Thursday, February 28, 2008

Getting old. Don't do it!

As is fitting for one having a mid life crisis, I am sensitive about my age and do what I can to hide the truth about the advancing years. It always gives me great pleasure when somebody is shocked when they find out my real age, as happened on Sunday night. However, the one person I cannot fool is my doctor.

Now, he does have a great advantage over most in as far as my date of birth is written large on the front page of my medical file, but he really doesn't need to keep answering, when I ask him any question with "why" in it, "because you are getting old"!

The end of the JJ has given me the opportunity to go to the doctor so as to sort out all the little niggles my body has picked up during the season and which I knew needed resting. As I said to him, when he asked why I hadn't come sooner, there was no point in spending money on an appointment if I knew I was simply going to ignore his advice. So, now is the time to get the body n=back in working order so I can then start the fitness training which will allow me to still carry my 18 to the water next year. As "The Babinator" says, if you can't lift it, don't sail it, which is why I will not be accepting the invitation to race on a Sydney 38!

Anyway, having waited for an hour past the appointed time, I finally got to see the Doc and I could tell he was not only feeling a bit guilty at running late, but that he didn't really want to hear me say that I had a list of injuries to go through. He was very efficient in ticking off the minor things - broken hand = x-ray, infected toe= anti B's, but the torn muscle in the groin took some time. Now, I am sure there are some who are comfortable standing with no cloths on, with a man hold their crown jewels while saying "cough", but I find it a far from normal experience. And to the question of "why" came the response that i was getting old!

So, I left the surgery with a prescription and instructions to get an x-ray and ultrasound, all because I am getting old. When I was younger, I didn't get injured, or infected toes, or concerns about arthritis setting into broken joints. And this last year I can also add to the list ruptured blood vessels in muscles, trouble with my neck, torn calf muscle and a general, all over aching for at least half the week.

Now, if I had my time again I would do it all differently. I would have learnt to stretch when I was in my 20's, ensured I had a regular fitness program going by the time I was in my 30's and I would have become a regular at either Pilates or Yoga by the time I was 40. And for all the youngsters who read this and laugh it off, just like I would have done, I do have an alternative. Don't get old!

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The JJ. Been there, seen it, done it............

............CAN'T WAIT FOR THE NEXT ONE!!!!

I am not really sure where to begin but it has been an eventful 10 days. I guess we didn't get off to the best of starts with our guest star, Craig Ferris standing in for Jamie during the Invitation Race. We sailed OK, we learnt some, we had fun and I broke my hand. Nothing major, just lots of pain and a swollen back of the hand that would give remind me of the Invitation Race for the rest of the week!

As with any week of sailing, we had high points and low points. The high was going around the top mark in 6th in the last race, the low point was capsizing when about 12th and finishing second from last. In 4 out of the 7 races we went round at least one mark in the top 10, yet our best place was 18th. Most of our fellow competitors thought we were doing better than we did and our overall position of 24th out of 29 was a bit disappointing. On the other hand, we finished 3rd on handicap. In fact, it was really 2nd equal with SLAM, but they got the position on count back. Now, the handicap results are just a bit of fun; after all, this is a one design. However, what it does mean is that we actually sailed better than we had during the regular season, which is pleasing to know.

The overwhelming memory of the regatta will be the performance of the 7 team. Seve, Rob and Sam were in a different league and sailed a great regatta. Others had their moments but time and again, & had the skill and luck to dominate. Even when they capsized with a few seconds to the start they got away with it because of a general recall. Then there were times they made their won luck, such as when, with 1 minute 30 secs to a start, they were forced to tack at the committee boat, as were we. They pulled away, gybed and reached down the line behind everybody and just as the gun was about to go, a hole opened, the headed up at full speed, hitting the line going 3 knots faster than anybody. 10 seconds later and they already had a 3 boatlength lead on the fleet and they were gone. And how about us? We gybed around, lined up behind a couple of others at the boat end and thought we had done well to tack off very soon after the start. 7 rounded the first mark with a big lead. Needless to say, we didn't!

The most important thing was that we learnt a lot and we identified what we need to concentrate on for next year. For instance, in the last race, we finally found a jib sheeting position that was perfect. The difference between good and perfect is the difference between 6th around the first mark and 16th. We finally had real speed (and a great shift to help us out!). Better late than never, but it is only right for a given set of conditions. We now need to learn the settings for all the other conditions. An 18 has a maximum speed upwind that almost any boat in the fleet can reach. However, a well set up boat stays at that speed for 95% of the time while the slower boats only manage it for 25%.

