Thursday, August 05, 2010

Ist at Cowes Week

Um yes, once again, it wasn't Arabella that pulled off this remarkable result, but an Ondeck Farr 65, Spirit of Isis, that I had chartered for corporate hospitality purposes.  Still, I was chuffed to come first.  That doesn't happen very often.

Image copyright Paul Wyeth, used with permission

Record-breaking Vendee Globe and Team Pindar skipper Brian Thompson had, somewhat foolishly, agreed to return to act as our fearless leader.  Especially foolishly, when you think about it, because his crew for this event was a motley bunch of experienced sailors, people who think boats are for drinking on, and complete beginners. 

Image copyright Paul Wyeth, used with permission
At least on the Round The Island Race, Brian's crew had had sufficient experience to give him a fighting chance at a decent result.  On this occasion, he would be competing with one hand tied behind his back.

The other Ondeck skippers scented a chance for glory - they could claim Brian's scalp in this race, and tart up their own CVs.  But they hadn't reckoned on the psychology of our crew.  Even the oldest and paunchiest of them is successful for a reason.  Once they became aware of the stakes, their innate competitiveness came to the fore.

Image copyright Paul Wyeth, used with permission

Image copyright Paul Wyeth, used with permission
If, sometimes, we didn't look entirely comfortable romping around the boat - and Brian's ultra-competitive helming didn't make any of the sail changes and spinnaker hoists as easy as they might have been - that in no way detracted from the 19 minute lead that Spirit of Isis had opened up over its nearest challenger by the time we crossed the finish line.

Image copyright Paul Wyeth, used with permission

Despite being bruised and very, very tired at the end of the day, every guest lavished superlatives on their experience.  Words like 'inspirational' and 'motivational' were sprinkled liberally across every thank-you.  Sometimes, it seems, it doesn't hurt to push people beyond their comfort zone.

Image copyright Paul Wyeth, used with permission

Image copyright Paul Wyeth, used with permission
P.S.  Yes, I know.  There's been hardly anything about Arabella all year, and yes, I do appreciate that Pandora enthusiasts are probably getting bored of this non-Pandora stuff by now.  Rest assured, Arabella is being lovingly cared for, and marginally improved in one or two minor respects.  For a variety of business-related reasons that can't be commented upon now, but will emerge in dribs and drabs in later posts, in that irritating way of mine, there hasn't been much chance for me to sail other than for corporate purposes.  Hopefully, but maybe not, there will be  more Arabella posts this autumn, especially if that "Indian Summer" they're promising arrives...

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Back in the water

Arabella was craned back in to the water on Friday, June 25th.  Throughout a busy autumn and winter, I had been dependent on Will at Blue Yacht Management to clean and maintain Arabella, continue with the refitting work and generally keep an eye on her.  Will is a  rarety in the marine trades world - he provides a reliable and professional service - and he had gone out of his way to report on his gardiennage visits and on progress with his work over the past nine months.  Even so, I was keen to get down to the coast and check Arabella out for myself.

I fidgeted through a business meeting, with a like-minded client who, fortunately for me, didn't care what he sailed as long as it wasn't a desk.  The other side must have wondered why we were being so reasonable and agreeing to everything.  Even then the meeting dragged on long after it was supposed to have ended and we debated, briefly, abandoning our plan before opting to go for it even if it meant only getting a couple of hours out on the water.

Above and below:  a benign forecast and (spring) tides timed just right for an afternoon's sailing - provided we got away from the marina by 1600...

It was already 4.00pm by the time we had opened up the boat, the missing battery switch key had been located, the engine started and warmed up, and the sail cover stowed away.  My marina is no place in which to attempt berthing manouevres once the ebb starts running, and it was about to start running very fast indeed.  Without stopping to admire Will's handiwork, we set off just as fast as we could.

It was worth the effort.  Even the briefest of glances below decks revealed that Will had a little more work to do just yet before the latest refit jobs were completed, but everything above decks was working and that was all we needed to take Arabella out for a spin.  Some fairly chunky gusts, well up into F5, came through as we motored rapidly down river on the building ebb and I hurriedly rigged the first reefing line, just in case we needed it - the sails had only gone back on that morning and no-one had had time to sort slab reefing lines as yet.  We didn't need to reef, however.  The breeze settled down to a F4 southwesterly, and I opted to leave a little of the genoa furled to balance Arabella's main, which is very small indeed.  With the wind a little forward of the beam, and the spring ebb under us, we fairly hurtled down Southampton Water on a single fetch.  The log read 6.5 knots steady through the water, which I reckoned was over-reading somewhat, since our SOG was barely a knot more than that, but whatever, Arabella was evidently in a racy kind of mood today.  She's always at her best on a reach in a good breeze, and perhaps also she was trying to make a point - you might have done the RTI in a 45-footer at 8 knots or more, but I'm no slouch either, she seemed to be saying, and I'm more fun!

