Sailed: 6, Discards: 1, To count: 5, Entries: 19, Scoring system: Appendix A
Back in January when Ed told me that we were going to have a joint Sprint 15/Dart 18 Open meeting in June I thought what a delightful change it would make to sail in warm sunny and breezy conditions. Draycote winter opens have traditionally presented a variety of wind conditions; either it was so windy that we never got out of the wet bar, or, there was so little wind that it just wasn't worth getting out of the wet bar. So, here we are in "blazing June" in weather conditions that payed complete homage to the "D" Day landings of seventy-five years ago. It was cold, wet and extremely windy. So, summer or winter, thank goodness for the Draycote wet bar and its endless supplies of warm drinks and bacon rolls.
The weekend started well enough on Friday afternoon because Ed Tuite-Dalton had arranged a special coaching afternoon with Brian Phipps (the "Yoda" of the catamaran world). Around nine local Sprint bods and Nigel James from Marconi SC gathered for a question answer session with Brian before going out on the frothing water for hands-on tuition in a fresh 5 gusting 6 "summer breeze" accompanied by a "gentle" lashing of summer rain. When I say hands on, Brian has a disconcerting habit of bouncing out of the RIB onto the nearest passing Sprint to demonstrate to the hapless helmsman where he's going wrong before bouncing back onto the RIB and on to the next unsuspecting miscreant. Luckily the gentle 5 gusting 6 "breeze" moderated which enabled Brian to run a number of group exercises on the water before a final de-brief on the bank. All in all, a very useful and enjoyable afternoon for all concerned. Brian (Yoda) continued to float around the boat park for the remainder of the weekend and chipped in a few timely hints regarding traveller position and batten tension as the conditions changed.
Saturday morning dawned grey and extremely windy with a rather less than gentle 6 gusting 7 "breeze" whipping the surface of our lake into something resembling a biblical epic. I stripped the cover off my boat and, along with my Draycote comrades, headed to the wet bar to have a coffee and meet with our numerous visitors. Phil Taylor had a bacon roll. Racing was due to start at 1200 but given the howling wind it was clear that the combined Sprint and Dart fleet was going nowhere except the wet bar. The race was put back an hour in the optimistic hope that the wind would do what WindGuru said and moderate. In view of the delay, Phil Taylor had a bacon roll. The nice thing about being trapped in the wet bar is that it gives the fleet a chance to catch up, keep warm, quaff tea and coffee, whilst watching the Draycote training folk take out rookie sailors for a "taster" session (Taster session in a force 6? Really?). If nothing else, it proved that where a refund of money is at stake they can happily fill up a Wayfarer with up to four newbies (who don't know any better), reef the sail down to something akin to a pocket handkerchief whereupon it becomes possible to give somebody a cold and wet sailing experience in a howling gail. Next, a Laser 4.7 from our junior fleet bravely set out across the water, closely followed by his own personal rescue boat (which he needed quite rapidly). One of our visiting coastal comrades ventured to suggest that we should go out because it was, "only a force 4" before Jenny Ball patiently explained to him that whilst a white-cap wave at sea will generally indicate a Force 4, to achieve the same effect on a big inland lake like Draycote generally requires something more like a vicious Force 7. So true. The committee boat went out, and came back in again. Phil Taylor had another bacon roll.
Mid-day arrived and somebody had to test the conditions so Paul Grattage, Liam Thom and Draycote's very own Jan Elfring left the warmth of the wet-bar to give the lake a try. Phil Taylor had another bacon roll. Jan set off with a bunch of the local fleet sailors lending moral support from the bank. He launched into conditions that can only be described as wet and wild. In the distance we could see Paul and Liam dpeart the bank at something approaching the speed of light, zipping through the water in massive clouds of frothing spray. Jan followed their example and headed for the far bank where he finally summoned up the courage to gybe and capsize out of sight of the assembled crowd. He managed to capsize quite easily but was perfectly visible to the assembled crowd. The rescue boat helped him up and back he came. Meanwhile, Liam and Paul were managing to stay upright but even their advanced skills were being fully tested. Watching Paul gybe in these conditions was scary to say the least. Jan was welcomed onto the bank by his Draycote fleet "pit" team who dragged him and the boat out of the lake, drained the hulls (and fitted a new set of wet-weather tyres) whilst Jan headed up the bank to replace a broken batten and a blown batten pocket. This done, we all headed back to the wet bar. Phil Taylor had a bacon roll.
Our three heroes now having proven the possibility of sailing, it was decided to start the first race at 3pm and the marker buoys headed out into the lake on a RIB. The fleet left the wet-bar with a degree of reluctance to be assured by evilly smiling Bosun that he now had four rescue boats ready on the water. Sure enough, there they were, all lurking slightly off-shore resembling nothing so much as a bunch of hungry, cold and wet (but otherwise expectant) vultures. On our way down to the boats in the howling wind some bright spark remarked that it was a bit like a walk to the gallows. Up went our sails and out we went on a screaming reach towards the Committee boat now moored in the distance off the opposite bank.
