I raised two boys

reflections upon a Club race April 2018

I raised two boys.

Or

I raced to buoys.

Most human activities involve communication to be successful. Sailing is no exception, including the perceived ardour deflator of the sport’s rules. Rules are others’ problem; best avoided and let’s just internalise our grievances. Rules are often thought to be a constraint. Rules are not fun. I don’t agree.

We can follow Mary Poppins’ advice: ‘In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun; find the fun and the job’s a game.’  Some sports have got it right. Snooker, for example, celebrates the part of the game where the good shot is not to pot a ball but to exploit the rules of the game to really mess up your opponent’s opportunity to score, to ‘snooker’ them and maybe even win extra points yourself. It is so fundamental to the game, even the title of the game reflects that aspect. 

On our Club race on Saturday 21 April I ventured forth in my old Solo into light winds and the threat of drizzle. There were about 12 boats in the 60 minute pursuit race, a format where different boat types start at progressive internals with the intention that they theoretically finish simultaneously. It means the fastest boats start later and are therefore forced to overtake the slower boats as the race progresses. The beginning of the race concentrates on fleets but as the race continues, the end phase involves inter-fleet interaction.

The Race Officer set a course (2,6,3,1,7) across the reservoir which included a number of classic tactical position situations where taking or failing to take rules advantage will make a difference. Snookered!

Who is this dark stranger in the third Solo?

The start was starboard biased but I was on my own (old Solo fleet) so no issues. A pity. We headed off to round mark 2 to starboard (the awkward way round) then off down on a broad reach to mark 6. Keeping my lead for the first lap, about 10 mins long, the game really begins on lap two. 

The dark stranger is clearly no slouch.  Is he a Clint Eastwood character, a gun slinger preacher? Is he the man in the White Hat from Butch Cassidy? Able to track my paw prints on the water?

The short port beam reach towards the beginning of the second lap at mark 7 allows an assessment of the best tack up the beat, a balance between direction and better wind. The three Solos are close together and two of us head off towards the dam choosing better direction and the third, Lawrence, continues on port into the centre of the water, anticipating more wind.  The latter prevails and turns my 10 boat distance lead into a 10 boat deficit in second place as he rounds mark 2. The sequence continues but up the next beat from mark 6 to mark 3 the positions are reversed as I approach the mark, to be rounded to port (anticlockwise) with the other two close by.  There is going to be trouble as Lawrence approaches on starboard and I am subject to the ‘tacking in the zone’ rule as is the dark stranger just to leeward of me. Taking a chance, I get round through the tacking manoeuvre and retake the lead. I think the stranger has to duck the starboard boat.

As we approach mark 6 for the third time, dark stranger is closing on me.  I defend to windward keeping my position directly between him and the mark and seeking the inside line. “Zone, no room!” I declare as we approach. “Pardon?” he replies clearly surprised at my discussion. I repeat my declaration but the moment has passed.  I continue off on port but know I should tack.  Dark stranger has rounded too but points higher and is to windward slightly astern. He is now blocking any possibility of my tack onto starboard before infringing him through the tacking manoeuvre.  Has he done this deliberately, I ponder, or just missed the wind? He tacks. I tack.  We go off towards mark 3.  I am windward and sail him beyond the mark, he tacks behind me, I tack and now we both approach on port with myself to windward and with mark room.  Bearing away around the mark off towards mark 1 it is a starboard broad reach/run.  Stranger gains position to windward of me and must keep clear.  Of course, such a manoeuvre is inviting a defensive response and I luff him assertively, with the words “windward, keep clear” repeat repeat etc. We head off in the marginally wrong direction.  Meanwhile Lawrence sails off directly towards the mark 1.  Stranger points this out, mildly commentating that I should think about the proper course. I reply that the windward overtake was not friendly and that we are establishing our future relationship in these matters.

In reality, he has the wind cards and inevitably has better speed and breaks the overlap and becomes clear ahead.  Then, as he bears away towards the desired course, he re-establishes the overlap but now I am subject to the ‘proper course’ rule and obliged to also sail towards that mark.  Lawrence has been unable to take advantage of our petty games and is still behind. We approach mark 1, it is going to be a gybe rounding and I am clear astern but in danger of being forced outside.  I slow down by pulling in the main and round inside taking my turn close behind him.  However, superior gun slinger is now ahead and I can do nothing about him for the rest of the race.

The race progresses and we are in the last couple of laps.  The faster yellow Merlin of team Anslow inexorably catches me after mark 7 on the way to mark 2.  On starboard to windward of him, we approach the dam.  I am wondering if I can catch him prematurely hailing for water to tack as one can sail very close to the near vertical wall. This would be one of only three occasions when a prescribed call is required in the rules. I could “protest” because, really, I haven’t had a race conversation for several minutes. The opportunity passes, but I do get a chance to have a conversation with him rounding mark 2 forcing him to the outside and then valiantly and rather pointlessly trying to luff him to prevent him taking my wind. His crew Dave is too experienced to be worried by my bold conversation and they speed away chasing the Dark Stranger.

The next action is a classic.  I am, yet again, approaching mark 2 when a Laser, reaching down to mark 1 from mark 3, calls “starboard” on me.  “So am I.” I reply, “You’re windward!”

My best tactical moment of the race occurs on the next lap, again at mark 2, when the blue Merlin of team Hyams, is seeking to pass.  It is the last mark of the course before the final drag race down to the finish which is near mark 7.  We approach on starboard and must tack around the mark. I am clear ahead as we enter the zone. “No room!” I call.  “Don’t tack in my water!” calls the experienced helm. “No problem, you are going outside.”  Sure enough, Malcolm’s speed forces him to leeward of me, giving me required mark room and critically room to tack around the starboard hand windward mark, always a source of tactical opportunity. The Merlin’s superior speed takes him around the outside of me and it is my last blast opportunity to keep my third place. He is to windward and has gained an overlap. His spinnaker hoists and I luff legitimately calling the usual “windward” thinking that the recent hectic, extensive activity may discombobulate the crew, Marina, and force an error.  I want to get to windward and gain the inside line to the finish mark. Their team survives my deviousness and I have to accept the lower race placing.

A good race, I want to know the Dark Stranger’s Storey.  He is the son of one our most experienced members and also an experienced sailor. He joins the club that evening.  It is his first time in a Solo. Well, that makes me feel so much better! Lol.

Steve Watson

Solo 4092