Lord Birkett Trophy Weekend (KeithM)
The experience of this event is in marked contrast to that of our normal, well-established and nicely laid-back weekend at the hard to beat venue of Ullswater Yacht Club. With typically 200 boats entered into the two-race series, the place is seething with sailors and a wide variety of boats from a Topper to a Tempest (trapeze keelboat), or a sedate small cruising yacht to a screaming skiff-style high performance dinghy. And then there's us - a handful of sailing canoes keen to give it a go but not make either ourselves or our little boats look silly or out of place.
The weather was mixed - a good euphemism for 'challenging', which was the key word chalked up on the race organisers' weather information board for the Sunday, but more of that later. Saturday brought a breezy day with a S/SW Force 2-5 with cloud, but the odd brighter spell. The big race briefing eventually got underway and described a course which, as in most years, would take in the full length of the lake, using Cherry Holme, an island off Glenridding, as one turning mark and a choice of either of two big orange inflatable buoys near Pooley Bridge for the down wind mark, before the finish line next to the yacht club.
Five OCSG canoes had entered the regatta but on the day Paul and Renate decided it was a bit too breezy for their liking and chose not to launch. The other four boats took to the water and generally tried to keep out of the way of the other racers, either by avoiding the area right up at the start line, which stretches the full width of the lake, or hiding in the sheltered and shallower area near the far shore but still within only a few yards of the start line.
With so many boats all jockeying for position, trying to determine where the line actually was, especially right in the middle, was not an exact science and there were so many boats over the line at the starting gun (it really is a gun - a shotgun!) that a general recall was required and it took the safety boats quite some minutes to round up all the boats and send them back to repeat the start procedure. Second time went better and the race was on. DaveS got the best start of the sailing canoes with Keith and Ann not all that far behind, AndyW a little further back and Paul and Will taking it easy, until their leeboard bracket failed in the boisterous waves and breeze, forcing them to retire before they even made it across the start line. And then there were three...
Dave decided he might catch some better wind by tacking back towards the north shore soon after the start but it proved not to be advantageous. Keith and Ann stood on into the middle of the lake, having found that the majority of the massive fleet had got away by a sufficient margin to leave some reasonably clear air, rather than the messy and completely frustrating conditions at and just after the start, when so many sails cast an enormous and chaotic wind shadow. Having said we had clear air, there were still a few other boats around; the odd slower small yacht, several of the slower dinghies such as a Miracle and the only Topper entered, but also a few dinghies that we would have expected to be well away.
As the race unfolded it was obvious that the sometimes boisterous and gusty conditions were stretching the less experienced crews to the point that they were capsizing, often several times, and therefore not performing as one might expect. The long beat to windward was closely contested and good fun if you were Keith and Ann; frustrating and somewhat less rewarding if you were Dave or Andy. Dave has since realised he had set his sail wrongly for the conditions and was probably pinching too close to the wind for the choppy water - sailing a little freer would have been better. Keith and Ann found their big and long open canoe did well, but took on a fair few splashes of spray, which Ann stoically bailed out. They had some keen racing with several other boats, overhauling the Topper and a Miracle, nearly catching a Merlin Rocket and rounded Cherry Holme exactly two hours after the start.
The broad reach/run back was exciting and fast, with some strong gusts pushing the boats to hull speed and beyond at times. Keith and Ann, using gull wing outriggers, had a fast and comfortable downwind leg, sailing 'by the lee' much of the time (inducing airflow from leech to luff - often more effective downwind but teetering on the point of gybing and therefore riskier). Andy and Dave, however, without outriggers, had a more challenging ride and afterwards both professed themselves to be quite tired in the legs, due to all the activity required in keeping their boats balanced during the race, particularly downwind. The downwind leg took Keith and Ann exactly an hour, with the final beat from Pooley Bridge back to the finish taking just twenty minutes.
The evening was a relaxing social affair with a hog roast, beer tent, chatting, examining the provisional results and playing a new, but thankfully not too demanding, card game being the main entertainments for us OCSG types. Other Birketeers take their socialising more seriously and the beer tent became the disco tent till gone midnight. Sunday's weather forecast was not looking good though...