So, there we have it. It was sad to end the JJ as that meant that we had finished our campaign with Jamie, who is off to NZ for the rest of the season and doesn't know where he will be next year. We will therefore be sorting out a new sheet hand who is keen to help take things to the next level. We know what to work on, have a program of boat development for the winter and we are looking forward to next year. However, before that, there are still a couple of races left of this season.

In the mean time, thoughts change to foiling. The Moth has been neglected and it will be hitting the water again in the company of the rest of the 18 Footers League Flying Club. This exclusive club is currently made up of John Harris and Scott Babage off the Rag and myself. They are beginning to train for the moth worlds this winter (July) in Weymouth. With a trip already booked to the UK for next Christmas, I doubt I will be joining them but at least I can get some good training in and if I can help them, I will.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Lipstick on a Pig or Polishing the Diamond!

So, we have now sailed the last race before the JJ and it was educational. Sunday saw a new wind direction and a new course, plus lots of discussion as to which rig to use. As usual, in that situation, there is lots of banter and one of my regular "sparring partners" was well up for it. Cocko (Michael Coxon on Fiat) has always been the one for the quick repartee. He calls me "Austin" (Powers) because I am a Brit and no doubt because he has heard about the strength of my Mojo and my reputation with the foxy ladies! On the other hand, he is also convinced that the shower I have on Sunday after the race is the only one I have all week, as all Brits are "soap dodgers". Of course, that will make the JJ tough for me as I will need 8 showers in 10 days. However, I will take those showers whether I need them or not! And while I am at it, here's a quick hello to Cocko's Dad!!

So, in the end the fleet was split 70:30 in favour of big rigs. We went small, because we wanted to learn how we went on a marginal day and because 7 went small as well, due to what they thought the course would be. And did we get it wrong! What should have been a very tight kite reach from one end of the harbour to the other turned into a 2 sailer until around the last headland and then it was a run to the mark. The little rigs got crucified! To make matters worse, the wind wasn't only shifting 20 degrees with every gust and lull, but those gusts and lulls were coming trough quicker than an express train and it wasn't really what most would call a pleasant day in the office.

And so we enter the home straight of the race that is the preparations for the JJ. For some, there will be the final little tweeks and polishing so that the diamond is all shiny and bright for the start of the racing. For others, there is a final attempt to slap lipstick on the pig in an attempt to make their campaigns look better. While I am working on the boat, we won't be practicing this week, partly because we have run out of lipstick and partly because we don't want to polish the edge off the diamond.

Boat preparations are behind schedule and have thrown up a few suprises. We had noticed some cracks around the rudder gantry so some investigation was in order. It became clear that matters were worse than I had thought when I sanded back some paint so as to laminate on some strengthening carbon. I masked the areas I didn't want damaged but on finishing sanding, I removed the tape only to have a 1cm hole appear where filler was pulled out! Some hard pushing and pulling ensued, which revealed that the whole gantry could flex and there were more cracks than had been first thought. There seemed to be less carbon that there should have been, although how much differenec it will really make is difficult to guage. So, instead of filling and polishing the bottom, I have been laminating carbon and hopefully, we now have a gantry that is up to the job.

The job list remains long, the time short and as usual, the last minute rush seems as impossible as ever. All I know is that we will be lining up with the rest of the fleet for the invitational race on Friday and then the main event starts on Saturday. We have worked hard at the task of learning to race an 18 and whatever happens, I feel we have given it our best shot. The only thing we could have done better was to have started training earlier, but we didn't have a boat so couldn't. We have our targets and if it all comes together, we can achieve what we want. However, the real key will be to enjoy the event and to learn as much as possible for next year.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Friday night is party night!

So, as the JJ approaches, the pace seems to hot up and so does the racing calander. To add a little spice, last night we had the NAB Twilight Race, with a start at 6.00pm. For once, I managed to snatch prime spot in the boat park, surrounded by the "rich" part of the fleet. As usual, there was a fair amount of banter and last night it was with the boys on Club Marine, trying to outdo each other as to who had the lowest budget campaign! There they were, with 2 new mains and 2 new jibs, a new mast, new harnesses, Club Marine clothing yet Beasho and his boys were claiming that their campaign is as poor as a church mice. The poor chaps! We got a new No.2 main and that was it! We paid for everything else. To be fair, the rumour is that they did over spend their budget and had to reach in their pockets a little, but then again, we don't all have sponsors like Fiat and 7.

And on the subject of 7, there is a story that during the week they were helping out with some corporate entertainment. For reasons better known to only them, they decided to use their best and only race legal No.1 jib. No issue, one may have thought, except they broke part of the jib sheet system and the story suggests that their jib was flogging wildly for rather more time than they would have wished. I hope that isn't the edge off their no expense spared campaign.

