To the Black Rabbit in the Mirror

20 Aug 2017

Despite only having sailed the Mirror once since I got it, I signed on for the annual club race up river. I've done this before as a RIB driver but not sailed it. It took only a few minutes to get the Mirror ready with the mast down and everything I needed inside the boat then I was joined onto a tow of 4 other dinghies and we set off up river to Arundel. Another RIB was towing another four boats, about 9 of us in total. It's about 45 minutes till we were under the bridges and landed on the bank above Arundel.

Thick with reeds and sloping, with the tide coming in so fast I had to haul her further up the bank every few minutes, I stood ankle deep and got her rigged and ready to go alongside the others. The race officer Nick had to let us wait until the tide started to slow right down as there was not much wind to sail in. Once launched I tried to get the hang of things but it was very tricky with the incoming tide still sweeping us upwards, trying to turn into wind and not get carried over the line or spend too long in the reeds. Somehow I got an excellent start, third one over the line, the other 6 were far back and seemed to not have heard the start whistle!

For a fabulous 5 minutes with the wind on the beam and third on the course I sailed beautifully up the river. Then the river curved inconveniently into the wind and I found myself trying to short tack side to side and ended up in the reeds but got myself away. The Mirror has a small rudder and when travelling with the current behind me I was going nice and fast but not much water flowing around the rudder so hard to steer with any confidence. Then a large log or something in the river got under me and I felt her slow right down. The others overtook me. Eventually I found myself firmly in the reeds and had to accept assistance from our friendly RIB team to pull me out. That promptly happened again so I knew I'd have to retire from the race.

Having decided to retire I did however then have a lovely sail without bothering to go around the course marks and soon arrived about the same time as the others at the pub about 1200. Managing a nice approach and landing unaided I tied up on the pub's pontoon, leaving the sails up in the light wind, and got myself some lunch.

With 9 dinghies and 3 RIB teams and various others who'd arrived by road there was a good bunch of us eating and drinking in the sunshine by the river, half of us in wet clothes. Not much time to linger though because as soon as the tide turned we had to get ready to sail back down. Can't leave it too late else the river becomes too fast-flowing to manage. By 1.15 pm we were getting ready to go.

I made another quite good start in the middle of the group and tried to make progress back down. The wind had shifted and increased to F2-3 so we were all attempting to tack our way down the river with a slight current helping us now the tide had turned. It soon became clear though that I hadn't had enough practice. As the wind blew the Mirror would pick up speed rapidly and head for the reeds just in time for me to tack and try the other way. No logs were encountered this time but again I was soon in the reeds and had to be towed out by the RIB. I considered attempting to continue sailing but eventually accepted a tow back to Arundel where the others had already finished and were beginning to de-rig ready for a tow home. Staying aboard the Mirror it was easy to untie the forestay and let the mast come back and down into the boat and I was ready.

Once again at the end of a tow line of about 5 dinghies we went off under the Arundel bridges and towards Littlehampton. A bit of a wet ride as the increasing wind was against the outgoing tidal current and heaped up some little waves for us to splash through. We were back at the club by 3pm, the tide was noticeably lower and it was a long haul to get the dinghies up the beach.

A very enjoyable day though not successful from a race point of view but I did achieve an objective - to sail the Mirror up to the pub!


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