She was right.  She was fun.  A lot more fun than most other 37 year-old females of my acquaintance. We rocketed past Netley, the Hamble entrance and Calshot in barely an hour, stealing back the leeway we lost from time to time with brief spells of splashy, close-hauled sailing as Arabella drove through the grey chop.  Once we had cleared Calshot Reach and the breeze hit a steady F5 from the western Solent, we executed our one and only tack for the day, and settled down for a slightly less bouncy broad reach back home, into the final hour and a half of the ebb.  

Above: Settling down onto the broad reach back home.  Not sure I believe that log, though...

Our SOG dwindled, and we had more time to relax and survey our surroundings, including the extraordinarily unprepossessing Jakarta Tower, a 35,000t DWT, 213m LOA lump that had chosen to anchor, stern to a buoy, in the middle of Southampton Water.

The breeze began to die off as evening approached, but the ebb was also slackening, and before too long we were motoring back up the Itchen as I furled away the genoa and dropped the main.  At 7.30pm, almost perfect timing for low water, we drifted gently into Arabella's berth at the marina, closed her up and ran for the train back to London.

Above and below:  Our GPS track today, care of PassagePlus.

There was just time to make a quick mental note of a couple of things to raise with Will about the refit - and because he takes pride in his work, I won't reveal here the things he is still working on, but I could see they were going to be great when they were finished.

Days like this make boat ownership worthwhile.  

Below:  the Bramblemet report for 29th June.

Conditions: SW, F4, occasionally F5, mixed cloud and sunshine. Sea state: slight
Distance covered (GPS over ground): 15.8 NM
Total distance covered to date (2010): 15.8 NM
Engine hours: 1.1 (total for 2010: 1.1 hours)

Monday, June 28, 2010

Going Pro (HD)

Last year, I played around with a GoPro Hero Wide wearable camera, and got some not-bad-quality footage. It was the first consumer-level actioncam that I felt produced satisfactory video, but it still had its limitations. This year, GoPro have launched the Hero in an HD version. Having checked out some of the pretty impressive HD Hero footage on YouTube, I have decided to splash out and order one.
The HD Hero 'Naked' version comes with the new-size waterproof housing (it's bigger than its predecessor) but otherwise is compatible with all the GoPro camera mounting accessories, so I can still use it with the bits I purchased last year.

Apart from the option to shoot in 1080p, 960p, and 720p in 30 and 60 fps (720p) - which is a quantum leap in image quality - the new HD Hero comes with a rechargeable lithium-ion battery with about 2.5 hours' life, which is a step up from constantly changing AAA batteries to keep the thing running (annoyingly the AAAs would discharge in no time at all, even with the camera turned off).

Arabella's first sail of the season is tomorrow, if the weather gods remain in a benign mood, which is likely to be before deliver the new camera. But if all goes well, and the HD Hero lives up to its hype, footage will start appearing in susbsequent posts.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Round The Island Race 2010

2nd in IRC Division 1C. 7th in IRC Group 1. If you're wondering how Arabella managed that, you're correct: she didn't. This exceptionally good result was achieved by the pithily named Squire Sanders Dempsey Hurricane, an Elan 450 skippered by Brian Thompson of Team Pindar and Vendee Globe fame.

Above: Image copyright Beken of Cowes, used with permission

After three consecutive years of racing Arabella in the RTIR - an experience that, as recounted elsewhere on this blog, is a little bit like spending 10 hours inside a bucking, heaving, washer-dryer - I felt ready for a change. It was also a great opportunity to combine sailing with corporate hospitality. And to practice nav/tac on a much faster boat and a far less forgiving skipper than usual...

Above: Oo-er. No idea what Brian's looking at, but I'd better look interested too in case it's important...

