Unlucky number 13

6 07 2009

I’m not a superstitious person and, contrary to expectations, I don’t have any stupid routines that I have to follow to avoid the world from ending.  I’ll happily sail around in a green boat in a green wetsuit, safe in the knowledge that bad luck is the least of my concerns (looking like Kermit the frog/Tin-Tin hybrid would be my primary concern…).  However, just prior to launching for the first race at the Lymington RS800 event, I admit to a quick mental doubl- take when we were handed tally number 13.  No, not in a “OH MY GOD WE’RE GOING TO DIE” way, but more in a “wouldn’t it be ironic if we have some sort of bad luck this weekend?” thought. I walked away  and dismissed the thought, safe in the knowledge that 13 is just a number.

Anyway, I won’t get into a full race report for this post, I’ll save that for my next one, but I’ll just give a quick summary of our event.

28 boats hit the water on Saturday morning and sailed out into 12 knots of South South Westerly breeze and strong flooding tide.  With bright sunshine, it was a day for sunglasses and sun screen, a good tidal understanding of the western Solent, and a couple of solid transits for the startline.  We got off to a good start, rounded the top mark second, but dropped one place in the last 50 meters of the last lap to finish 3rd, thanks to an inspired move by Spod and Guy.  In the second race we had a superb first beat, but with the wind dying down the run, we were caught by the boats chasing us and dropped 3 or 4 places, finishing 6th. Ok so far, not a bad start.  Everyone seemed to have an inconsistent few races, so we knew we were well in the running, joint second and one point off the lead.  We wanted to finish the day with another top 3, but with the wind almost completely dying we guessed that there were going to be a lot of points taken home for a few teams, so we had to make sure it wasn’t us.

I’ll write about the 3rd race in the next post.  We started well, put our nose in front of the fleet and were in contention for a top two rounding.  However, by the top mark we were in 12th spot thanks to a combination of forces that I’ll go into later.  However, we salvaged a 7th, and went home joint 3rd with two other boats.

On Sunday, we got off to another good solid start in 15 to 18 knots of breeze, finishing with a 3rd.  A big mainsheet wrap at the final top mark dropped us from an easy 2nd down to 6th, but we pulled back three spots on the last run to scramble a third place finish.

With two more races to sail, we decided to aim for another solid result before going all out for the race win in the final race.  After the first race  we guessed we were in third, so another above average score would hopefully solidify that position, and if not, would give us a chance to fight for it in the last race.  However, and this is where the luck comes in, as we hoisted for the second lap in freshening  breeze, our kite snagged on the jib somehow, tearing a panel out. Within seconds the whole sail had given way, and we were forced to abandon the race.  With another two laps left to race, we thought we may have a chance to change kites and get back out, so we rushed back to the slipway, rigged the new kite, and headed back to the startline.  Yet, as we rounded the headland, we saw the other boats lining up for the final race start. We were 6 minutes late for the start, so had to sail back home counting two DNFs in the last two races.

I don’t for a second think the tally number had anything to do with the kite ripping, but I think it’s ironic that bad luck strikes when we have a supposedly unlucky tally number.  Still, the key learnings from this event are more obvious:  We decided to sail with our training kite which was getting pretty old, trying to avoid damaging or ageing our new kite before Carnac.  We didn’t mind the loss of pace downwind, although it was fairly evident when we were in the pack, but our focus at the moment is on Carnac and the Nationals so everything else is just preparation. Still, with a decent kite I’m sure we would not have snagged it on that hoist, and it would have been nice to finish strongly.  However, we learned a hell of a lot this weekend, made some sharp tactical calls upwind, were fast in a straight line and in maneuvers and made some big tactical gains downwind, so the end result was good enough for me.

leprechaun

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Light wind racing in Stokes Bay

19 06 2009

Back in the 49er, we were always on the light side. Ok, weighing in at 148 kgs wasn’t massively light at all, but we never suffered from our weight when the wind was below 10 knots (unlike other teams).  We’ve always advocated positive thinking in all conditions, but it can be hard to do that when a light team has to fight it out in 20+knots of breeze.  However, when getting set up for a days racing in light winds, we always hit the water with confidence, know that many other teams disliked light breezes and that we had always performed well in them.  In the 800, things have reversed and we have found ourselves wishing for big winds to utilise our boat-handling skills, and not looking forward to the boring light wind races.  So, pulling up to Stokes bay on Saturday we couldn’t help but feel slightly disappointed that we were in for a light wind event.

