Boom Bag!

Wednesday was our first trip out on Ariadne’s Clew for a few weeks. After completing the Crown Series in February the boat had been sitting idle. Derek has been overseas for work, and with Tim busy or unavailable I hadn’t ventured out. But this week I was determined to have a go, even with a small crew of only three strong young men. My trusty old hands Tim and Willem, and their friend Steve, who hadn’t been out with us for a number of years.

When we arrived at the boat we discovered the sail-maker had been to replace our old torn and worn boom bag with a new one! Another expense to keep the boat looking neat and trim.

We motored out and hoisted the sail… wait lads! Stop! I spotted the halyard was twisted around a lazy-jack, and we dropped the sail again, narrowly avoiding a nasty jam. Willem and Tim fixed the problem, and with the sail up we buzzed around the start line in a steady ten knots of wind waiting for our signal. Being second division to start it’s good form to stay away from the start area until division one begin, giving us five minutes to get in position for our start. But I was late turning around, and we found ourselves a long way from the line just as the wind dropped! No motoring within 5 minutes of the start, so we crept painfully towards the line, finally crossing (red faced) well behind all the other boats.

From there things looked up, and we sailed a good tactical race. The fact we were behind meant nobody got in our way, no time wasted luffing or ducking or tacking unnecessarily, and two clean mark roundings. Our race was shortened – the days are getting shorter and we need to finish before dark. We were assisted by a hole in the wind at Bellerive Bluff, which caught quite a few boats unawares. We saw them becalmed, almost on the rocks, and steered wide to stay in the edge of the breeze, catching up and even overtaking a number, including Silicon Ship, with Willem’s Dad on board.

A very pleasant evening on the water, even if the result was not so wonderful! 13th over the line and 13th on handicap. With only one race left in the series we are sitting near the bottom on 14th place, and unlikely to rise! There is hope though, for the final race of the women’s series coming up soon…

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Late Starters

Friday night was the first race in the BYC Crown Series Regatta, the biggest racing fixture for our club, and the biggest sailing regatta in Tasmania. The competition includes six different classes, from trailable yachts to tiny dinghies to keelboats. We are in the Cruising Spinnaker class, which has three divisions and around 37 entrants. There is also a Cruising Non-Spinnaker class as well as a class for serious racing keelboats – almost 100 larger boats are entered, not to mention the Off the Beach series for the smaller boats.

With an earlier start time than our usual twilight race there was a rush to get away from work and to the yacht club by 4.45. Being my birthday as well as my non-working weekday I had spent the day pleasantly, celebrating with my Mum and sister Nancy at a winery. So I made my way there in leisurely fashion. The club was transformed, with marquees in the carpark, bunting and an excited hum of activity. The wind was blustery again, but thankfully not as strong as on Wednesday.

Our crew arrived and we set off for the start line under leaden skies, with showers veiling the mountain. With so many divisions on the water there were multiple start lines, ours being a way offshore at the start boat ‘Alaska 45’.

We began milling around in readiness, but with the conditions predicted to change the orgainsers decided to delay the start by ten minutes to give the wind a chance to settle in. Looking down-river we could see a line of dark water, hemmed with a line of angry white-caps. We presumed this was the edge of the sea-breeze, coming in later than usual. By the count-down to our start the change still hadn’t arrived, so we set off on course O for Oscar, heading for the Garrow Mark, still under a fickle wind which swung from north-east to north-west and back again. Somehow we badly calculated our start and ended up way at the back of the fleet. We spent the whole race trying to catch up, but sadly we ended up second-last over the line and last on handicap.

The little ray of sunshine on the horizon being that there is only one way to go – we looked forward to improving the result on Saturday.

Race Abandoned

All day on Wednesday the wind blew hot from the north as the temperature climbed. After a very cool and changeable summer so far, with rain on and off over the past few days, we were suddenly facing a day of extreme fire danger.Through the day I kept my eye on the bit of harbour I can see from my office window, to see boats bobbing around on the choppy water. The huge plane trees lining Salamanca Place were being buffeted by the wind with aging leaves torn free to dance in the eddies. I watched the anemometer, mounted on top of a pole right outside my window, spinning madly, the wind vane switching direction in confusion. It looked like it would be challenging conditions out there tonight.

