Solo news 13 May
Results for Sunday as follows
5180 Mark Ampleford
5241 Paul Playle
4073 Peter Cottrell
3174 Roy Poole
3861 Dave Clark
On Duty. Mervyn Cinnamond and Peter Halliday
On Sunday I took advantage of a nice day for a day out and flew the Island Barn flag at the Maidenhead Open Meeting. Meanwhile back at the Barn Mark Ampleford took the morning race. Here’s his account (slightly edited.) Mark’s account in italic – my comments in plain.
We got out there to shifty conditions and the race officer elected to amend the original course so 8 became the windward mark of the trapezoid course. Pre-start Paul and I practiced tacks for a bit refining our pre-roll only to find in the race it was normally a matter of tacking once a shift had happened so no opportunity for pre-roll at all.
Mark makes a great point that when practicing you are working on the perfect tack where you have the luxury of planning when to make the tack. You heel the boat a bit more before the tack to help the boat turn, but if you are tacking right on a wind shift it’s too late to do that. He’s right – you should practice both ‘planned’ tacks with the extra roll and ‘instant tacks’ where you have no time to start the roll – however in the ‘instant tack’ case you are also rotating the boat less. What is important in an ‘instant tack’ is getting your weight in quickly - what you really don’t want to do is to force the boat into the tack when it is heeling to windward because now the rig is fighting the rudder and you have to use more helm and that just stops the boat. That said it is a judgement call and sometimes you just have to make the best of it – if the shift is so large you just have to tack. You have to develop a good feel for when the boat has sufficiently rotated – the amount you turn will change a lot if you have are tacking on a big header. However the end of the tack should feel the same so all your practice learning to feel the rig come over and when to straighten up and power out of the tack still applies.
I was erring toward the right of the line. I watched the RS200s in the handicap fleet and the boats that started by the committee boat seemed to do well. The lasers pretty much all missed the start but on checking with 90 seconds to go by going head to wind on the line I was still erring toward a committee boat start. With about 30 seconds to go I was lining up for the committee boat end. Paul sailed by and I aggressively defended my spot next to the committee boat with little idea he actually preferred the other end of the line. I am sure in hindsight he would have sailed around my transom and avoided the confrontation. As the start approached I could see most of the fleet heading to the pin so I headed down the line a bit to be conservative. On the start Roy was on the pin (port end) at pace and in the lead (I had misjudged the line bias). Paul was a bit behind me just to leeward. About 1 minute in most of the fleet tacked onto port as a shift happened and I wasn’t looking too good being on the right of the fleet everyone else was on the inside of the port lift. Lucky I had been a bit conservative and dropped down the line a bit or I would have been in trouble. I was still in the mix and have reasonable boat speed.
Later in the beat I saw a dark patch of breeze approaching from the left and headed to the left on my own, sailing on a header to get there. I am normally quite conservative and didn’t want to leave the fleet but stuck out to get to the breeze mindful of Jim Hunt telling me off for wimping out during the training in a similar situation. “If you are going to go out on a limb for some breeze don’t ponce out before you get to it” was how he put it I think.
Once in this breeze I had a clear lead of about 8 or 10 boat lengths but got a bit carried away on the reach. Over reacting to gusts and lulls and steering too long a course between the buoys (testament to my time spent in faster boats). Later in the race I was more careful – still soaking down in gusts but more gently. I sailed a fairly conservative race from here playing the shifts up the middle and keeping an eye on the fleet. I did go fairly far to the left on one run when there seemed to be much more wind in the middle of the lake on the preceding reach.
Paul was eating away at my lead at times and at times I was pulling away a bit. However on lap 3 I got a massive lift which lasted for about 2 minutes meaning I more or less sailed straight toward the windward mark. I had seen the lift hit the 200s further up the beat so headed to the left to get on the inside of the lift. When Paul came around the mark the wind was back to normal for him so he rather lost out. This killed of any hopes he had so a bit of luck came my way.
I like the way Mark makes use of the other fleets – boats ahead are wonderful wind indicators. If you can accurately predict what the wind will do you can plan so much better!
I normally fade a bit later in the race in the solo. I have always had a crew to discuss things with in the past and that has helped my focus. I have been working hard on concentrating throughout the race on doing the little things well. Nice tacks, main sheeted to always keep the top leach take flicking upwind (approx 80 flowing-20 flicking) etc, always looking around for more wind and looking up the beat to the other classes to see any gusts, lulls or shifts that could be of use to me.