After checking out the conditions, we decided that a sea breeze was unlikely (wrong gradient, very stable conditions) and the breeze would be varying from around 5 knots to nothing as the land heated.  Not a fun day to sail, but at least the racing would be interesting. And, man, it was.

In the first race we rounded third and picked to stay in the middle of the course down the run. All was looking good, but thanks to the sea breeze trying to switch on, the prevailing breeze began to die. Boats on the right and left began to leap frog us and we rounded the leeward mark back in 20th. Ouch.  After sailing fast out to the right, we managed to round in 16th and then pull up to 14th by the finish. Not a great start, but we figured everyone would have bad luck in these conditions so it was about minimising any big knock backs.

After an hour break on shore, we launched for race two and three.  With a westerly breeze blowing and a strong tide starting to flood, it looked to be a one sided “head right and hit the shore” day. The startline for the first race of this session was heavily pin end biased, to try to get some of the boats away from the committee boat.  On the one minute gun, we were lined up mid line, away from the big pack of boats at the committee boat end. With good transits and a tide pushing us away from the line, we sheeted in early and hit the line at pace, tacking after 20 seconds to begin to cross the fleet that were struggling to cross the heavily biased line. Heading in shore, we had three boats further in wh started to pull slightly ahead in the slackening tide. With about 10 minutes of straight port tack sailing before the layline, we settled down to sailing fast and high.  We could have footed off to try to get out of the tide a bit quicker, but in the conditions it made sense to protect our height from the guys below us.

We seemed to have very good speed, and could climb away from most boats when needing too.  In the light stuff, I concentrate on watching the leech, fore and aft trim, gusts and waves, and Jus on tell-tales and heel. Constant feedback is key, and from my time in the 49er I have a pretty good idea what the leech needs to look like, so I was constantly giving updates on sail trim to keep the pace on.

As boats below us began to tack back onto starboard, we began to foot off to make the most of the lift that we were in before having to tack ourselves. Picking our spot, we rolled her back onto starboard (slight roll to leeward to initiate, crew crosses in front of the mast, helm pops battens before crew hits the wire to pull her flat. Very important not to over balance the boat and pull her over to windward) about 25 meters in front of the right hand boats.  We had a nice lead on the fleet out right, and had tacked to consolidate, but now the boats who started right on the pin end were looking better and better, hooking into a nice left hand shift and going bow high on port in the middle of the course.  The tide was obviously more even across the course than we first thought, and heading middle left was beginning to pay. Within 100 meters of the bouy, 3 boats flicked back onto starboard to round just in front of us, with the leader 60 meters ahead and number 3 right on our bow.

We had a fast hoist (the 800 kite is incredibly light compared to the 49er..) and managed to roll the 3rd placed boat immediately.  Down the run, middle looked light so we elected to ignore the leaders gybing off and stayed on starboard heading into the middle of the Solent. Using transits, Jus picked the gybe point and nailed the layline from what must have been half of the length of the course away.  Although we hadn’t pulled up any places, we had gained about 60 meters and rounded nose to tail with #1 and #2.

Starting the second lap, we rounded well and managed to have clear air from the other boats slightly below and in front of us. With the wind in a left phase, we elected to follow the leaders out right. After exchanging a few tacks under the shore, we tacked back with the other two boats and headed for the windward mark.  The vast majority of the fleet had followed us out right, but two boats elected to play the middle.  Within 100 meters of the mark, these boats began to pay, again hooking into a left shift whilst we were struggling to reach the mark in light breeze and a tide hitting us on the starboard beam.  In hindsight, we should have sailed for pace, but we got caught in a pointing mode in light breeze as we struggled to reach the mark, and lost out to two boats coming in from the port layline.  On the run, not much happened, everyone covered everyone else and we crossed the line in 5th.

It was an interesting race.  We had a great start and played it by the book up the beats.  Surprisingly, heading in shore to get out of the tide didn’t work as well as we would have thought, and we lost out to boats on the left on both beats.  Still, we had good boat speed and starts so we were pretty happy.

I’ll write more about the other races in a separate post. Any feedback from anyone, leave a comment.





