Racing: Sigma Nationals
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Sigma 38 Championships 2009

A view from the rail of Festina – by Marko

It is slightly pressurized to join a crew who always seem to win.  If they continue to win, all well and good, but if not – then who is the new guy and what is he doing wrong ? 
Anyway I was the new guy on Festina and although we did some things wrong (who doesn’t?) we got lucky, or did things right just enough to let me off the hook. But it was a very close run thing!


The overnight race was really a lot of mini-races strung together. The start-line and the first beat were both very short.  Due to the shortness of the beat we wanted to start at the starboard end and did, but Pavlova did it better, so she led us on the first two short legs before we settled into a bouncy beat to West Lepe.  We initially passed Pavlova skirting round Brambles Bank, but on the long leg across to Gurnard then down to Lepe she passed  and gradually pulled away from us.  Andy Budgen attributed this to eating more pies . Guess what will be on the menu on Festina from now on!.

We wanted to go north on the first stage of the run to get out the tide so went for an early gybe .  Pavlova covered us and a most of the others gybed in too.  We gybed back on starboard for the reach out of the East Solent  and  by  Ryde we were a bit lacking in horsepower so peeled from the heavy to the light kite, and in time took the lazy guy off as well. Perhaps this gave us a  speed edge and  we slipped past Pavlova in the gathering darkness to lead the fleet to the leeward mark.  Our mark rounding was a bit of a horlicks, the mark seemed to arrive 50 yards before we expected and we got there with the jib only half up.  Ah well, harden up and grind it up, get settled then flick onto port for a long tack towards the island. The wind veered by 30 degrees and Pavlova came past us again on the inside of the shift. Phil was convinced there would be a favourable back-eddy close in to the island at Dunnose, and he was proven right, but as we short-tacked along the beach to Ventnor in minimal breeze and once more in the lead   ,   there was was no escaping that (a) the fleet was compressing and (b) we were lacking a bit of horsepower.  When the going gets nervy, the nervy get going so I popped off to bed for an hour as my weight was best served low and forward.

I came back up to find I had missed the bacon rolls (or did I just dream about them ?) and that we were now  about an hour from Needles Fairway, with Pavlova pulling away and Monet and Alacrity snapping at our heels. With the tide sweeping us west we took a long port tack into the mark, as we were nervous about being swept passed it.  This gave us a short starboard tack into the mark, by which time Alacrity had powered through to a few lengths ahead of us.  However they took the mark a little wide, and Phil cleverly stuck the boat head to wind and let the tide tack us round the mark as we threw the spinnaker up literally 10 feet in front of Alacrity.
They sailed a hot angle, and there was nothing to do but match them, and hopefully not get passed. It is very hard to do a surprise gybe when you are sailing with no lazy guy and the light sheets on, and Alacrity were able to predict ours and turn with and inside us. Nothing to do but gybe away on our own, and concentrate. And concentrate some more.  By this time we had both sneaked past Pavlova, and we had slipped in front of Alacrity just in time to cross the line and finally get that bacon roll.  Big relief all round, but we knew we could have easily came second, third or worse and without blistering speed we had a regatta on our hands.


Inshore Day 1

The first race saw us arrive at the windward mark a few feet behind Alacrity, where we found that (as it would be all week-end) the offset was basically close-hauled on starboard from the windward mark, rather than the expected beam-reach. Another feature of the course was the necessity to tight-reach from the end of the start-line to the leeward mark.  Whatever the opposite of a gate is, (an obstruction I suppose) the line was serving that purpose.  We sailed a bit of a messy race, not surprisingly perhaps as it was our first round the cans race together this year. We slipped back to 3rd but lessons were absorbed (do forehatch drops and sort the runners out before the beat) and we were ready for the rest of the day.

In the second race we wanted to start by the committee boat, but were slightly late and had to tack to clear our air. This proved expensive and we were seriously buried at the first windward mark. Phil  and the crew went into his miser mode and we ground our way back into the race yard by yard and boat by boat until we were 5th on the second run.  With the wind in a right-phase we stayed on port-gybe and passed to the north of the committee-boat. The miser might not approve , but it worked and  put us back into 3rd place.  Another 3rd, but a much more satisfying one.  We felt we had sailed the 2nd half of the race rather better.

