Barts Bash with James

15 Sept 2018

James was over from South Africa and happily that coincided with the annual Barts Bash combined dinghy / cruiser race. After a light lunch at home we went to the club just after 1pm to get ready and so I could help a little with the organising team. Wind was a steady F3-4 from the West and the sun was shining.

The race was at 3pm but with a strong incoming tide there was no point in leaving too early as my outboard would struggle to push us out. After a few minutes reminding James how a sailing boat works we backed out into the river around 2.20 and idled around in the harbour getting head to wind so we could get the main up and set properly, James at the mast doing all the work with me calling out confusing instructions. Then it was full blast on the engine and down the river against the tide till we were out to sea. Once we were past the harbour wall the main filled with the westerly wind and picked us up nicely so we were able to shut the engine up and sail over to where the committee boat was anchored off to the east. James was on the helm at first but quickly let me know he'd rather I took it! As we heeled I had to assure him that with a keel under us we were not going to go over!

For a combined fleet like this the race officer lays out some marks in such a way that the course is longer than usual for a dinghy race but it's shorter than usual for a cruiser race. Hard work for the cruisers as there's a lot of tacking to be done and challenging for the dinghies. There were about 25 boats out in the sunshine, our neighbouring club AYAC had come off their beach in Littlehampton to join us which swelled the numbers. The cruisers were due to start first with the dinghies five minutes later. We got the genoa unfurled and sailed around trying to assess the start line and the course layout.

We were close to the committee boat sailing along the line as she blew the 5 minute warning signal and I decided to tack onto port, reach off behind the committee boat for 2 minutes then turn back onto starboard to go for the start line. This worked well and we hit the line at the committee boat end just after the 1 minute warning so we let the sails off to slow down as we slipped down the line keeping just the right side of it, a couple of other cruisers downwind and ahead of us doing the same, three more cruisers behind, check the stopwatch, fifteen seconds, are we OK, what are those boats doing, cruisers look very big up close like that, then before we got to the end of the line she hooted the start signal and we hardened up for a perfect start.

As a crew we haven't raced together for about forty years so it took a lap or so to get the hang of the tacking and sheeting. Tacking onto port soon after the start the mainsheet traveller got stuck on the upwind side causing us to heel right over till James thumped it into behaving itself, my genoa sheet cleats are notorious for letting go unpredictably so that happened a bit as well. Looking back we could see the dinghies doing their start a few minutes later and coming up after us. A triangular course so a beat to the first, bear away to a broad reach down to the second, gybe onto a fine reach for the third, then beat back though the line. Elsa was going really well apart from when we lost a few seconds on the tacks with the mainsheet traveller getting stuck, need to sort that out some time.

At the upwind mark on lap 1 we were within hailing distance of Free n Easy but on the downwind leg we left them behind. We were around lap 1 and back towards the line in under 20 minutes, one cruiser Herrag ahead of us forgot they had to cross the line each lap and were reminded by radio so they had to turn back which let us get ahead of them as we finished lap 1. As we approached the upwind mark on lap 2 I made sure we converged with them while we were on starboard forcing them to tack a bit early so we kept just ahead of them, very gratifying as she is a much bigger boat than us, 31' against our 22'. She chased us all the way downwind but we kept just ahead.

This happened again on lap 3 but eventually she got ahead of us but we'd enjoyed the close racing.

With a race duration expected to be an hour we finished lap 3 on about 53 minutes but we were happy to go round again as it was great fun out there. As well as Herrag the 31' cruiser we were also surrounded by dinghies, Lee in (or rather on) his Musto Skiff flew past, Charles in his RS600 on his trapeze flew past but soon capsized, various Lasers and others around, but mostly well spread out across the course. The faster cruisers Papyrus and Sooper Trooper were well ahead and we didn't see much of them. We found later that the course length was just over 2 km and we did four laps in just over an hour so that's a lot of tacking and shouting! Great conditions for the cruisers, maybe a little brisk for some of the dinghies. Our lap times improved as we got into the swing of it, we did lap 1 in about 19 minutes but lap 4 was around 17 minutes. We finished our final lap about a minute behind Herrag but we guessed we'd beaten them on handicap.

Once we'd finished we furled the genoa after a bit of a struggle, the furling line had slipped off the spool so I had to send my crew to the foredeck to sort it out. With a clear view forward and no more flapping we sailed under main alone back to the river entrance. Behind us we saw Paul and Cam in their Wayfarer capsized and apparently sinking but with 2 safety boats alongside. Just after high water the river was nice and slack and the westerly breeze let us sail back in quietly without the engine running which I always enjoy doing.

Well inside the harbour we pulled the outboard into life running ahead on idle as we let the boat turn head to wind to drop the main. Once we'd sorted the sail out and got fendered up we headed back to the berth nice and slow with the engine on tickover, at least three other cruisers were berthing nearby so we waited till we had a clear run and gently slid back to the berth around 4.20. Only two hours at sea but very hard work!

Back in the berth we were able to take off some layers of clobber and we sat on the back of the boat drinking water and catching our breath as we watched the others coming back in the sunshine. We felt we'd done well in the race and we awaited the provisional results with some clubhouse refreshment in hand. My friends in the club enjoyed meeting James and he was talkative as always!

Once the results were calculated we were delighted to be third cruiser out of the seven in the race and James seemed to enjoy wearing the bronze medal!

A great day's sailing so let's hope we do it again before another 40 years goes past!


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