Becalmed off Littlehampton

27 Sept 2014

A cruiser pursuit race today and 5 boats turned up. I was pleased to have a couple of my younger friends, Turner and Georgia, with me. Expecting very light winds and with three of us aboard I'd set Elsa into her dayboat configuration - taking out all the woodwork around the cabin entrance and lifting the lower seats up to cockpit height..

We set off in plenty of time for our 1230 start. As a pursuit race we all had different start times though we were the same time as another boat, Johanna. The wind was very light and from the East and there was a knot or so of West-going tide so it was tricky on the approach to the start line, Johanna and ourselves both trying to get across without touching each other or the start mark. We ended up having to tack around behind her then we both set off towards the shore hoping to find less tidal current and make better progress toward the first mark to the East.

We were pleased with our progress and got a good sail shape and boat balance, the crew going forward to lighten the stern and me on the leeward side to give us a few degrees of heel so the sails fell into shape. As we tacked slowly into and away from the shore we had managed to gain a few feet on Johanna which was most encouraging.

However the tide was taking us west, the wind fell even further, and as the faster boats, with later start times, got going we noticed we'd drifted almost back into the start line. Bajua, then Dedicated Dancer and finally Port Kerne were quickly past us and making better progress with their light-air sails. We were happy enough sailing gently along.

After an hour or so it was clear that we were going backwards. The wind was too light to give us enough speed to overcome the tide. The first mark was a mile away on the GPS, then 1.2 miles, then 1.5 miles. We drifted sideways right past the river entrance and were reversing our way towards Bognor. Johanna was also drifting quite near us but the other three boats had got further and were specks in the distance. We had a team discussion then decided to just start the motor before we drifted too far West and radioed in to retire. The sea was flat so we got the sails in whilst at sea then motored in arriving back at the berth just before 2. We'd had a great time and enjoyed dicing with Johanna but we were the only boat to retire, the others had stuck it to the end of the race at 2.15.

I went for a quick beer and a light lunch. My crew immediately ran away to play with a motor boat then came back to help me put the sails properly away and got themselves some chips.


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