First Laser Sail of 2013

I have been a bit busy playing on big boats recently to sail a Laser and so have missed the start of the Icebreaker series in 2013. 3 races in fact. Hoping to rectify that today I ventured down to the club to see if I remembered how to rig a Laser. The sun was shining and the sky was blue – it looked almost like summer out of the window.

The wind forecast was for 16 knots of breeze, gusting 25 knots, from the south. The wind direction was important as with a southerly breeze, the sea state is flat and the wind is warm; from the north, in these wind speeds the sea would be decidedly ‘lumpy’. And cold. The were quite a few sailors looking a bit nervous before rigging their boats, but all decided it was too nice a day to miss sailing.

There had been a change to the sailing instructions since I last raced – all boats now had to display a bow number on the port side to aid the recording of finishing positions. The battery crew have difficulty reading the Laser sail numbers when there are up to 60 Lasers racing at a time and the top of the fleet is very close. My finishing position of late has not been high enough to trouble the battery, but with the amendment stating that boats not displaying a bow number would not be given a finish, I duely attached the numbers.

Having not sailed a dinghy for two months, my race plan for the day was to sail the course and keep the boat upright. Usually I would be one of the first to launch, but as there were some big gusts coming through and lots of boats capsizing on launching I was procrastinating and was one of the last to leave the shore. There was another Laser sailor launching at the same time, who kindly tied the tiller onto the rudder for me as I was holding both boats.

After launching, it was a fast reach to the other side of the bay where the committee boat was stationed. I gybed to avoid sailing the Laser on a dead run – I wanted to stay dry and minimize the chances of a capsize before the race started. CLUNK. The mainsheet blocks caught on the tiller. After trying to pull the blocks over the tiller without success I took a closer look. Lesson 1 for today – if you don’t rig your boat, check how it has been rigged; someone may rig your tiller underneath the traveller. A few minutes later, the tiller was rigged correctly and I had made it to the start line with about a minute to spare.

My start line strategy – to start behind everyone and keep out of everyone elses way. The Laser I have borrowed is rigged very differently to how mine was rigged previously; I need to go out on a day when there is no racing and sort it out properly. I actually managed to get a reasonable start next to the committee boat and then tacked away from the fleet and headed to clearer space in the centre of the bay. There was no tacking on the shifts, just one tack to take me back to the mark. Expecting to be at the back of the fleet, I was surprised to find my self about to round the mark mid-fleet. Do you ever find the times you aren’t trying are the times you actually do better? Strange.

After rounding and avoiding three upturned Lasers, there was a screaming reach back across the bay followed by another beat back up towards the turning mark. This area of the bay is always really shifty, and today was no exception. I was hiked out hard in a strong gust when the wind died away. To nothing. I was still hiked out, and now the Laser was starting to come over on top of me. Not good. And right in front of the battery and any spectator on the shore.

What followed was a bit of a stand off between me and the Laser. The Laser was quite happily sat head to wind; I was still over the side, praying for a gust to help me back up into the boat. After what seemed like an age, the Laser wasn’t budging. So, it was up to me to drop myself down into the water – it was either that or wait until the Laser decided to roll over on top of me. At least this way, the Laser was still upright and I could provide some more entertainment for the battery crew. Again. I’m surprised I didn’t get a mark out of ten for artistic impression.

Remember my comment before that I wasn’t planning on racing hard? I have a little bit of a competitive streak (just a little one, honest) and after this unplanned entry into the water, I decided I should at least try and catch up the Lasers that had passed me while I was involved in the standoff. What followed was a really fast reach, when I managed to overtake one full rig Laser and catch up two Radial rigs. Woo hoo!

The rest of the race passed off without incident; I managed to avoid the lobster pots in the bay and I didn’t even finish last! Looking at the results in the club bar later on, I realised that I got a better result for NOT sailing two weeks ago than I got today. And that todays result equalled that of last week – when I didn’t race either. Maybe next week I should go back to not sailing – it seems to be the way to improve my results at the moment!

Sailing, Surfing, Swimming, Surviving

After a month of Sunday ‘racing’ (read drifting / floating) in very light winds, this weekend the wind decided to show up. Laser sailing in heavier weather has some benefits in the winter – you are usually working really hard to keep the boat flat or upright that you have little time to get cold until you end up swimming. With the wind coming from the north, that guaranteed big swells in the bay, especially out into Belfast Lough. Closer to the beach where the committee boat was anchored, the smaller swell caught a fair number of sailors by surprise pre-race start and there were many soggy sailors before the warning signal had even sounded.