49er Nationals 2008

20 08 2008

We’re just getting ready for the 49er Nationals in Weymouth this weekend.  I personally think it’s a shame that it’s only a 3 day event, which is nothing compared to most other classes getting week long events for their National Championships.  Anyway, 3 days means that you really have to get the good results in early to do well, so it’s going to come down to who has the best start on Saturday.

We’ve worked hard on fitness over the last few months since Kiel.  We’ve both been riding 3 or 4 times a week for about an hour and a half each time.  We’ve been hitting the gym very hard, trying to get the extra weight needed (and have seen an increase of 3kg to bring us up to 150kg since Kiel) and have worked on flexibility and overall conditioning to reduce injury risks etc.  Although we were fast in the breeze in Kiel, with some good boat handling in the big stuff, the extra weight should help us out for the next windy event.  Lets hope it’s the Nationals.

I’ll keep you posted on how things go.





Alp D’Huez vs. Alp de Watlington

29 07 2008

So we’ve been training hard on the bikes in our spare time.  Although we only manage two or three days sailing each week, we supliment this with 4 or 5 rides and gym session days to keep the fitness high.

I live in Oxford and Jus lives in Southampton, so we have to have pretty high motivation to train on our own.  Flat rides are ok when you have someone to talk to and draft behind when you’re pushing the pace, but it gets very boring on your own.  However, I’m lucky enough to live 20 minutes of cycling away from the edge of the Thames Valley which means I’m spoilt for choice when it comes to hill climbing.  Unfortunately, I’m completely the wrong size for cycling up hills.  for my height, a professional hill climber would aim to weigh in at 66kg, a full 16kg lighter than me.  couple that with having a 5kg bike rather than my alloy one, and I have to carry almost an extra 24kg up the hills.  However, I still love hill climbing, and use it in my rides to push my VO2 max levels for those windy days.

Yesterday i finished work and jumped on the bike, looking for a new route.  i have a rough idea of where i was going, so headed off towards the hills.  After 30 minutes, I found the sweetest hill climb around here, the A40 that runs alongside the M40 near the Stokenchurch cutting.  Where as the M40 cuts straight through the hill, the A40 winds up the back of it, through thick forest.  It turned out to be 15 minutes of steep , out of saddle climbing which really got me thinking.  Now, I’m pretty fit.  for example, on the way back we have a long straight road through open fields, which I always flat out sprint, at around 190 bpm, which lasts for around 5 minutes.  This is fine, no problem, but at the top of that hill I was spent.  Sure, I had raced up it as fast as I could push myself, but compared to real cyclists I have nothing.  in 2004, Lance Armstrong time trialled up the Alp D’Huez, an epic mountain climb in France in a record time of 37 minutes and 36 seconds.

How anyone can race up such a huge steep hill for 37 minutes is beyond me, and truly puts the Alp de Watlington into perspective.

Right, time to get back to training.  I have a LONG way to go…

the 21 bends of the Alp d'Huez

the 21 bends of the Alp d'Huez





Kiel Week day 2

22 07 2008

So day 2 was an awful day for us.  The breeze was slightly higher than day one, and we just couldn’t manage to get the boat going all day.  It was offshore from day 2 onwards, so it was gusty and shifty, which didn’t help us finding the groove, but all in all we just sailed badly.  It wasn’t until the final race that we finally figured it out and hit the groove, but by then, after 4 races, it was too late and we ended with 3 bad scores.

On the final run of the 3rd race, we gybed on the layline and dropped to the knots to finish.  With about 100 metres to go (we were absolutely flying, in around 18 knots and slightly below the layline), we heard a massive bang.  After a few second of desperately checking the rig, everything seemed ok.  We finished, and dropped the kite.  I did a quick check of the rig, to discover that the shackle holding the spinny block to the top of the mast had exploded.  Great, one more race and we’ve just lost our spinny block.  Without a support RIB, we had to capsize and spend 10 minutes tying a new block to the mast tip.  Luckily we finished with about a minute to go before the next sequence, and got to the start line in time.

So day two dropped us into the silver fleet.  We had set out to pick up 4 top 14 results which would put us in gold, but a bit of inexperience and lack of racing this year meant that we had to spend the rest of the week in silver fleet.  Still, silver fleet is always pretty good quality (well, the top half is) so we packed up and went to prepare for tomorrow.