On Sunday we had taken the main sail off the boat and on Tuesday morning taken it to the sail-maker for a minor repair. One of the lugs that run inside the track on the mast, securing the luff (mast-side edge of the sail), had broken when we did a fast gybe a week or two ago. Perhaps it was when we had a reef in the sail or  it had been too strong for me to ease with the sheet and traveller. Either way, the repair, though very minor, required taking the sail off the boat. Many racing boats remove and stow the sails after each race, but our boat, built for cruising, has a furling headsail (this is stored by wrapping it around itself on the fore-stay) and a canvas bag on the boom into which we drop the main, flaking it into neat folds, and zipping it up to secure.  So removing the main-sail is a bit of a chore. On Sunday it had been fairly windy as well, and Derek and I had tied the sail into a bundle then slid it out of the boom-bag, rested it on the marina arm to remove the battens, then folded it up to wheel back to the car in a wheelbarrow.

On Tuesday we had dropped it off to the sail-maker on our way to work, and picked it up again on Wednesday afternoon before heading through the snarling traffic to the yacht club. On the bridge we got a good view of a frightening bushfire burning on the Lindisfarne hills – gumtrees bursting into red flames and billows of black smoke rising. Two small planes and a helicopter were hovering anxiously as the fire front threatened to sweep downhill towards houses. Downwind, the marina was veiled in smoke, with wind whistling through rigging and halyards clanging. As I walked out towards the boat I was afraid I’d be blown off the narrow walkway as I held tightly onto my dress! I looked back at the club flagpole and saw the sorry sight of two racing code flags – N (blue and white chequers) and A (half blue, half white) signalling ‘Race Abandoned’. The yachties I passed expressed disappointment mixed with relief.

When I reached the boat, Nick, Paul and Lockie, who had arrived early, had already prepped the boat for departure, but now we set them to work helping to re-mount the mainsail that Derek had wheeled out in a barrow. It was a struggle in the wind to unfold and flake the sail on the marina arm ready to re-install the battens. Then, again tied up to prevent it flying away, we all heaved it back into the bag, slid all the lugs into the track and reattached all the ropes – outhall and two reefing lines – and two big shackles at each end of the foot. Once that was done we zipped up the bag, packed the boat back up and headed into the club for an early dinner.

Regatta Fireworks

Alongside the Wooden Boat Festival runs the Hobart Regatta, culminating in a fireworks display on the waterfront on Monday night. We hadn’t competed in any sailing events for the regatta, but this was a different way we could participate, taking along a boat-load of family and friends. So we rallied the troops at the boat well before sunset and set off across the river for the Regatta foreshore. The weather all day had been horrid – squally rain and cold (whilst the rest of the country suffered intense heat and bushfires!) – so we all rugged up.

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We anchored a little way off the jetty where people in high-vis vests were preparing the fireworks display. We judged our distance perfectly, as any boats between us and the jetty were moved on by the Water Police in their patrol vessel, Dauntless. At anchor we brought out the wine and cheese (and beer and chips) and watched the water settle to a mirror as the sun began to set. Quite a number of boats had gathered for the fun, including the Navy flag-ship, some of the sail training vessels and a number of wooden boats, as well as launches and a fleet of jet-skis. It was just after dark when Willem (who had been waiting for Tim – his frisbee training went late!) motored along and rafted up beside us in his beautiful wooden sailboat. His first time doing a rafting-up manoeuvre and he looked like a pro!

Then the fireworks began, and we discovered the reason for keeping us back – many of the first set went off right in the water in front of us! Soon they were popping and banging overhead in myriad patterns and colours.

In celebration of Tim’s birthday the previous day, we broke out the ginger cake, singing him a Happy Birthday.

We motored back into the marina in the dark. A great night out for all.

Wooden Boat Festival

Every two years in February the Derwent River comes alive with a vast collection of wooden boats. On Friday I made my way to meet my Mum and sister Nancy down at Sandy Bay Beach to watch the sail-past, which begins the festival and brings hundreds of boats into Sullivans Cove. It was quite a spectacle, with many of the replica tall ships enabling us to imagine we had slipped back in time to early Hobart.

Boats ranged from kayaks and open row-boats, to sloops of all eras, and huge square-rigged sailing ships, including the sail-training vessel Tenacious. This ship, 65 metres long and 10.6 metres wide, was launched in 2000 and is rigged as a three-masted barque. It is owned by the Jubilee Sailing Trust, a UK charity and is equipped to carry a crew of about 40, half of whom may have a physical or sensory disability. Late last year our crew member Willem’s sister Julia was accepted as crew, and has done a stint on board, sailing around Australia.

