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While the forecast did seem a little daunting, being an inland sailor means you have to be a chronic optimist. On arriving at the club it was obvious the wind range was between “too much” and “way too much”. But I was sensible last Sunday when it was blowing way too much. A bloke can only be sensible for so long before you have to have a punt.
The weather instruments at the Canberra Yacht Club are slightly sheltered, so their reading of: 18 knot 10 minute average with gusts in the high twenties was not correlating with what our Mark One eyeballs were seeing. However, some of the more optimistic souls were taking the covers off their boats and making some noise about rigging up. In these conditions the pattern of half-rigged boats and the skippers congregating at the front of the club was soon in evidence. If he goes, I’ll go type thing.
As a signal of intent I signed the registration sheet and joined the throng of skippers. Numbers like 35 knots was mentioned and it was probably not that far off. But if you have been around sailing clubs long enough you will know that the forecasts are generally always too pessimistic (as in too strong). One of my sailing mates indicated that he was not sailing his boat, so I invited him for a ride on the Weta. Things were looking up, in these conditions I thought it would be interesting to see how the Weta performed two up. I had set the jib and main on the in-most setting to depower the sailplan and planned on hauling on the cunningham once underway.
Soon it was make or break time, launch or pack up. Change into the wetsuit pants, give my new crew a brief on the layout of the Weta and what I thought would happen. Fortunately, the launch area (Lotus Bay) is well protected, so we were able to launch in good shape. In strong conditions it is almost customary to broad reach across to the leeward side of the Australian Museum. It is a good run to check that everything is operating satisfactorily and get the feel of the conditions.
The conditions were “way too much.” Despite this and our nervous initial fraternisation with these wind conditions, the Weta ploughed on with great sheets of water drenching us. The main item of concern was burying the nose so we piled down to the “back of the bus”. Reaching the safety of the sheltered water we could see many of our fellow sailing nuts grinning wildly as their boats were thrust too and fro. The usual fleet had been reduced to a handful of trailor sailors (Magic 25, Spider 22, Alien 21, Castle 650 (2), Adams 21, Careel 22, Sonata 6.7 Mk1) and Flying Fifteens.
Today the program for the trailor sailors and the multihull division was the long course, so we were starting first. Beating towards the start, Andy was on the arma and I was sitting in-board. I was keen to maximise control of the boat. After a modest start we soon over-hauled the trailor sailors and found ourselves in front. The basic plan was to ease the jib and main in the bigger puffs. Having Andy on as crew was a big help, I think it would have been too much for one person. By the time we were two-thirds up the beat we had overcome our initial nerves and were marvelling at the “sea-worthiness” of the Weta. It was behaving much better than we were sailing it! So our collective confidence was growing.
As we relaxed (as much as you could in the conditions), we looked back at the fleet. It was in disarray! One trailor sailor was grounded on the northern shore and another on the southern. We also saw the bottom of a longish white hull with no keel/centreboard. We were to learn later that the Spider had rolled over after losing its keel. I mentioned to Andy, “lucky we are on a Weta!”
While our tacking was not exactly textbook we were getting around okay and were soon at the top mark. The reaching leg was protected by Black Mountain peninsula, so it was somewhat uneventful. At this stage some discretion was called for and we decided to see what the downwind leg would produce before launching the gennaker.
The first downwind leg was a port broad reach. Normally this would be a highlight but today we were happy to report a quick and controlled transit. We chickened-out on the gybe to starboard and did a “chinese” gybe instead. The wind really picked up at this stage and great waves of water swept over the boat as we hurtled towards the yacht club, and the throng of spectators watching our antics.
In a situation like this, let’s face it, you have to perform a gybe. And gybe we did, and powered off towards mark three. With a commanding lead over the fleet and glory at our fingertips the PRO called an end to proceedings. I must admit I was not too unhappy about this, although I did enjoy the sail and it gave me plenty of confidence in the boat’s ability in pretty tough conditions. The weather instruments at the club indicated a maximum wind gust of 39 knots, so it would have been stronger on the race track.
Certainly a testament to the sea-worthiness of the Weta. Next time the gennaker gets unfurled!
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