The Tiger Trophy - 1st & 2nd Feb 2014

With a Windguru forecast with lots of pink and red splodges all over it, I set off for Rutland SC anticipating a fairly robust weekends sailing. In fact, as a person who enjoys a good blast as much as anyone, even I was a little trepidatious at the numbers in the boxes.
However, on arriving, there was the lake looking relatively benign with a few cats paws running across it. At the briefing it was reported as 15-20kts in the race area, so lets get on with it. To my delight. the ugly mug of our revered National Champion appeared unexpectedly, having seen the windy forecast and negotiating time off for good behavior.
The Blazes were to be one of the fastest classes in the slow fleet, so Rob confidently predicted that as long as we got a decent start we should be able to get clear and have some fun. Me, I thought “let’s just concentrate on a decent start”.
We said what a shame it was that Myles was not with us, as it would have been very useful to take advantage of his keenness to get afloat to see exactly what it was like out there. However, being a little suspicious of Mother Nature’s ability to surprise, especially after Northampton last week, we decided it was the older sails that would be used, just in case. A very wise decision as it turned out.
The course was to be a trapezoid in the “pool” or area right down wind by the dam. By the time we launched, the wind seemed to be a freshening and the cats paws had definitely morphed into tigers paws ( sorry, bad pun). I followed Rob out and by half way down the lake we had both resorted to broad reaches, and wearing round. At the start line there were significant waves and a strong wind. A test beat clearly showed there was to be no messing with controls. Outhaul out tight, kicker on full, cunningham on tight, board 3/4s and that’s where they would stay.
So to the start, the fast fleet set off in a still increasing breeze, sorry, gale, with many going right towards the shore for the flatter water, a lift of the land and probably that most basic of instincts, shelter. The smaller trapeze boats such as the 29ers and Fireballs reveled in the conditions blasting away with the larger canvassed ones such as Ospreys and 505s seeming to struggle a bit.
Minutes later it was us with the rest of the slow fleet lined up for the off, By now the wind was such we could not hear the rather feeble hooter on the committee boat, but relying on my trusty watch I lined up. Seeing that the majority of the fleet were heading for the pin end including that lot of pinch maniacs, the Lasers and the Solos, I decided to start at the starboard end with a view to foot across with no agro and join up later.
Looking across with 20 seconds to go, I say to my surprise Mr Jones buried 3 ranks back in the middle of a large bunch of Lasers and other similar folk, so much for the clear start! The start happened with a general
change in direction of the fleet and to my surprise I seemed to be going nowhere quickly, Looking up at my sail I realised that I had about 25% of it actually doing anything useful and the rest backing off.
It became apparent that this was becoming “rather windy”. After a couple of minutes the first boats started to cross and I decided to go as well to avoid getting swallowed in a mass of other boats as I was having enough “fun” as it was. By the time we approached the top mark, I had struggled to go past lasers and Oks, but I was pleased to see that the class heavy wind expert was only about 100ms in front, so it was not just me.
The top reach to the first wing mark was a blast without a doubt, the mark appearing in seemingly a few seconds. I followed Rob off on a broad reach towards the shore, in varying degrees of control. Rob wore round and disappeared in a flurry of spray towards the other side of the run. I managed to negotiate a couple of lasers and carried on to the flat water and reduced wind adjacent to the shore where I managed to gybe successfully (yeh) and was able to dead run down to the mark. As I gingerly hardened up to line up for the mark and the 2nd reach, Rob appeared, still in a flurry of spray, wearing round again. We set off down the 2nd reach in relatively close proximity towards the leeward mark. Now, those of you familiar with Rutland will know about the waves that can develop near the dam, now imagine them cut up by loads of boats all going in different directions, it was a very confused water, with loads of wind over it. Definitely “fun”.
Rob got round the mark relatively clear, whilst I found myself buried beneath a raft of boats having to go round the outside, whilst they all tried to out pinch each other after the mark. In that wind, why?? Whatever I did, wherever I went , I found someone to try and stuff me or force me to tack. Hence, I could see Rob disappear upwind into the distance. In the end I went right out right (pardon me) just to get clear.
By now I was finding it difficult to keep moving. The wind was such that gusts would effectively stop me with the sail flogging, even when seemingly fetching. Rob shared the embarrassment of having Laser 4.7s go past upwind whilst we were just overpowered.
I eventually struggled to the windward mark to see Rob reaching down having over stood by half a century. Again, the reach disappeared in a blink, and I decided to follow Rob reaching towards the shore. After making a quick adjustment to avoid a turtled boat, it happened. I pitch poled. I have never done this in a Blaze before, but being launched off the back of the rack and landing on the front before sliding off into the water is an interesting experience. Looking up to see the cockpit towering above you can best be described as a bit of a squeaky bum moment. Fortunately, 807 took pity and descended clear of me.