Moving up from the slowest ISC-rated class into IRC Group 1 brought with it some interesting challenges, not least the 0530 start which necessitated being on the boat by 0400. After watching England's dismal World Cup performance against Algeria in the pub in Cowes the night before, and tossing and turning in uncomfortable berths on board for a few hours, it was a bleary-eyed crew that assembled in the cockpit in the pre-dawn darkness, still suffering from the aches and pains of the previous day's practice.

Soon enough, however, we were treated to a glorious sunrise as we positioned ourselves for the start. Everyone's spirits lifted from there on in, and we enjoyed some fantastic downwind sailing in a light, steady, north-easterly on the first leg down to the Needles.

Below:  Two images of SSD Hurricane on the leg down to the Needles, copyright Hamo Thornycroft, used with permission.

For someone like me, who had only ever raced in the thick of the fleet in the RTI, being among the early starters was a revelation. As the pictures show, we were able to sail in relatively clean air for the simple reason that the major part of the fleet was behind us.

Above: It wasn't exactly crowded at the front of the fleet - this was the only boat near us as we rounded St Cat's at about twice the speed that Arabella would normally travel at...

Being in a fast boat not only enabled us to extend our lead over the fleet as the hours went by, but also resulted in a ridiculously fast time round the island - we took 7 hours, 20 minutes and were motoring back into Cowes by lunchtime. We were joking that we felt cheated; we should go round and do it again!

It seems popular among yachties to decry corporate sailing. Sunsail seems to be the target of particular vitriol. It didn't occur to me to disagree with the prevailing view, until I had a go at corporate sailing myself at Cowes Week 2008. I couldn't comment on Sunsail, having never been sailing with them, but last year I organised two corporate sailing events through Ondeck, and this year the number of events has increased to three, with Cowes Week 2010 still to come in a few weeks' time. So I do feel reasonably qualified to say that the prejudice is misplaced. With the arguable exception of Cowes Week 2009 - when there was no wind at all, the tide was adverse, the race was abandoned and the yacht inevitably turned into a floating pub - all I have witnessed is experienced sailors and debutants alike getting a great deal of enjoyment out of these events.

Is corporate sailing 'better' or 'worse' than sailing Arabella? I'd say neither. It's merely different. I don't see myself abandoning Arabella and becoming a full-time sailing client. Corporate sailing is simply an excellent way to enhance the sailing season with a wider range of waterborne activities and, for those that want to, to gain increasing experience and new skills.

I rather doubt that I could have just persuaded a sailor of the calibre of Brian Thompson to take me out on the RTI any other way, no matter much of an unassuming gent he is (which, by the way, he is). I doubt I'd have been tested on nav/tac anything like as much as Brian tested me - including making sure I did my homework before the race. And I doubt I would ever have been able to crew on a boat that achieved such a high position in IRC Group 1. We also raised more than £3,300 for Macmillan Cancer Support, which made it all that much more worth while.

Above: Images copyright Beken of Cowes, used with permission.  Below:  Our GPS track, care of PassagePlus.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Match Racing 2010

Sorry, it's been a while.  No big changes here, just the usual thing:  life getting in the way of sailing.  Today was my first day out on the water this year.  Even by my tardy standards, this was late in the year to get started, and it wasn't even on Arabella.  Instead, I hosted29 colleagues and clients for a day's racing in three Beneteau 40.7s, laid on by Ondeck.*Lots of fun in some not-especially-demanding races - but for me the important thing was to get some practice in on foredeck work and hoisting/dropping the spinnaker in light winds. With the Round The Island Race looming in a couple of weeks, I wanted to keep working on my confidence and ability with my least favourite sails.

After four hoists and drops, and a few dip-pole gybes, I felt a bit more comfortable. 

*Note:  I received a typical 'Mr Angry' email during my recent lengthy absence offline.  My febrile correspondent accused me of using my amateur - or is that amateurish? - blog to disseminate disguised advertising for Ondeck and demanding a full explanation of my connection with them.  I was too busy doing stuff in the real world to be bothered to compose a reply mounting a spirited defence against a raving troll lurking in the virtual realm.  But just in case you're wondering, I am a satisfied customer, who pays full market rates like anyone else, and just once, for this year's Round The Island Race (reported here) my firm and theirs joined forces to get publicity out for the sole purpose of raising money for Macmillan Cancer Support.  Anyway, this is my blog and if I want to say Ondeck a lot, I will...