At last, sailing again post COVID-19 lockdown

In line with government and RYA guidelines, our local sailing club is allowing a responsible return to sailing again. We’re all mindful not to put ourselves at risk in a way which might require an RNLI / coastguard call out, but it’s just a joy to get out again.

I’m a frequent solo sailor already and consider myself experienced and careful, so this doesn’t change too much for me but I am even more mindful of the conditions now. My favourite forecast remains the Met Office wind forecast because it’s so accurate and has a good gust forecast.

The picture above was taken after a long sail in late May 2020 in windy and gusty conditions where in the interest of risk reduction I used the storm sail. The storm sail has a 7m2 sail area vs 8.8m2 so produces much less power but the boat is much easier to control.

Normally I avoid the storm sail as it feels so underpowered but on this occasion it turned into a surprisingly good experience. I did lots of windward / leeward practice; the beat was easily manageable with board fully down, with boat moving just fine, and off wind with kite up the boat moved nicely too. Nothing crazy but satisfactory with a few grinning moments.

Reaching was a bit of a drag, though that might also have been the messy wind but the storm sail had me focusing hard on boat speed more rather than relying purely on raw wind power. This was good experience, and something I’ll happily do again. Getting more out of a smaller sail seems a good exercise in any case.

Sailing in 2019, a Year in Review

2019 has been a good year, I’ve done a ton of sailing throughout the whole year, passed my RYA Dinghy Instructor and have started winning the first races, also finishing in the top three for the series I entered.

Boat handling has improved considerably this year, I’m quite comfortable in much stronger and gusty weather conditions, I got the hang of the kite and have improved boatspeed quite a bit. I go sailing regularly on own super early before work or before breakfast on the weekends and enjoy being alone in the bay with the elements and seabirds. It’s always different.

The Vareo isn’t well suited to the trapezoid courses we tend to run at Swanage Sailing Club but nevertheless sailing with the kite up as much as possible has proven the key to moving up the places. The times I did capsize this year were all gybing with kite up in a blow, a bit of work is needed here.

Swanage Regatta August 2019

It’s cool to be moving up the placements and also see the practice paying off, and also figure why things worked and why the hadn’t. Whilst I’ve had races where everything worked with large gaps between me and the next boat, apart from obvious impacts such as a poor start or not hiking hard enough, losing boatlengths seems to be the aggregation of small errors; a poor tack, missing a shift, a poor mark rounding, a slow spinnaker hoist, being caught in dirty wind, misjudged angles.

There have been some races this year over 5o minutes where I beat the next boat by only a couple of seconds or was beaten by a couple of seconds. It’s motivating to be closing the gap and know where improvements can be made. Those I practice 🙂

I see plenty of areas to improve; starts, tactics, working wind shifts and tides better, and 2020 will be the year I start open events. I had entered the POSH event at Paignton in 2019 but couldn’t make it in the end with vehicle failure, I won’t miss it next year. I’m looking forward to racing with more Vareos in 2020.

I made some learnings about series races too, simple stuff such as when to take or not take risks which could affect overall placement.

The Vareo is an absolute blast and I’m enjoying it a lot and I honestly wouldn’t want a boat without a kite now. Acquiring an Aero aluminium style launch trolley recently has made a huge difference to boat recovery and pulling it around the boat park, this was the only niggle before.

Aluminium Trolley made by Mersea Trailers

Bring on 2020 and more sailing fun.

Mixed handicap cup race

August 2019 Regatta

SSC ran a regatta again this summer which I took part in. Thirty three boats, five races over two days, each course different with good wind, building up on day two to quite frisky conditions. On the last race the daggerboard was humming in new tones I’d never heard before, it was that fast (grin!). Mine is 239.

There were two other Vareos which made for a bit of sub-fleet racing which was great fun.

Thanks Doug and team for running a fantastic regatta. Thanks Adrian for the fantastic pictures.

May – June 2019 Sailing

I’ve been out sailing loads the last months, racing and practising as well as instructing kids the last twelve weeks as part of my club‘s junior training.

Team racing

My race results continue to improve and I managed a reputable 3rd in the Spring evening series. There’s still work to do on consistency in stronger winds but I am getting more able in higher winds though at my weight it’s a challenge.

Current practice focus is two fold, firstly spinnaker work and among other things holding tighter angles and keeping speed up on lower angles. Gybes are pretty smooth, the faster the better.

Secondly better control and keeping boat speed on in gusty conditions. It’s all very well practising with even winds, but races never seem to have this perfect conditions (funny that!).