I have no idea how strong the gust was that “did for me” but it took ages to get 807 up as the windage of me combined with the hull and netting meant the mast always came up to windward. Now please, I know I have put on a bit over the winter, but I am not that large, the wind was that strong.
I must at this point, refute spurious allegations posted elsewhere that I was trying to go dead downwind in a gale to “catch” Rob. A) even I am not that daft, and b) catching Rob was the last thing on my mind, I was just trying to survive to the finish.
Sfter 3 or 4 eskimo rolls, I eventually succeeded in getting the hull back under the mast and me in the boat. I had heard a degree of knocking whilst turtle, and a rather pronounced kink in the mast at the gooseneck explained why. Looking about I could see numerous upturned hulls and rescue boats towing other misfortunates back to the club house. So rather than try and get assistance I decided to attempt to get myself back.
Sadly, as soon as I tacked onto port, having run out of water on starboard, the mast folded up, strangely, against the bend. Any budding mechanical engineers out there might like to explain to me, why.
Anyway, I managed to recover the mast and get the sail off it, when two fine gentlemen in a RIB appeared and grabbing the rack slowly propelled me the length of the lake. By now the wind was serious, and our progress was slow with me getting a full head to toe soaking from every wave off the bow of the RIB.
Rob, I am pleased to report finished the race in one piece, but then had a block in his kicker break so had to jury rig to beat back to the shore. He finished 20th overall both fleets, an outstanding result given the conditions His opinion was that the 2nd lap was sailed in conditions similar to Northampton i.e 35-40kts I think he said.
So was this the end of my weekend? I hoped not. After changing, and a couple of mugs of tea with Rob, we visited the Chandlery to get him a new block, Whilst he repaired his kicker system, (using tools I supplied, I must stop helping the opposition!) I packed up 807, sent a few texts appealing for the loan of a mast and set off home. After watching England throw away a victory, Rob retired to the pub where he was staying to read his book and have a pint or two, or so he said.
All hail to the Hylands who kindly lent me Eden’s mast as he is away studying (allegedly) at Uni. So, Sunday morning, I looked bleary eyed at the Windguru forecast half hoping it would say it was too windy to use a borrowed mast. No, 15-21knots. So that was it, up walk the dogs, breakfast and off to Chase SC to collect the boat and transfer Eden’s mast.
Arriving back at Rutland, I found the least muddy spot to unload and hoped I could get the car out afterwards. Rigging the mast I noticed it had fairly long spreaders and they were swept forward from the normal a bit. But their being taped up and running a bit short of time, I did not have time to fiddle about. Oh heck, I had put on a bit over the winter hadn’t I, it should be ok.
Listening to the briefing outside over the tannoy, I finally finished rigging when this apparition called Rob appeared. He was wearing his shades as I believe the light was hurting his eyes. He admitted to having “a few last night” – I suspect the definition of a few is somewhat variable. That what happens when you pick a B&B that is a pub!
The conditions at the start were given as 15-20 knots so again using the old sails, we set off. I am told that the first faceful of cold fresh water on the reach across, did wonders for Rob’s hangover.
The course was L shaped around the southern leg and main area of Rutland Water so the first leg was across the southern leg so was a bit shifty. The slow classes departed in order and I noticed the 420s go off fully powered up with crews trapezing flat. Yes folks, the wind was picking up again.
The class off 1 minute before us was the Scorpions, who normally I have not had any issue with. Now, we all know Myles opinion towards that fleet, but on the whole, until recently I have not any issue. Until Sunday!!. They decided to make a complete mess of their start and had a general recall. The Sailing Instructions clearly state that a recalled fleet go back three minutes, and having read the SIs for once I was well aware of this. So unless I had missed an amendment at the briefing they should have been keeping clear of the line for our start.
Lining up, I noticed that they were a bit keen and potentially in the way but hey, they were not starting were they? Wrong, just as I lined up one hardened up and luffed and shut me out. Whilst mouthing various muttered obscenities I shot across, round the committee boat and back to restart, behind said pack of Scorpions.
In the meantime Rob seeing the “over” flag and thinking it was him, aborted his “perfect” start and went back so putting himself behind said bunch of perfidious troublemakers. And another thing, we were told all boats over the line must go round the end or suffer disqualification. I am sure several of them did not. Mutter, mutter – a curse on all Scorpion sailors up to the 3rd generation!! Myles I am with you, sir.
Anyway back to the sailing. The top end of the first beat was shifty and gusty going from light to gust, left to right and back, very like Chasewater with an easterly. After much tooing and froing we rounded the mark amidst the Scorpions. The next leg was a reach along the shoreline with gusts and lulls, so dependent upon which one you got you could make or lose distance by the next mark. We rounded that mark about 100metres apart with the Scorpions balloon like spinnakers in front, behind and to the side of us along with the various classes we were already catching up. The breeze was reasonable, increasing as we moved down the lake. I got myself into a nice channel with clear wind and watched in amazement as Rob wore round (yes he lost his bottle) and went left.
