First of all I want to point out that I am a complete novice at sailing. My experience is based upon about two years of sailing topper boats between the ages of 8 and 9. So being put in a race alongside the knowledgeable members of the Conwy Yacht Club applied a little pressure. The Athenians and Spartans races were a series of handicap races part of the Conwy river festival. It is a race that embraces local heritage within the boating community as most of the boats listed in this race are around 75 years old they are C.O.D’s (Conwy One Designs ).
My colleague David and I have both been given tuition by our Director Rob, who to be fair has given up a lot of his time to teach us the basics of sailing. We have all put a lot of work into our C.O.D Margaret 2 from painting her, rigging her up and now sailing her. So making Margaret’s stamp within the local sailing community means a lot more to us than some people may think. David and I had to take racing in turns as it is only the two of us in the Chandlers, so whilst one is sailing the other is holding the fort for network yacht chandlers.
Tuesday 21st of August, my turn to race. Director Rob Woodward, Yacht Broker Phil Jones and I hopped on to the river taxi and headed towards Margaret. We went through who will do what job and looked over the course. It was decided that Rob would take the helm, directing us where to go and give us constant advice on how we should approach certain checkpoints. Phil worked the Jib and I was to work the main sail! Saying that, to be fair both Rob and Phil guided me and even sometimes took the main sail as I wasn’t 100% competent at my roll, but what the hell, you don’t learn unless you try it. As normal work banter kicks in between colleagues and even though we were fully concentrating on the race, there was a constant teasing on the boat. Which to be fair put me at ease. Whilst we were setting up and approaching the starting line we could see boats such as Gwalch, Seriol, Swyn-y-don, Musetta, and the two Squib’s aligning themselves up listening out for the marker horns. We were approaching the club marker trying to time it right so when we were approaching the start line, the horn will go. Unfortunately this particular part of the race started a series of jokes lead by Rob and directed towards Phil. The jokes always started off with “it’s all Phil’s fault”. Unfortunately a mistake was made with the sirens given to start the race. The 5 minute warning was mistranslated so we had the timing all wrong. We started the race in last position.
We had to suddenly tack and swing the boat round so we didn’t have a foul start.
With the wind building up in our sails we gained speed and to my surprise the boat was well healed and the gunnels were under the water. I heard a lot about the C.O.D’s and that they are pretty much impossible to topple over as they have a lead weighted keel. Even so the look on my face was priceless. Both Phil and Rob were cool, collective, thinking ahead on what moves they were going to make. Me, I was just in such surprise and amazement on both the speed and manoeuvrability these C.O.D’s have. You wouldn’t think that Margaret was around 75 years old. I was gripped and now definitely have the sailing bug.
We approached North Deep, one of the first markers of the race. I had practiced tacking before but in the heat of a race it is all completely different. Speed and accuracy is crucial. We tacked and headed towards Penmaenmawr. You could see everyone’s tactics and knowledge come into play. Some tacked early and some tacked late to catch the next marker. We decided to wait a bit and line ourselves up better. We approached the marker and went to tack but disaster struck, either the wind caught us wrong or we tacked at the wrong time, we hadn’t made a successful turn. So we had to re-align and tack again. We managed the mark but unfortunately it cost us a lot of time which pushed us away from the rest of the fleet. All I could hear from behind was “Bloody hell Phil, that was your fault that!” followed by a laugh. As I said, it was a recurring joke throughout the race. Even though we were quite far back not long into the race, we still had time for a crack and a joke, which again released a lot of pressure and not once did I feel that my greenhorn experience was letting the Network Yacht Brokers/Chandlery team down.
It was time to raise the spinnaker, which to be fair Phil put it up all on his own with me in a clumsy fashion trying to help him. From there we gained a position from last to 5th. It stayed like this pretty much throughout the whole of the race. But right up until the 2nd to last marker (The club checkpoint) we misjudged the marker. Like at the start we had to tack round and turn past the marker correctly (definitely Phil’s fault). With the hustle amending our mistake, Phil let go of the Jib sheets and totally lost control of the jib, he rapidly got hold of the sheets and corrected our course. Unfortunately due to our mistakes we lost our 5th place position and were now last. You can imagine the field day Rob had on Phil with that one! Still smiles on our face, we accepted the challenge of getting our 5th place position back from Mr. Stagg. We corrected our sales and headed to the final marker. Gaining on Mr. Stagg bit by bit we could make out the finish line. Almost parallel we were constantly checking under the sail where his position was and evaluating how we could optimise our sail position to catch more wind. At one point I’m pretty sure I saw Phil hanging off the forestay with his hand right out giving that extra 2 foot of victory. We passed the line sure we had won that 5th place position. Unfortunately the finish line does not move directly away from the club marker, it moves at a 45 degree angle away from the club marker. As Mr. Stagg was hugging the shore, when reached the finish line he finished before us.
We headed back to our mooring discussing what we could have done better with both our techniques and with our setup. I suggested possibly timing was a pointer, Phil suggested that our forestay could have been tighter and Robs reply was . . . . “Phil could have done better”. Which to Phil’s sense of humour he laughed it off and took it on the chin as he fully well knew that his hard work and decisions allowed us to catch up to Mr. Stagg in the end.
As we finished organising Margaret from the days sailing we picked up all of the other racers on our Network Yacht Brokers River taxi to drop them off at Deganwy. All of the C.Y.C members talked about their own mistakes and were good enough to give us tips and hints. The main one was that we were carrying too much weight. On board we had an engine, an anchor which we didn’t really use and one extra person. Lesson to be learned for next time . . . . . carry less weight. The helpful community of local sailors really helped me feel welcome. Other C.O.D owners come into the chandlers all the time helping both David and I with information and tactics of sailing the local waters. First place is certainly not the aim of the game with these local sailors; it seems to be that the growing number within the community is more important and with that knowledge is passed over. Still We at Network Yacht Brokers and Chandlers are driven to do better and achieve our goals, and can’t wait to get back out on the river and race.