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Noble Marine Rooster RS200 National Championships at Hayling Island SC - Report from the Rear

by James Nicholls 31 Aug 15:17 BST 21-25 August 2022

Day 1

You might think the Nationals is all about the winners, but it is every bit as exciting right at the back of the enormous fleet we had at Hayling Island Sailing Club. Everyone is having their own personal battles; at the front, in the middle, or just fighting to beat their local rivals.

We are a couple in our fifties who have been trying to get to grips with our RS200 'Silver Surfer' for about two years. We sail at Chelmarsh Sailing Club, racing around the cans against Supernovas, Lasers, RS Aeros and the odd GP14. This menagerie fleet has about 10 to 15 boats. We had never raced against any 200s. We had both sailed in the distant past but not at national level.

At club level no one takes any notice of me when I shout "mast abeam", and my idea of adjusting the kicking strap (which I now call the vang like the AC75s), was to pull it tight on land, and leave it like that for the day. We had never done an open meeting, and I had to look up windward-leeward courses. Luckily in early August we had a 2 hour training session on Bala learning to use the gennaker properly, this gave us a 'steer' on tacking downwind & rhumb lines.

Day 1 started in light winds and it took ages, like a good hour, just to get to sailing area "Alpha". It felt incredible to be on the sea, two miles from the clubhouse, with 182 boats on the start line with a fleet of sailors who all look about 12!

Before the wind arrived, we had two great starts, or rather, we managed to hang around the pin end of the gate and neatly drifted across the line a few boat lengths behind the Pathfinder. And then we hang around for an hour waiting for the wind to exceed the 5 knot minimum. We have now been on the water longer than for the past 30 years. I was looking around for the loos and the Starbucks tender which were nowhere to be seen.

AP was flying but for how long? We were now hoping for flag A (see, I am concentrating) and a leisurely drift back, possibly the 18 rescue boats each towing 10 (like we did with ducklings in Optimists back in the 1980s).

Then the forecast 3-4 kicked in with vengeance. "Are they seriously going to ask us to race now?!" We said to each other rhetorically cos they seriously were. And not only that, but now the start line is a seriously busy place. Doing really well not to pierce another competitor with our pole. Race 1 start, not so good but not so bad. By the first mark we are probably in the last 15 boats. OK, so we are a bit heavier than most crews but this should be a bit of an advantage in more wind?

Now we make the turn and launch the genny for the first time in a swell, and with other boats around us. Joking apart, I did know that 200s don't really go downwind but this was the first time we had ever really done that reaching-gybe-reaching- gybe thing in any kind of wind and that was exhilarating. We worked SOOOO hard on that first race, and, where did we come? Other than the DNC's (Did Not Come?) and DNF's we just managed to pip a serious looking pair with an intimidating dark blue gennaker over the line. Officially this was 174th, second from last.

OMG - all that effort and only second-from-last. But hey, we managed to get to the start - tick; did not hit anyone - tick; started within the time window - tick; did not capsize - tick; and finished within the time limit - tick. WE ARE DOING SO WELL and WE DID NOT COME LAST. YEAH HEY!

Race two got away cleanly, but by now we are quite tired. I would like to open the hatch, go below and make a cup of tea and my crew is suggesting I buy a Supernova. But we manage to get around again with no calamities. We are at the back of the fleet, but so what, we are working as hard as we can. We are vying with two or three boats and IT REALLY MATTERS.

You might think it is exciting at the front of the fleet, but, I promise you, we care just as much at the back. Our ambitions are still fairly modest; get around and finish, but lo-and-behold our old enemy with the blue gennaker is right with us.

We are both criss-crossing on the gybes on that last leg and we are probably just ahead of them. If we do not screw up now, we might still beat them. At the leeward mark we gybe badly onto port for that final reach for the finishing line, that is enough to allow 'evil blue genny' to catch up. It's quite a tight reach with the genny up so we head for the leeward end of the line right by Lady G, the committee boat.

We are right there, but so is Mr Bluebeard. And his genny is pulling more than ours. It was a photo-finish but the photo (due to the angle of the finish line) had Bluebeards beat us. We came last, but by less than a second.

What a day! Two races in THE NATIONALS completed. And we were not so far behind all the other boats that we look completely stupid. The sail back is beautiful. 180 colourful sails in a mass, zooming back to HISC and we are on a high. Seriously, we are feeling great. All we have to do, tomorrow, is slightly improve.

Day 2

Firstly, we learn that Mr Bluebeard is not evil nor particularly malevolent, but Josh a friendly chap from Burghfield whose boat was literally sinking the entire first day, and they still beat us.

