With one leg win in each of the last two Round Mull Races, and last year’s good West Highland Week results (one second, one third, and fifth overall in class) to live up to, WHW 2000 always promised to provide an interesting measure of Fly’s progress since I bought her in November 1998.
This year’s Class 5 turned out to be one of the biggest and most competitive of the regatta, with a number of very good boats among the twenty-four entered for the series. The six scratch boats (CYCA handicap system) comprised four Impalas (‘Apollo’ GBR9519, ‘Checkmate’ K9569, ‘Fly’ K9596 and ‘Penelope Pitstop’ K9608), a Moody S31 ‘Trillian’ and a UFO 34 ‘Mahuri’. Next fastest on handicap were the Hydro ‘Rampart’ and the Laurent Giles 38 ‘Tortoise’, followed by a whole stack of boats to which we give more significant amounts of time; Gib’Sea 92 ‘Revolver’, First 305 ‘Monkey Business’, Etap 28i ‘Lady in Red’, Jouet 950 ‘Playmate’, Golden Shamrock ‘Cavalier’, Comfort 30 ‘Northern Comfort’, Sadler 32 ‘Joker’, Bolero 25 ‘Envy’, Highlander 28 ‘Upstart’, three Contessa 32s (‘Impromptu’, ‘Tsarina’ and ‘Cynara’), Hunter 27 OOD ‘Rovicus Again’, Hunter F1 ‘Half Cut’, Moody 33 ‘Aoife’ and Contessa 28 ‘Carna’.
With fresh headwinds but only four crew, I had no desire to get into any close quarters argy-bargy so we started cautiously at the windward end of the line but a little late. Can’t remember a great deal about the early part of the race except that we were going well and left the other Impala (Checkmate) a long way behind. Somewhere west of Luing we were still matching a First 32S5 on the water, and peeled to the no. 3 genoa for a while. Right up to the Dorus Mor we were in contention for a good place, but a temporarily dying wind on the run into Loch Crinan left the early finishers looking comfortable and gave many of the chasing boats a chance to catch up. We were sixteenth out of thirty-three starters in the end.
A disastrous start to the week proper! Still just four up, an unspectacular start was followed by a good wee reach out through the Dorus and into the Sound of Jura. Virtually at the front of our class for a while, we strayed too far out and ultimately payed the colossal penalty of being sucked out between Fladda and Belnahua by the tide. Here we got parked up with no wind and no way back to the favoured Luing shore, where we could see boat after boat shooting through on the tide (some of them backwards and many that we thought we’d seen the last of for the day).
Our first and worst score of the week turned out to be a miserable twenty-first. Race won by Cavalier.
Six crew aboard for the first time ever! We knew what we wanted to do at the start, but were prevented from tacking smartly across the line by the presence of Trillian immediately above us. The trapezoid course was confusing, with Joker apparently retiring after missing some of it out, but the sailing was mostly quite good. We worked hard, tore the Sobstad kite that had just been repaired and, as the race progressed, began to get the boat going quite well.
Twelfth in the end, with the race won by Revolver.
Five crew for this one, but our finest hour! I gave the helm to Keith, and nearly regretted it as some boats were called back from a very confusing start at which we were right on the line but unable get the recall numbers on the VHF. Kites were flown for a while and we had a cracking duel with Penelope Pitstop as, with Keith and myself in complete agreement for once about what to do, we tried three or four times to fool her into screwing up too far so we could duck her. A sudden, and freshening, header led to a more unilateral decision as I leapt to douse the kite just in time. A brief bunching-up in a calm patch ended with Joker showing us the way to go up a ribbon of breeze towards the Mull shore and, from then on, it was mostly a case of working up that shore for the rest of the race. Cavalier tried to follow us up inshore of Yule Rocks but apparently saw the breeze disappearing with us, and Joker and Penelope Pitstop certainly lost ground by failing to cover this move. From Salen onwards it was a two boat race on the water between ourselves and Penelope Pitstop, with the kites coming back out for the last few miles, Fly gradually pulling ahead to take the gun by several minutes, and Cavalier and Trillian the only other Class 5 boats still in sight. Poor old Penelope Pitstop later turned out to have been OCS (to think that we were worried it might have been us!), but we still thank the lads for a great battle.
