By the time the early entry closed for the RS400 End of Season Championships, 36 teams had signed up for a weekend of racing at Rutland Water. The forecast of single figure temperatures, fresh to frightening winds and squally showers may have put off a few teams, but many hardy and committed (or slightly mad) RS400 sailors arrived on Saturday to blustery and “fresh” conditions.
After an encouraging brief from the PRO, reassuring us that it was only the odd gust topping out at 30 knots, the fleet set sail to the Northern half of the lake. The race team did a splendid job of managing three races in 3 ½ hrs on a windward-leeward course with four fleets all having independent starts.
As the largest fleet on this course area, the start line was designed to accommodate the RS400s and we achieved a clean start at the first attempt. With gusts ripping into the fleet, requiring mainsails to flog and jibs to be eased, it wasn’t long before the pain of cold hands and numb feet was replaced by burning thighs and aching arms. Dodging the RS200s and RS500s flying down the run the RS400s arrived at the top mark comfortably spread out. Rounding in second, we hoisted and set off after the leaders and awaited the first big puff to roll of the shore. We were not disappointed. Spotting the layline was made easier by gybing before a few RS200s who appeared to be inspecting their foils for weed and a drag race to the leeward gate commenced. This cycle was repeated two more times. Positions changed both upwind and down as the gusts and shifts made boat handling challenging to stay in the groove, be on the right tack and position against the boats nearby. Winners of race one were Stewart and Sarah Robinson (1319) who made light work of the tough conditions.
The wind cranked up a notch for races two and three. Again, a clean start in race two saw the fleet commence battle upwind. Keeping the boat flat was the priority and at times the main was left hanging to leeward as we sailed off the jib in the gusts. As the newbies to the RS400 class, we were delighted to lead the fleet around the course to take the race two win but the current national champions Paul and Mark Oakey (1441) pushed us hard.
Race three got away cleanly but this time it was the new pairing of son Ben Robertson sailing with father Stewart in 1319. Ben (1161) had retired in race one with a broken boom and bumped into his parents ashore who had retired from race three. Hopping into the boat, the father/son duo shot back out to the start line (how Ben summoned the courage to get back into his wet wetsuit again I have no idea) and led the fleet around the track. This time we were the chasers but to no avail.
After Saturday night’s debrief with Team Volvo’s John Pink, excellent dinner and dancing (for the true RS sailors) the fleet awoke on Sunday to polar conditions. With an air temperature of 4 degrees with rain forecast later, a raw wind brought the wind chill literally to freezing.
The most polite way to describe the pursuit race start for the RS400s is a kerfuffle; able to lay the first mark on port, the majority of the fleet settled on a port tack approach, however, a few committed RS400s decided to close the door on starboard, needless to say, in the ensuing melee the fleet was early, very early. We gybed round for what we thought was an individual recall and circled the pin to re-start only to be met by the whole fleet tacking in response to a general recall. Round we went again, and on our third crossing of the start line, we were off. Second to the first mark we set off in hot pursuit of the earlier starters. I felt for the leader (1380 I think) who succumbed to a massive gust on the first reach and was blown flat, very impressive but not quick!
The course took us on 20 minute laps of Rutland Water with only a short leg where we could fly the kite. The RS400s were not going to win the pursuit race but the race for class honours was on. After an hour of fending off 2nd and 3rd place, both Stewart and Sarah (1319) and Paul and Mark (1441) flashed past us in a huge gust on the third run. The gust was so big that two of the front three leaders wore round rather than gybe! A lap later, Jon Heissig and Nicky Griffin (1454) took advantage of my over confidence at the gybe mark and sailed past us whilst I stood on the centreboard. The RS400s finished 1319, 1441, 1454, and then 1074 hotly pursued by John MacKenzie and Andy Box in 1455.
Overall, this was a great weekend’s racing and congratulations go to the deserving winners, Stewart and Sarah (and Ben) Robertson. Finally, a massive thank you must go to the rescue boat crews who must have been so much colder than us.
As newcomers to the RS400 what did we learn from the weekend?
The fleet is very friendly and the sailing standard is high.
The racing is close, mistakes are punished and hard work is rewarded.
Ratchet blocks on the jib are essential– finding out before the pursuit race was a blow to crew morale!
Our boat leaks …… a lot
See you all at the 2016/17 GJW Direct Sail Juice Winter Series.
by Russ Clark (RS400 1074)