The first race was a real survival exercise and around four boats needed the attention of the rescue boats. Only 13 of the 19-boat fleet managed to finish. Phil Taylor chipped a couple of teeth executing a face-first gybe and bit his boat (made a change from a bacon roll I suppose). Paul Grattage (Shanklin) came first, Chris Tillyer (Marconi) second and John Pearse (Marconi) was third.
The wind had now started to moderate and our second race proved to be exciting rather than horrific. It was arguably the best race of the weekend with enough wind to keep the sailing exciting but not so much that it was necessary to seek help from the Almighty and pray. Dave Rowe broke his tiller and had a new one delivered by a passing rescue boat. The new tiller was so long that it resembled a second mast. I got a good start for a change and reached the windward mark on starboard half way down the fleet just in front of Derek James. Unfortunately, I didn't allow enough for sideways drift and banged the mark. So, I went around again, and did exactly the same thing. I made a third attempt by which time I'd worked my way to the very back of the fleet and the on-station rescue boat asked me to leave because I was making them dizzy. Meanwhile Paul Grattage (Shanklin) came in first, Jenny Ball (Marconi) second and Chris Tillyer third. Rumour has it that even that redoubtable Stuart Snell took a dip at the gybe mark on this race!
Against all odds given the late start we fitted in a third race but by now the wind had all but gone and the down-wind legs developed into a near drift. Light weather tactics prevailed. Jenny Ball (Marconi) came first, Stuart Snell (Graffam) came second and Paul Grattage (Shanklin) third. Richard Knight was particularly impressed when Paul Grattage lapped him on one of the down-wind legs and Richard took the trouble to learn from Paul's light weather technique of standing on the front beam and gybing on wind-shifts. Quite a master-class according to Richard.
So, day one came to an end with wind conditions providing something for everybody as well as the traditional spell in the wet-bar. The fleet retired to the top bar for fish and chips and to drown its sorrows. Owen Jones, one of our home fleet competitors, manned the bar late into the night and in so doing earned the grateful thanks of our visitors.
According to WindGuru, day two should have provided a decent 4 gusting 5. Unfortunately, there was no such luck and the day started off with a gentle 2 gusting 3 breeze which tailed off through the rest of the day. I arrived at the boat park to be greeted by the local fleet boys getting their boats ready with Phil Taylor smiling from ear to ear (at least, I think it was Phil. It's hard to recognise him without a bacon roll). Apparently, Phil was highly amused by the bad language emanating from Dave Rowe (at least I think it was Dave Rowe. It's hard to recognise him without his office radiator) complaining bitterly about his sore "arse", which it seems had taken a real battering in races 1 and 2 the day before. Since Dave assured me that he has not raced his boat since our winter Open in January, his nether regions have evidently gone soft and need more practice. Jan Elfring turned up late suffering from a work reunion the night before. It seems the alarm went off but Jan treated it with a degree of contempt, but not before WhatsApping his "pit team" asking us to get his boat ready..
In the fourth race the wind dropped further to the great frustration of a very irritated Dave Rowe. It's not easy to imagine what Dave must have said to make ex-copper Phil Taylor complain about the fruity language, but Dave managed it. Our very own Ed Tuite-Dalton (Draycote) took first position, Paul Grattage (Shanklin) second and Liam Thom (Shanklin) third.
Stuart Snell (Grafham) was first in Race 5, Pete Slater (Draycote) was second and Liam Thom (Shanklin) third. The race was characterised by decreasing winds and inexplicable wind shifts.
In the final race frustration set in with practically no wind in the centre of the lake and despite a good start, Ed Tuite-Dalton saw his first place disappear when Pete Slater and Stuart Snell ghosted past him in "snakes and ladders" sailing conditions. Pete Slater (Draycote) took first position (sailing one of Ed Tuite-Dalton's fleet of old boats that we now seem to have at Draycote), Paul Grattage (Shanklin) was second and Stuart Snell (Grafham) third. Paul's achievement on this race was even more impressive when you consider that at the start he rafted up with Bill Hurr, Derek James and the Committee boat - Owen Jones cannily having denied them all access to the start line. Paul crossed the start line last but still finished second!
The overall winner of the open was Paul Grattage (Shanklin), Jenny Ball second (Marconi) and Stuart Snell (Grafham) third.
All in all, it was a varied and interesting summer weekend at Draycote and the fleet can justifiably claim to have been tested in all conditions (yet still maintaining the tradition of a spell in the Draycote wet bar). The decision to hold a joint open with the Dart 18's added a new dimension and it was certainly interesting to see the "big cats" prowling around the start line in close action alongside their smaller siblings. The consensus was that it worked quite well and certainly helped with the sometimes-challenging economics of holding an open meeting at a big club like Draycote. It's always gratifying to get so many visitors from distance clubs but we also like to think that our lake will respond by making the trip worthwhile!
Full Series Results available here