UK Albacore Nationals 2003

By Barney Harris 6701

David Byron and I have travelled to the UK to sail their Albacore Nationals every year since 2000. These events have been great fun and we have learned a lot about Albacore racing. I really have looked forward to getting out of the Washington DC area in August - its too damned hot around here.

Thanks Peter! David and I sailed Albacore 7984, originally built in 1996 and sailed first in 1997 by Duncan and Alistair Glen who won the worlds at Hayling Island. The hull was built by Bob Hoar in southern England and was fitted out by Duncan. It has a sleeved Proctor D mast, Proctor boom, Hoar centerboard, and Milanes rudder blade in a Cee Vee head. Peter and Judy Fontes have graciously loaned 7984 to us the past two seasons.

Boat Preparation

David and I sailed 7984 in 2002 to win the UK Albacore Nationals. We knew from this event that we would prefer to make some upgrades that would enable a greater range of travel for the shrouds and rig. Peter was interested in having 7984 set up to sail with the Canadian North sails which include a lower aspect jib and a fuller main. We arrived in Poole on Wednesday with a bag of parts, line, and tools and went to work. We first did a full calibration of the boat to include the range of rake and shroud settings and found that we could get a greater range with shorter shrouds and a longer first stage tackle between the shrouds and deck. The under deck mast ram constrained the motion of the mast to less than allowable under the class rules, so we replaced this with an above deck HAPCO mast ram system. The jib tracks were set too far forward for the low aspect North jib, and were too short - we replaced them with 18 inch long tracks that happened to match the existing holes perfectly. We also installed an adjustable head stay and jib cloth controls, relocated the main sheet split tail attachments, replaced the jib and main sheet ratchet blocks, gave the centerboard a quick once over, re set the spreaders and installed an up the mast pole launcher system like the one we used on USA6701 for the Internationals - in fact it was the exact one we used. Finally, we went over every part of the boat replacing lines, shock cord, worn out cleats, etc. and finished with a complete calibration. We were ready to go for a sail.

Tuning And Sailing

We initially went for a sail in Poole harbour. Neville was steering 8011 with a pick up crew while David and I sailed 7984. We found ourselves to be off the pace upwind at the start, but worked with the settings and eventually were able to match Neville's speed to windward. 7984 was made from the same Woof tooling as my 6701, but had several fundamental differences. First the mast was stepped two inches further aft than on 6701 and second, 7984 was equipped with a sleeved D mast whereas 6701 had a far stiffer M2 section. We knew we had some work to do to get the most out of 7984 - unfortunately we did not have the luxury of time since the UK Nationals were to start the next day, so our final tuning was done "on the job."

Sailing Venue

Plymouth is a large Naval and commercial harbour that is ringed on three sides by high cliffs and is protected at its mouth by a 2 mile long breakwater. At the north end is a large grassy park called the Hoe that features spectacular views of the harbour. Much of Plymouth was destroyed during WWII and has been rebuilt so that it does not have the charm of an old fishing village like other places in the UK, but the streets are not 5 feet wide either.

Plymouth has two sailing areas: inside and out. The inside course has unusually shifty winds and strong tidal currents that follow the bottom topography, and therefore are inconsistent in velocity and direction over the entire sailing area. The outside area is just beyond the breakwater and has steadier winds and less current variation over the course area. The outside area is subject to large ocean swell. These swells are only 4 to 5 feet in height and are several hundred feet in wavelength, so boat and crew would disappear in the troughs. The swell was from the south west and then south east all week. Winds were moderate for the week. Water and temps required a shorty wet suit at least. On two days I had to wear not only a full wet suit but a fleece hat as well.

The race committee consisted of members from the RPCYC and the Mayflower Sailing Club. They were generally efficient in getting the races started but made a number of procedural goof ups. Fortunately only one of these - mistiming the start of race three - was so bad that the race should have been tossed out anyone.

The Royal Plymouth Corinthian Yacht Club (RPCYC) is set into the side of the cliff overlooking Plymouth harbour. Its actually below street level, so one must walk down a short catwalk to get to the front door. RPCYC has several nice bar and dining rooms that overlook the harbour. Drink prices were reasonable and the food was good.

We launched from a municipal parking lot with a ramp. At 15 or so feet, the tidal range is high compared with most US and Canadian locations and the ramp was kinda steep. Fortunately the club or someone had seen to it that the ramp was pressure washed and was almost completely devoid of slippery seaweed.