Kiel Week day one

3 07 2008

Ok So I’m going to try to recount the racing on each day for the 4 days we raced at Kiel week.  I meant to do this earlier, but we struggled to get wireless during the event.  I’ll try to keep it as factual as possible, so if I start talking about 50 knot gusts or dragons then I apologise.  I have a very active imagination…

ok, so day one gave us onshore breeze of around 16 – 18 knots with pretty big waves.  This was our first day of Grade 1 racing all year due to us missing Palma and Hyeres with family problems, and we couldn’t have asked for more difficult conditions.  Upwind we were wiring higher than usual to clear the steep waves, and downwind we were making big turns and choking the kite to keep us from pitchpoling.  Our aim for the day, due to us being a little rusty in strong wind and waves, was to get the boat round the track upright and get some decent starts.  We pulled some turns on as the breeze built (up to 34 on the shrouds) and started hunting for the gaps on the start line.

At our last event, we worked out a decent starting sequence of waiting for half the fleet to park up at around 1.30 to go before finding a hole and parking.  At between 1.30 and 30 seconds we would look for a double tack to put us right under the windward boat.  Judging our distance from the line, Jus would take the jib from me at 30 seconds and I’d pre-set the controls before triggering anything between 10 and 4 seconds to go.  Now for some reason, at 1.30 the entire fleet was parked up wing to wing on the VERY short startline.  Oh crap, plan B it is then.

We hunted for a smaller hole at the other end of the line and ending up starting front row but a little slow.  At the top we rounded 12th after clocking up some good lanes and having some pretty decent speed.  We pulled the bear away (easy stuff, our bearaways kicked ass all week, even in 25 knots) and popped the kite.  Down the runs we were rapid (new kite) and gybed in the waves without any problems.  We rounded the leeward mark (for some stupid reason, a big life raft full of photographers who were there all day but didn’t manage to take a single decent picture…) and ended up finishing the race 16th after dropping a few places at the second leeward mark.

Second race was very similar.  Lots of capsizing for many boats and plenty of kite choking downwind to slow the boat before we slam into the next wave.  Second race we finish 15th.

Final race, we nail the start and throw caution to the building wind by refusing to choke the kite in the waves.  We scream down both runs picking up places as other boats flip out.  We come into the final gybe on the second run (out of three), nail the boat onto the layline and charge into the mark, picking up another place to jump up to 4th.  As we round the leeward mark, following nose to tail with the guy in 3rd, we both hit the wire as Jus sheets in the main.  The guys we had just overtaken were gybe dropping round the mark in a pack, and we sailed into there big bad air at the wrong time.  The boat pitched into to windward without giving us a second to think, and we dropped back to 20th at the finish.  The day should have been much better with us finishing in 27th (gold fleet qulification standard after two days) if it wasn’t for the capsize.  We made a few mistakes that were so stupid but easy to fix with more practice, so we aren’t to unhappy with our work.

A few of the Brits had a great day.  Dylan and Alain and Rashley and Shrek both sailed blinders.

We got off the water and headed back to the tent for some Pasta and lots of water.





Riding

6 06 2008

I’ve tried all kinds of training for sailing. Running is like watching dust dry, swimming is as enjoyable as juggling with bricks (wearing a blindfold) and don’t get me started on the “I’ll play rugby to get fit” (ok, I learned how to get punched in the face, which is a useful skill for sailing occasionally, but it’s tricky sailing with a broken back…). Sure, I hear you cry (or mutter), sailing is the best fitness for sailing, but I’ve got a business to run during the day…

So what’s the answer? Cycling. Over the winter, i was running 4 days a week for around 45 minutes at a time. Watching the seconds tick by was torture, and 45 minutes seemed to last a liftime.  Picking up cycling though has opened my eyes. A two hour ride flashes past in an instant, and I just can’t get enough. Sure, I’m now adding more carbon to my bike then you find on a stealth plane (costing me a fortune) but it’s all worth it when I hit the water in breeze and don’t even feel the pace.

Seriously, if you want to get fit then get a bike. If you want to improve the whole “how to wear a gum shield when I have no teeth for it to stick to” technique, then play rugby. Just whatever you do don’t take up running instead. Like a retarded midget, it’s not big and it’s not clever. (I’m going to hell for that joke…)