Saturday, June 20, 2009

RTIR 2009: 50th overall

Arabella came in 50th overall this year - not as good as her best result of 30th overall in 2007, but if anyone had suggested beforehand that we would manage two top 50 placings in three years, I wouldn't have believed them. We should have done somewhat better, in fact - but that's racing for you.

Above: Some fun ArabellaCam (tm) footage captured us surfing under spinnaker between the Needles and St Catherines Point. To view all Arabella's vids, go to Arabella's Movie Gallery or her new YouTube Channel.

We drifted over the start line on the tide, in no wind at all, but as the breeze filled in, things began to speed up.

Above and below: A civilised start-time for a change, but no wind!

As the GPS track below shows, we picked up the tidal conveyor through Hurst just right, and had a tremendous run round the back of the Island - surfing down the waves under spinnaker at up to 9.4 knots - and rolled over what looked like hundreds of boats.

Above: Rounding the Needles, quite a long way back in the fleet........(image copyright Sailing Scenes, used with permission).

Above and find rather a lot of boats in front of us....(below image copyright Sailing Scenes, used with permission).

Below:...although thankfully not too far ahead of us...

Above and below: ...and after a few hours of surfing downwind, rather of lot of them now seemed to be behind us :-)

At this point we were beginning to entertain thoughts of a very good result indeed, but it all went wrong for us on the final leg up the Eastern Solent. We found ourselves becalmed in a sea of much, much larger boats squeezing round the easternmost marker post for Ryde Sands. In all the dirty air, our sails flapped uselessly, while the big boats with their taller rigs proceeded to sailed over us, and we went backwards on the tide.

Above and below: The marine car park at the eastern Ryde Sands post (visible centre) and what it cost us in terms of progress.

We wasted an hour like that, first heading out into the main channel to see if we could get clean air but finding that the breeze had died off. Eventually, we got brave and headed back inshore, passing through the marine car park once again. We then tiptoed along the edge of the sands, once touching them and (luckily) tacking back off, until we picked up a favourable eddy right up against the Island shore. With what little wind there was, we and a few other brave souls that had stayed close in managed to pull back some of the places we had lost.

In the circumstances, we decided that getting 50th overall was a better result than we had any right to expect. But we also learned some important lessons which we will try to apply next time:

  • Arabella sails so much better to windward than before as a result of her new sails. But they can't save her when she is trapped in the dirty air from larger boats. To a point, at least, clean air matters more than a fair tide. After the debacle at Ryde, we learned to cover our windward side, agressively if necessary, by sailing so far inshore that anyone bigger would have been suicidal to follow us. That policy paid good dividends as we worked up the Island shore, recovering some of the tens of places we had lost.
  • Sailing inshore is not free from risk, but as well as encountering less adverse tide close in against Ryde, we also picked up a favourable eddy close inshore between Norris and the Shrape, while competitors further out were visibly still stemming the tide.
  • At the relatively late stage at which we tend to reach Ryde, the flood is well established but with a few hours of rise still to go. That does mean we can have two or more metres of tide under us, with which to scrape over the sands. I think that I will recce that area in more detail in the coming months, and see whether the fabled inshore route is viable for Arabella on a rising tide. It would be handy to have that knowledge in our tactical toolkit for next time.

Conditions: NW backing SW, later veering W F1 - F4, mixed cloud and sunshine. Sea state: slight to moderate.
Distance covered (GPS over ground): 76.3 NM
Total distance covered to date (2009): 111.7 NM
Engine hours: 3.9 (total for 2009: 8.0 hours)

Friday, June 19, 2009

Final Preparations

The last bits of deck gear were installed on Arabella with two days to spare before this year's Round The Island Race...

Above: New halyard winch fitted to the mast.

Above and below: New Harken adjustable genoa track

In addition, a new outhaul had been fitted, which now gave a decent purchase when the time case for hardening it up. With new sails and all these go faster bits on board, and with her interior stripped out, Arabella was starting to look like a proper little racing yacht - if, that is, you were prepared to ignore her twin keels.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Going Pro (as it were)

Never being one to miss up the chance of playing with a new gadget, I have invested in the new GoPro Wide POV Cam, in the hope of capturing some decent footage of the RTIR.

I've toyed with the idea of using action cams in the past, but have been discouraged by the poor quality video output of the consumer-priced models that were available and unwilling to shell out for professional quality kit. Now that GoPro have brought out reasonably-priced models with 5 megapixel quality and wide angle lenses, however, I thought I'd give it a go.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Match Racing

More corporate sailing - taking 27 clients and colleagues out on three Beneteau 40.7's with OnDeck Sailing . Training in the morning, and match racing in the afternoon. OnDeck are really good at organising these events and I highly recommend them if you're looking to organise a client day that's a bit different from the norm.

