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Winter Series Race Date 1: Races 001 & 002

Ahoy Chilly Sailors

It was an interesting day of dusting out cobwebs, cats and dogs, 4 seasons, rust that never sleeps, and ultimately the sense of achievement and great satisfaction that is almost always the reward from this growing club sailing fleet…

17 yachts signed up on the notice board – a very encouraging start to the new season, what with school holidays, European Summer, Soccer World Cup, Super Rugby at Newlands, and a myriad of other distractions…not least severe weather warnings, and more rain on Friday afternoon than the collective sum of most of the Summer months together…

Saturday dawned with that exquisitely moody quality of light and crisp winter air that makes Cape Town so special at this time of the year. It was cold, and the forecasts were for more rain, low winds interrupted by strong intermittent gusts, and coldness.

It was no surprise that a trio of crews who had jotted their yacht’s down on the notice board did not make it to the start line, but they were a minority and missed out!

Some 14 yachts (2 division 1; 5 division 2; 7 division 3) made it to the start area for the first races of the new Club Championship season, after a refreshing break since the last club champs race on 10 May 2014.

After such a break, this is when the rust sets in! What sails to select? What start strategy to adopt? Actually, forget looking for the jib halyard, just pull that red thing! Amazing how not sailing for a couple of months erodes accuracy and familiarity!

In our yacht’s case, we’d battled against the clock for some time in the week beforehand just to be ready at the startline, having undertaken some critically important maintenance work on the hull, keel, rudder and propeller in the last few weeks. A more seaworthy yacht is worth that extra effort. Even in the hours before the 13h00 first start, it was touch and go with hatches being replaced and deck fittings refitted. Having two crewno-shows didn’t assist matters, but there were low crew turnouts across the fleet, which is going to become an important issue for all the active sailors to address collectively in the coming months.
The first race was an all-class start over an all-class sprint course, as is planned and intended for the first race on every race date in the Winter Series. The advantage of these sprint races is that this fleet will fast sharpen-up on starting skills, and get the chance to improve crew work, positioning and tactics.

The wind was variable from the west-south-west in the early to mid teens, with gusts into the late teens or more, and with the swell running from the west at about 3-4m. There were a couple of OCS starters, and a couple of yachts who were late or very late for the start – no doubt a result of that rust I was talking about.

It was a start that strongly favoured a midline port attack, from where the mark could be laid directly. Curious then, that a couple of us found ourselves down at #10 starting on starboard and barely laying the startline itself…a rusty, rookie error!!!

After a short port beat for most of the fleet to fetch the top mark #4(s), it was a broad reach run down to Harken(s) running with the swell, which was quite a nice opportunity to stretch the legs and hoist kites. The rounding of the mark to starboard meant that the front runners would need to round the mark and tack back onto port as soon as possible to get onto the distance leg, and then beat across the body of the fleet, who were running down to the mark on starboard – never a dull moment! Interesting to see that while many in the fleet did fly kites, a good few decided to take a conservative approach with their short crews and some novice sailors. Amongst these were Jacana, last season’s division 1 club champions, Shadowfax (back from SBYC to focus on racing at RCYC – welcome back) and Black Cat (with appendages repaired and reconnected, welcome back to club sailing after quite some while off)

The beat up to #2 saw the fleet separate, as yachts were challenged to power up to punch through the swell. From #2(p), it was a short reach to the finish line between #10 and the Bridge Hut.

A nice little sprint race to break the ice, quite literally!

What is great about these all-class 40-50 minute sprint races is that they really show the handicap potential across the whole fleet, and unsurprisingly the stars in each division typically do well overall. The podium went to division 2 & 3 yachts.

The second race set featured two starts and two courses, with division 1&2 setting off first, while some of the division 3 yachts were still sailing the first course. This is positive race management and is good for club sailing – it minimizes the amount of time yachts hang about between races. Unfortunately, there were some other unforeseen factors that came into play to conspire against a completely smooth-running afternoon on the water…

Firstly, the wind was moving south, and the consistent breeze was dying down, although the intermittent gusts stayed…and the sea state remained.