But back to last night. Light wind No1 rig isn't something we have a lot of experience of and we had never sailed in a South Easterly. The course was a bit of a chase around the upper end of the harbour and just to make things interesting, there was a big fleet of cruisers out for an evening race as well.

I am not sure exactly what happened but we had a few issues before the start that meant our approach was rather last minute. I could see it was boat end biased and was therefore happy to hold back a bit as second row at that end wouldn't be so much of a drama, so long as we could tack off. So there we were, lined up nicely, ready either to accelerate into into the front row or to start second, next to the boat and then tack, when a few boats decided to try to come down from high and barge in. From our position, I could see this start and as they racked up, we dived into a new gap and avoided a raft of 4 boats. We were second from the boat and looking to tack and then we were launched.

It was a strange first beat with lots of snakes and ladders. Pressure and wind direction varied greatly so it was hard to see who was making gains and where we were in the fleet. At times, we looked great but as the fleet converged at the entrance to Rose Bay, we were well in the pack but with lots of opportunity. On top of that, we were sailing a "3 bouy" race, which is where the windward mark is actually 3 bouys set about 50 metres apart, with the top teams sailing further than the lesser mortals. We had least distance to sail and it seemed that the system worked well as everybody seemed to start the ensuing run together.

The real challenge of the run was working through the cruiser fleet that formed a constant barrier across the leg. Try to go above them and you might not find a hole to gybe into, go underneath and sail in bad wind; tricky! We managed to select a decent lane and had a great leg, rounding somewhere around 8th. The next beat was also a bit of snakes and ladders but we continued to hold our own. The problem came on the next leg. For the first time, our light weight went against us. The leg was a very tight reach across the harbour and we simply got creamed by bigger guys. People who we would not expect to go past us were simply able to sail higher and get to the mark; we had to drop and sail up and a headland meant we were coming in on too much of a run.....SLOW!

However, going upwind again saw us really getting to grips with the shifts and we seemed to have found a way of making the boat point, something we had not experienced before. So we took another small ladder and reached the top mark having made back the losses of the previous leg, only to give up 2 at the end of the following run through a well thought out, perfectly executed but fundementally flawed strategy.

The resat of the race was more of the same. For every ladder, there seemed to be a snake and at the end, as darkness approached, the boats in the early teens seemed to all finish in very quick succession. We were 13th, out of 21 starters and were greeted by wild cheering from one of the sponsors spectator boats. I suspect our performance was enough to win somebody some money.

It had been a long and strenuous race lasting 1 hour 45 minutes. Not only was that longer than normal, but the boats take more out of you in light weather than in a breeze. The constant bending of the knee, moving in and out of the boat, plus the extra loads due to the lack of speed meant that we would all sleep well.

So, we have one more race until the JJ and that is tomorrow (Sunday). I keep feeling that given another 2 months and we will probably be ready! Instead, we have one more race and whatever practice we can fit in next week.

Monday, February 4, 2008


I sit here, typing this entry, feeling like death, aching all over and with a pounding headache! It seems that not racing hurts more than racing!

Yesterday, with a few jobs to do on the boat and the desire to get on the water early, I got down to Double Bay really early and parked the boat in a prime slot. Moments later, Beasho and his Club Marine crew pull in, wanting to shift us out of pole positiona s they also wanted to hit the water early. "Snooze and you lose" sprang to mind, but in the end neither of us launched early so what was it all for?

Having just started to work through the list of jobs, the heavens opened and after a vain effort to work and stay dry, I joined the other sailors sheltering from the rain. The inevitable banter began, mainly about how I must have felt at home, being a Pom in the rain. All the joking still didn't get anybody too enthused and there was a distinct lack of action in the boat park, only matched by the lack of breeeze on the water. However, as the rain eased, Team AppliancesOnline headed for the boat to finish the jobs and, once done, we began to rig. However, before we had finished, the rain came back and we once more joined the huddle in the shelter. I have never seen so many skiff sailors not wanting to rig! Most were doing a pretty good impression of drowned rats, although humour didn't seem to have been watered down at all!

Slowly, it became clear that the park was divided into 2 halves. Those closest to the club were rigged and ready, those further away weren't! As boats began to launch from one end, others sprang to life. We launched at least 15 minutes after the first boat, only to see that they had not yet drifted past the last moored boats. A little puff of wind later and we were up with the early launchers.