However, it is important to guard against your guests becoming over-tired ;-))

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Second Time Singlehanded

Above: Reefed down and goose-winged in a has since been pointed out to me that you reef a loose-footed mainsail properly by securing the bunt by tying it around the foot of the sail, not around the boom...

The forecast had predicted cooler, cloudier weather and easterly F3-4 breezes. It got the direction right, at least.

The sun was shining brightly, but of slightly more concern to Arabella and me, having exited the marina swiftly and smoothly, was the fact that no way was this a F3-4. The breeze had strengthened and veered sharply from NE to SE just before lunchtime, while I was still attacking Arabella's coachroof with the orbital polisher. Now, bouncing into an increasingly choppy flood tide with the tillerpilot struggling to hold Arabella's head into the wind, I was seriously wondering whether it had been wise to come out on my own today.

I managed to get the main up, opting for two reefs. As things would turn out, I'd be very glad I had put those reefs in, as the wind briefly touched the top of a F5 - 20 knots - before settling to 17-18 knots and staying there for the rest of the afternoon. Letting out about a third of the genoa, I pulled the kill switch on the outboard and started sailing.

I made a complete pig's ear of my first tack, and the second too. The net gain to windward was zero, although the sails flogged most impressively, if I say so myself.

That was frustrating, but I saw little point in turning back. Granted this was a bit more of a step up than I had intended from the benign conditions of my first singlehanded effort eleven months ago. But I was out now, and if I couldn't get this bloody yacht to windward singlehanded in a steady F5, then I might was well give up all thoughts of independence and go back to pottering round under tuition from the long-suffering Roger. Or put another way, if I could do it, then an awful lot else that the Solent will usually chuck at you would seem that much easier.

I glanced up to my right, at the Southampton VTS control tower. I was making a dick of myself right in front of them. I could just imagine them, watching me through the panoramic control tower window and having a wry chuckle at my antics.

Increasingly frustrated and angry, I had another go, and another, and another. Bit by bit, the tacks improved, the sails were trimmed a little better between tacks and the gain to windward increased. So lost was I in concentration that quite a time passed before I realised a couple of things.

Absently glancing over my shoulder, I saw that Arabella and I had travelled long way upwind, despite the adverse tide. Dock Head had fallen well back into the distance. And those three dinghy racer thingies, which had emerged out of Netley some time earlier, all hiking out, flying spinnakers and capsizing, were no longer rocketing past me as quickly as they had been. Not surprising, with 5.4 knots showing on the log.

I had chosen to sacrifice a bit of pointing in exchange for more speed, as I relentlessly tested my hypothesis that speed would kill off Arabella's leeway, and just as on the previous such occasion, it appeared to be true. I trimmed the sails a little bit more, and watched the log reading climb to 5.7 knots. And stay there.

This was becoming fun, all of a sudden. I put in another tack, refining my technique. I was finding that, without the encumbrance of crew sharing the cockpit, what I lost in helping hands I made up for in other ways. More space to work in, for a start, but other, more subtle gains as well.

Once the bow had passed through the wind and began to pay off, there was a short time - 3 seconds, perhaps - in which the helm could be abandoned, and the genoa sheeted in hard by hand, before Arabella succumbed to the urge to round up . Then, staying on the low side of the boat, I could take the helm with one hand, and the winch-handle with the other. Once the genoa had started to draw on the new tack and Arabella had begun to accelerate, I could gradually sheet on the winch in while luffing gently up , then finally trim the mainsheet to the telltales.

I was trying to apply the principles I had been reading about in the racing and sail trim books, about "going up through the gears" as boatspeed increased following each tack. I was quite sure I was getting the practical application of much of the detail completely wrong, but I got the general principle, and since it suited my approach of sailing for speed first and pointing second, I was happy to apply it.

Combining all of the tasks in a single person was not physically easy in these demanding conditions. But because only one person's central nervous system was involved, the co-ordination between the trimmer and the helm was seamless. The trimmer could trim the sails to the course steered by the helm, or indeed the helm could steer to the sails. And I had stopped looking at the log - I could feel Arabella accelerating, even in small degrees, through the seat of my pants and tweak the course or sail trim accordingly. This was a sensation that I had never previously experienced, only ever read about, but on this day it was palpable.

I glanced at the log anyway, and was rewarded with 5.8 knots for just the briefest of instants, before Arabella fell back into the groove at 5.7 knots again. Upwind. In a F5. With two reefs in. And two keels, come to think of it. Awesome.

I tacked round downwind, goose winged the main and genoa, and headed back for home. And - oh, yes, I nearly forgot - took a picture, the only one I took all day. Too busy sailing, you see!

Conditions: NE veering SE F5, mainly sunny. Sea state: slight.
Distance covered (GPS over ground): 12.1 NM
Total distance covered to date (2009): 35.4 NM
Engine hours: 2.2 (total for 2009: 4.1 hours)