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Seniors Race - 2nd April, 2011

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Race in a nutshell: 2nd April, 2011
Position PHRF : 16th
Total entries : 50
Distance: 6.7 nm.
Max Speed: 9.6 knots
Ave speed: 5.2 knots

Weather Forecast: Cloudy. Wind SW 5 to 14 knots. Temp 20C
Weather Actual: Cloudy. Wind W 10 knots bec South
Course: 10 (S) – No. 2 (S) - Milnerton (S) - No. 2 (P) - Red mark finish (P)
Seas: Lumpy/ Swell 1.5m
Sails: Full Main (Quantum), No. 1 Genoa (Quantum),
Crew: Trygve Roberts (Helm), Phillip Rentschler (Main), Waldo Zevenster (Genoa/Spinnaker), Simon Penso (Pit), Craig Preston (Mast), Allesandro Napoli (Bow), : Total: 480 kg

I actually have a lot to say about this race, but I am going to try and keep it brief. Our 16th place reflects fairly accurately, the state of affairs. For several years now, I have been agitating at the club to allow spinnakers for this event. My suggestion was met with a lot of resistance. I got the feeling that this event had traditionally been a non-spinnaker race and due to the fact that it had developed into a very successful and popular event, the club felt that the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" principle should take precedence. This year, I got in early (about a month before the event) to ascertain the issue of being able to use spinnakers and the club agreed (reluctantly) to allow spinnakers in the first age group (60-69) only. I thought that a little odd. Why not just allow it across the boards?

Then in the week running up to the event, there was some discussion on how the boats using spinnakers would be penalised and the conclusion was that those wanting to fly spinnakers would have to sail in a separate class (minimum of 5). I thought that was another bad idea as this is a pursuit race and removing the boats with spinnakers, would spoil the party a little. And finally on the Friday afternoon, the race was declared to be without spinnakers. Period.

I can live with that. However....... if one considers the advent of modern planing keel-boats (like the Pacer 27, Melges 24, etc.), and one factors in their high ratings, it is fairly easy to see that these boats have a big advantage going downwind - and especially so if the downwind leg is a reach and not a dead run. So now we have a race, where spinnakers are not allowed, but the spinnaker inclusive rating is used. Yep, we have a fundamental problem. One also can't simply apply a blanket percentage time penalty to a boat using a spinnaker, as some boats have vastly differing downwind performances. So, in essence, what is required, is a second 'without spinnaker' rating for each boat. It is very possible to create such a system and fairly easy to maintain it. I will keep trying.

What is unusual, is that at RCYC only 5 years ago, all the twilight races had to be sailed without spinnakers, plus several others as well - to the point that more than half the races were ordered to be sailed without spinnakers. After lots of lobbying, eventually a spinnaker class was allowed. This has now grown considerably and on nice weather days, often equals the non-spinnaker fleet.

With that soggy biscuit to chew on, we set out to the start area with two stand in crew onboard. We were scheduled to start at 14h57 with a 49 footer and two 38 footers - exactly 27 minutes after the first boat started. Our start was better than the others in our group, despite us being about 5 seconds late. We managed to hold our position ahead of our group to round the weather mark in our starting order, having neither gained nor lost a position.

The dreaded moment had arrived; having to turn dead downwind for the Milnerton mark, without our spinnaker. We goosewinged the genoa out and bobbed our way down the 2 mile leg at a painfully slow 6 knots. Despite our relatively slow speed, we were catching other boats, but the 39ft "Touch n Go" (equal rating to us) easily ran through our lee. It was going light near the Milnerton mark and those on the left of the rhumb line lost out badly in very light wind. We were lucky to stay in pressure and passed a whole bunch of boats who were basically stationary. We did a clean mark rounding and tacked soon onto port for the long, one leg beat back up the No.2 mark.

Tactically there wasn't much in the race, except that it paid to stick to the left side of the beat. We soon sailed through lots of the heavier boats and were able to hold station with "Touch n Go" who remained about 10 boat lengths ahead of us. The breeze was getting lighter and lighter with holes appearing all over the show - a sure sign that the wind had backed around to the south.

After the final mark rounding, it was a question of staying offshore or going inshore. we chose the offshore option, which appeared to be the correct one, but it was fluky for a while until we got into the stronger pressure. At that stage we were lying about 25th, but at least we had a true beat to the finish and we could employ some tactics to try and make some gains. There were some big headers and lifts to work with and we managed to dig our way through about another 10 boats to finish a disappointing, but predictable 16th, the consolation being that we got ahead of "Touch n Go" - but only just.

The prize giving is always a grand affair for this race with every skipper walking away with a prize, thanks to the many sponsors who contribute so generously. Ray Matthews and his team did a sterling job of the organisation.

Next race is on April 16th - the start of the Autumn series.