The third race saw a lot of starboard bias on the line, and the committee boat was the only place to start.  Only us and Pavlova were there, and fortunately  for us they were a little in front of us  and to windward.  We manage to persuade  them over and start on what Linford Christie would call the “B of the Bang”.  Getting away cleanly in clear air should have made  our position quite safe to defend but the starboard end was so favored that Pavlova were able to tack round the committee boat and still be well up the fleet. Up the second beat we got out of phase with the shifts and had to take some decisive defensive action to stop Pavlova’s remorseless advance. By the finish Alacrity and Pavlova were 2nd and 3rd, and it was clearly turning into a 3-way contest for the regatta.
One more race to go, and for us a bit of a repeat of the day’s second race with an iffy first beat then grinding out a recovery downwind. Several people told us afterwards it was obvious to go left on that first beat, but it wasn’t at all obvious to us.  Clearly the lesson is not to switch off immediately after getting a good result. Anyway, we tight- reached into the solent,  rounded a bear-away mark and settled into a run to the final mark then a short hitch to the finish off Yarmouth.  Then it all got a bit fruity. Pavlova and Marta rounded a mark. To be perfectly honest I had no idea where we were going, I was just trimming, but it looked wrong to me.  They did about a 270 degree clockwise turn round the mark, and in my simple view, mark rounding should normally be less that 180 degrees.  Other members of the crew seemed to feel that “the committee boat is in the wrong place for that to be the right mark” but while heated  discussions went on, our navigator Barney, to his great credit, insisted that it was the wrong mark, and pointed out which the correct one was.  It was one of those decision moments; in a no-discard series it took a lot of nerve to break away from the fleet, but it was the race-saving move for us. We made our way to the correct mark with a comfortable lead (amid great debate about whether  or not to sail through the finish line in our path) and fetched back to the finish with what seemed like the whole class in a cavalry-charge for second place.

We had managed to turn a 5th  into a 1st, and at the end of the day our 3rd, 3rd, 1st, 1st scoreline had let us slightly stretch our lead over super consistent Alacrity and the impressive Pavlovas.

Inshore Day 2

I have erased most of the first race from my memory, suffice to say that by the second run Pavlova and Alacrity were long gone and we were sat half a length behind Persephone who in turn were a length behind Light.  At this point we were plotting how to attack them and get up to 3rd on the next lap, when a shortened course was signaled.  Bother !!  Nothing to do but try and harry them around the leeward mark; there was no way past in the distance remaining and we had to settle for a 5th.    In 45 minutes we had lost a 3 point lead and the weekend series had come down to a one race shootout.

Cometh the final hour, and Phil was under a 3 line whip to get the pin-end of the line. As it happens Light got the pin but we were overlapped with them, and the helm and mainsheet did a fantastic job holding an impossibly narrow lane for a good 5 minutes until we neared the layline and tacked onto port. We had to dip Persephone and Alacrity, but that was a small price to pay to get out of the left hand corner in clear air,  rather than potentially ride down the left layline in traffic and dirty air.  More importantly, almost every time we had been to the windward mark, there had been a teasing starboard-tack lift into it, and we wanted to slide over to it.

We got the lift into the mark, rounded in first and were able to slowly extend in a building breeze.  Although the final beat was short, we changed to the code #2 for it, on the grounds that the only way we could lose out would be in a tacking-battle, and we could tack better with the number 2.   We did avoid one huge banana skin in the race which is worth mentioning as a thing not to do. In the first hoist, despite the spinnaker sheet being well eased the spinnaker filled with a bang whilst half-way up. A knot in the lazy-guy was identified as the culprit and cleared.  Could very easily have been expensive both in terms of the spinnaker and the regatta.

So overall, a fantastic regatta, with three boats throwing everything they had at winning it.  We found that when we got a good start we had the boat handling and  just enough speed to stay in front, but when we had a bad start (as happened a few times) the fleet was too good for us to get back.

Congratulations to everyone who participated in an excellent regatta, and assuming Festina is not back for next year’s event…….there is the core of a good crew available..








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