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Lewmar Twilight Series - Race 2

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The Trilogy

A lot of people have written about trilogies. Our trilogy started about two minutes before the start of the race. A story of things that happen in threes. I am not much into superstition, but the harsh reality of the elements in a rage, does make one think about these things a little differently to when you are on land – cozy and dry! In fact, if I think about matters a little more seriously, there were may be four of five things that combined to provide for a spectacularly insignificant result. But let's start at the beginning, where most good tales don't.

 

I received an urgent request from the yacht club.

“Help! We need a duty officer”

“No problem. Can do” was my response.

It had been a busy day at work. A quick click onto Wind Guru revealed a forecast of a light to moderate South Westerly. A glance outside at trees and flags on buildings confirmed this as fact. For once, we would escape the clutches of the Cape Doctor and have a decent race in the steady and heady embrace of my favourite wind, the westerly. I quickly jotted down courses for the predicted westerly and emailed them through to the club. What a breeze.

Two of our regular crew were absent. We were able to secure the services of two juniors from M.A.C. in the form of the formidable and bulky 15 year old Allesandro Napoli (Nah, he is not really Italian) and the equally opposite Daniel Spratley (of Optimist fame) And let me tell you; don't ever underestimate the talent of these youngsters. It is such a pleasure having them on my boat. I never fail to be impressed.

Just before our scheduled departure time, the gentle westerly, so accurately forecast, gave me a swift klap on the face, as my “Raiders of the Lost Ark” hat tilted horizontally in the first puff, when the westerly switched abruptly in seconds, into a gusty south easterly. It would later become a full blown Black South Easter.

“Cant be!?” I muttered to myself.

Half an hour earlier the well seasoned race officer, Ron Keytel, had said to me: “I don't like your courses. I think the wind might go south east”

I dismissed that notion with polite disdain and added some high school Geography wisdom relating to clouds. It would turn out that Ron was right and I was wrong. So we removed the No.1 Genoa and replaced it with the No.2 Jib. The mainsail reefing line was also tied off - ready for use.

Out at the start area, there were few white caps. At the time we felt a little underpowered, but what were the chances that a south easterly in January would get lighter, rather than stronger at six in the evening? Just about zero.

We tested the entire start line for any advantage and decided a halfway point would suit us perfectly. We gybed back inshore to make sure we were on the correct side of the start line just after the 5 minute gun went. And with it, came the first chapter of the trilogy.

Daniel looked up at the mainsail and in his teenage, matter of fact tone, declared that we had a problem. The main halyard was loose at the masthead! As the sail started dropping slowly down its track, we had little option but to try and clear away from the start line into the more sheltered waters of the harbour, to sort the problem out. Quick as a flash, Phill had the Bosuns Chair out and rigged, but first we pulled the mainsail down, leaving us sailing only on the No.2 Jib with the outboard neatly secured down below. Steering a sports boat with only a headsail in a 25 knot wind with a man aloft would require a lot of concentration. Within two minutes, we had Phill halfway up the mast. About the same time one of the crew brought to my attention a large cargo ship entering the harbour and pointing directly at us – maybe 300 meters away. Would we make it across their bow or should we luff up hard and try to keep clear? Would an 80 kg man halfway up the mast, cause a rollover? We decided to sail straight downwind – the least disruptive angle in terms of the lateral stability. The turning block (all R 385 of it bought only two weeks earlier) had burst into two pieces. It took about five minutes and Phill had the remainder of the halyard safely in his grasp as we eased him down the mast. We ran the 2:1 purchase halyard directly through a shackle and had the main up again, as we sailed back towards the start line, but our fleet was long gone, as were the second and third starts.