By the time we reached the next mark, we were planing nicely and I saw Rob coming in from the left wing significantly behind, much chuckling by me I might add. So gybe (Yeh again) and off down the broad reach to the leeward mark, nice wind, some waves, not too may boats around, lovely. I wondered were Rob was, and looking back into the distance I could see a Blaze sail, head to wind. Puzzled as to why he was soooooo far back, I thought surely he had not worn round, again. No, he had dropped it on the gybe!!!
The next leg was a long beat back up the lake which was ok, the wind was steady, able to foot off and go nicely and by the top I was pleased to see Rob had not caught me up much. The leg from hell followed. It was a fetch back to the start line. I managed to get stuck below other boats and went dog slow. The next beat was the shifty one, so back to powering up the rig to get through the lulls. At the top of the beat the faster boats started coming through. Namely, a pack of Fireballs, closely followed by Merlins. Down the next reach it was a case of trying to keep some clear air from the multiple brightly coloured spinnakers
determined to block all wind out. Luckily, I managed to find some clear air and enjoyed several good gusts keeping mostly clear of trouble.
Next came one of the most hilarious 10 minutes of my sailing career. Going round onto the run, there were masses of spinnaker boats piling up and spreading out around and behind me. To try and not get killed completely I went towards the shore. Fortunately, there was sufficient wind for them all to be going quickly so they disappeared down both sides, regularly gybing for position and wind. As the wind increased towards the next mark it got faster and funnier.
Mixed in with the Fireballs and Merlins were now Scorpions, RS200s and 29ers amongst others, all trying to make their mark. Some dead running, others by the lee, and some reaching in from left and right. There was much shouting and swearing and I decided to just try and keep out of the agro. To top it all off, a 505 came screaming in on starboard, gybed round the mark, messed it up, capsized in front of a bunch. It was carnage, boats going everywhere. Fortunately, I found a clear channel, gybed, (again yeh) and managed to get to windward of all the brolly merchants for the reach.
How to describe this? Well, there were asymmetrics, Merlins, Fireballs and others all one minute going up then bearing away. At one point they were 5 to 6 deep below me. By now there were some nice waves, a bit short but you could surf a bit, plus some wind and I amused myself with threatening to luff any Merlin silly enough to look like going upwind of me. It was a blast, great fun. Needless to say the leeward mark was a raft of boats going nose to tail round it. We all know what happens when Merlins go round a mark, the instinctive luff up and stop, so I decided to not court trouble and foot off hard right and let them all play amongst themselves. That was plan A until a Musto Skiff decided to put his extended nose between me and an Osprey and work his way between us , ending up back winding me until I had to tack. I am not sure how the overtaking boat rule works in that situation,. But hey all part of the fun.
The beat ended up as a windy chase up the lake. By the end of it, I was starting to tire a bit and realised I was not working as hard as I had been, resulting in pinching up to the mark rather than sailing properly. Squeezing round it just in front of a starboard tack Flying Fifteen, who very gentlemanly let me off, ( I must revise my opinion of that fleet) I was back on the Leg from Hell which had turned into a one leg beat where I found myself under several Enterprises and other 2 sailed boats, so got myself well and truly stuffed. Rob sensibly tacked off got clear and was able to fetch down over the lot and was just behind me at the start of what was to be the final beat.
Yet again, I seemed to find myself embroiled with someone determined to spend their day pinching up to stuff me, this time a Solo, so instead of sticking to my plan of going left I tacked off. By now I have to say I had given up looking for the shifts as my back was stiffening up and I was losing loads each tack. Plus, I was severely distracted by a hissing noise as an A Class catamaran zipped passed up wind. I looked round and discovered there were two of these beasts and I spent a couple of minutes watching these beautiful craft with their towering high aspect sails carve their way round the fleet. Thus, I totally missed Rob picking up a
massive lift from the left, Oh for Plan A. Anyway he rounded the mark about 100m in front and set off on the penultimate leg where the wind had eased and there were occasional gusts but not much excitement.
The final gun went on the next run, and we ran down to next mark where there was a committee boat to officially finish supposedly not overtaking. (hah), We were asked to remember the boat in front and the one behind at the time of the finish gun and report this information to the sign off bench. How they calculated the final results must have been a task.
The result was that Rob finished 53rd and me 56th separated by about 50m and a Laser and Flying Fifteen. This placed Rob a commendable 19th overall when put with his 20th from the Saturday race. With my DNC on Saturday to count I was nowhere.
Overall, the weekend could be best described as an experience. I really enjoy the big pursuit races. This one, Bloody Mary, Dachet, Draycote, especially when there is some wind. The spectacle of all the classes racing together on one extended course is wonderful to see and such good fun. Sometimes it favors one class or another, or one type or another, but overall it is a great way to spend a day.
Special mention must be given to the rescue crews who handled a heavy work load on Saturday with aplomb and professional good cheer.
Key points I will take away from the weekend.