Here are some notes from our perspective on each race

Race #1. The course was a B4 of an Olympic twice around. We started in light south westerly breeze and an incoming tide. We sailed on starboard tack for a while and ended up to leeward of several boats. These boats tacked off leaving us on port crossing the course. We saw a small ripple in the water ahead and noted that boats that had sailed towards the shore on port were now climbing up from leeward, albeit they were still substantially to leeward and behind us. We elected to remain on port and sure enough, we found less adverse current. We tacked to starboard, crossing the fleet easily and made the mark with a 1 boat length lead over Neville and Jeremy Rook, who were overlapped at the mark. We maintained this lead down the two reaches. The wind had shifted to the left and made the next windward leg a one tack beat. During the next down wind leg the RC signalled a change of course for the leeward mark - the only problem is that several boats were on the affected leg when this occurred. While this was definitely a procedural error on the part of the RC, it did not disadvantage anyone by much and no on protested. We rounded the leeward mark with a small lead over Neville and Steve. They tacked for clear air and we covered several times until we reached the layline, and again rounded in first. We maintained a small lead on the top reach, but were gradually whittled down on the bottom reach which was DDW due to the left shift. We rounded with a one boat length lead. Neville bore away for a lane, we let him go, preferring to hold high. The breeze increased - we could tell that Nev and Steve were extending ahead and to leeward a bit, but we were not quite able to shift gears to match their speed. Nev and Steve sailed into a small right hand shift and tacked. They were clearly in the lead, so we tacked to leeward and ahead and waited for the next shift. We saw a brief 10 degree drop at one point, but it was not enough, but this time Neville was well over the top of us. Right then the RC shortened course. We sailed across the line in second.

Race #2. The course was a B4 again. Winds were easterly and very shifty coming over the "Jenny Cliffs." We started in the middle of the line and worked shifts up the middle. Nev and Steve went off the pin and went way to the left. Mike and Colin started further up the line and went towards the breakwater. The variable wind resulted that at one point, either side was way up or way down. By the time we all reached the windward mark, the right side had prevailed and Mike and Colin were in the lead with us rounding in 4th. Neville was further back. By the leeward mark we had passed two boats and were within 3 boat lengths of Mike and Colin. The next windward leg was more of the same, but we were not quite in phase with the shifts nor did we feel we had adequate speed. We accidentally kicked the shroud course adjustment out of the cleat on every tack. Judy and Paul Armstrong passed us on that leg, sailing very well. We held third to the finish, never seeming to be quite in phase every time we tried to get some separation and pass.

Race #3. Same course and with the incoming tide current growing, we decided that the right side would pay. The RC botched the timing and mistakenly fired off the one minute gun at two minutes. Despite some comments from the fleet, the race started with a 4 minute sequence. The current was running fast pushing boats towards the pin and behind the line. The miss timed start placed caught us out of position - we had to sail DDW at 15 seconds within arms length of the RC boat and round up into a small space behind same with just enough room to get going. We sheeted in and took the start with Peter and Deb Snowdon right on our tail. The Snowdons and we tacked first for the right. We watched as the fleet fell into our tracks as we sailed into the slacker current. We tacked on a small knock and a puff and crossed the fleet easily, and re positioned between the bulk of the fleet and the windward mark. One more small knock and a puff as we reached the starboard lay line and we rounded with a 30 boat length lead over the Snowdons who were in second just ahead of the rest of the fleet. We held this lead until the next to last reaching leg which was lengthened via a change in course. This leg had the fleet bucking the tidal current, so it was the longest in duration by far. At the wing mark at the beginning of this leg, we had probably a quarter mile lead over Nev and Steve who were in second. We saw this lead eroded gradually on the bottom reach till Nev was within 3 boat lengths by the leeward mark. We both rounded onto port. A small cruiser was crossing us at slow speed on starboard. Neville waited until we could not tack without ending up in the cruiser's bad air and tacked to starboard. We held on to get a better lane. At that exact moment, we sailed into the largest hole we had seen that day and stopped. Meanwhile Nev sailed in a new puff that seemed to drop in from nowhere. We rounded the next mark around 5 boat lengths behind. Neville maintained this lead to the finish. We crossed the line in second.

