boat handling matters, I clearly need to practice lots of tacks in strong winds with full rake and kicker. It’s only with practice that the technique holds up in tight situations.