 

  • Rob has forgotten how to gybe in a wind (inland anyway)
  • I must get my back sorted out.
  • Stiff masts are hard work in a wind.
  • Beware a bunch of Scorpions
  • Flying Fifteens can be gentlemenly
  • Blazes can pitchpole.

 

The Steve Nicholson Trophy - 25th Jan 2014

The penultimate episode of the running drama that is the Sailjuice Series took place at Northampton Sailing Club on Saturday and, like any good series, provided a dramatic setup for the final instalment at Rutland this weekend.

T’was a muddy, wet, clear and sunny day as the boats gathered on Pitsford Water.   For the first time in the series I regretted not packing my sunglasses.   The forecast had grown in promise through the week and now predicted 8 knots building to 15, with big gusts coming straight over the dam wall.   Pretty perfect, really.

Doing battle amongst the masses this week: Ben Pickering, Martin Saveker and Alex Berry from Chase water, Ian Clarke and Rob Jones from Warsash, Jon Saunders from Felpham and local sailor Andrew McGaw.

The course was a simple port handed trapezoid with a long beat/run.   With the asymmetrics separated and given their own race the two fleets would take turns, with a break in between.   All very civilised.

A port biased line encouraged the fleet to spread and probably for the first time in the series we got a clean start.   Pickering surged off the middle of the line, well above the rest of the Blazes and tacked early to lead up the middle.   Saveker followed suit and slotted in to second place, following the same line.   In the meantime Jones and Clarke had bet on the right bank and Saunders and McGaw on the left.   Just as Pickering reached the mark, cruising in on port, the wind shifted right and lifted Jones and Clarke (and a whole collection of other boats), leaving Saveker to do battle with the chasers.   It didn’t last very long, he escaped on the run, after Pickering, whilst the fleet behind bunched and then spread wide, gybing for small gains over each other.

As promised, the breeze built a touch and hit double figures as the race wore on.   Pickering was never caught and Saveker too pulled out a gap from the chasers, who remained locked in struggle.