Committee Boat, Robin Gray, Ballyholme Yacht Club Icebreaker SeriesOne of these soggy sailors had good reason to be a bit nervous, having just bought the Laser sailed by fellow club member James Espey for Team Ireland at the London 2012 Olympics. This was only his second time out on the boat – luckily his pre-start swim only damaged the burgee at the top of the mast when he turtled it close to shore. It is fantastic to see James’ Olympic Laser being sailed at Ballyholme Yacht Club.

Reach Around, James Espey IRL, London 2012 Olympics LaserAnyway, back to the racing. Not surprisingly, people were being cautious at the start of the race; the Laser fleet starts under a black flag each week due to our amazing abilities to start a race properly. I managed to get a pretty good start – by the committee boat, inshore, where there was less swell. My race tactics were merely to keep the big pointy thing (mast) pointing in an upward direction for a long as possible. Compared to a lot of the other guys, I managed to do this with relative ease on the upwind leg, probably because I tend to depower my boat more than others. At times the bay looked more like a Monday evening open water swim session than a sailing race. Visiting sailors were getting caught out by the swell and could be seen doing multiple capsizes as they were being carried towards the shore.

This was not a time to be smug as has previously been noted. No. This was a time for keeping concentration, whilst watching the waves loom overhead as the fleet beat towards the windward mark. When one of the catamarans pitch-poled metres from the bow of my boat, there was no smirking from me (well, until I was safely ashore afterwards).

Ballyholme Yacht Club Icebreaker SeriesIt was on the first beat that I realised that I had not tied the tiller on properly. This meant that every time I tacked the boat, the tiller would catch on the traveller cleat and stop, requiring a bit of a jiggle to push the boat through the tack. Not great news, but in those conditions I figured I would carry on and hope for the best.

All was going well to the windward mark, where I bore off and immediately managed to catch a wave, surfing Laser-style. Yes, those whoops of excitement and joy were probably coming from me – the white knuckle ride had started for the downwind leg back towards the shore, where sometimes all you can do is to cling on for dear life and hope for the best.

It was at this point that things started to go awry (well, you were expecting it, given the title of the post weren’t you?!). Surfing a wave is great fun… exhilarating even. The problems start to occur when you need to stop surfing and change direction, especially when you are rapidly approaching rocks at the mouth of the bay as I was. I had no choice but to gybe the boat on the wave and try to change course before smashing into land.

Except that as I gybed the boat, the tiller got well and truly caught on the cleat, and no amount of pushing or pulling was going to dislodge this in time before the inevitable death-roll. Swim one. Climb back in… try again. Bear off, catch tiller, death-roll, swim two. Hmm…

As I stood on the upturned boat that I noticed a crack in the centre-board casing on the underside of the boat. I decided that this was a particularly good time to retire whilst maintaining my dignity (equipment failure is always a good excuse to come ashore early!). There was no reason not to enjoy the surf back though was there! As long as you return to shore the same number of times as you launch, that can be considered a good days sailing.

One of my fellow sailors commented afterwards that I must have been feeling fairly confident in my sailing abilities to take a camera onto the water in those conditions… I didn’t want to dispel his illusions by admitting that it was a waterproof camera 🙂

Breaking Ice for the Icebreaker

Today the Ballyholme Yacht Club Icebreaker series truly lived up to its’ name. It is always a bit disconcerting to actually have to break the ice off your Laser before you go sailing. My toes and fingers were like blokes of ice before I even launched!

Laser Radial rigged and ready to launch74 other boats, including 47 Lasers on one start line, joined in the fun. The Laser fleet were back to their usual tricks with a number blackflagged on the first start and a general recall for the rest of the fleet… and we had been behaving beautifully for the past few weeks. At least there was only 6 minutes to wait until the restart – time to do a few more warm up exercises… even the race officer joined in on the committee boat at one point!

Unfortunately not much wind joined us so it was light wind sailing for most of the afternoon. Usually when the wind is from the south like today, it pays to stick to the shoreline on the beats; however today it wasn’t so straight forward as there was more wind in the middle of the bay. I decided to head towards the shore and play the shifts – it didn’t work for me though and I ended up 11th out of 13 Radials… a bit of a come down after last weeks 1st place!

All that was left was to retire to the bar and discuss the afternoons events over a drink and a slice of Icebreaker Cake – a fantastic marble cake with chocolate icing. Not a bad consolation prize.


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