The weather forecast for Saturday 17th July was rather cheerless, which might have accounted for 3 or 4 no-shows for the Portsmouth SC event in this year’s Solent Series. However, it turned out dry, warm and sunny with a steady south westerly, blowing 10 knots rising to 18 as the sea breeze kicked in for the afternoon race, and providing the best racing conditions of the Series so far.
Twenty one yachts assembled at Gleeds and the race officer called us to order on schedule. There was a slight hiccup as the RO fired the Preparatory signal 1 minute early, but quickly pointed out the mistake over the VHF and re-fired on time 60 seconds later. No-one seemed phased by this and Classes 1 & 2 got away to a clean start on a beat to Bob Kemp, off Ryde. A number of the visiting yachts, ourselves included, over-estimated the tidal set and over-stood the mark by a long, long way, handing the local yachts an easy lead. Class 3 also got a clean start, using the closer North Sturbridge as their windward mark. From then on, all classes sailed the same course.
A gybing run back to Mary Rose followed. This seemed a sneaky choice as it is a very dirty, almost invisible wreck marker, not shown on the Solent racing charts but known to all the local boats and listed on PSC’s web site. Still, our mistake at the windward mark meant we could follow the local boats who know exactly where to find it.
A fine’ish port reach to Vail Williams followed, which tempted several yachts to try carrying their spinnakers. However, they couldn’t hold them and soon everyone was down to genoas only.
Then a short beat back to RNC/RAYC, a racing mark which is almost on the beach just east of Gilkicker point - we went down to 0.4 metres under the keel on the approach – followed by a spinnaker reach back to Mary Rose. The temptation to gybe with spinnakers and attempt the reach to Vail Williams overcame several yachts again, enabling us to recover 200 metres as they all struggled, broached and eventually gave up and dropped to genoas.
A final short beat back to Gleeds and the finish saw all four classes finishing together. Within 30 minutes we were all ready to go again; so no time for sandwiches. For the second race the RO kept the same courses, and this time we had all the mark positions locked in our gps – so no mistakes this time.
The second start for classes 1 & 2 was electric, with most of the fleet hitting the line right on the gun – in fact I suspect some of us might have been over, but the RO wanted his tea! We (an Elan 40) started between Sabriel, a class 1 Bavaria 42, and High Tension, a very quick J109. The battle continued all the way up the windward leg, with only our differing handicaps beginning to stretch us out. Class 3 followed, and picked up our earlier mistake, with many boats overstanding N Sturbridge on the second time round.
The wind had started to freshen now and the downwind leg tested everyone’s gybing skills, with the inevitable broach for some. Again, those who succumbed to the temptation to try carrying their spinnakers on the fine reach, paid the price, before dropping back to genoas.
The final spinnaker reach of the day proved quite spectacular, as the wind was gusting strongly by this time. A small J80 (Juicy) rounded the mark behind us, hoisted her asymmetric and rocketed past us as though we were standing still, despite our spinnaker being double her entire sail area. In order to get our kite down in the strong wind, we approached the mark high, then bore away onto a run, to “hide” the spinnaker behind the main and genoa. The J80 wasn’t so lucky and broached quite badly; so we had recovered all their lead by the time they managed to get theirs down and stowed.
A short beat back to Gleeds and a great day’s racing over at just after three o’clock. Congratulations to Sabriel who took the day’s honours in Class 1, High Tension in Class 2 and Shades of Blue in Class 3. Amazingly, Hot Rats and Xarifa dead-heated on corrected time in the 2nd race – leaving the crews ruing those little mistakes that cost a second or two and made all the difference!
PSC invited everyone back to the club after racing; so we tied up on one of Premiere’s outer pontoons and a club rib had us across the harbour in double quick time, for drinks and a buffet in their listed building in the historic old town. We found we’d been awarded two firsts, but after owning up to being in Class 2 rather than Class 1, we were demoted to a 4th and 2nd – alas!
Our thanks go to Portsmouth SC for a great day’s racing; good courses; perfect weather; well organised - no hanging about; an opportunity to meet the other crews in the bar; and chance for a nap on the trip back to Hamble. Couldn’t have been better!