After losing out on the run, Rob Jones pulled it all back on the following beat.   Ian Clarke did well out of the final downwind leg and overtook Saunders, holding on to the finish.

Then we all went in for lunch.   In the meantime the asymmetric fleet cruised round in the building breeze, a picture of serenity that belied the unholy forces approaching from the West.   The sun shone brightly and we all ate chips.

As we launched for race two mother nature began dropping hints of what was to come.   Sharp, short gusts whipped over the treeline that sheltered the club house and raced in waves down the water.   There were a few capsizes as boats launched, downwind, in to the uncertain breeze.   Yet still the sun shone.

With the start sequence underway the breeze switched up a couple of notches.   Ten knots became fifteen gusting twenty-five and the gentle clap-clap of luffing sails grew from polite applause to a threatening clamour.   I saw some spray being whipped off of the chop.   Hmm.

At the gun the Blazes headed left, Saveker and Saunders at the pin end, with Jones above them in the center.   He tacked early while the others held on and headed, broadly, up the middle.

Things were still just about civilised as the fleet approached the windward mark.   Jones led, followed by Savaker and then Clark, Saunders having stalled in a tack.   Somewhere in the next couple of legs Jones capsized and handed the lead to Saveker, who sailed unchallenged to the end.

Clark capsized on the third leg and, close to the shore and in steadily worsening weather, retired.   At some stage Pickering and Berry also called “time” on the maddening conditions.

As lap two began the race dissolved in to survival conditions.   Twenty knots, a sailable mean, gusted to thirty five, sometimes higher, and the downwind leg became a circus.   Saveker and Jones took to reaching down and then wearing round, which, while cowardly, proved more effective than my strategy of trying to gybe run-to-run, an exercise that left me with first-hand experience of drowning and a sizeable insurance claim.   I stood on my upturned hull, drifting past the leeward mark and watched the carnage.   Saveker and then Jones passed by, expertly dodging the many victims of hubris on their way to the finish.

Little did I know that we were the lucky ones.

The asymmetric fleet had already launched and, as the howling wind seemed to ease, started as planned.   By that time I was back on the foreshore, rolling a sail (and noting, happily, that I had not put my knee through it).   I was interrupted by a deep, long roar as the treeline behind me suddenly yielded to a powerful force.   Everyone stopped what they were doing and looked out.   Rain now shot horizontally over the dam wall towards the gathered boats and in a matter of seconds the entire lake was completely obscured.   When the air cleared the fleet was gone.   Of thirty boats, two remained upright, the hulls dimly visible like floating corpses.   The race was hastily abandoned and a steadily trickle of sailors/survivors began arriving back at the club.

Then a double rainbow appeared (not making this up).   The sun once again bathed the water in a balmy afternoon glow and flocks of gulls settled by the dam wall.  

On the way home the radio reported a storm travelling across the country.   It went on to wreck a few homes in Surrey.   In the same evening a mini-tornado lifted cats in to the air.   I suppose we should count ourselves lucky.

Final results:

Martin Saveker: 7th overall

Rob Jones: 25th overall

Ben Pickering: 61st

Ian Clark: 75th

Jon Saunders: 77th

Andrew McGaw (curiously unlisted but presumably) 78th

Alex Berry: 99th

The Oxford Blue - 4th January 2014

For sailors, weather forecasts are like Twitter (bear with me); addictive, colourful and ultimately futile. For the Oxford Blue the predictions of our various services had swung from "don't bother going, it'll be dead" to "I hope you've got insurance" and finally rested somewhere in between.

 

With some confidence then, 110 competitors turned out in craft of all shapes and sizes, and the largest fleet among them, us. Nine in total, mostly from southern climbs, set to rigging in the carpark of yet-another-concrete-hole. Don't get me wrong, Farmoor is surrounded by beautiful countryside and the Club is both well kitted out and welcoming, but I am beginning to notice a pattern in the backdrop for these events!

 

As for the futility of forecasts...A light, unreliable breeze accompanied drab, reliable, very English rain as we twanged our rigs and admired Martin's impressive system of adjustable shrouds. He may be on to something. So pervasive was the wet that some got in to kit early, for comfort.

