You may remember that the last time I sailed at Weymouth sailing club in the JPK 960 it was all light weather loveliness and I told you how well we had done “in the light!”.
I sailed on the good ship again just before Christmas and we headed out to the start in the enviable position of leading the series with only two boats that could deny us of overall victory.
They say that “pride goeth before a fall” well it certainly “dideth” as we had a slight disaster and managed to grab defeat from the jaws of victory in the process.
Would you like to know how we did it?
We left the shelter of Weymouth harbour and it soon became apparent that the weather was firmly at the other end of the scale from our previous outing. With the wind averaging twenty-four and peaking at thirty-three knots we were looking forward to the reaches and a sleigh ride that would make Santa jealous.
All was well for the first part of the race although the start manoeuvers are probably worthy of mention.
In our usual state of ‘not quite being prepared at the start’, we had missed the five and four minutes guns and were trying to judge how far away from the line we needed to be before the preparatory flag came down. When the one -minute sounded we were just on the verge of being late but were sailing in at full speed towards the line. With one boat to windward and two boats to leeward, coming up towards our course I had to make an effort to avoid being squeezed into the boat to windward. To lose a bit of distance I bore away hard towards the closest leeward boat and then luffed hard to scrub off some speed. The resulting zig-zag in our wake showed that the manoeuvre had started beautifully with the big bear way, however, the luff that followed was delayed just a bit longer than it should have been with the inevitable shouting from the crew of the boat below.
“That was brave,” said one of the owners who was, sitting next to me, playing the mainsheet.
I remained quiet, not letting on that, as I had pushed the tiller extension to leeward to initiate the luff, my hand had inadvertently pressed the lock button which allowed the telescopic tiller extension to collapse into itself. The movement of my hand was useless and the boat had continued to bear away, making the move looked more spectacular than I had intended!
Fortunately, the JPK has a wide tiller and I was able to get a foot on it to avoid the embarrassment of having to complete penalty turns or worse!
The first upwind leg was fairly uneventful as we had sensibly reefed the mainsail prior to the start, making the boat quite manageable. Apart for a couple of the larger gusts we progressed well and were nicely placed at the windward mark. We hoisted the asymmetric spinnaker and shook the reef out of the main ready to enjoy our sleigh ride. And enjoy it we did! We even managed to sit in the stern wave of a larger, faster boat and had a very pleasing tow for most of the leg. The next mark produced a bit of excitement as we gybed and cut inside a J97 which then lost control during its gybe, broached and passed in front of our bow at ninety degrees to our course, their spinnaker flailing wildly in the wind and the whole crew hanging on.
With a little bear away, we missed them by a boat length and breathed a sigh of relief.
“Oh to be a sailmaker,” I thought to myself, imagining that there might be a sail repair to do after the race. That turned out to be quite prophetic but not in the way I had imagined.
The following upwind leg was exciting as we had not re-reefed the mainsail and the wind was increasing in strength. We held on grimly and bashed our way across the bay in a great race with the now recovered J 97, crossing tacks a couple of times. By the weather mark, we were close to them and bore away and set a symmetrical spinnaker for the next run.
With the wind fully behind us and gusting strongly, we set off like a marble down a drainpipe. After a short while, we had overtaken the J97 closed in on the Arcona 370 and I was feeling very pleased to have two rudders helping me to keep the boat on its feet.
Ahead, we could see the two leading Grand Surprises broaching and getting slightly tied up during their gybes. This should have served as a warning to proceed with caution, however, we threw ‘caution’ to the wind and decided to gybe our spinnaker shortly before the leeward mark. As it turned out, and with the benefit of hindsight, it would have been better to have dropped the spinnaker and carried out the gybe with white sails only. Hindsight…Always right, always too late!
At first, the gybe went well and it looked like we had pulled it off. However, as the foredeck crew was pushing the pole out onto the new side the release line got tugged causing the new guy to drop out of the pole end. In a matter of seconds, what had looked like a perfect gybe turned into a nylon-clad disaster as the spinnaker dipped behind the mainsail, turned inside out and wrapped itself around the forestay, then wrapped again and then a third time for good measure.
Now we had a bit of a problem and try as they might, the three people on the foredeck could not get the twists to come out of the spinnaker.
Sadly the spinnaker was not playing nicely leaving us with no option but to start the engine and head for the shelter of Weymouth harbour to retrieve what we could.
Halfway home the middle of the spinnaker inflated and popped, leaving just one leech tape connecting the top half to the bottom. Battling against the wind, this leech tape soon gave up the fight and we were left with a bright green mast pennant of embarrassing proportions.
And so it was that we went from leading the series to fourth overall reflecting on what might have been. Shortly after arriving at the pontoon we heard the first comment of “I like your job creation methods, Richard!”
So that is how “prophetic” becomes “pathetic” in the space of a couple of legs of a racecourse.
I didn’t go to the bar afterwards.
And so with my last sail of 2019 finishing in less than perfect style I wish you a happy New Year and look forward to a great new season in 2020.