Blood, Sweat… and Wind

Today we raced at the Deben Laser Open. Me, Steve and Liam packed our Lasers on a trailer (thanks David), and drove to Woodbridge which is a little town by the river Deben. I wanted to race against some other sailors that I don’t usually race against just to see how good, or bad, I am. I needed to see some other competition. I expected it to be different and I knew it would be tidal waters, hence more difficult, but I wasn’t prepared for this.

It’s not that I am complaining but things were so much different than at Wembley, and Wembley is the only sailing club I have been to. First of all we had to push the trailer with the three boats on through a park, over a rail crossing, and on a footpath narrower than the trailer itself. And all that with the public walking around you.

We started unloading and at 11 o’ clock we were called in for race briefing. We knew the race would start at midday but it turns out that we had to sail half an hour downstream to the race course. That means that we wouldn’t be able to sail in the first race. The other thing is that there would be three races back-to-back! We were unloading and unpacking like mad. We changed quickly and launched our boats. They have a wooden slipway that goes well into the river. I was ready to jump into the boat, but I had walked to the edge of the slipway and suddenly I found myself in the water up to my chest and I felt my feet getting into a thick mud. I held onto the boat and got back onto the slipway.

I got into the boat and started sailing downstream towards the course. Suddenly I realised that I had blood all over both my knees! I had scratched them on the slip way when I fell. I took water into my hand and poured over them to wash the blood away and it was stinging quite badly. Later I realised that it was because the water was sea water! Sea water has iodine in it and the salt helps it heal quicker but it stings a lot. It was quite breezy, and things seemed nice. There were loads of boats in the river which is quite normal, but I was not used to sail in between moored boats. A safety boat came and gave me a tow because I was running late and they delayed the start sequence, so we could get there in time. That was very nice of them actually.

At the first race I had a quite good start. We were following a safety boat which was showing us the way for the first lap. For the first two laps, I was doing quite well, but slowly I was left behind. There was loads of river traffic. Both under sail and under power. Later on I was told that it was normal. Crafts under power had to give way to us anyway, but for the sailing boats the “rules of the road” apply. I am not used to the traffic and it made me quite nervous. All this traffic created waves and was giving me dirty wind making increasingly frustrated. I hadn’t realised were the finish line was until I crossed it and heard the hoot. I finished 20th.

On the second race the wind had picked up a bit and it was quite choppy so at least the waves caused by the passing boats wouldn’t affect us. I was more used to the traffic by now and was hoping that I would do better. My start was not bad but I lost a couple of places on the upwind leg because we had to pass through a “gate” that I somehow missed and I had to go back to pass through it and then I overshoot the leeward mark so I had to cover a longer distance to go towards it. By now the wind was strong enough to allow me to hike and use my weight advantage. I was gaining on the beat but I was loosing on the tacks and gybes. My reach was not bad either and on the run I was gaining a bit, over people who where even lighter than me. I made a few mistakes that cost me at least a place. I finished 20th again.

Before the start of the third race I was quite tired and dehydrated. I hadn’t drunk more than a quarter of a litre (half pint) of water. My start wasn’t that great and on the first tack a boat in front of my got in-irons and as I tacked to avoid it another boat came and had to sail around it too. The only thing I could do was to let my mainsheet go so the boat would stop and not collide with either of them. By the time I started moving again they were gone. I went around the leeward mark and on the reach the boat was planing. I went around the mark and as I was tacking I got cramp on my left calve muscle. I couldn’t moved across, the boom was coming towards me., so I fell back into the water and boat capsized.

I had this terrible pain in my leg, the muscle was still tense and there is no way I could get onto the boat. I was lying in the water when the safety boat came and I asked them to pull me heel and push my toes in order to “unlock” the muscle. The pain was unbelievable. They helped me bring the boat upright I got onto it and slowly I started sailing back to the clubhouse. There was no way I could race in that condition. I couldn’t hike, so I was slowly sailing upwind tacking between the moored boats. I pulled my boat off the water rinsed it with some fresh water and cleaned mud off the sail.

By the time the boat had dried the rest of the sailors started coming. We had a chat and everybody seemed quite excited. I really enjoyed it. I definitely like the wind, I liked the waves, I enjoyed the sea water (I know it sounds strange, but this is what means watersport to me) and I was satisfied with my hiking and overall performance. I spoke to the people that I was racing against and they have been sailing much more than 5 months. To me, being able to race next to someone who has been sailing for 6 years or even more, means something.

We loaded our bits and boats on to the trailer, had shower, got dressed and drove back to London. We were battered, but happy. Steve was 4th overall, Liam 15th and I was 21st. Out of 21 doesn’t sound great, but for the two races I completed, I wasn’t last on any of them. That’s an achievement considering it was my first time in tidal waters and with loads of river traffic.

The people at the Deben asked us to go again at the next Open Meeting, and we all agreed that it would be great if we could get some more people to come along. We also told them they should try to come to our Open Meeting at the Welsh Harp.