 

To business! The course, a simple trapezoid. The race, straight handicap with two starts and we, as ever, in the latter. With everyone afloat the RO, determined to get a clean start, set a port bias line and even held up proceedings to re-lay the windward mark as the breeze took a (predicted) swing to the right. The fast fleet were recalled regardless and, getting away cleanly on their second attempt, signalled the end of the useful wind (and the last payment of my windguru subscription)

 

In the dying breeze most of the Blazes had sensibly stayed close to the line and gathered near the pin end to make a good show of it. Mike Lyons led the fleet off to the left and, in his usual unearthly style, lightly began stretching out a lead. Ian Clarke, Rob Jones and Myles Mences all tacked off beneath him, but he held on for the layline and cruised in to the windward mark on port, making it all look contemptibly easy.

 

Meanwhile, at the other end of the course, Jon Saunders, having safely watched the fast start, found himself too far away from his own to make the line and, along with a myriad pack of rogues, attacked the committee boat end a good thirty seconds after the gun. Back at the front Lyons escaped clean. His immeadiate chasers, Martin Savekar and Mences became embroiled in a battle with the usual front runners, with Myles "the menace" continuing his vendetta against the Scorpions by ruthlessly shutting one out at the wing mark (which, by the way, had become a leeward mark).

 

The breeze, ever unsteady, shifted yet further to the right, turning the beat in to a fetch and depriving the course of easy overtaking oppurtunities. Race one concluded as an agonising procession, almost funereal, to the distant finish line.

 

Not that I'm biased, or anything.

 

After hovering around the start for a half hour or so, the fleet was ordered to shore. Of course, with the fleet ashore the fickle weather gods had nobody to mock and sent a promising little gem of a breeze to tempt us all back. And back we went.

 

To be fair, that little promise did hold for a while, at one point building to a dizzying 10 knots.

This time it was our fleet's turn to be recalled. When the start did come, under a black flag, Lyons led Mences off the port end, Savekar gunned for clean air in the middle and Mike Bell avoided the fight altogether and found a gap at the supposedly ill favoured boat end. Savekar had the best of it, Lyons, having hung on for the port layline again, abandoned his course and tacked early, while Mences sailed on to the corner. It was a mistake, the breeze had freshened on the right side of the course. Savekar led to the windward mark, followed by Lyons and then Bell, coming in from the right. As for Jones and Clarke...they were in the bar, the better part of valour and all that.

After a lap and a half of meaningful racing the fleet order still stood, though Lyons was closing Savekar down. A shortened course saved him, and the rest of the Blazes, for no sooner had the last one finished than the great fan on-high once again turned off. The rest of the scattered entries sat, kytes hanging, motionless, like an oil painting. It took over half an hour for them to finish the last two legs. Such is life.

 

I knew that that half hour probably saved me from a truly embarissing result, 26th wasnt bad, considering. What it probably also did was cripple the fast fleet, who, almost without exception, rely on a decent breeze to sail even close to handicap. So do we, of course, but we had already finished. Both the fast-fleet boats that had beaten Lyons in race one were hamstrung in race two. So the winner of the event would probably be from the slow fleet. The principal competition there came from the Scorpions, but one carried a 26th in race one (they had been caught too far from the line, as I had). The other was much, much closer.

 

Yet it was, with surprise in all quarters, Mike Lyons who carried the day, as both first Blaze and overall winner. What's that? A Blaze winning a handicap event on a no-wind day!?

 

In a short speech he suggested simply that "every dog has its day," and assured the onlookers that someone else would no doubt take the trophy from him next year.

 

A victory, certainly, though I fear it may have unintended consequences. Two years ago a certain Mr Miller won the Brass Monkey, another Sailjuice event. The following year the Blaze handicap (for the series uses it's own handicapping system) dropped fifteen points, only, after no Blaze won anything in the subsequent year, to gain thirteen of them back.

 

So well done, Mike, now we will never win anything ever again.

