Saturday, October 06, 2012
I love pursuit races.
At my first sailing club, at Taplow Lake near Slough in England, all of the regular weekly racing was pursuit racing. We had four fleets, Toppers, Miracles, Enterprises and Lasers, I think they were. We would start racing at intervals determined by the boats' Portsmouth Yardstick handicaps, slowest fleet first. Then we would race a zig-zag course around the fixed buoys scattered around the lake, which was usually so complicated that you would have to write the course on the back of your hand to remember it. HP BP DS JP CS AS LP or something like that. After a certain fixed time, in theory if everyone had sailed perfectly to their handicaps, all the boats should have been at the same spot. Of course they never were so the boat in front was the winner, and so on down all the boats in the club.
The Lasers were the fastest fleet so we started last. I always thought that was an extra handicap because you can waste a lot of time trying to overtake half a dozen Enterprises, say, on short legs of the course, while the lead Topper (who started first) was sailing in clear air way ahead of everybody. This was one of the first excuses I ever devised in a long career spanning over thirty years of thinking up excuses for not winning sailboat races.
So pursuit racing is not perfectly fair but it is fun.
At my second club at Rutland Water, we had more one-design fleet racing but, as I recall, we had at least one pursuit race for all the dinghies and catamarans once a month. I vividly remember racing in those pursuit races against the future Olympic silver medallist John Merricks when he was just a kid in a 420. But he was a damn fast kid in a 420 even then.
At my sailing club in New Jersey, Hunterdon Sailing Club, we had a pursuit race called the Little Brown Jug which was held on the July 4 weekend and was raced on a long course covering as much of Spruce Run Reservoir as was practical. It was always a lot of fun. I do remember hurling insults at the club curmudgeon as I overtook him in the Little Brown Jug one year.
The last three times I have been at Minorca Sailing they have held a pursuit race on the Friday morning, typically the last opportunity to sail for all the guests leaving on the main flight back to the UK later that day. Last year I almost won the pursuit race on the last day of our vacation but was passed near the end of the race by some ringer I hadn't seen all week in an RS200 (I think) who turned out to have won the UK Nationals in Larks several times.
On Friday this week, I had another shot. The course was a square box- a beat, a starboard tack reach, a run, and a port tack reach. The wind was Force 3 to 4. The length of the race would be about 1 hour 35 minutes for Lasers; obviously longer for slow boats and shorter for fast boats. We started at our designated times in a Le Mans style start running from a start line on the beach to our boats held ready for us by instructors in the shallow water.
The Laser 4.7s went first. Then several minutes later a sole Laser Radial. Then a Laser 2000 helmed by the mother of one of the instructors. Then a few seconds later, me in a Laser full rig. The RS100s were scheduled to start several minutes after me.
I passed the Laser 2000 before the first mark of the course. So far so good.
The RS100s started shortly before I completed my first lap. In theory they were faster than me but I actually passed them on the next lap, establishing a lead of over a lap on them which held for the rest of the race.
The next boat to catch was the Laser Radial. I finally reeled him in on the top reach on one lap, overtaking him to windward.
That left only the two Laser 4.7s being sailed by female sailors from my class for the week. I caught one about half way through the morning, but only seemed to be gaining slowly on the other one. She had a lead of over two legs of the course on me when I started and she seemed to be maintaining a healthy lead for most of the race. I gained a bit on every beat, and on reaches when the conditions were such that the full rig would plane and the smaller 4.7 rig wouldn't.
Eventually I passed her near the top of the beat on the 6th or 7th or 8th lap. Really. I lost count. It was about ten minutes before the end of the race, so I just had to stay ahead of all the boats for that time to win.
Children can be so cruel at my age.
I think I'll take a nap now.