Meanwhile over at Maidenhead we also had a shifty wind with added hazards of islands, trees and shallows although to be fair it is a lot more open round their lake than many. I think the most important part at Maidenhead was to be flexible and take advantage of each puff – the wind strength kept varying from sat on the deck (sometimes even sat in the middle) up to fully hiked and planning on the reaches. Keeping the boat flat and driving takes a lot of concentration and then you have to be always looking ahead to see the next patch of wind. Fairly critical to spot patches of wind and use them (as Mark says he did at the club). It’s very easy to get locked into working the boat and forget to look round.
Upwind in those conditions you are looking to accelerate in the gusts keeping flat and then point up – assuming the gust frees slightly you ease sheets a fraction as it hits to avoid the sail stalling, soften the impact of the gust and translate it into acceleration and boat speed - then gently sheet in and point up. Really it’s all one continuous action but the goal is to get boat-speed on as the gust strikes rather than having everything too hard and being pushed sideways. The other tricky part is when you get the reverse – do you have a header or just a lull. If the wind drops it will always feel like a header because the apparent wind comes from in front (imagine the wind stopped completely, the boat would be coasting forwards so you would feel a wind from straight in front). If you think it is a lull don’t tack and don’t bear away much either – sit in and coast for a moment to see if the breeze re-establishes as the boat slows down. You must keep the boat level. On the other hand if you still feel wind and are sure it has headed proceed into the tack. I try to let the boat coast for a few moments to see if it just a flicker in the wind or a real shift. What I don’t want to do is bear away hard into the header and then force the boat to tack. Either coast and let the wind re-establish (maybe bear away very gently because you will be naturally heeled to windward for a moment) or coast and then continue into a tack.
Good tacks can gain places - I was able to gain a place just after a mark on Sunday – I was right on the tail of the boat in front as we rounded up. We both heeled the boat as we rounded up to help the turn and then pulled the boat up as we became close hauled. I watched the boat in front pull his tiller and start to bear away (either he’d rounded up too far or had a small header) so I rolled straight into an tack. He tried to cover but because he was bearing away as I tacked he had to force his boat round while I made a smooth tack so I was able to get clear air to leeward and come out of the tack faster. Then with a bit of working the puffs I managed to accelerate and pull clear ahead. In very shifty conditions though you can’t get it right all the time. Be quick to recognise when you’ve got it wrong (tacked but the wind came back etc.) and switch back on again and get back up to speed quickly – it will happen to everyone so not getting flustered and losing as little as possible is sometimes the only option.
Sometimes though you just have to laugh – about thirty seconds before the start of the last race I realised I was too far up and the wind was freeing a bit so I peeled into a gybe luff and tack to come back in again further up the line. Now I was coming in with speed trying to make sure I burst through into clear air (not too many boats so possible) with an almost stopped boat in front and to windward. As I overlapped him I became right of way to leeward – I have to give him opportunity to keep clear because I’ve just become the right of way (he was right of way while clear ahead). He correctly started to luff but he didn’t pull his sail in. I suspect one of those rogue freeing gusts came and pushed his boom right out and I couldn’t quite miss it – just caught the very end of his boom with my forestay as I tried to bear away and keep clear - then it hooked on! I think he has a lug there for an outhaul rope knot. It wouldn’t come free so I was pushing him forwards and round so he then effectively pulled me into a tack or at least head to wind just as the gun went. Two solos locked in a mating embrace while the fleet started round us only finally freeing as I backed my sail and reversed out. Lots of shouting at both of us so I did a precautionary 720 – still haven’t decided for sure who was right or wrong. I think if he had sheeted in there would have been no problem but maybe I was too close. Anyway now I’m starting at the back so I decide to go hard right (port tack) to get some clear air. That found a shallow patch so when the plate hit something I went into a crash tack – probably over vigorous and with only half plate... I simply rolled straight over! Now I’m last AND capsized... fortunately only waist deep so I could hop out let the boat drain as I righted and get back in quickly. Not sure what my chances were at that point but as Churchill famously said NEVER, NEVER , NEVER give in. Yes it is possible to recover from a bad first beat, but it is a lot easier if you make a good start – and as I said last week in a big fleet it is essential to make a decent start. In a small fleet you can get away with it a bit more because there is still some clear air to be had. What you really MUST do though is put the mistake behind you and look forward at how you can get back in the race.
See you Wed/