 

Jon Saunders

 

Results may be found here

 

The Bloody Mary - 11th Jan 2014

The Bloody Mary, arguably the biggest sailing event in the UK, is quite an experience.   While the prospect of yet another concrete bowl may not appeal to many (not to mention launching with the aid of a winch) the sheer scale of things is something that should be experienced by everyone at least once.   For the benefit of the uninitiated, the format is simple.   A single 160 minute pursuit race, doing full laps of the reservoir.   The slowest allowed boat is a Topper and the fastest an International Moth.   The venue’s main feature is a long spit that divides it almost completely in two, forcing the course in to a W shape.

I’ve been before, a decade ago in a Laser and my only recollection is drifting round in a force nothing, watching the cockpit-puddle slowly freeze over and enjoying the sight of an International Moth trying and failing to roll gybe its way across the world’s biggest mill pond.   Then I got sailed over by a Thames A Rater and its 40 ft mast.

Ten years on and I found myself staring up at another A rater, now sporting the biggest carbon stick I’ve ever seen, and once again thinking “that cannot be legal.”  

I thought I’d have reason to grumble, the forecast had sagged during the week down to a depressing 6 knots, gustless and gutless.   Looking down the pre-entries, I spied one name, Rob Jones, who had decided that the time was better spent in bed and as we prepared to launch I felt he had probably been right.   At least it was sunny.

Five Blazes had made the trip and gathered by the ample line to while away the minutes (thirty two after the Toppers).   The wind direction (WNW) would mean a reaching start, so the organisers tacked a short beat to the first mark from the middle of the lake.   The line looked pretty even, but watching previous starts large shifts seemed to quickly separate the fleets.   For a short beat (a hundred yards?) huge gains were being made.   As for our start, shared with the Scorpions, the fleet split in twain.   I headed down the line with Martin Savaker, whilst Steve Pollard, Martin Jones and Stuart Wilson stuck to the starboard end, a long with the Scorpions.   They were right to do so and seemed to get an early lift.   I sensed doom and tacked early while Savaker held on for the port lay-line.   It was Steve up the middle that won out and led the rest of us around and downwind to the first point of the W.

Now, sailing the Bloody Mary is rather different to almost anything else.   Due to the nature of the course there are few “normal” legs.   The runs are all crooked, as are the beats, the reaches are fetches or training runs, never beam.   Overtaking is usually done at very close quarters and en-masse and the mark roundings degrade in to violent maelstroms punctuated by the wails of over-trained squaddies clashing with people who were sailing before the no-contact rule was invented.   “Stay out of trouble” is an excellent, if difficult, principle.   I spent much of my race trying to guess the demeanour of the boat in front.   Will they try and luff me off the course?   Or will they go quietly in to the night.   Most, wisely, opt for the latter.

As the race progressed three Blazes broke away, Jones, Savaker and myself.   Jones lead dissolved on the second of the two “spit” legs that formed the centre of the W.   Approaching the mark, Jones stayed high, hoping his wind shadow would prevent an overlap, Savaker dived low, hoping to escape it, while I, between them, tried to do both.   By some miracle, I came out on top and had the pleasure of leading until the following beat.   It was, apart from the start, the only true beat of the course and it was a marvellous sight to gaze upwind at the myriad of boats and their equally myriad strategies.   I’m not sure either side really paid, tacking “on the shifts” seemed to be the only clear strategy and as actual sailing has never been my strong point Savaker crushed me pretty comprehensively.

After an incident involving two 420s and a disappearing gap I was well out of the running for lead Blaze and Martin sailed round for the rest of the race unhindered by me.   Behind us the rest of the Blaze fleet had also parted company and we sailed round as little islands of red in a sea of white.   In spite of our dismal self-forecasts we found ourselves propelled toward the front quite easily.  The Blaze has always handled well on unorthodox points of sail and the fetches that were proving so troublesome for other classes were a real gift to us (as long as you were willing to stretch your legs a bit). When the regular little whistles from a finishing rib came Martin was lying 11th, I was in 23rd and Steve Pollard lay 66th.   Not a bad top three for the conditions.

A full set of photography from the event isn’t out yet but there is one rather marvellous photo, of the lead boat, a National 12, crossing the finish line.   In the background you can make out the crazed mob of pursuers, all shapes and all sizes, parading toward the final mark.   It’s a lovely image of mass-participation and captures well the epic scale of the event.   If you have never been, go, at least once.   It is a truly unique experience.