Thursday, November 17, 2005

Where It All Started

While noodling around the web the other day I came across the website of my first sailing club. Now called Taplow Lake Sailing Club it was called something else back in the early 80's when I was a member. But it's good to see that many of the traditions and quirks of the club have endured.

The club's sailing area was a small L-shaped lake created by gravel extraction. Lettered buoys were distributed around the perimeter of the lake. There was a railway embankment on one side of the lake and trees on other sides. Winds were variable and unpredictable in strength and direction, to say the least.

When I showed up for the skipper's meeting for the first race there I couldn't believe it when they announced the course. The course would be announced as something like L to starboard, B to port, F to port, J to starboard, C to starboard, E to port, K to port, A to starboard. As it was announced, all the sailors would start drawing a wiggly line to represent the course on their forearms and writing down LS BP FP JS CS EP KP AS. There was no way to remember it; it was always too complicated.

One of the beauties of this almost random zigzag circuit around the lake was that it guaranteed that at least one leg would be a beat on each lap. Maybe not always the same leg. That was half the fun.

The other unusual feature of sailing there was that all regular series races were pursuit races. We sailed 4 one-design classes then: Toppers, Miracles, Enterprises and Lasers. The slowest class would start first followed by the others at predetermined intervals - 90 or 60 seconds apart as I recall. We raced round and round our zigzag course until a certain time interval had passed -- just over an hour I think. This time was designed so that in theory the relative speeds of the different classes had allowed for them all to catch up with each other. The race committee would sound a signal at that time which meant the leading boats had to head for the finish line. If we had all sailed equally well we would all hit the line together.

Of course it never worked out that way. As the Lasers were the fastest class we started last. But it's one thing to catch up with a slower boat in front. It's much harder to overtake it. Especially on a small crowded lake with a buoy to round every few minutes.

But it was fun and an ideal place to get started in racing. Boathandling skills developed quickly in the shifty conditions -- especially when an unstable gusty northwesterly was dumping great shafts of air across the railway embankment and splashing them down on the lake producing random 25 knot gusts at unpredictable intervals.

I've done pursuit racing elsewhere but never been to another club where it was the main form of racing.

The other unusual feature of their program was their Easter Regatta which was a multi-day event based on personal handicaps. Some obscure formula was used to allocate personal handicaps based on previous racing performance. So the races were just like regular Portsmouth Handicap races except each skipper had an individual handicap. In these races all the classes started together and finishing times were adjusted afterwards according to the sailors' handicaps. In fact, personal handicaps were even adjusted during the weekend as I recall. The idea was that a rookie had just as much chance to win the event as the club champion. I think I did place second one year.

We raced all year round, only stopping in the winter if the lake froze which it did some years but not every year. The club was low key and friendly but there were some excellent sailors there including some national champions. It was good to see from their website that not much has changed in 25 years.


Anonymous said...

Your description of this club, sounds like the club I sail at now- Combs Sailing Club, small but friendly, many little quirks, very zig zagged courses, unbelievable wind shifts as we are in a valley, and we have a few national champions of our own!

Claire (England)

Carol Anne said...

Talk about weird coincidences. In the early '80s, I lived in a village near Didcot -- although back then, I was totally in the dark about sailing. I didn't see the light until 1999.

Post a Comment