The Southerly meant we had to sail across the harbour to Mosman Bay where we were placed in "holding pattern", hoping for some wind. And hoping. And hoping. And finally hoping they would abandon the whole thing. Making a call, we headed upwind so as to be closest to the club in the event of "3 Guns". If the wind filled in, we would have no problem getting to the start, if it didn't, we would be first in. Wrong!

It became clear that it was just not going to happen and the fleet was relieved by the "3 Guns" abandonment. We headed for home, only to see the rest of the fleet getting tows from the spectator fleet. As usual, the boat nearest home got left to last and our cunning plan was falling apart.

Last home and a quick derig saw us in the showers, only for me to find all my cloths were soaked through from earlier. With no option but to wear wet cloths, I proceeded to the bar to chill in the air conditioning! A long wait for the prize giving ensured that it was a wet and cold helm finally headed home. A second hot shower and hot soup helped a little but I sit here now knowing I got a chill yesterday and hoping the aches don't turn into anything serious. There may not be any injuries, but the body feels as sore as it would from a race in full foam up conditions!

This week should see one training session, a Friday twilight race and then the standard Sunday race. After that, we might get one practice sail and then it's the JJ. In another couple of months, we might just be ready.............

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Australia Day Weekend, Part 2

Day 2 of the long weekend and after what seemed like an eternity in the boat park, the whole fleet settled on No2 rigs, except for the visiting Americans, who rigged at another club. I wondder what they were thinking when they joined the fleet on the water to see everybody with their No2 rigs up. Ouch!

We lined up for the start and felt happy with our approach. The gun went, we had clear air and a lane. Sweet! And then we heard 2 more guns and it was a general recall. Ouch!

Lining up for the second start didn't go as well. 3rd row of the grid is never a good place and this start proved to be no exception. So, after a short time of eating dirt and having a very animated Beasho trying to get us to tack into the boat to windward, we finally see a hole and tack for clear air. Beasho tacked Club Marine at the same time and as we go to clear a starboard tacker, he reaches down, clying for water and then hardens up over us at speed. More dirt and an inability to tack. Ouch!

For the second race in succession, there were individual recalls and Team Ullman were the culprits, with The Rag, Akso and Smeg turning back. About a third of the way up the beat, these 3 boats had caught us and I was depressed! How had it happened? Were we really that slow? It seems that they had come up on a big shift which got them back in contention but at the time, I had no idea. I expected to be left for dead by Team Ullman and it was with heavy heart we left Shark Island behind and headed towards the mark. But then it became clear; they weren't pulling away. In fact, we were more than holding our own. Places swapped back and forth and we were seriously getting into the race. We knew we were fast downhill so were really looking forward to the next leg.

A good hoist and we were launched. Smeg, imediately behind, attempted to climb over us but we simply held our course and sailed away a bit. As the majority of the fleet headed right, a few gybed off left and we realised that if we wanted a clear lane, we should do the same. A gybe was called, we bore away and it all went pear shaped. There couldn't have been a worse place to swim and it wasn't the quickest one we have experienced.

Up and running again, with the kite hoisted, and we were gybing like pros! WTF! It is so frustrating to be able to get it right when it no longer really mattered. So we set about the task of seeing how much we could catch up and in about 18 knots, it was very pleasant sailing. All was going well until about 200 metres from the top when our day went from bad to worse. We hadn't noticed anything, either during the race or in pre-race inspections but it made no difference. The mainsheet had shredded, the outer sheath splitting. As the sheath bunched, playing the main became impossible and we had no option but to turm for home.

We could see no point in simply nannying it home so we hoisted and went for a ride. And with 20 knots and wind over tide, what a ride it was. A nice gybe set us on course for the club until we realsied we were lining up straight at the 2 leaders. While there was no issues about keeping out of their way, the issue was doing it without taking their wind. We ran very low and that made things a bit difficult. Down wind, down speed and down the mine are not a great combination and we pitchpoled the boat hard. And they say that no good deed goes unrewarded! If only we had sailed high and hard, but that would have messed up the racing.

Things were a bit messy and we didn't have a sense of urgency. To make matters worse, when we were up and sorted, we had to bare away with limited ability to ease the main. Nice!! It only took 2 attempts and we managed to get downwind with the main eased, only to need to change tack to get home! Did we really want to gybe with the boom full out, side to side? We managed to tack round without pulling in the boom and bore away again, this time on course for the club.

So, another bad day had come to an end. I was pretty devastated. I work so hard to check the boat every week that gear failure equals personal failure! And the more I thought about it, the more I became convinced the swim was my fault. 1 in 10 windy gybes ends in a swim and considering how good the other gybes are, it is so frustrating! So, time for some serious sole searching.

