Friday 27 April 2012

The last bit, at last

OB came through the gybe on the inside and I looked back at the other boats feeling rather guilty for employing aggressive tactics. The wind, however, wouldn’t let me dwell on ethics. What had seemed like a fresh following breeze now appeared to be half a gale as we sailed to windward. Even double reefed OB was over pressed and unbalanced, I could only ease the heavy weather helm by completely sheeting out the mizzen sail and raising the daggerboard by half. The main I kept in good and taut and OB sailed at her maximum angle of heel.

I felt confident about driving OB hard. The wind was solid and, away from the land, the gusts came on more gently. I had my legs hooked under an oar lashed across the thwarts and my bum hanging over the rail. My boat was making good progress to windward compared to others further to leeward, some of whom appeared to be over canvassed and spilling wind.

Coming up to the next mark—OB throwing up a deal of spray and riding on a wave of foam—the race boat approached. The organiser, now wearing the hat of race official shouted across. He might have been imparting important information or quoting Cervantes, whatever, the words were lost to the wind. I watched the zodiac whizz off towards other boats.

I tacked OB round the windward mark and she hared off on the second downwind leg.

Looking around I saw that we were alone. I had almost certainly missed some vital information. Reflecting, I reckoned there was nothing for it but to crack on regardless—even if I had messed up it had been an enormously enjoyable sail.

On the long beat back towards the beach I began to see other boats again. But I couldn’t quite work out what they were doing. None were in the buoyed channel that led to beach, most were off downwind in amongst the moored craft. As the beach came into view I could see that it was deserted, I really had got this very wrong. I tacked a couple more times in the calm water in front of the town and let OB waft up to the sand.

In and around the beach bars people were clapping, applauding something out of sight behind me. I pulled OB’s bows onto the sand and lowered the sails. When I looked up from this task I found a knot of people had gather around and as I acknowledged them they congratulated me. OB had won.

Before this fully registered however, another boat arrived at the beach, the captain and crew immediately informing me that I had passed the first windward mark to port rather than to starboard. As such, they reasoned, I hadn’t followed the course. They were right I had gone to port, damn and drat it. Oh well. More boats arrived and eventually the zodiac and Quico, the organiser/official. The case was put to him.

 ‘What course did you sail exactly.’ Asked Quico.
 Twice round the windward and leeward marks, I explained.
‘Ha!’ he laughed, ‘Didn’t you hear me shouting that it was too windy to do two laps and that you should head back to the beach after completing one?’

That news spread and the next thing I knew I was being congratulated again. Everyone seemed to agree that sailing double the distance and still arriving first merited a prize.

I didn’t attend the prize giving dinner that evening however. I was keen to lap up the glory but I’d found a beautifully sheltered spot to anchor OB and I didn’t feel like an overland trek to the venue or a long row into headwinds. When someone called and offered to come and collect me by car I found myself refusing. In truth I just wanted to enjoy my last night aboard OB, tomorrow I’d be going home on the train to collect the car and trailer, it would be a long hot day. No, tonight was for me and my boat. I lay back, looked up at the stars and pondered on rigs that can be well and effectively reefed, unballasted craft that respond well to crew weight and the importance of sheeting in properly when sailing to windward.