According to my namesake, autumn is the season of mists, not spring. I’m not sure if we should blame global cooling but the mists John Keats wrote of came early to us at Parkstone last Monday night. No sooner had our second race finished than the race course was completely enveloped in a grey shroud. To complete the feeling of eeriness, Condor announced its entrance into the harbour with several ghostly blasts. Most of our competitors were oblivious to these atmospheric niceties, however, as they headed in towards the bar!
20 boats for what was always going to be two short races was a great start to the Monday Night season and augurs well for future races, which are usually more popular than the opening ones. Racing was competitive throughout the fleet and everyone was well behaved at the starts with no-one failing to get out through the gate within the 45seconds slot. Behaviour was a little less orderly as the races progressed, however, but, by all accounts the guilty did their turn, even if with slightly less good grace than might be considered perfect.
Race one began in a light but reasonable breeze. However, the Jonahs in the fleet, who predicted that this situation couldn’t last, were in the right of it. So, after a six minute first beat, things looked good for at least a triangle, sausage, triangle race, but by the time most boats had reached the leeward mark, though, a race of such length looked to be very unlikely; and so it proved. The decision to shorten was made early on the first run, but when the wind completely died, as the lead boats were 3/4s of the way to the leeward mark, it looked for a moment like the race was going to be lost altogether. Rob Penson might well have wished it had been, since, after having majestically led the fleet for almost the entire race, he was caught out by the arrival of a new and fickle breeze from the NE, which turned the run in to a fetch for some and a beat for others. Roberta reacted fastest to these changing events, and, maintaining her momentum better than those around her, managed to convert her second place into a bullet. Rob salvaged his race by scrambling over the line in 2nd place, closely followed by Donald. Most boats finished very soon after the podium place holders, but the changing wind did no favours for those towards the rear of the fleet, and in fading light several boats received ‘on the water’ finishes. One other sailor of note in this race was Peter Taylor who gallantly resolved the slight dispute over who should have been Gate Boat by proving to all that there was no advantage to be had from this position, by finishing 12th. However, that was two places better than in the next race where he wasn’t the Gate Boat!
Despite the wind threatening to play silly buggers, it settled into a light south-easterly (perhaps brought on by the mist mentioned earlier). Donald, as Gate Boat, gave the fleet a master class in how to take advantage of a timely lift that left a few of our better sailors, making an early start, with egg on their faces. The wind held steady as the fleet beat towards what had been the gybe mark for race 1. No-one had really got away by the time a large bunch was heading towards the leeward mark at the end of the first triangle. It was now decision time for the race team. Should we stop the race there or risk another beat? The sun was dropping fast and my young colleague on the rib announced he had been reading about these weather conditions in Geography lessons. He assured me in confident tones that once the sun had dropped; the mist that was slowly approaching would rapidly march into the harbour. Despite this excellent advice, (I refer you to my opening remarks!), we decided to risk another beat since boats were enjoying the best wind of the night. Fortune favoured the brave, on this occasion, and a close final beat was fought out amongst the fleet. No slip ups for Rob Penson this time as he finished off a very good night with a win, very closely followed by Stuart Bromidge and then Andrew Taylor who almost managed to have a whole night without any verbals – but not quite!
Perhaps the happiest sailor of the night was Courtney; not that he was ecstatic about two 16th places; his joy arose out of the discovery that he only had to count 50% of all his results to get a series. Therefore, so his logic went, his chances of winning the series hadn’t been altered at all by the result of his first two races. You know what, I agree with Courtney – he’s still got exactly the same chance of winning the series as he always had!
All that now remained was for James to steer me towards the rapidly disappearing marks so that we could get them and us safely back into the marina. ‘An Ode to Condor’ was definitely not a poem written by John Keats but I think he would have been impressed by the sight of this shadowy leviathan as it passed the starting platform in the gloom of an April evening.
Race Team: John Keates & James Hartley