After chatting with some of the fleet's top sailors, it becomes clear as to where our problem could be. Almost all our boat handling has come about by learning "The Rag" way, be it watching videos or having Craig (ex Rag) coaching us. However, it seems that when it comes to gybing, Rag do things one way and the whole of the rest of the fleet do it another! And the more I think about it, the more obvious it is! The problem we have now is what to do. It is deep into the season, the JJ is just around the corner and we have to consider starting from scratch with our gybes.

So, on Sunday, we will hit the water a little early to see how hard the new method actually is. The concern is that we might not have enough high wind days to have grooved our gybes before the JJ. Only time will tell how this will end, but there is still a lot of work to do.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Australia Day Weekend, Part 1

After last week's 18 race, there was some hard thinking to do about our rig. It had looked bad and felt even worse, so we pooled our ideas of what needed to be done and on Thursday, it was time for some serious tuning. To aid the process, I contacted Michael Coxon of North Sails, who made the sails. He was coming down to the club anyway, so we agreed to meet.

I got the boat set up for him to look at and we had the bend numbers for the rig, so that we could see if the set up still matched the sail design. We got off to a bad start because he thought I had a crucial bit of equipment and I thought he was bringing it! So, rather than measure, we pulled the main on. Even before we began, it was clear something wasn't right as the bottom of the mast bent the wrong way!

Once the sail was set and a few strings were pulled, it became clear that all was not well. It looked awful. However, worse was to come as Cocko watched and pondered. Then he pronounced. The mast wasn't bending properly, due to a bad joint which was allowing movement. Therefore, instead of a nice even bend, we had all the bend in one place and no control over the sail. The solution was simple - take the mast apart and glue it back together. Sounds simple, but it needs 4 people to pull it apart and I had a day until the next race.

Thinking on my feet, I realised that the club had some spare masts which they were going to sell. Quick negotiations followed and we are now using a mast previously used by The Rag. This only left the minor issue of changing all the rigging over and setting it up in the boat. Friday was spent checking the rigging and getting it onto the new mast but the fun bit was still to come.

Being Australia Day, there was a race on Saturday, to take place in a crowded harbour with the whole fleet wishing they weren't there! So, for ma, it was an early start and I arrived in the boat park at 9.15am, to find half the fleet already there. For me, there was no time to lose and I proceeded to get the mast into the boat. Then came the fun part. I guess I sent close to 2.5 hours of tightening and loosening and tightening and ...........until, finally, the tensions were correct. Then, with the boat on it's side, came the need to measure the bend. It seemed remarkably close to where it should be and then, just when they were needed, the team arrived. We pulled on the sail and it looked great. So, time to see if looking good was the same as going fast!

The race was sailed in the strangest of conditions. A fairly light breeze from the East, or was it NorEast.......or was it ENE or was it...........who knows! A laid course with a mark under Shark Island, a mark at the entry to Rushcutters and a big naval vessel parked in the middle of the course!

We had a reasonable start and worked our way up the beat. It seemed we struggled for height at times while at other moments, we seemed very quick. Then we found some height and then we missed some shift. It wasn't going to be an easy day in the office. However, we rounded the first mark about 10th and sailed a decent run , although struggling to find an overtaking lane. The second beat was more of the same. At one point, we were next to the boat that outpoints the whole fleet, Asko, and we held them for a couple of minutes. then we hit a difficult patch, lost our rhythm and they just popped out from under us. Ouch! We probably lost a couple of boats and were battling for 12th down the next run but then it all went a little pear shaped.

On the next beat, we played the shifts as badly as I have ever done. I know you are meant to tack on headers, but it seemed every time we had to tack, for ferry's, islands, headlands etc, we tacked into a header. One tack saw us coming to at nearly 180 degrees to the direction we had come in on! Another couple of boats lost and the back of the pack snapping on our heels. At least we could hold our own downhill.

The last beat was tough and we lost a lot of distance but fortunately, no places. So we cruised to the finish and picked up 16th place. It felt far worse, even in a fleet of 26 boats. Our cause was helped by 3 OCS (over the line at the start) and a big crash between Fisher and Pykel and Noakes Youth, that saw F&P's pole enter the side of Noakes and out through the floor. Very messy!

So, the verdict is out on the new rig. It clearly wasn't slow, but the conditions weren't really right to make an assessment. We have a few minor tweaks to make before the regular Sunday race, which should be in a traditional NorEaster so, hopefully, more will be learnt.

However, the one thing that was great was having the team back together. The whole boat worked far better and it was great having Scott back up front. So, a short break for some sleep and it is back to the boat park for Part 2 of the weekend.