We were just about in time to start a little way behind the Class 3 fleet. This would be something of a novelty for us, but we decided to sail the Class 1 course anyway, but not sail through the start line and cause any confusion. We had barely built up a good head of steam, when young Daniel motioned to me that I should look at the mainsail. This was the Trilogy, chapter two. A large tear, almost 2 meters in length, had developed along the leech between the lower and second battens. At that stage the main was flogging badly and I suppose it was no surprise that the sail tore where and when it did. We carried on sailing upwind towards the Paarden Island mark. Five minutes later the leech on the next panel also split, leaving us with a nasty looking mainsail.

A minute later, we got whacked by a very strong gust. In two years of sailing these boats, I have never seen such a ferocious knockdown. We got knocked flat - as in 90 degrees. Later our bowman laconically declared the keel bulb to be kelp free. It was a baddie. We were fully over with the spreaders kissing the ocean. I was standing upright with my feet on the cockpit sides, which are normally vertical, still pretending to steer, but of course the entire rudder must have been in fresh air. Slowly the boat righted herself as we quickly started drifting sideways, but we soon had Regent Express tracking properly again. I did not score that as part of the Trilogy as it would still take place further down the course. We managed to lay the weather mark quite comfortably in one tack.

The whole point in actually sailing, considering our untimely start time, was simply to ”have a burn” - and that we did! Once we had the R1 up and drawing, the boat speed went up in stages. First 11 knots, then 12, then 13, then 14 and 15 and suddenly we were at 17 knots, effortlessly overtaking bigger boats as we roared down towards the Milnerton mark in a shower of spray. Simon was having a baptism of fire as kite trimmer for the first time – and doing a great job of it too! We passed close to leeward of one of the Class 1 non spinnaker boats coming back upwind and we heard one of their crew exclaim: “DONDER!” as our combined passing speed must have been in excess of twenty knots. Once past the Milnerton mark, we did a Mexican drop (my favourite) and got the headsail up, but it quickly sagged back down by about 2 ft. Chapter 3 of the trilogy was happening. Where the halyard runs through the clutch, the outer covering of the core had abraded to the point that it finally separated. Once split like that, it will not run through the clutch and the only way to get the sail down is to either cut the halyard ( a bit stupid) or remove the outer core, leaving one with at least, a very strong inner core (but a little thin to work with). That had been the third part of the trilogy, so we sensibly decided to call it quits and head straight for home. But first we thought it prudent to put a reef in the main to prevent any further damage. That at least, went off smoothly.

The breeze just kept on driving harder and harder. By the time we got into the harbour, it was 35 gusting 40 and downright unpleasant. In those conditions, you are really very much on your own and every crew member has to be depended on. The final straw was when we turned into our mooring, with a 35/40 knot south easterly up our tail, our neighbour (an experienced cruisy/party type guy) had decided to leave his rubber dinghy tied up in our mooring space. We were committed. There was no sudden turning around or reversing of engines. We were going in and the dinghy would simply have to act as big fender – and that it did – much to the acute embarrassment of the owner.

A tough evening on the bay for us, but as is the norm, we try to look for the positives in the situation. We figured it was far better to have these breakages in a club race than in the nationals in four weeks time. As things turned out, the Class 1 Spinnaker fleet was won by the Melges 24 with Mark Sadler at the helm. Goodie for the sports boats.

Some lessons learned:

•  Remove the block at the head of the mainsail and just run the 2:1 halyard directly through a rounded shackle. Any block fitted up there is subjected to huge loads during gybes as the block tends to twist off to one side. The shackle will give a bit more friction, but that is only during hoisting, so it doesn't matter.

•  Attend to even minor sail repairs. Our mainsail had developed a small tear along the leech, which we repaired with some sail tape and then forgot about it. Under severe wind conditions, this is exactly where the new damage started.

•  Halyards. Order them 1.5m longer than needed and keep cutting 10 cm sections off every two months so that the main friction points are constantly being moved to a fresh part of the rope. A bit of common sense maintenance goes a long way and prevents things going pear shaped during races.

Strangely enough, we still had a nice time out there, despite all the mishaps and smiled when we checked our maximum speed for the day of 17.3 knots. Shweet.