With strong winds from the South West and rain forecast for Saturday, a passage from Southsea Marina to the Folly looked like madness indeed. Azanti's crew - co-owners Peter and Geoff; Kat and her friend Hope (bringing the average age down to something nearer the 30s) and I ate breakfast listening to the rain lashing the boat and wondered why on earth anyone would choose to go sailing in December in those conditions.
Tim Bizzey popped his head out from Storm Petrel opposite and we swapped insults across the water. The Met Office were predicting conditions moderating as the day wore on and how right they were.
The December Fast Cruise took place on one of those days when you wouldn't have bothered going out if you hadn't already paid your deposit for dinner that night. But although there was still a good steady wind blowing around 20 knots at the start, with one reef in the main and a reefed genoa, Azanti took it all in her stride.
Peter's tactics were to start at the end of the ten minute window and see how many boats Azanti could overtake. We cut it fine on the start but managed to get over the line at 11.07 close to the starboard end for a short and fast broad reach to the first mark, Warner. The course setter had given us a long beat to windward from the first mark to the second followed by a shimmy around the Ryde Middles and a course shortening (which was relayed round the fleet on CH77) before heading into Cowes.
The first leg (from Warner to Peel Bank) seemed to go on forever. With the tide and wind against us it probably did. We hailed Storm Petrel as she went close in front at the forts, but we must have done something right as we later found ourselves ahead of her. As we closed the island shore the wind dropped and we shook out the reefs to tramp up to Peel Bank, round the buoy and head downwind to Mother Bank. The Ryde Middles were fun with most of the fleet close to each other (apart from Ronhilda of course, they were no doubt already tied up and drinking tea) and we forced Musyk to tack before time at one mark and finished the afternoon in a pale, golden wintry light having had an unexpectedly pleasant sail.
Heading up to the Folly in the late afternoon we were reminded this was indeed December by the wintry chill starting to seep through the thermals. Luckily Graham had decided the pontoon party should take place in the pub and the fleet was a hub of activity as Little Shipper's perfected their fancy dress.
Azanti had opted for a Viking theme, to complement the boat's Swedish provenance. Helmets with horns and fake beards (for those who don't already sport one that is) were the order of the day. Ronhilda's theme included skipper Brian Humber in a sombrero with the Silver Tiders sporting sparkling silver bowties and braces but without the boat. (Silver Tide had developed an alternator problem on Friday and pulled out of the event.)
Castalia, chartered by the Juno crew, had all gone very pale and grown fangs which presented them with a few socialising problems as they drooled their way through the evening and daubed some blood over Pagan's antipodean contingent. Oxygene were all wigs, sparkly eye makeup and jewels (and that was just the men). But the prize for the best fancy dress just has to go to the skipper and crew of Musyk who walked into the Folly sporting lederhosen, a nun in her habit, a woman with an apron and blonde wig… Ah yes, it was "The Sound of Musyk". The lederhosened men deserved a prize all of their own for such daring attire (and cold knees).
We all know the Folly is famous for dancing on the tables and after dinner, Kate and I decided to take the initiative and clambered up on the table between two plates of profiteroles still being consumed by a party of diners in the main restaurant. I'm still picking the dinner out of my brand new Dubarrys but I can happily report that as well as keeping your feet dry when sailing, they provide very good non-slip traction on the Folly's tables. I'm also pleased to report that the Little Ship Club holds onto its reputation as 'people who party' providing the nucleus of table dancers right to the last song.
Sunday morning dawned grey and much more like Winter than the day before. After some boat-shuffling (why does the boat on the inside of a raft ALWAYS want to leave first?) and a debate about how much water would be left under the keel once we'd eaten breakfast, we headed back down the Solent with a fresh breeze blowing us back to Southsea. What a great weekend! Thanks to Azanti for great sailing and hospitality and to Graham and the FC team for consummate organisation….. as for the handicapping system….