FRIDAY, June 9th
Paul Young arrived at Pennington Flash, Leigh and Lowton’s sailing waters, in the early evening. Unfortunately, he had missed the briefing, arriving 15 minutes after it had finished, but most of it was posted on the race WhatsApp group anyway. The perils of being the visitor from the furthest away! He erected his tent and attended the club barbeque with ten free meal vouchers — as he was the only team member present at the time. He also carefully set up the boat, checking everything to avoid any gear failure. We were using his best jib and mainsail, so the sheeting angles also needed setting.
Mike and Alex arrived later on Friday evening, and the trio relaxed over a couple of beers, whilst the rest of the team left Birmingham at 3:00 in the morning to arrive to a beautiful sunrise at Leigh and Lowton at 5:00.
SATURDAY, June 10th
Bleary-eyed, Paul, Alex, and Mike made the final preparations to the boat before launching for the race start at 4:35 in the morning, just before sunrise with a good steady force-two wind from the East. The lack of guns due to the early start (and the wish not to upset the neighbours too much) meant a slightly late start, as the whistle used instead proved too feeble. Paul and Alex had an average first lap in sixth place. After figuring out the course, they made gains and finished their stint at 6:40 in fourth place, with the wind building to force three.
Mike and Igor took over and put in a solid performance, maintaining fourth place, and giving Igor a chance to get used to the Enterprise, which was a bit better than his previous experience with the Blue Sails on the Reservoir…
At 8:45, another crew change put Oliver and Lauren in charge. With the wind shifting direction to South-East, changing the on-the-water-tactics, they had to find their own way across the course. They sailed well to maintain position, having some good battles with the lead Enterprise (which, albeit, was a lap ahead) and several GPs, coming out as the winner. The wind strength dropped a bit, which benefitted the Ent. The lead Ent changed crew, and those guys were a bit faster, catching up, and finally overtaking us on our last lap. On the run, Oliver spotted a gust on the starboard side, and luffed to catch it, but unfortunately the boom had other ideas, and Lauren’s head was not sufficient enough an obstacle to stop a crash gybe from sending them swimming. They quickly recovered, but now the wind was gone, and it took an eternity to drain the old bath-tub. Furthermore, the dangly stick had broken in half, which made it difficult to pick up speed. Eventually they got the boat going again, and the team had the change-over (to Mike and Igor) on the beach around 11:20, which allowed pouring the remaining water out, plus minor repairs to the transom flaps and the stick, which was taped together with a twig for added stability.
Mike and Igor now had the task to make up for the lost places, which they managed through steady sailing cashing in slow gains.
In the meantime, in the Cowboy Race (fastest lap after 9:50), Oliver and Lauren had come fourth, one second behind third place. The race got its name from “ten to ten”, which is reminiscent of various Western soundtracks.
Mike and Igor had some very good legs, taking chunks out of the opposition, and they had caught up with Toddbrook, whose Ent had overtaken us during the swimming exercise. Overall the wind was light at the beginning, but then started to fill in later, as forecast. They started getting in sync, beautifully pushing the boat forward during gusts. Unfortunately they had the Midday Madness race early on, at a time when the wind was a bit light, and they ended up in fifth place, 15 seconds behind the LLC Ladies team.
As the wind later got even stronger, Paul and Alex went on the water again at 13:20. The stronger wind seemed to have been too much for the jury-rigged pole, which could not hold the strain and meant they were losing speed downwind. On a later lap they requested the old-style jib stick, and from closer up the taped pole looked rather frayed and tired. After some practice they soon got into the rhythm of using the stick, reviving some ancient muscle memory. They even forced the Toddbrook Enterprise (with their top team and fully functional stick) to up their game as they gybed freely to make the very best use of the strong gusty wind on the back straight, keeping the pressure up and consolidating our position.
While they initially had requested more tape and battens to repair the stick, they were just as fast without it, and decided to simply continue as is. The plan was to do the repair at the next changeover, but there wasn’t really time.
Our position remained unchanged at four, but with the Toddbrook Ent putting pressure on us, with them being only two minutes behind.
Oliver and Lauren went on again at 15:20, when the basic wind had slowed down a bit, but there were still fierce gusts, and the sea breeze caused some strange shifts in the top corner. As Lauren hadn’t used a jib stick before, they played it safe and didn’t use it, which meant that the runs were not as fast as they could have been. The wind shifted constantly between broad reaches on port and starboard, so it was hard to work the wind anyway. And on one of those runs it finally happened: a gust from the top pushed Toddbrook forward with high speed, while we were still drifting further down the run in relative calm. On the following beat they managed to pass us, pushing us into fifth place.
The lead Ent meanwhile took a break, as the forestay had ripped out, and the team had to swap hulls. They had lost about half a lap on us, but were of course still ahead.
After an exhausting fight with massive backing gusts, we switched crews at 17:15 with Mike and Alex (who were keen to get their shifts done before the evening’s Champions League game started at 20:00. They climbed into the boat knowing that they had plenty of ground to make up if the team were to be in with a chance of beating the still fourth place Toddbrook Ent. The wind was increasing, which suited them perfectly. Heading up the beat, they noticed that the wind had shifted, making the windward mark tricky to round from the starboard tack. So, engineering each subsequent beat to round on port delivered plenty of opportunity to gain ground on Toddbrook and overtake other boats ahead of us on the water. By the end of their stint, they had managed to overtake Toddbrook and give the next team a good chance of consolidating our position.
Back in fourth place, we were planning the next changeover, when there was an announcement that an approaching thunderstorm might spell the premature end of the race; if it was interrupted, it would not be restarted (as it would have been, had the storm been in the middle of the day). Paul mentioned that a storm would probably mean a lot of wind, and with the Master’s race scheduled for 19:00, Paul and Oliver set out to do what was going to be the final sprint of the race.
Initially, it was still fairly quiet, and we slowly caught up with the Ent that had overtaken us during the change-over. And then the calm before the storm gave way to the first strong gusts of the storm itself. Paul managed to steer solidly through the increasingly wilder weather, while Oliver hiked out to the fullest — quite a scary experience. We were warming up for the next lap, which would be our Master’s Race one, and as we came up the beat, we had caught up with Toddbrook’s Ent. They went in for a change of crew, and then, presumably because their new team realised that the wind was getting above their abilities, went back straight after to change again. By the time they were back in the race, Paul and Oliver were already half-way up the beat.
Then a safety boat gave us some confusing hand-signals, from which we inferred that the race would be abandoned, but we were supposed to continue sailing for now, which we did. Shortly after another safety boat informed us that we should go back in, as the race had indeed now been abandoned.
We came ashore, where Lauren and Igor were waiting by the trolley, and quickly worked to get the boat stowed away before the heavens would open, while being extremely careful with Paul’s best sails.
At the end we managed to hold on to our fourth place, which was a good result overall for a great day out, with sunshine, wind, and good sailing; even though a phrase was uttered several times that seemed to be unlikely before the day: “the shifts in the top corner are worse than at Midland.”
Great thanks go to Paul for organising the team, taking the Club Ent up to Lowton and back. It was an exhausting day, and long for some — with a 2:45 start, finally getting home 21 hours later, after driving rain on the M6. But will we be there again next year? Of course!