What do you think about during a race? One of the interesting things about dinghy racing is the fact that there are many different styles of competitor. I have always been a thinking man, as recent articles in this newsletter might show. The sort of things I sometimes think about are revealed below.
This is Monday 31-July-95. It is 08:00 and we are at Kings Lynn getting ready for a race due to start at 08:30. There is a light breeze coming up river and a moderately strong tide. We are ready to launch but waiting until we are sure the wind is strong enough to let us beat against the tide. We watch a couple of other boats launch. They can stem the tide, the race will start on time. OK chaps clear some room we want to go sailing.
Now on the water. Can easily beat against the tide by creeping up one bank or other, but at times we make no progress when in the main stream. First challenge of the day, which end of the line to start? There is a beat of only about 80 yards to the first mark, but it will seem longer because of the foul tide. If we start at the club [=starboard] end then we won't have to go so far into the current to round the mark because it is closer to that bank. However since we have to round it to starboard we have to be able to go out into the current fast enough to do the rounding. If we start at the other side then we can safely tack up the bank in the eddy provided by the jetty for the ferry and provided we have gone far enough we can be certain of rounding the mark - but then again we have to cross a lot more foul current to do so. What are other competitors doing? Looks like they favour the club side, but the wind looks lighter there. Decision made: start at the port end, and if we start just to port of the moored boat we will be safe from immediate interference.
Starting plan made, now make sure we carry it out. 60 seconds to go and most boats seem to be at the other end. Time will tell which bank is favoured. Coming up to start, get going fast, come off the line well with only Steve Sallis and Leslie Ross around. Do a few short tacks up the port bank. Looking at the fleet it seems we made the right decision. Nice port tack lift, is it safe to try to cross the tide yet? Sallis is doing it from further to leeward so if he can make it, so can we. Start edging out into the tide, but take a transit from the buoy to something on the bank. Yes we are OK, coming up to the mark a bit behind Sallis. Gybe round, slacken kicker, board up, pole out, rig off, get into strongest part of current and take a look.
The situation is that Sallis leads, we are second, Ross third, then a bit of a gap before the rest of the fleet - who started on the wrong bank. We have a safe position in the top three unless we do something stupid. What we must do is make sure we sail away from the pack. What we must not do is get involved in any attack/defense manoeuvres against Sallis and Ross else we might all get caught up. So simply try to sail fast in clear wind, even if we catch Sallis we must not try to cover him.
Approaching the leeward mark in the same order. Now we have a long beat against the tide. Switch into 'river sailing' mode. Must (a) keep out of dirty wind of leader; (b) try to give dirty wind to those behind; (c) try to keep further out of the tide than either; (d) not run aground; (e) try to use any windshifts. Of course you can't do all of these all of the time, but just try to do it better than the opponents. Get a nice lift on port when Sallis is further out in the current, gain a few yards there. Rather poor tack, must remember to accelerate gently, sheet in gradually after tacking. Next tack is better - feel the difference! We are going to tack hundreds of times, just imagine what one foot gain per tack will build into.
The whole thing becomes a blur. Close to bank so tack, build up speed, out into the current and tack, build up speed, approaching bank again, whoops we have hit the bottom, hurried tack. Try not to show that we hit the bottom, don't want to give anything away to the others. Now we have another good puff and are close to Sallis. Duck under his transom, sail a length and tack. If we get this right then when he next tacks he will be unable to cross us and will have to give way. It works! He calls for water and we both tack but now he is in the unsafe windward position and falls back. Can we tack and cross? Yes we are in the lead. Don't relax, this is only lap 1. Tactics now are to make sure that those behind have dirty wind and can only get out of it by going out into the stronger current. This works and gradually we build a lead. The we hit the bottom and lose some of it. Very easy to get tense and stop the boat with bad tacks. Settle down, try to keep the rhythm going, that's better.
Approaching the end of lap 1, Ross has overtaken Sallis, but is about 60 yards behind. The Enterprise fleet must have been recalled because they are all milling about on the start line. Let's hope they get away before we get there, or even better that we get round the mark before their start but Ross does not! In fact we get neither of those. Their start signal goes shortly before we reach the line. Fortunately most of them must not have seen our start because most of them are at the wrong end. We round the mark after about 6 Enterprises have done so, but before most of them.
Down wind again, there is Ross about 80 yards behind. This time we have to make sure we do not get involved with the Enterprise fleet. Not so easy because they have a large sail area. The nearest ones are close to the town bank, so we will edge a bit the other way hoping to pass. Ross seems to be catching up so check plate, rig, sails etc. Also do weed check on rudder, nothing there. He must be in a bit more wind. Here it comes, but he is still catching up. Don't try to defend, gybe out of his wind shadow and cross river. Don't want to get tangled up with the Enterprises. Running neck and neck for the buoy but Ross has the inside position and will round ahead.
OK, set up the rig for the beat and round behind Ross. We passed Sallis last lap and we have to do it again. Not so easy because Ross is a bit more careful to keep us covered. Switch into 'advanced river sailing' mode. The first five or so Enterprises are also on this beat and are making life difficult for both of us. Try to make it harder for him than for us! We are being covered, but if we tack now and he tacks to cover he will be in the dirty wind of that Enterprise, so what will he do? Yes we have broken cover for a bit, now try some good tacks. We gain a bit, get covered by an Enterprise and need three quick tacks, lose a bit, get past that Enterprise, still being covered by Ross but we are closer. What else can we try? If we tack now and he tacks to cover then that Enterprise will put him about. Good, he fell for that one and has to fight the Enterprise and we gain a bit more. There is a shallow patch of water near the bank here can we lure him into it? He runs aground and loses a bit more, also he seems to be getting angry. Keep calm, smooth tacks, gradually getting closer. Finally we can put him about where he has to do three tacks in quick succession. Back into the lead, but again don't relax. There are still other boats about. Trying to keep clear of wind shadow of Enterprise we run aground. Coming out we have to duck behind Ross, have we lost it again? Tide not so strong now so let's go a bit further out before tacking. Good idea we are back in front again. Now a bit of fairly close cover to make life really hard for him. Nearly through all of the Enterprises. Try to finish this lap with a cushion of one Enterprise between us and Ross.
Approaching end of lap 2, can't expect shorten course yet. Have built up a nice lead again, but keep on trying. Very easy to run aground and lose it all. There is a new hazard - large commercial shipping entering and leaving the dock. Now we know why the first beat was so short because there is virtually no clear river past it. Looking back we see that Sallis has lost his third place but the new third is some way back.
Laps 3 and 4 are less eventful. Slacker tide means we don't have to tack so much and can take more advantage of windshifts. Also we don't need to go so close to the bank so there is less chance of running aground. We seem to have got 'in the groove' and gradually increase our lead to about 100 yards at the finish - very thankful that we do not have to do a 5th lap.
In something over 20 years of attending Norfolk week this is the first time I have ever finished in the lead. I have often been in front at various stages of a race and once 'won' at Blakeney, but in that race Ross finished ahead of me but retired because of an infringement, so this win was particularly nice. I hope it won't be another 20 years before the next victory!