Race #4 A4 - triangle four times around; course sailed outside the break water. The breeze was a little to the left of race #4. the tide was going out at the start. We looked at the buoys and wind and figured the left might be favored. We started at the pin end with Neville on our weather quarter and sailed towards the breakwater. The rest of the fleet dropped into our wake as we sailed into more favourable current and a slight knock. Eventually, Neville fell into our gas and tacked to port. We sailed a short distance and tacked to cover him. With new breeze and port lifts coming from the left, we were able to crack off and roll over Neville, and he sailed in our gas nearly until the windward mark. Holmes had started further up the line and was directly to leeward on port at this time. We reached the windward mark first and caught a few good waves and extended. Later in the leg, Neville caught a few good rides and closed up. We were within a boat length of each other at the wing mark. Holmes had broken out from the pack and had closed somewhat. We had a 2 boat length lead at the leeward mark where we rounded onto port. Nev and Steve tacked immediately to starboard at the mark; we tacked to cover. As we both sailed towards the left, we fell into Nev's track owing to the less current and slight wind shift. Nev and Steve tacked to port and crossed easily; we elected to continue to the left. Nev tacked to starboard on our hip. We continued to what appeared to be the lay line and tacked to port. Neville crossed us by a boat length and tacked to cover. Neville tacked about 5 feet too late in my opinion, and Steve was just a bit slow getting the jib trimmed. We bore away for a lane to leeward and were able to just get ahead of their wind shadow. Now on port tack and heading to the mark, we were able to slowly move forward and then climb up under Nev and Steve until they began to get backwinded and fall behind. In the meantime, Mike and Colin had rounded the leeward mark, tacked to starboard, and then to port and was leading us both to the mark. The pressure and shift from the left lifted mike while Nev and we reached into the mark. When mike tacked to starboard we were able to just cross - but were not able to tack in front of mike at the mark, so we carried on for a half boat length and tacked so as to not foul Mike and Colin. We rounded, blew the board and rig and set the pole to leeward. Mike and Colin were not able to set their pole since we were nearly over the top. We both sheeted in and surfed to the wing mark where we rounded within a boat length with Mike and Colin in the lead. We rounded and immediately went high and fast and eventually rolled Mike. Neville had missed the pressure that we had planed down the reach on and was now 20 or so boat lengths behind. We held our lead until the leeward mark where we rounded and immediately tacked to starboard. Mike and Colin rounded and carried on for 3 or 4 boat lengths and then tacked to follow. Both boats sailed to the left, but Mike and Colin were able to climb up a bit on us, and when we tacked for the windward mark, they were able to tack just low of our course line between us and the mark. We climbed into a clear lane, but with the breeze shifting to the left, it was not possible for us to get past Mike and Colin. The Race was shortened at the next windward mark. Mike and Colin won with us a boat length behind.

Race #5 Very similar conditions to Race #4. We started away from the pin end. This proved to be our worst finish (5th) for the series. We had difficulties with the shifting winds - while we still believed that the left was favored, there were some occasional 40 degree shots from the right that were tempting. The bottom line is that being on the left of the course for the final approach to the mark was important, but banging the left side of the course was not as important.

Race #6 Neville nailed the pin end and sailed the hard left and into a large lead. Mike and Colin sailed to a 2nd. Barn and David finished this race in a distant 3rd and with a protest following an unfortunate sequence of events on the final leeward leg.

Race #7 Coming into the last race, course B4, Mike and Colin were in first, guaranteed either a first or second place finish. Nev and Steve were in second, and could finish 1, 2, or 3 depending on the outcome of the race. We were in third, guaranteed either second or third. Even if we won the race, and Mike scored his current throwout, we would tie, and lose the tiebreaker. To win the event, Neville just had to beat Mike and finish 3rd or better. Because Neville had a much deeper throwout, Mike could elect to try to take them way down in the fleet. Or we could do the same. It wasn't clear as the starting sequence approached if anyone would take the initiative and start mixing it up.

Things turned out fairly civilized at the start. We did our own thing, with Mike and Neville sailing close to each other but not causing any great grief. Unfortunately, our own thing found us very close to the pin, fouling someone, doing our turns and starting fairly deep, sailing off the line on port, basically headed the wrong way. We managed to find a bit of a shift and worked back left and say Mike and Neville close to each other, with Mike in a bit of a leeward-and-ahead controlling position. We rounded the windward mark in something like 5th with Mike and Neville quite a bit behind. At the point, Neville was far enough back for us to get a second, and Mike to hold on to first

We rounded the first leeward mark just behind Jean Simmons and as we tried to play the shifts and get around her, found ourselves maybe 10 boat lengths ahead of Neville, with him directly in our gas. Mike was in between us, but not as affected by us. We decided to try to push Neville back a bit, tacking when he tacked. When we were getting uncomfortably far to the right, we tacked back to starboard but for some reason, partly motivated by Mike, those two boats sailed quite far off to the right which put them well below where they needed to be for Mike to win and Neville to come third. I think we passed a couple of boats, but the next sausage-and-triangle were fairly uneventful. We rounded the final weather mark in 5th I believe, behind Paul McNamara, Judy, the boat we fouled at the pin, and Nigel Potter, happy that the RC didn't shorten course. Nigel rounded the final weather mark in first and sailed too high, as if the next mark was the reach mark. This cost him several places and with us sitting on Judy's breeze and generally having good speed, we rounded the leeward mark immediately behind Paul McNamara, with Judy right behind us. Paul was going very slowly around the mark and to avoid a collision we immediately tacked around the mark. This caused Judy some grief, but less than if we had stayed and sat on her breeze. Paul sailed surprisingly far right but was able to come back and stay in front. Judy picked up a couple of good shifts and covered us well to the finish. Paul finished first, Judy second, and us third, all within a few seconds of each other. Mike had moved well up, but Neville was still far enough back that we pulled up to second overall.

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