Crewman on Stephen Tudor's J111 Sgrech, Mark Thompson, reports on ISORA's race ten, the Global Displays Welsh Coastal Series Night race sponsored by Exposure Lights
With an entry list depleted due to regular entrants racing at Cork Week, three boats came to the line for a 25–mile race. The course had proved tricky to set, with changing forecasts and a big wind shift predicted as a weak occluded front passed through, promising a damp evening but the prospect for some wind during our period of racing.
With some concerns about light winds to the SE and potential for the wind to build from the North later in the night, a course was set as follow:
Pwllheli Bridge start - PSC1 - Causeway- St Tudwals Islands- Plas Heli Finish Line
The automated Pwllheli Bridge start system got the fleet away for a fetch in 7-8kts of southerly breeze down to CHPSC club mark number 1 before hardening up for the beat to Causeway. It was not clear which tack would be the favourable one, and with the wind straight up the rhumb line, J111 “Sgrech” and XP33 “Darling XX” elected to stay predominantly east of the line, with “Jackknife” staying to the West. With a forecast of the wind veering as the night progressed - it was unclear which strategy would pay off, with little tidal issues to impact. There was much debate on board as to which was the “paying tack” and I forget now if we ever came to a conclusion!.
After a long beat with patches of lighter airs, J125 “Jackknife” rounded Causeway first, with the two other boats not to far behind, though J111 “Sgrech” got stuck for a while in a difficult patch with light winds and chop slowing the boat down dramatically. Round Causeway and a great spinnaker run in the pitch black to St Tudwals, which certainly improved spirits, and just one gybe, and was (according to one crew member) “Champagne Sailing” he clearly hadn’t noticed the rain, which didn’t really abate for the whole race, lack of moonlight and stars making helming in the dark very difficult. The concentration and communication with the trimmers key.
Approaching the west of the St Tudwals Islands, the next phase of the race would begin, starting with a well-timed gybe in the sound between the west island and the mainland, which would need to give an angle to clear the east island. The issue, however, would be sailing into the wind shadow of the two islands, so the game plan was to time the gybe, then approaching the wind shadow, gybe again into Abersoch Bay, until free of the islands and then gybe back out into the bay. Just as we were about to execute this excellent plan, and gybe into the bay, the wind just shut down, and we were dead in the water.
After a few minutes of confusion, the wind gently picked up, just enough to give us sufficient boat speed to gybe. It became clear that the promised wind shift was starting, but the great surprise was it swung round very quickly, and built to 9kts or so, requiring us to get the jib out, drop the kite and beat to the finish. While not the tidiest drop, we got the kite away and hardened up.
This final phase required several tacks to lay the finish and again required great concentration by the Helmsman, having to largely steer by feel and reference to instruments, with nothing of use to see outside the boat. Tell tails stuck to the sails, making it tricky to trim as well.
Jackknife took line honours, class 0 and the overall win, with Darling XX a fine 1st in class 1. Thanks to Brian Metcalf for acting as the finisher.
After racing the competitors enjoyed a relaxed “apres sail” in Plas Heli discussing the challenges that the race posed. I think although it was a wet and dark, frustrating at times evening, everyone enjoyed it, and grateful that we maintained a decent breeze most of the night when the forecast showed that area of the bay having very little.
The next ISORA race is race 11, an offshore race from Dún Laoghaire to Howth next Saturday the 28th July.