My fitness isn’t bad and I’m able to hike hard for decent periods now and looking forward to the longer out of the bay races. Sheet loads are relatively high on the Vareo which is also good for upper body strength, all good stuff.

RS Vareo Storm Sail, Meh!

It was the first race of the season yesterday with the same wind forecast by both the Met Office and Windfinder. It looked quite fruity from the shore, so I opted for the storm sail.

That turned out to be a mistake, firstly the wind wasn’t nearly as strong as forecast (race 11:00 – 12:00), in fact there was way more sea than wind.

Secondly I was reminded of what a dog the boat is upwind with a small sail, especially into waves and they were decent yesterday. The boat is heavy, it really needs that bigger sail.

Thirdly I’m used to the power of the standard sail so the whole sense of boat balance is thrown out with anything less. Downwind with the kite was fine but reaching was slow too.

I don’t think I’ll bother with the storm sail just for myself in the future (with child maybe) and will prefer to abandon a race if it’s too hairy rather than be too slow with a smaller sail.

Where’s the fun if you aren’t hanging off the back quarter on your toes (?) 🙂

Edit: 12th April, I went out similar conditions (14-18 kts) with the full sail the other day. So much better.

March, seems there’s a routine

This is a common sight when I’m prepping to go out, local fishermen out and about, sea birds lining up to pick up their throwaways. There’s only one bird in this picture, but a queue of birds is not uncommon. Herring gulls and lesser black backed gulls mainly.

It’s not surprising really as they’re out around high tide too, close to slack water the same as me. Not that I’m very tide dependent but pulling a boat out at a higher tide is less effort.

The sailing season starts soon, I can’t wait. The frostbiting season has been a success I’d say, and I’ve been out mostly once a week at least throughout the winter regardless of the cold. 🙂

DInghy Vareo 239 sailing in Swanage Bay
Photo Gill Richards

January 2019 frostbiting

So this was a first, taking the boat cover off with actual frost on it and going for a sail.

Observations; fingers were cold and I need better gloves, particularly in light conditions where I’m not working hard and warming up. I switched to skiing gloves half way through which were good, though of course they would be useless if wet. I kept them dry.

I’ve added some more instrumentation to the boat in the form of extra tell tales and added leech tell tales where they’d worn out.

Looking at tell tales is nothing new to me, but having these extra ones really helps see airflow over the sail better.

New Year Sailing 2019

I’ve made a good start to the year so far with sails in my RS Vareo on New Year’s day and January 6th.

Since I go out on my own I’ve become more safety conscious and am taking out more gear, some items are on the UK’s dinghy cruising association page and it’s good common sense stuff. My boat isn’t designed for cruising but it’s certainly roomy enough to take out some safety gear and luxuries (coffee) including:

  • Handheld VHF radio + backup phone in a waterproof pouch.
  • Dry bag with different lengths of string, rope and shock chord, carbohydrate snacks, tape.
  • Water and coffee
  • Telescopic emergency paddle
  • Safety knife and whistle

I’ve experimented paddling a single handed and it works fine centering the rudder with a piece of shock chord tied to the toe straps. The knife is tied to the pocket of my buoyancy aid, the paddle further tied to the boat with a length of string. The other bits of string and rope should enable recovery from a few breakage scenarios I’ve imagined.

Correct clothing is an essential part and I have the choice of a drysuit and wet suit layers. The drysuit plus over trousers is less fiddly to put on and dries quickly but I prefer the wetsuit set up which is very comfy on the boat. If you have cold feet, I can recommend Rooster’s polypro and thermaflex socks.

Another obvious safety aspect is to choose the right conditions, so I’m choosing wind and tides which reduce risk and avoid overly gusty conditions to reduce breakage risk. I also avoid crazy actions in the chop, so take care to sail up and down waves rather than let the boat slam down. If more of us go out it’s fun to go out in stronger conditions, and generally if I had a newer boat I’d push it much more 🙂

We’re super lucky in Swanage to have a National Coastwatch station looking over us and I’m very grateful to have them there. There’s an RNLI station next door also overlooking the bay, but obviously no sailor wants to cause a call out.

My two hour session yesterday looked like this:

this was my first GPS tracking test, winds were light and I covered about nine miles.

It’s curious how shallow the downwind angles are and it looks like I might be beating better on starboard than port, it gives me more ideas for things to work on. I need to get better at working with wind shifts and choosing the right angles downwind. And I’ve started in earnest with off water fitness.

All in all, a good start to my sailing year.