The penultimate weekend of the Fast Cruise season was another particularly enjoyable one. While early 2012 was windy, early 2013 seems to be continuing the theme of late 2012: anything more than 10 knots of wind is beginning to seem like a dream.
As Avril decided that her crutches were not suited to marine use and another crew member claimed to have contracted SARS, the somewhat diminished crew assembled on Friday evening at the end of a day when I had briefly spent time in the cockpit wearing a T-shirt and no fleece at all. The sun had shone, but the night was cold and Saturday morning dawned bright and calm with Bramblemet and Chimet agreeing on wind speeds of 5 knots gusting 6 and the inshore waters forecast promising "variable 3 or less." Clearly reefing was unlikely to be urgently needed.
One of the more cunning features of the Solent is the tide, a contrivance which in the case of the first fast cruise, turned this light air into a decent breeze as it carried us to windward while we tacked in the general direction of Chichester via No Man's Land fort and various other obstacles. On the LSC handicap, we were the nominally the slowest of the long course boats but we were lucky enough to make a good start which allowed us plenty of time to watch the rest of the long course boats catching up.
Once round No Man's Land fort, the breeze gradually fell away with the result that we hoped that the course would be shortened allowing a finish at St Helen's buoy. This would avoid exposing our lack of spinnaker on the subsequent downwind leg. There was some speculation on Shearwater that the decision to finish at Cambrian Wreck, the subsequent mark, might have been influenced by Fenya Anne, our Maxi 1100 rival, having a spinnaker. Such speculation is unworthy and the relevant crew members will be subject to appropriate disciplinary measures.
During the final mile and a quarter, we watched our lead being eaten up by Fenya Anne with her pretty spinnaker. In the end, the downwind leg just wasn't long enough for the advantage of the spinnaker to tell and we crept over the line ahead.
By the time of the second cruise at 3pm, there really did seem to be a bit of breeze at last. But the pattern ended up being the same as with the previous cruise. The breeze fell away, the ebb tide built in an unhelpful direction and everyone ended up moving in slow motion, if at all.
Winner south cardinal mark, the downwind but by now up-tide mark, became a challenging target and once again, our lack of spinnaker became a problem. This time the downwind leg was over 2 miles, or around 90 minutes sailing time in the prevailing conditions. We tried following Fenya Anne but could not keep up. We rounded the Winner with inches to spare after a gybing duel with ourselves and headed for the next mark, relieved to be hard on the wind again.
Just as we were beginning to think we might close the gap between ourselves, Fenya Anne and Solid Air, the course was shortened for a second time and we found we had already finished. This was probably a Good Thing as we ended up crossing the cill into Southsea Marina in semi darkness with less than half a metre to spare (not much for a south coast sailor like me).
One highlight of the day was the late afternoon sun dipping towards the island with golden mist over the hills behind Bembridge. Another was undoubtedly receiving a jar of Barrie's famous marmalade. But perhaps best of all was the opportunity to spend a weekend sailing in brilliant sunshine in February. The courses were challenging with just enough ambiguity to allow for some argument, and while running two cruises rather than one must be a major pain for the organisers, it does have the some advantages: I remember long fast cruises in previous years when we saw no other LSC boats after the first 30 minutes or so. Having two cruises keeps the boats together and provides a second chance to remind yourself that reaching a starting line at the right time with the boat pointing in the right direction is a lot harder than it looks.