On Sunday Derek and I joined good friends Dawn and Gary at the Festival on the waterfront. For a while there it looked like we had got the better of the erratic Hobart weather – we sat outside in the sunshine for a while then visited the exhibitors shed in PW1 just as the rain came down. Dawn purchased a lovely slice of famous Huon Pine as a cheese-board for daughter Emily’s upcoming wedding, I got temporarily lost at the book stall while Derek and Gary visited all the gadget stalls and managed to come away without making any impulse purchases!

When we left the shed the sun was shining again and we took a tour of the marinas. So many beautiful wooden boats were on display, all varnished and polished and decked out with flags and pennants, creating a true carnival atmosphere.

We wandered around gazing and admiring the beautiful craftsmanship. Everywhere we saw evidence of countless hours of hard work and passion. Then the rain came down again and drove us under cover for  a drink until we were rewarded with a stunning rainbow.

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‘Q’ for Quebec

Wednesday evening was dark and grey, with a strong blustery north-easterly wind threatening rain. The wind was mild, however, and we didn’t need to rug up, with light jackets doing the trick. Once again I found myself the only female amongst a bunch of fellas – Derek, Tim, Willem, Nick, Paul and Andrew from Nubenna. Unfortunately it looks like we will be without Rohan, my understudy on the main, for the rest of the season, as he now has a regular Wednesday night gig for work. Perhaps Alice will step into the breach?

Divisions one and two were given course Q – a run with the wind behind us down to the Garrow mark off Sandy Bay, a beat into the wind across the river to Howrah point, and a reach back up to Bellerive Bluff, which then became a tight reach – and hard work – to the finish line. The wind was quite strong and we debated putting a reef in the main – basically pulling the bottom down a metre or two to make a smaller sail – but decided against it in the end. This sort of course, with the wind behind us on the first leg, rather than riding the sea-breeze to the finish line, is unusual for summer. The wind kept its strength up to the end and we found the final stretch to the finish quite a battle with the full main, and a couple of round-ups (where the boat becomes overpowered and turns its nose into the wind) lost us valuable time.

My job as main-sheet hand becomes hard work in a strong wind, and I had to enlist the help of Willem and others during the evening. The main sail is basically the boat’s engine, and the way I trim the sail determines how fast or slow we go. To trim it, I have the choice of about nine different lines – each has a different colour, and name (and none of which is ever called a rope) – two cabin-top self-tailing winches and a bundle of jammers. As well as these, I’m also in charge of another six (or more) lines which help trim the headsail (genoa, jib or the spinnaker if we’re flying one). All these lines converge on the cabin top where yours-truly is positioned.

It’s only the jib sheets (or spinnaker sheets) that go to the other two bigger winches at the back of the cockpit. So, there’s always something to keep me busy, and when the wind is behind us and the captain calls for a gybe I find I suddenly need to adjust most of my lines all at once in some form of organised chaos! First to gybe the pole, in coordination with our fore-deck hands (Tim and Paul tonight), I release the ‘pole topping-lift’ so they can swap it to the opposite side, and put it on again once they are made, then adjust the ‘pole downhaul’ and ‘barber-hauler’ to trim it sweetly. In the middle of this manoeuvre I also need to gybe the mainsail – which means bringing it from way out on the one side, to way out on the other side as Derek turns the boat and the wind catches the main, slamming the boom dangerously from one side to the other. Here it’s my job to first warn the crew by yelling ‘gybing, heads down!’ (the deadliest thing on a yacht is to be hit in the head as the boom swings over with enormous force) then helping the boom over using the ‘traveller’ and ‘main sheet’ in a smoothly orchestrated manoeuver to prevent it smashing over and breaking something (aside from a skull). This all requires sturdy gloves, quick wits and strong biceps – oh, and a strong young assistant at hand (thanks Willem!).

Tonight we were disappointed that our previous mathematical progression didn’t continue – the second-last, second, last pattern didn’t end with a first, but seventh instead. Next time perhaps? It was Trouble, the first boat we raced in, which took out first place tonight. Congratulations to Mark and crew.

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Busy at the finish line – Ariadne’s Clew (sail number 539) obscured by Just In Time, Wildfire and Rouseabout all hard on the wind – photo courtesy BYC

 

Saturday Sunshine

During the latter part of the week we were struggling to get together a crew for the next long race on 4th of Feb. Saturdays hold a host of activities and attractions for our younger crew – from soccer, to high tea, to crewing on opposition boats (oooh!)! So, we were down to the bare minimum for a long spinnaker race – just Derek and I, Rohan and Andrew, whom we just managed to tear away from his weekend work building lifts, though he did bring along a pen and paper to work on some design issues during the slow bits.