Race won by Fly, by a good five-and-a-half minutes from Cavalier!
Six crew for a windward/leeward course in predominantly light conditions. We got the start we wanted and picked the left side of the beat along with Revolver, Penelope Pitstop and Upstart (who later thanked us for luffing her up and forcing her onto the other side of the course, which turned out to be the way to go). Nothing much to say about this one; the wind was patchy, we worked hard, we tore the kite again, it was Keith’s birthday and we came eleventh.
Race won by Cavalier.
Five crew, and we got a peach of a start across the middle of the line, with most of our class unnecessarily high at the top end. Shooting the turning mark on the way out of Tobermory Bay, we were lying second on the water (between Revolver and Upstart) for several miles, but gradually got swallowed up on the run by the chasing pack, who benefited from each new gust filling in from behind. Near-perfect spinnaker conditions in a north-westerly 4–5 could only have been bettered if we’d had even a little more breeze yet, but a cracking three Impala/one Hydro battle with Apollo, Penelope Pitstop and Rampart was all to no avail as the first eight places went to masthead kites and we all finished in the bottom half of the class. Twentieth sounds dreadful, and I did let a couple of boats through at the last mark by going for a longer, ‘faster’ route with a gybe and a later drop, but it was downwind drag racing in non-surfing conditions and there were a lot of bigger, more powerful boats in our class.
Race won by Upstart.
Five crew again. Checkmate and Penelope Pitstop failed to turn up, which was a pity because PP had really had the the better of us over the week despite our better score, and we really wanted to have another go at her! A lightish beat over to a mark on the Mull shore looked promising for us, and we got another very good start. A tack offshore quickly put us in a strong position, with only Revolver, Rovicus and (briefly) Rampart looking better at any stage. Very tricky sailing with strong, choppy tide and dying breeze at the south-east corner of Mull made for an interesting finish to the beat, with Revolver finally getting trapped too far inshore and ourselves taking a lower, longer, but faster, line through the chop to be first round the mark. With Rampart, Apollo and Revolver in hot pursuit, we were off on a shy kite reach back to the south end of Kerrera, but our lead was still just about existent as we turned onto the run for the home stretch up the Sound of Kerrera. Coming up towards the finishing line at Oban Sailing Club, Rampart was just beginning to get the better of us to one side, with Apollo taking a shorter but deeper line past the Ferry Rocks on the other. The finish was mind-blowing, with our first three Class 5 boats and the first three Sigma 33s all closing a very constricted line together, Rampart getting the better of us by less than half a minute, and Apollo taking us by one second right on the line as we drove her through the moorings and practically onto the shore before she called for water.
Race won by Revolver, with Rampart second and Fly moving up to third on handicap after the unfortunate Apollo turned out to have have misinterpreted the buoyage at the Ferry Rocks. A shame that our two best races were marred by the non-placing of the competing Impala in each case because we enjoyed the boat for boat competition, it contributed so much to our own best placings and we felt (OK, so rules are rules!) that they deserved better.
Class won by Cavalier, with Fly eleventh, Penelope Pitstop seventeenth, Apollo nineteenth and Checkmate twenty-first. So we might have been a trifle inconsistent but I know that, when we get things right (and perhaps when we get them wrong as well?), we sure do give our competitors something to think about!
And very special thanks to (in strictly alphabetical order) Colin, David, Erik, Gill, Keith, Richard and Rosie who, in one combination or another, provided me and Fly with our best and strongest crew yet. I might provide the boat and I might be the nominated skipper, but good crew and good teamwork are everything and I thank you all!
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