A Report of Saturday’s Race: 17th May

The loneliness of the light-aired Laser Sailor

SAILING has always been a big thing in our family, especially in a boat that seems to have been designed to cause maximum discomfort when sailing in winds that would barely trouble the Beaufort scale! This is why I found myself at the club on Saturday, just after Mid-day, following my wife’s text that a fine breeze was blowing and sailing looked good.

The R.O.D., showing better judgement than me, decided that there was a definite mismatch between the calendared race to Studland/Swanage and the general health of the South Easterly that was currently masquerading as a building sea-breeze. Thus, we were sent on a nautical expedition to ‘Lake Yard’, ‘24’ and ‘Oswald’, as an Olympic course.

A wind to rival Don Juan in its inconstancy caused much debate concerning the best starting strategy. A late twist gave us a welcome port biased line which led to much too-ing and fro-ing at the pin end. Surprisingly, only one boat was OCS but given subsequent events, a boat’s starting position was probably the least important factor in deciding the eventual winner.

THE fleet divided left and right on the water, made up of two groups: those who were following their trusted route to this tricky mark and others, like me,  who were desperately trying to find patches of wind strong enough to remove the necessity of healing the boat to leeward in order to make it go! Fortunes waxed and waned like a Harvest Moon on speed, but our Fleet Captain was pleased to announce in the bar that his plan to win the battle of the pin end and to arrive at the windward mark first had worked to perfection. Others had a mix of success and failure, trying to work out the interplay between tide, wind and sand bars. A quick phone call to Erskine Childers might have helped me to solve this equation but, left to my own devices, I needed several goes to get the rounding right – if only I’d known that this was child’s play compared to what was to come!

BY now the fleet was dispersed over the length of the 2nd and 3rd legs, (a broad reach/run to ‘Oswald’ via a slight dog leg to ‘24’); the race had split into two, with a huge gap between the first and second groups.

THE distance between ‘Oswald’ and the ‘Starting Platform’ isn’t very far. I would estimate that even the drunkest Laser sailor could crawl that far on a Saturday night in a matter of minutes. How was it then that for nearly half the fleet, it was a journey of epic proportions that led to many giving up? Do you remember that capricious wind I told you about at the start? Well, it held long enough for the top six boats to get through the line, leaving the rest of us to ‘flaff’ around, desperately trying to look like we knew what we were doing. Four of us managed to eventually make some progress, but, believe me when I tell you; it was a very mixed blessing!

OF the leading pack, the majority decision was to head in shore towards Saltern’s Marina. However, one brave soul, Mike Atkinson, had, with irrefutable logic, worked out that heading right would give the best chance of picking up the new breeze that was surely coming in from the south, south-west. This turned out to be entirely correct but not for another 3/4s of an hour by which time Mike was able to watch his prophecy come true from the comfort of the club balcony!

Clever sailing by the leaders dealt with Lake Yard in short order but they were then faced with a tricky, fickle patch of conflicting wind which led to a cavalry charge as they reached in to ‘Oswald’ and  then to the line. Despite the perfect execution of his 1st beat plans, Colston was unable to hold off the advances of Roberta and Donald who finished 2nd and 1st respectively. Since Donald has won previously on a number of occasions, I’m a little surprised to have received reports of his victory celebrations lasting far into the night, involving dancing and singing (not to mention drinking, no doubt)!

BUT what of our intrepid four? As the leading pack were charging towards Oswald on the newly arrived breeze, they were, with varying degrees of success, battling with an increasingly adverse tide and a south-easterly that had all the enthusiasm of a teenager for  Radio Four! David Hartgill sailed from the back of this bunch and even did well enough to get back into some sort of touch with the stragglers of the leading bunch. Mary Reddyhoff decided to take the unspoken advice of Ann and headed back to the club, which left Mark Scott and me to match race our way around the rest of the course. Our progress from Lake Yard to the box brought to mind comments about watching paint dry or grass grow etc. After many, many painful minutes, we did eventually pick up the new breeze and yachted with ease to the finish to receive rapturous applause from the waiting rescue boat – waiting to get back to shore I think!

NOW, I’m not one to carp so let me say straight away that I forgive my wife for her treacherous text; even though that is two hours of my life I will never get back. I strangely felt quite elated. Alan Sillitoe might have explained it like this; all I know is that I’ve got to sail, sailing without knowing why. And the finishing line is no end, even though the crowd is cheering. That’s what I mean by the loneliness of the light-aired Laser sailor.

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