We were ready at the start line, with the spinnaker lines run out and the bag on the fore-deck in readiness, sunscreen slathered liberally on exposed skin, drink bottles to hand and the all important lolly tub (also known as ‘morale’) replenished. The sun beat down as the temperature climbed towards the mid-twenties. We enjoyed the stunning view of Hobart’s beautiful setting from the water.

The first boats to start were sent on a course to Variety Bay – I’d never heard of it, but being on the outside coastline of north Bruny Island I haven’t been there often. On the map it looked like a long way. We were the second division to start, and our course was ‘O’: in to Ralphs Bay, across the river to Piersons Point and back home.

The wind was north to north-westerly, so behind us for the first leg. This meant we could hoist the spinnaker and run downwind straight for Tranmere – no tacking hard into the wind. This was a relief with just four of us on board, but the trickiest parts would be setting, dropping and gybing the spinnaker, so we went across the line with the mainsail eased out and the jib billowing out to catch the breeze. Other boats around us hoisted their spinnakers at the line, but we headed out a little to get some clear air before hoisting ours. The wind was kind, blowing steadily at around 12 knots, and soon we were in the groove on our way to Tranmere with plenty of boats around us.

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Thanks to Nick for this image of the Clew, taken from on board Lock on Wood. (Congrats to them – they sailed an awesome race and took out first place!) After this, however, it wasn’t all plain sailing – we did have to gybe at least 8 or 9 times on the way, which kept the four of us very busy.

The faster division one boats started five minutes after us and were given a course to Ralphs Bay then Blackjack Rocks and back, so they gradually caught us up and it was very busy around the Ralphs Bay mark.

From here things got interesting – fortunately for us the wind didn’t get too strong, but it did become quite light and fickle. Here, around the very mouth of the Derwent River we would usually expect a south-easterly sea breeze to come in soon after noon on a hot Tasmanian summer day, however, today the forecast was for south-westerly winds later in the day. For the beginning of this leg the wind was still quite northerly so we all continued with our spinnakers trying to cover as much water as we could with the wind behind us. Most boats in our division headed straight across the river towards Piersons Point, others followed the division one boats along the shore of South Arm on the eastern side, while a few headed west toward Blackmans Bay to find a breeze on this side. At this stage it’s often more a case of luck than tactics, and we spent the next couple of hours avidly watching the water for signs of the wind’s behaviour – and were pleasantly surprised to find ourselves in the middle of a pod of dolphins.

(Dolphin video to come – sorry, technical difficulties!)

For the next couple of hours we played a cat and mouse game with the other yachts – catching up, getting left behind, sneaking past, only to watch the others catch the breeze and get away again. We don’t call Piersons Point Dodgy Point for nothing. Here’s where the breezes all meet – the northerly funneled down the Derwent, the southerly from Storm Bay, the south-westerly funneled up the D’Entrecasteaux Channel and sometimes an Easterly from around the corner of South Arm. And this is where sailing can become the slowest form of racing. Andrew pulled out his pen and paper. Rohan got a sore neck from craning up at the top edge of the spinnaker and constantly trimming. We all reapplied the sunscreen, then I put on the coffee pot and we all pulled out our lunch.

I recently attended a book launch for A Little Book of Slow by Sally Wise and Paul McIntyre – all about the slow way of living: cooking and making things from scratch, contemplative pastimes. Sailing wasn’t in it, but I vote it could well be included. There is something rewarding about being in tune with the wind and the sea. You learn valuable patience when you are forced to go with the rhythms of nature.

A change did come in, just before we reached the mark, so it was a slow and frustrating rounding after which we found ourselves well towards the back of the fleet. So the wind was behind us again for the trip home and we hoisted the spinnaker again. It’s not often you get the wind behind both ways! Coming back the wind was light and variable, so the spinnaker went up and down a few times, keeping us all busy.

Nearing the finish we came upon various fleets of little yachts and had to avoid interfering with their races. Lovely to see so many people enjoying the river under sail.

We reached home pleasantly tired and recharged with vitamin D and fresh air. We were second-last over the line but ninth on corrected time. Not a bad result for such a small crew on a big slow boat!