Day 2 is quite blowy, and the sail out to the race area is a hard beat, it is quite lumpy particularly by Bar Beacon, and we are not allowed to cut the corner. That's like an extra mile, for goodness sakes!

Arriving at the committee boat, it is starting to look like those crazy pictures and clips of 200s zipping around, now this really IS sailing. Our start was timid and probably stupid. We started far too near the pin perhaps 40 seconds after the Pathfinder has passed. This basically meant that we could never get good wind. For ease, we probably stay on that tack for far too long because when we eventually tack onto port, instead of getting a lift from all the boats on starboard, we are getting dirty wind from 180 boats to windward on both tacks.

This is hard work because it is blowing something like the upper end of a force 4 gusting 5 and very choppy. But we are ok, we are sailing on our tell tales and with our weight, it feels like we are making progress.

When we get close to the windward mark for that final tack onto starboard we are not quite last but not far off it. But in the tack I let go of the tiller extension, a risky habit I have, because I am still trying to rid myself of my classic RYA "front foot forward, back foot back, swivel to the stern" method of tacking (good for transom mainsheet setups, if you must know) and, of course, in the chaos of the tack we go around way too far and over we go.

We have not mastered going over the top, so we both end up in sea, which is pleasantly warm (perhaps from all that sewage discharged into the harbour). We cannot stop it turtling. I am always surprised at how slippy the bottom of the boat is, trying to climb on is like a kind of comedy with me just about getting on and then diving off like a 1970s public information film (that really is one for the oldies - look it up kids). I manage to pull it half up but I am not on the centreboard, I am in the water and just using my plentiful weight.

Eventually she does come up with my crew is scooped up efficiently. She is smiling, so that is nice, unfortunately, she does not keep her weight on the windward side and the slippy tub comes over on top of me and promptly turtles again. This time I am shouting to my crew to throw the righting line. [Note to self: fit gunnel righting lines as suggested by my good friend, David Thursfield].

Naturally the righting line we do have, has deliberately twisted itself into a knot of Calabi-Yau complexity, it takes ages for my crew to eventually chuck it over. I very much enjoy grabbing the reassuring string and use it to good effect to get the boat up again. Like a dozing orca, she rolls over on top of me to windward. Now, I enjoy a good swim as much as anyone but this is getting quite tiring.

Finally, we right the boat, but with neither of us in it! We are both on opposite sides hanging on to the gunnels with the boat trying to bear away and sail off. My crew manages to get herself in, via the stern. I firmly suggest, that she position herself on the windward side to keep the boat flat. I may have said some expletives but I am sure that you can use your imagination. As elegantly as a walrus, I manage to get myself aboard but exhausted.

I have no idea how long we were over (feels like maybe three days?) but the kindly safety RIB crew stood by shouting encouragement. We retired with enough energy to get home and the sail back was exhilarating.

Day 3

"You're ****ing kidding me?!" my crew said when I told her about the competitor WhatsApp message announcing three races for day 3. She used a mixture of Anglo Saxon, Latin and Greek to describe the race committee, rather unfairly I thought, as I don't think they were deliberately trying to kill us. I mean, it wasn't personal. Anyway, we reconciled ourselves with doing just two of the races.

Well joy of joy, we did OK, we did not come last. We had to fight hard, as the boats at the back are still sailed by seriously competent sailors. We even had to do a penalty turn near the leeward gate, because, as we approached with the gennaker up, we were being criss-crossed by the close-hauled fleet going up the final beat, and our boom hit an innocent helmsman.

We were on port and as windward boat we could not luff up. Not a terrible collision as the chap we hit, did not come and punch me in the boat park! We were on a high, as we had not come last and we had chalked up two more finishes. A wave to the committee boat to tell them we were going home and off we went, with a couple of others for that fabulous reach back to clubhouse.

Day 4

Day 4 was a lovely sunny day. Shall we walk the coastal path or squat in the bottom of a soap dish for five hours wearing rubber. So we went sailing, but racing in light winds is still hard, and even with a few lucky shifts, we still only managed to come last and last.

Day 5

The fleet was split into buddy groups comprising of three boats, each buddy group was given a tube station name. On day 5 some 'wag' on WhatsApp announced 'flooding on the London underground', the monsoons had arrived and the boat park was flooded. We are now bruised, tired, achy and with minor injuries, and so decide to call it a day.

But what a fabulous experience. Lots learnt and even more to learn. We need to sign up to some RS coaching sessions, get fitter, and practice, practice, practice those tacks and gybes.

Many thanks to the amazing people organising and those on duty, and the excellent race committee.

Well done to the winners, whoever they are. I will boast about having raced against them, when they are at the Olympics. How they manage to gain 25 minutes on us in a 50 minute race, I will never understand.

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