A downwind start

5 July 2015
Four boats turned out for the cruiser race on Sunday, including Orca the cat which we don't often see racing. Early rain had cleared up and the forecast was for brighter weather, wind gentle but increasing later. I had Stuart and Dominik with me, after a quick lunch we set off at 1245 for the 1330 start.
We knew from the harbourmaster that there was a big ship due to enter the river at high tide, 1430, so the race officer elected to set us a course well east of the river so we'd be out of the way. With a southwesterly wind this meant a downwind running start across a line between two buoys, instead of the usual gate start into the wind. A dinghy-style start sequence over the radio - five minutes, four, one, go. For the first time this year we got the start just right, timing our arrival at the line on a starboard broad reach, the first boat over the line at about 7 seconds after zero. Looking back at the other three behind us was a great moment! Dominik hadn't had time to finish his chips and had brought them aboard so we passed them around our crew just for the benefit of the guys behind.
The others had their spinnakers up and soon overtook us but we enjoyed a minute or two in the lead.
We were back in 4th at the first mark then proceeded to sail a slightly zigzag course from Steel Can out to Outfall and Weather Station designed to keep us busy and away from the harbour entrance for an hour. The boat is well balanced with Stuart on the foredeck, me at the front of the cockpit on the sheets, Dominik at the stern on the helm. The sun was out and we had enough breeze to overcome the tide and make good progress.
On the second to last leg, goosewinged running back down to Steel Can again, we noticed the wind and the swell had increased and as we rounded the mark and hardened up for the final beat back to the line we realised it was now F4-5 and we were almost over-pressed. Heeled right over and taking facefuls of sea we considered shortening the sail but in the end we just worked the sheets, letting the main go in the gusts, we knew we'd be back at the finish line in about 15 minutes so we just bashed our way home.
Hopefully this illustrates the heeling angle!
Last across the line in 1h 35m and completely out of cold chips Dominik sailed us back up the river, we didn't need the engine until we were up near the club moorings. Signing off with our recorded time we found we were 4th out of 4 on handicap and left wondering how we'd let that initial good start evaporate but we remained in good spirits and we'd had a great day.


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