Pursuit race

5th Oct 2013

Today was the Cruiser Pursuit Race, a once a year event not part of the regular race series. Sarah mentioned she had a friend staying who had sailing experience so we all met up about 0930 today. Hardly any wind but fine weather and quite warm.

The pursuit race is like the normal handicap race but upside down – the boats get allocated different start times depending on handicap, the slower boats getting away first, the fastest boat last. The finish time was deemed to be 1.30pm and the start times arranged so that, in theory, we’d all be together at that time for a close finish. Sarah’s friend Cheryl turned out to be an American lady, very fit and surefooted, ski instructor, who lives aboard her yacht in the summer. She turned up in full wetsuit and gear. So we left the berth at 1015, hoisted the main (new halyard) in the river and motored out into the flat calm of the English Channel. The forecast was F2 gusting F3 but I don’t think we got anywhere near F2.

After a couple of practice tacks we headed for the start line listening to the radio calls of start times as the slower boats set off, our start time was called at 1108 but we were well adrift of the line and moving very slowly – low wind speed and strong tide taking us in the wrong direction. We weren’t alone as 3 or 4 other boats were drifting around trying to get over the start line, we eventually crossed the line and started at 1120 so we were 12 mins late before we even got going!

The course was simple, one leg out to the Weather Station then back again. That made it a downwind leg and we all had a hopeless time trying to get the boats to move against the tide in the light winds. Cheryl turned out to be an expert sail trimmer and had the genoa sheet in one hand and the main in the other constantly fiddling to get the best boat speed. Sarah decided that boat balance was important and went to sit on the bow with her back to the genoa looking backwards. We dropped the sprayhood and Cheryl noted that the mainsheet, where the sheet block attaches to the boom, is actually in a track and can slide back and forth. Never noticed that before.

At times the GPS showed the boat speed-over-ground to be 0.0kts as the wind and tide balanced each other out. We tried goosewinging, gybing, and eventually zig-zagging on a broad reach gybing around just to get some boat speed. The 1.6 miles to the Weather Station took ages and I made sure we got well past it before turning as I didn’t want the tide sweeping us sideways into the thing. We rounded it, completing leg 1, at 1310 so nearly 2 hours after we’d started! Plenty of time to chat and having asked Cheryl why she had a GPS co-ordinate embroidered on her cap, I found it was where she’d got married in 2001 but her husband, a Welsh guy from Neyland, had died earlier this year.

A couple of nominally slower boats, who’d started ahead of us, seemed to have been luckier with the wind and got round well ahead of us. One boat Johanna was alongside us most of the way to the weather station and I thought we’d get round it ahead of him but he judged the zigzags better and got round a couple of minutes ahead of us. And the fastest boat, sailed by the club president, who started ages behind us, seemed to fly round and was well ahead.

Having finally got around the blasted weather station we headed back to the start mark closehauled and making much better boat speed, now the tide was helping not hindering, and I thought we’d catch Johanna but at 1330 the race was deemed to be over and the relative positions, as at that point, were the result. The president in his fast boat was in front, followed by the slowest boat in the fleet, then a bunch of others including us at 5th out of the 7.

We had enjoyed the race but that long downwind took forever and maybe the race officer made a bad decision with the course but never mind. I let the ladies sail together for a bit as I went downstairs to do the log and eat my sandwich, I took the attached photo - Cheryl the American fit lady in a white cap, Sarah on the tiller.

As there was hardly any wind or swell the ladies dropped the main out at sea, the genoa furled away perfectly, and we motored back in the sunshine and were back in the berth by 2pm. Sarah disappeared back to her car but reappeared with flasks of soup and some mugs and we had a very nice sit in the cockpit. No lunch in the clubhouse at the moment as the caterers have all left for some reason!

So, a very different type of race but very interesting and a leisurely way to pass a Saturday – still, nearly 4hrs at sea, and we only got threequarters of the way round the course before the race ended!

That probably really is the last race of the year for me and now thinking ahead to winter jobs and suchlike...

And a photo of Elsa under sail taken by Chris and / or Jenny Leach:


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