"Oh no!", said Hugh as we left the mooring at TISC. "I've forgotten the cheeseboard and port". And so the tone was set for the 2012 Yoke race to the Hamble, an annual competition between the cruising fraternity of the Emsworth sailing clubs. I was fortunate enough to be asked to join Hugh on his yacht Fixation, along with Helen and Claire - all dinghy sailors but with little experience of big boat racing. I thought a write up of the race may encourage a few more from the dinghy fleet to support this race next year, its great fun and offers something a bit different to our usual round-the-cans racing.
The race started at 10:30 in the Chi Bar beacon area just outside Chichester harbour entrance, with 31 boats on the startline - 16 from Slipper and 15 from ESC (I think). A wide range of craft, from the diminutive and graceful folkboats, to the 36'+ serious cruisers. And the less luxurious stripped out racing boat - Luna- of Mike Austen. More on that later.
On reaching the start area we started to look at starting options. The wind was relatively light, maybe a force 2, and very shifty. The start line was set and looked to have a slight port bias, we spent a little time finding transits, finding the optimal approach to the line and getting a feel for the tide. It was clear that the majority of the fleet also fancied the pin end, so we decided to start maybe 25% up. It was all looking good until the stripped-out-racing-boat-with-a-bucket-for-a-toilet Luna sporting guest tactician Andrew 'Frothy' Gould tacked under us with 2 minutes to go. At the gun we had speed on the line, but the French boat gradually climbed out from under us, forced us to tack off. We crossed the fleet on port, found a lane and tacked onto starboard, and settled down for the 3 mile tack to the first mark near the forts. After 10 minutes or so, the crew decided that a cup of tea was required, and the lovely Helen obliged.
One reflection on the first leg was the sensitivity of the boat with respect to sheet tension. The wind was variable between 6 and 8 knots true, and the genoa sheet tension and main traveller required continual tweaking to manage the leeches and keep the slot in good shape - the tweaking seemed to make a 10-15% difference in boat speed, so well worth the concentration.
As we approached the forts the wind dropped to nothing, but we could see a windline a few hundred meters away. All of a sudden we were in a dinghy race, everything moved from the macro level of 3 mile single tack legs to a micro level of needing the right strategy to travel 200 m to get to the windline first. Luna and Melody had great pointing and speed and showed the fleet the way. Baby Blue was unfortunate and seemed to get caught in a tidal back eddy on the fort, we sneaked back into the channel to try and pick up tide. We lost 150m to Luna, and Melody made great gains.
About this point we started discussions about lunch, but decided it was too early. So we settled for another cup of tea, the wind ahead looked fresh and we wanted full rail weight to be available. Once we made the windline, the breeze piped up to a nice f3-4, and we were back to continual tweaking to get the most out of the boat. Boat handling was improving every tack, and we started to look forward to setting up for the first downwind leg in 7 miles time. In the interim we had a very pleasant lunch of chicken tikka rolls, kindly pre-prepared by Helen.
By the time we had reached the final windward mark, the wind had built to a f4-5 and it was time to get the kite up for the first time. Fixation has both a symmetric and asymmetric spinnakers, the downwind leg was running dead before the wind so the symmetric kite was selected. We repeatedly clarified the order of events before the windward mark - clip on the sheets and halyard, pole up and out, hoist the kite, set, furl - and executed flawlessly with Claire on the helm. We could see Luna about 75m ahead. Mike has just bought the boat and had yet to fly a spinnaker on her, it took Luna some time to sort it out. We managed to sneak parallel and inside Luna by the time she had set, and led her into the next mark. There was a last minute attempt by Luna to get an inside overlap on the buoy, but a brief and conclusive exchange between the crews soon established that Fixation was clear ahead.
A final close reach to the finish saw us finish second boat over the water, and second on handicap. We were beaten by a very well sailed folkboat, who beat us by 17 seconds over a 3.5 hour race (the folkboats are beautiful and became desirous to a number of us, but having seen the price (£30K) for a second hand boat I don't think we will be getting one any time soon).
We made Hamble marina by 15:00 or so, and spent the rest of the day socialising with other crews. An excellent dinner at the Waterside Restaurant rounded off the day.
Be great to see more of our dinghy contingent next year!