Neither Brian or myself could make it for the Saturday so we decided to go for the Sunday. This is a great event as Scottish top IOM skippers would be there.
After a 2 hour trip up to Downpatrick where Brian lives we set off to catch the 23:30 Ferry in Belfast to Stranrear in Scotland. We were like 2 kids on an adventure. Still we tried to get some sleep on the ferry as the night was going to be long and with little prospect of sleep ahead.
We arrived in Stranrear shortly after 2am and we set the satnav to Lochwinnoch. After 2 hours driving on Scottish roads and many many roundabouts later we arrived at the wee hours of the morning. 4am to be more precise and parked the car on the carpark of the club and though we made an attempt at sleeping again we couldn’t get to a deep sleep so we decided to grab a quick hot snack wherever we could find at that time of the morning and headed back to the club.
We still could not sleep so at 6am, as the daylight was piercing through the thick clouds we decided to rig up our boats and get some practice. The wind was light and chilly so we rigged up the top rig and did 2 boats tuning for a while. Then organisers and skippers started to arrive and joined us on the water for some free practice. The wind increased a bit more but we were still well in the top rig range.
Just before 9:30 we were all called for a short skipper briefing and the first race started with a seeding race. I finished 4th in my race but joined Brian in the B heat to start the day. The races quickly followed each other, the OOD and support volunteers were on the ball to move the racing along, keeping the heat board updated with those moving up and those moving down. We had 2 heats with 4 boats moving after each race.
Brian struggled in the morning in his boat handling and found himself staying the B fleet for the first few races. I managed to get up to the A fleet but didn’t stay long – bad starts were hard to recover from and most of the pen occurred at the weather mark as the stronger wind was further out, to catch it meant coming on port at the mark so it was important to time it right or all the gain from getting the stronger wind would be lost in dipping the starboard boats coming to the weather mark.
A few chanced it and tacked in the middle of the starboard boats and that is when the pens occurred. Of course get a pen there, by the time you do your turns the leaders and pack had pulled away passed the wing mark in their run to the leeward gate.
On the run it also paid to stay out, but that meant being further away from the shore and control area so overlaps and luffs were difficult to spot accurately. Happily the leeward gate was close the shore and you were then on the full beat up to the weather mark again.
The wind was puffy and unstable so you had to play the tactics right. Generally it paid to go out but you could be stuck on that lift for a while and forced to tack on the header to get to the weather mark and the expected gain became quickly big loss. So deciding when to go out was key. Most skippers stuck to the middle with a few including the top guys favouring the middle outside so not to lose too much if it didn’t pay out. Occasionally it did pay to come in close to the shore but the risk was high as you were guaranteed a good lift on starboard but it was deceiving as through you pointed high you were going slow.
The start were key and the line was well laid. It favoured port start but being relatively short, even me never attempted it as you were sure to get a “wall” of starboard boats blocking your way. With one of the mark only a few meters from the shore and the start time being only one minute, most skippers were circling in front of the start line to dip down between the shore and the mark to come in on starboard for the start. No need to say that area of the pond got very crowed very quickly within 20 secs of the start.
No one wanted to be late to get their spot on the line so the timing in dipping down was critical. And a few times we ended up with general recall as people kept luffing up to defend their place in the front line. Yet skippers were relatively well disciplined and we got away first time many times. Though penalties were frequent in the pack. Mainly contact between 2 boats on the same tack.
I decided a few times to come in late so the pack had drifted to the middle of the line generally leaving a gap between the mark and them and I often started there. I didn’t want to be “imprisoned” in the pack waiting the good will of other to tack in order to open my options. I found that I often could point a bit higher and gaining places on those who decided to tack on port to escape the pack and then leaving me the option open to continue on starboard to go out or tack at will to come closer to the shore.
Later in the afternoon the wind increased but was still puffy. My luck ran out as I was about to put my boat in the water the piece of string that attaches the jib forestay to the fitting on the mast snapped clean and my rig fell back. Messy and not a quick fix. I had to bring the rig back to the car to fix it, missing races in the process – the fitting I used is a laser cut piece and I suspect the edges were sharp and with time it wore off the string and weakened it. Something to work on once at home so I don’t get this again. But while I was fixing my rig all I could hear were sails flapping and a quick look up and saw half the boats broaching in the gusts so I decided, time to change to B rig. More than half the skippers did too, leaving a handful who decided to stick to the top rig. Part of them all the skippers who sailed Britpop and one or two more.
Overall it was the right decision to stick with the top rig as though the wind increased the majority of time it was still top rig conditions, and although the skippers who kept their top rig struggled in the gusts, broached on the run, they more often gained over those who changed to B.
Both Brian and I had changed to B and we were doing well against the other skippers who were on B too. I knew I had a good pace with that rig but it was untested against a bigger fleet of good skippers. I managed to win a few races in the B fleet but then struggled to stay in the A fleet if the gusts were not plentiful during the race. This was because most of the skippers who kept their top rig were in the A fleet. Brian did well too with his B rig, getting promoted to the A fleet more often too.
Did I mentioned it rained all day and though we wore our oilies it was not pleasant. Like the wind the rain intensity varied throughout the day from light to heavy.
But like all good thing it had to come to an end and to finish well both Brian and I who were in B fleet got promoted to the A fleet for the last race. Although I had no choice but to stick to the B rig as my top rig was not fully repaired yet I know now that this rig works well and so does Brian’s as he also finished well – all in all we both learned a lot, progressed in our performance through the day, though if I had to resume my day in one word it would be “yoyo”. I must have sailed twice as many races as many other sailors as I struggle to stay in the A fleet and got relegated to the B fleet I always managed to get straight back up, often by winning the race in the B fleet to sail straight after in the A fleet.
All in all a fantastic yet somehow frustrating day as I would have preferred to stay in the A fleet, my rig choice limited to B for the second half of the day but with the wind not quite strong enough for me and did I mentioned that rain that didn’t stop all day. Apart from that we had a fantastic welcome by the Scottish and sailing with them was excellent, a big thank you to welcoming us and we can’t wait to have you over here sailing on Irish water with us.
Thank you Brian for driving us over and back and organising the ferry.