I'm gearing up for the Challenger Racing circuit over the next few months, which begins in May with the Burghfield event. Part of that preparation is getting my race fitness back up to scratch, which includes not losing concentration as I did regularly during the UK Nationals in September. My starting was pretty good considering that I hadn't raced in a year, and I was often up there at the first mark, but I then began to go backwards through the fleet.
The best way that I have found to improve my race fitness, is to race. Which is why I'm braving the elements this winter and participating in a series of handicap events called the GJW Direct Sailjuice Winter Series. These events are quite fun to participate in because there are always a wide variety of classes that participate, from the Topper class right up to the Olympic 49er.
The first event that I took part in was called the Datchet Flyer. Logistically, the venue wasn't great because the water level was low which meant that the slipway was very long and incredibly steep. This made launching and retrieving quite tricky. In spite of this, cold weather, and fairly light winds, three Challengers raced, and I think we gave a good showing for ourselves. It was actually meant to be a two day event, but the weather put paid to day 2. Overnight it had snowed, and the slipways were covered with ice, which meant they were... wait for it... too slippery.
Christmas came, Christmas went. My next event in the series was on Saturday 30th December at the Grafham Grand Prix. This event has been one that I've done on and off for the past 9 years. One particular year, the boat that I was borrowing and I had quite a serious disagreement with each other, the result being that I ended up being chucked out and into the water. Safe to say that I have declined to borrow boats from anyone ever since! But the real reason that I go back to the event is because it always has a huge turnout. This year 170 odd boats were entered. Plus also the helpers at Grafham Water Sailability are always very welcoming and there is always coffee brewing!
The wind was forecast to be breezy to say the least! I think I had forgotten what 25-30 knots of wind actually feels like, because I was fairly unprepared for what was about to hit me when I got on the water. Of course the warning signs were there - boats capsizing on the way down to the race course was not a good omen. I felt so out of control and I realised that gybing the boat (turning the boat through the wind when running) was going to be very difficult without risking a pitchpole.
So I decided to head in and see if it calmed down. It did, so out I went for the third race, with a lot more confidence this time. The gusts were still just as strong, however the lulls were more frequent and more noticeable. I was pretty pleased with my upwind speed and tacking in particular - tacking a trimaran in such a chop can be quite frustrating unless you've got enough momentum. After a solid start, I had to fight back and was pleased to have caught up with the second placed Challenger, losing out to Jack just on the finish line. Going out for that third race boosted my confidence in those conditions, and I'm definitely hoping for more of the same in the year ahead!
So that's where I'm at with the Winter Series! The next event is in early February, and it's the Tiger Trophy at Rutland. The Saturday tends to be handicap racing, whilst the Sunday is a huge pursuit race where the slowest boats start first and the faster boats start later and try to catch the slower boats.
Anyway, That's all from me! Below are some pictures of the events so far. Will write again after the Tiger Trophy!