Secondly, and unbeknown to the bridge or fleet, yet another mark has disappeared! This time it is Woodbridge, which was only laid a few months ago. We will need to review the maintenance program for these marks and also check the methods used to secure them, because we have lost Coke Blouberg, Milnerton, Woodbridge (twice), the Kling Finish Mark and Paarden Eiland, all in the course of less than a year. That is quite staggering! We will have to check whether the new Sunset Mark is still there…I wonder if the marks are sinking, breaking free, being sabotaged or possibly pirated for scrap? They certainly don’t seem to be washing up on the beach. The marina office is investigating this all, and is tasked with making sure all buoys are relaid by month’s end. Alternative materials and methods are being investigated.

While on the point of a mark being found to be missing while we are racing, it is important to be able to navigate by GPS to a virtual mark, even when short crewed. If you have a smartphone, invest in the Navionics App…a very helpful and useful tool to have in your pocket.

So, back to the race, divisions 1&2 were set a course as follows:

Start BH#10(s); #4(s); Harken(p); WB(p); #2(p); WB(p); #8(p); WB(p) #4(p); Finish BH#10(p)

That is quite a mouthful!!! It is also surprisingly only 10.7miles!

With this fleet generally starting quite well in the second race, it was a drag race to the first and second marks. With the wind moving south, it was a bit tight for spinnakers in the leg from #4 to Harken, and then again tight on the next leg to Woodbridge. We tried nonetheless on both legs and we were a little disappointed when our beautiful golden spinnaker popped just as we were starting to get going on the third leg. A reasonably tidy and remarkably calm shorthanded recovery followed, but we were again a little caught out by swiftly hoisting the #3 in a clearly dying breeze. The front runners overshot the missing mark at Woodbridge, playing the line-of-sight game rather than more formal navigation, and paid a price in losing height and adding distance for the next leg to #2. We rounded very accurately (within 6m according to GPS track) but could not drive home any advantage on the division 1 yachts or our sister ship just ahead, specifically while we had the wrong headsail up. By the time we peeled to a bigger sail about two thirds up the next leg, our race was over as a contest and our competition had bolted. We hesitated to change sails, wondering whether the wind would build again as we moved west, but it didn’t. We were heavily punished in lost speed and time, but we were thrilled to see our other sister ship having caught up a vast amount on us, so we had a race within a race to hold them off! When the skies opened depositing hail on the fleet, it felt like the wrath of the gods pelting us for dithering! The bridge elected to shorten course dramatically before anyone rounded the next mark, and a loop from #2(p); #8(p); #2(p); finish BH#10(p) made the revised course just 7.1 miles, without any real angles for spinakkers. Racing for the day was done by about 15h30, and the fleet retreated to the warmth of the roaring club fireplace and a warm cup of soup for all the cold sailors…I will ask a div 3 sailor for a run down of their second race, which started quarter of an hour behind the division 1&2 start.

It was pleasing to see 3 Simonis 35’s on the water: welcome Tam Tam! It was also very pleasing to see the two Charger 33s (FTI Flyer and Shadowfax) locked in a tremendously close battle in Division 3, with just one second between them in the first race and 26 seconds in the second. Far Med and Hors d’Oevre had a ding-dong battle trading firsts and seconds, and this will no doubt intensify when the other L26’s and Miura’s join in, as well as the commodore’s Cabaray.

Also heartening to see so many yachts sailing, despite many being short of crew. Well done and thanks for making the effort to come sailing. There were plenty of smiles in the clubhouse afterwards – I think more a reflection of the nice feeling to be out there sailing again, rather than a stellar sailing day. Thanks bridge: Ron, Joanne, Ray & Liz.

So, now it’s up to all the missing Division 1 yachts to join us on the water (First 40 was on the hard, After You and OneEighty entered on the the notice board and must be itching to go when the weather is better!) and for the Farr 38, L34, L26 and Muira classes to bolster the competition in Divisions 2 & 3.

Viva the new Winter Series!

Luke

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