BART’S BASH 2016 – A WINNERS VIEW
I hope all sailors who entered the Bart’s Bash race on Sunday September 18th enjoyed the sail. This is my personal review of the race with the aim of passing on tips that might be of general help to those who would like to do a bit more racing at the club.
Firstly, I have an unfair advantage in having sailed around the lake more than 1000 times in the 30 or so years that I have been a member but I still like to keep to a few simple rules when I plot my course around the lake. I do also have a relatively new Solo and a lovely P&B laminate sail that responds very well to adjustments so my boat speed is generally good although not always the fastest in the Solo fleet.
Before coming to race I checked the weather websites and I use passageweather.com to give the general wind pattern, raintoday.co.uk to see where the weather fronts have got to from the weather radar histories and bramblemet.co.uk to see where the wind is blowing from in the Solent.
A quick check before coming to the club indicated what we got; a light northerly wind with a trend to veer to the west during the day.
The briefing was at 1230hr and the race was scheduled to start at 1300hr so there was little time to launch from the Solo pontoon at the northern end of the lake and sail downwind to the start at the south. However, I rounded up briefly to judge the favoured tack into mark F, which is just off the Solo slipway, and also rounded up to judge the favoured tack between the race hut and large island, which was about a third of the way up the beat. Both these checks showed that mark F was best approached on port from the clubhouse side of the lake.
The 3-minute warning signal went as I approached the committee boat, giving little time to check the start line, although just enough to inform the race officer that there were still a couple of boats ashore that had turned up for the 1330hr race time shown on the Club’s calendar. No one I spoke to was too inconvenienced by the early start but it is a message to race officers that they need to check the Notice of Race when planning start times, it’s always possible to postpone a race but competitors’ goodwill is needed to bring one forward.
The start line was complicated by having an inner distance mark but the line itself remains between the committee boat main mast and the outer distance mark, mark A for this race. A short sail down the line showed it to be difficult to cross on starboard tack so the favoured end was near mark A and a short tack onto port away from the line pointed me up the lake towards the windward mark. For some reason most of the fleet congregated near the committee boat leaving the favoured end of the line relatively clear. On light wind starts with a biased line I like to stay above the line in the minute before the start to avoid getting boxed in by boats too windward. There was no penalty for being on the course side (OCS) before this start provided you are behind the line at the start (some races have a requirement to be below the line 1 minute before the start) so my only problem was to find a space to dip into before the start and to avoid being too early at the pin end, mark A. I was shy of mark A by about 5 boat lengths when the start signals sounded but by being on the line with reasonable speed was able to tack onto port and just cross clear of a Firefly that was behind me on the line.
So all was going according to plan, which is always a good feeling even if the plan is wrong. 30 seconds after the start I looked back over my shoulder to see most of the fleet still on starboard on the start line and had to ask Les, who had made a similar start in his Solo, whether it was actually the start. He said he had heard Simon call all clear so we kept on sailing towards the windward mark. The wind went quite light but there is often a little squeeze around the big island giving an opportunity to tack towards the clubhouse shore. Being ahead of the fleet then made it easy to pick a line on port tack off the shore up to the windward mark F with a little gust to help approach the mark. Meanwhile I had been joined by Alan with his young crew in a National 12 that had blitzed along the shore for the length of the lake, having not tacked immediately on to port after the start.
Simon had set a course with a true downwind leg from mark F to mark C and the game here was to stay in the wind on the favoured gybe. This was a little easier to do in the single handed Solo, with just a fully battened sail to gybe, than in the National 12 with its crew and jib poled out to windward. Also in light winds I sit forward of the thwart and gybe passing the tiller extension around the centre main sheet, which can sometimes go wrong. The optimum gybe leaving mark F is difficult to judge and depends on whether there is a gust or right of way boats approaching on starboard. In general, it pays to sail the straight line (Rhumb line) course but gybing initially from port onto starboard to gain clear air on an inside route to rounding mark B and then back onto starboard to avoid getting too close to the island can help.
The reach from mark B to the green flag gave few options but the approach to the finish line between the committee boat and the blue flag was tricky with other boats around. On some laps it was possible to continue on starboard tack and just lay the blue flag but care was needed to time a tack to cross the line to port and avoid any boat on starboard. Port remained the making tack up the lake towards the windward mark but on subsequent laps without the benefit of starting from near mark A so judging when to make ground on starboard tack became tricky. It generally pays in northerly winds to make towards the lee of the island to find a little lift on starboard from the wind bend around the island and make a tack towards the north of the race hut. I ended up to the south of the race hut going slowly in a light patch of wind and noticed the fleet catching up. A glance at the rudder showed I was towing several strands of weed and with a flick up and down of my remotely operated lofting rudder normal speed was resumed. I usually check my rudder and centerplate on every downwind leg, when it is easy to do with little loss of speed and concentration, and after the race others said they were slowed by weed. Even one strand makes a noticeable difference on the Solo!
So with the wind generally coming from slightly off the clubhouse shore as forecast I always approached mark F from along the shore where a lift can be found. There is a calm patch to be avoided around the pontoon below the race hut but the approach from the island on starboard helped avoid this and also the weed along the shore by the Optimist dinghy park. It can also appear calm along the shore by the car park but sometimes this is because the wind does not reach the water below the bank. In westerly wind it can indeed be calm along the shore but less so in north-westerlies, however there can be a wind shear so I needed to ease the kicker to twist the sail. The lift along the shore on port to mark F was so pronounced, with the additional benefit of a little gust near the mark, that I over-stood the mark on all laps but also overtook Alan’s faster National 12, which missed out on the lift by straying into the middle of the lake. Over-standing also kept me clear of other slower boats too leeward that I was lapping.
Then it was back down the run with gybes to keep me clear of other potentially faster boats, which is where I passed on the tip about the port tack lift to Sarah and Penny in the Vision. Subsequent rounding of the green flag to the finish line were made easier by slower boats tending to be sailing too high and slowly in the light winds. In the Solo it always pays to try to keep the boat moving without trying to point too high. Once having gained a little boat speed the apparent wind makes it easier to judge whether it is possible to point higher without luffing the sail.
So starting cleanly at the right end of the line with a plan as to which side of the course was favoured, knowing where to find the lifts around the island and off the shore, checking to keep clear of weed and avoiding getting obstructed by other boats were the key to my race. It would be interesting to know how Joel Traves approached it in his Optimist because he was not far behind in coming second on handicap! For next year there is a suggestion of putting a top tip on the race course board to help others improve, although there is no guarantee they will always be right, but in the meantime I would be pleased to bore anyone who wants to ask me about the lake. Of course it may change a bit when Vice Commodore Chris Davey finally seals the deal to start felling some of the surrounding trees.
Rear Commodore Sailing