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.

Getting back on the horse (And training in Stokes Bay)

10 06 2009

Yeah I know, my blogging over the last few months has left much to be desired, so I’ve decided to make up for it with a concerted effort over the next few months.  With a number of events in the RS800, I hope to have a fair bit of content to talk about.  The last few months have pretty much just been training, and unlike in the 49er, the 800 doesn’t give you a whole load of stories to tell unless it is really blowing hard. So, to avoid boring you all to death I decided to leave the blogging until we had something to say.

Well, We were meant to race in Weymouth a few weekends ago, but the van decided to break down on the way there, so we retreated to Lymington (after packing the boat up at 11pm on Friday night) to unpack and get two days sailing in. But, with a bit of luck we will be in Stokes bay this weekend for racing so I’ll write an update then.

Training last weekend was good. We took part in Spod’s class association training day on Saturday and then fleet racing on Sunday. The highlight of Saturday was either trying to skewer Spod on the end of our pole when we went for a 20 knot gybe-pop-gybe-drop around his stationary RIB. We mis-judged the second gybe and left it a bit late. Still, we were awarded a score of 10/10 for the bail out, so that was nice. A close second to this was bearing-away in big breeze in the mouth of Portsmouth harbour, diving down a rather large wave (I admit to casually mentioning the F word about 3 times on the way down, it was that big a wave)  before slamming into the one in front. The whole boat stood on it’s nose, but crazily, popped back up without flipping over. Man, if that was the 49er we would have landed somewhere in Berkshire…