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Teach Dinghy Sailing by Gaz Harrison
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Firebird Orion goes Round the Island

by Harvey Bowden 3 Jul 2012 10:43 BST 30 June 2012

Epic. 4 hrs, 27 mins 32 secs. A record for a Firebird. 53 mins in front of the next competitor and best corrected time in class by 32 minutes! What a blast.

Crew for this year was my son Roy who's been with me for most of the last 16 years plus Ben from the UKSA on the Isle of Wight. So strong crew ready for a strong wind race.

At the start the wind was moderate but forecast to build heavily so we put in a reef. Meanwhile, the radio broadcast the usual timings and something about class cancellations so, getting a bit deaf now, I gave the radio to Ben and asked him to listen out for the repeat, whilst expressing my concerns. "The Island Sailing Club never cancel a race for weather" he said. Later he confirmed it was a false alarm and all about donning life jackets. So, being dutiful competitors, we did.

Ben has local knowledge and vast experience so he was tactician for the race. We had an Island side start on port with clear air and we were off. Tacking down the Solent to the Needles and passing all the early start monohulls. And then disaster. An enthusiastic lowering of the port dagger board jammed it. Solid. One of the stops was missing and this allowed the board to go down into the casing. Serious concern, as rounding the Needles and going downwind with a fully deployed dagger board, ready to trip you up and pitchpole you, was a capsize waiting to happen. The usual panic pulling, kicking and heaving was having no effect. I'm sailing for speed and considering all the options when Roy shouts "I've got an idea". He then proceeds to deploy the port spinnaker-sheet as a heaving-line attached to the daggerboard up-haul. Ben mans the winch and with everything straining Roy proceeds to kick the top of the dagger board like a bovver boy doing someone's head in. It worked. The board popped up and up popped our spirits. We are back to being fully functional and ready for anything.

We get to the Needles and turn the corner at 08.45 which is good going but not spectacular.

And then for the off.

The sea state is lumpy but by no means outrageous so we check wind angles and decide the spinnaker is a bit too much and aim straight for St Catherine's two sail deep reaching against the tide. And we are fast. And we get faster as our technique of bearing up for increased speed and bearing away to keep her from pitchpoling develops. By St Catherine's we are all testosterone pumped up and ready for everything. Including being cautious. So we steadily pile through the overfalls keeping her upright and very grateful that we are there early, with only two hours of ebb tide to build the overfall wind-against-tide waves up.

Time now is 09.40 (this is all courtesy of ISC Race Viewer tracking system). A stonking time from the Needles.

Once through I make the tactical error of going for sea room before launching the spinnaker. We are being ultra cautious, (read scared), as we are so far in front there is only one big boat with us and the leader, ICAP Leopard, has long gone. I know there is a second line of overfalls a mile past St Catherine's so when safely through we gybe for the island and raise the spinnaker on port tack. And we hold it. Sighs of relief all round. We've got it tamed so off we go again. This time even more hairilly. This is why we do it. It's like racing a roller coaster, sitting in front, with control of throttle and no brakes. It's all down to us. One mistake and we pitchpole, just like that.

And we nearly do. One big stuff and Orion stops dead. Roy flies up the trampoline and crashes into the main-beam, just like he did in 1996 when we pitchpoled whilst in the lead. This time however all the sheets are already let go and she pops up and roars off again. Roy is ok. No broken bits so great relief. I've done it once to him so don't want to do it again.

Gybing into and out of Sandown bay we chase the only boat in contention, a great big mono straight-lining for Bembridge. We overshoot the mark a bit but no worries, plenty of time to get the spinnaker down safely and prepare for the reach to the Forts. All goes according to plan and off we go two sail deep reaching. Again. This is great speed.

Time now is 10.55 and another stonking leg.

What about tactics for getting up the Solent against the tide? Shoreside or Island side? Lets get to the Forts and decide.

So we scream for the Forts maintaining great speed and pass to port as they are no longer a mark of the course. Clip the red post marking the end of Ryde sands and harden up for Cowes. Tactics? what tactics; with this amount of wind and a tight reach past Osbourne bay it's go for it in one tack to the finish.

Our great big fat mono is well ahead but we delight in hauling him in. Fast. We pass to leeward of him across Osbourne bay and wave a friendly hello (meaning "got you"). And then for the line. Just around the corner and can we can still make it on this tack.

Studying the boats ahead we think we can see the committee boat straight in front of us. Amazing. One tack from Bembridge and we're nearly home. But not quite. A moments lapse in concentration brings near disaster. Within 100 meters of the line, sailing a straight course and relying on Ben to let go the mainsheet to keep her from capsizing, Roy shouts, Ben comments "I'm all out" and I look up to see us capsizing. Spectacularly, right in front of the committee boat. No wonder they are all scared of multihulls. Autonomic response kicks in, I let go the traveller, and Orion falls out of the sky and keeps going. Across the line. First in class.

No gun.

What? could someone have been in front? Could they have moved a Grand Prix boat into our class?

Oh well, we'll find out later. We've so often been first over the line only to lose it later on handicap that we never raise our expectations too high.

Back on the dock I look for my iPhone that has been sending the GPS positioning. Nowhere to be seen. Must have left it in the shore-bag. Really? unlikely as we are so organised. I wonder if? Up the boards and there it is in the bilges! Floating around in a ten year old plastic bag. Uh-oh. Is it working? Yes, great, thank you little plastic bag.

Read the messages of congratulations from Ann and friends having watched Race Viewer tracking and then a call from Al Wood asking about a capsized multihull. Was it a Dragonfly? Sorry Al, didn't see anything. And then the bombshell, "sorry about you lot being cancelled". What? Yes, all multihulls below 9.15m, had their race cancelled due to the weather forecast (we are just 8m).

It was a great race. Epic.

Statistics c/o Race Viewer:

  • Needles 13.3nm - 1 hour 35 mins - 8.4kn vmg upwind
  • St Catherine's 12.8nm - 55 mins - 14kn vmg two sail deep reach
  • Bembridge 12.4nm - 1 hour 15 mins - 10kn vmg spinnaker down wind (carefully)
  • Finish 11.6nm - 42 mins - 16.5kn vmg
  • Overall 50.1nm- 4 hours 27 mins - 11.25kn vmg

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