RORC Easter Challenge

RORC Fleet approaching leeward gate

After several weekends of practice sails Easter was the start of Juno's competitive season. Instead of the usual Easter cross channel race with JOG to Cherbourg we opted for some "round the cans" racing in the Solent. This is in preparation of the Fastnet race later this year. You may think that an offshore race would be better preparation than sailing in the Solent but this event was organised by RORC as a training event. RRS 41 (outside help) was suspended and numerous experts were on the water in RIBS to help with sail trim, boat trim, tactics etc. When sitting on the side it can sometimes be difficult to see how the slot between jib and mainsail looks and the advice was invaluable.

In addition to the on the water advice there was a seminar at Cowes Yacht Haven on Friday and Saturday evening with Jim Saltonstall, the ex RYA Olympic coach and Barry Dunning, who I remember from my teenage days when he crewed the Merlin Rocket that won the national championships for a number of years. The seminar began with Jim's usual anecdote:

“When I was crewing for Lord Nelson in 1805, we won our first Gold medal in the Bay of Cadiz. I learnt a lot from Nelson which is still applicable to this day, for example, before winning that first Gold Medal against the French and Spanish, he invited us into his cabin. He reminded us that to gain victory we needed to have the five Ps completed; Perfect Planning produces perfect performance.”

A video of the day's racing was shown to demonstrate how not to do things. I'm glad to say that Juno did not feature on the video.

Racing started at 1300 on Friday and with a SE wind at 8 to 10 knots the start line was set close to Calshot NC using a windward leeward sausage course with the windward mark laid close to Hill Head giving a beat of about 1.2 miles. With the tide still going east over the Knoll plateau but already going west along the mainland shore we opted to start at the starboard end of the line and tack on to port as soon as a space opened.

This tactic paid off and we rounded the first mark in about 3rd place despite having the lowest rating in our class. Unfortunately we didn't do quite so well at the end of the run. Here a gate was being used and I have never raced where a gate has been used before. The RRS say very little about gates and we made the assumption, correctly as it turned out,  that you could round either mark of the gate. My strategy was to round the starboard mark and go inshore to sail out of the adverse tide. Having everything ready to drop the spinnaker for a starboard turn we realised that every other boat was turning around the port buoy and, being unsure of the procedure, we opted to follow them. This meant that we had to gybe and drop the spinnaker together and with the tide pushing us down to the buoy things did not go quite as smoothly as we hoped and we lost several places here. In short races one mistake can be very costly.

The second race on Friday was sailed over a similar course but now the start was against a strongly ebbing tide and we were swept back away from the line and made a poor start from which we didn't recover.

On Saturday racing was sheduled to start at 1000 but at 0800 the wind indicator was showing less than 1 knot. We were moored right along side the committee boat which was already flying the answering pennant above No 3 pennant which meant a delay of 3 hours.

So, at 1300 we were drifting around Hill Head with about 5 knots of breeze.  The race started after another short postponement but was very much a drifting event with hardly enough wind to fly the spinnaker.

For the second race of the day a light sea breeze from the SW had started and so the start line was moved further up Southampton Water with the windward mark laid in the vicinity of Calshot Spit. This race was held in a slightly stronger wind but over a much shorter course as it was now quite late in the day.

That evening another seminar was held in Cowes Yacht Haven followed by a dinner in the RCYC.

Sunday dawned with a reasonable NW wind of around 8 to 10 knots and racing started on time at 1000, this time a little further east with the start around N Ryde Middle. This time the committe boat waas flying flag Delta meaning a "round the cans" course instead of the windward/leeward course that we sailed on the previous two days.

Although the day had started with reasonable winds by the time the race started the wind had died to less than 5 knots and we were inlight wind sailing mode again with some crew below decks to reduce windage.

Later, the wind increased slightly and a very short second race was held with the course set in the same area but again it turned into a bit of a drifting game.

Racing finished at about 1430 and we returned back to Port Hamble feeling that we had learnt something from the weekend.

Next up is the RORC Cervantes Trophy Race to Le Havre.

PS. Sorry no photographs. Cant afford the weight of a camera on a racing boat.

Graham Broadway, 27.04.2011 | More from Graham Broadway’s blog