Warning- can be addictive
When someone told me I would have fun at the back of the fleet- I thought “Pull the other one” : my scepticism was misplaced. Here are a couple of reflections from recent newbies: our thanks to them – more contributions welcome.
A Racing Baptism (By Immersion)
I did not really have time to think about starting to race a dinghy. It all happened quite suddenly. I learned to sail on a course in mid-June and joined Aylesbury Sailing Club immediately after. Almost as soon as I joined I got the chance to buy a Laser dinghy from a former member of the club who was moving away. Within days of buying the boat I had been encouraged to try one of the Wednesday evening races.
So there I was, on a balmy evening in early July, only some three weeks after doing my basic sailing course, and in only my second outing in my new boat (rather tippy compared to the Pico I had learned in), heading out onto the lake for my first race. I had only sailed the Laser once before, in very light winds.
All was calm as I sailed away from the shelter of the jetties to join the other boats already milling about in the 9 minutes before the start of the race, but as soon as I reached the middle of the lake…Wham! I was hit by a gust and immediately found myself capsized to port. It was not my last swim of the night. I managed to right the boat, made the start and followed the other boats. I managed to capsize five or six more times (it may have been more, but you stop counting after a while). I consoled myself by seeing a couple of the other boats also the wrong way up once or twice, so I guessed the conditions were a bit tricky. It was one of those gusty, swirling wind nights that Weston Turville can sometimes serve up. However, towards the end of the race I managed to complete a lap or two while remaining upright and dry. I put that down as progress.
And progress is what racing is all about. I have raced pretty much every week since that first race. Each race gives a chance for a bit of learning and a bit of improvement. There is always a bit of friendly advice from one of the more experienced sailors as they come by. Gradually there are improvements. Capsizes become rarer. Sometimes I manage to sail a leg between buoys reasonably well, going as fast as the leading boats (the tricky thing is doing it consistently on every leg). Sometimes there is another boat I manage to keep ahead of for a lap or two. Sometimes I do not finish last! Just by watching the other sailors I have been able to improve my sailing. Overall, I have been having great fun. Even if the main objective has now become staying ahead of my son now that he is racing too…..
Eddie’s Guide to Racing:
As the race normally starts at 11am, it gives a decent amount of time to rig and check your boat. The first bell goes to signify 9 minutes till the start. By this time most people will be in the water and there are always people nearby to help with any issues. The bell then rings every 3 minutes until the start. These few minutes can be quite frantic but once you have raced a few times you realise that 9 minutes is long enough.
Once out on the water, everybody tries to get into a good position to start. Often, a few people will rush over the line while the rest of us slowly crawl through, hoping that we find some wind. It always seems to stop blowing just as we start. A course will have been set out before the race starts using permanent and temporary buoys. This will be on the whiteboard outside the race hut.
Once everyone is racing, boats normally end up being split into groups as it progresses. Because of handicap, if you are in a slower boat but going at the same speed as a faster boat, you will be ahead of them on time once it is calculated afterwards so don’t worry too much about where you are on the course just do your best. Everybody on the water is supportive and no one is too competitive……
Once the time of the race has run out or you have done the set amount of laps, a bell rings as you cross the finish line and your time is recorded. Then, most people will gather near the clubhouse and have a cup of tea and a biscuit before the next race (if there is one). Weston Turville Reservoir is quite an unpredictable lake and it has everything the wind can offer. It teaches you how to read the wind so that you can more or less sail anywhere which is a great skill to have.
Overall, racing at Aylesbury Sailing Club has been a great experience and I will definitely continue to race here. There is a helpful group of sailors and it is a great place to progress and do some racing without it being too competitive, which is all that you can ask for.