The original pursuit race.
"The unspeakable in full pursuit of the uneatable." - Oscar Wilde
The fox never did agree with the Portsmouth Yardstick for the dogs.
I find it's best not to take any handicap racing, including pursuit races, too seriously. Handicap numbers are at best only an average across all wind conditions, and some classes will do better in light air, others do better when planing is possible, and so on. Moreover in a pursuit race, boats usually start at whole minutes after the slowest class starts so that is another approximation and hardly ever reflects the precise differences in handicap numbers. You can drive yourself crazy if you start worrying about whether your class is disadvantaged in some way by the handicap system or pursuit start times. It's best just to forget all that and focus on staying in front of the fleets chasing you from behind (if you started first) or catching as many boats as you can if you sail one of the faster classes and start later.
The Bloody Mary is a really serious pursuit race for really serious sailors.
It is the largest inland dinghy race held in the UK.
It happens in January.
At my club the Sunfish start first. One minute later the Day Sailers (usually there is only one) start. Two minutes after that the Lasers - now joined by the RS Aeros - start, and the Flying Scots start one minute after the Lasers.
So far this year, before this week, three different Flying Scot skippers have won a race, and the Day Sailer has won one race.
One of the great pleasures of a small lake club like this one is the camaraderie between the sailors on the beach as we rig our boats and get ready for racing. This week was no exception.
Camaraderie on the beach.
Not at Lake Massapoag.
I arrived early and immediately met a man who told me he was going to be crewing on the Day Sailer. We were exchanging information about our sailing backgrounds when we spotted a car with a trailer that seemed to be shuffling backwards and forwards on the boat ramp and basically going nowhere sideways. We hailed the driver and asked if help was required and we gave assistance to unhitch the trailer and push it to where the driver wanted it. I am too gallant to reveal the gender of the driver.
Another sailor arrived whom I recognized as another new member because I had met her at the mandatory safety seminar for new members earlier in the year. (A great idea, by the way. How many other sailing clubs make the effort to make sure all new members are well trained in boating safety?) I knew she had been looking for a used Sunfish in good condition for racing, so we chatted about her new acquisition, a 20-year-old Sunfish in great condition and with new foils. Reminded me of my last Sunfish, of similar vintage but with teal deck and purple cockpit.
On the beach one of the Flying Scot skippers came over to welcome the lady with the Sunfish to the club and admire her boat. It was the same man who had welcomed me to the club when I first showed up at the beach with my RS Aero. Apparently he has been a member of the club for decades and seems like a really nice guy. Once he left I told the Sunfish lady that he was a really good Flying Scot sailor and probably the man to beat tonight. "If you can stay in front of him you will be doing well." She laughed and said she didn't think that she was that good a sailor.
And so on. You get the picture. Just rigging our boats and chilling out with other sailors and having fun with some friendly banter and help and encouragement to each other
The breeze was surprisingly good for a summer evening. It was certainly stronger than Sunday, 6-9 mph I guess, but with some interesting shifts and variations in wind speed across the course.
The three Sunfish started.
The Day Sailer started.
2 minutes later it was our start. 4 Lasers and 2 Aeros. My son was sailing one of the Lasers. (I forgot to mention - he has now joined this sailing club too.) I sailed with my 9 rig. The other Aero sailor opted for his 7 rig.
The boat end of the start line was slightly favored and I could see that three of the sailors were setting up to play games of "Don't go in there!" and "Up up up!" right by the committee boat. So I stayed clear of them and started a little further down the line. I came in below them, got a great start and jumped out into clear air straight away.
The only lady in the Laser fleet was spotting the shifts better than I was on the first beat and we were dueling all the way up that first leg and I was only just ahead of her at the windward mark.
I had thought there was more wind on the right of the course (looking upwind) so I played that side downwind and passed the leading Sunfish, pulled out a lead on the Laser sailor and got the inside overlap at the leeward mark on the Day Sailer to take the overall lead.
On the next beat I went right and the leading Laser went left and that really set her back. I was sailing in good pressure and being lifted into the mark. Down the second run I could hear the wake of the leading Flying Scot behind me getting closer and closer. But he couldn't catch me and I won the race!
So a singlehanded sailor finally won the pursuit race this year! Five different skippers from three different classes have won the five races so far this season. The handicap system might not be perfect but it certainly seems to be giving a number of different classes a chance to win.
Back at the beach my son came over and congratulated me.
The skipper of the Day Sailer came over and congratulated me. (He won the pursuit race a couple of weeks ago when I was second.)
The sailor of the RS Aero 7 told me I had probably ruined the current handicap for the Aero 9.
Whatever. I really can't get worked up about it. If it is decided that Aero 9s should start a minute after the Flying Scots instead of a minute before them, it really wouldn't bother me.
The RS Aero 9 rig feels to me like the rig that the boat was designed for. It seems to perfectly match the boat. I am sure I will still want to use the 7 rig when it gets really windy - just as many Laser sailors will switch down to a Radial when they are overpowered in a full rig Laser.
Life is good.
I love pursuit races.
I love my RS Aero 9.
I love having an omelette and a glass of wine with my bride at home after the pursuit races.