RS700 Rooster National Tour at Lymington Dinghy Regatta 12-13 August 2023
Friday afternoon loomed closer and checking the forecast had become an hourly routine. The ten sailors signed up for the upcoming weekend - Lymington Dinghy Regatta - started getting itchy and it was exciting to hear messages pinging around as we all checked in on one another trying to confirm who was still planning on participating in the amazing RS700 Rooster National Tour event number four.
The forecast had solidified into a 25-30 knots wind against tide on Saturday and a slightly more optimistic Sunday. We all knew that this was going to be a true test of form before the upcoming September Nationals. The sort of challenge every sailor goes through before they can claim: “I sail a skiff”.
Boats were packed and hitched and as the morning of Saturday came bursting through, eight brave souls gathered in Lymington to get their boats ready for a race.
Saturday was called off… 30 knots with some serious “wind against tide” Solent chop.
The race committee probably looked the sailors faces - calm, cool, collected and then looked down and saw their knees shivering and said “this is not happening”.
With that decided then, off we go to look for a decent pub. It was after-all 2pm and walking around Lymington High street does make any sailor feel like they’ve just completed an ultra-marathon in the middle of a desert.
Sunday… Sunday’s forecast was going to foreshadow some of the toughest racing the fleet will see to date. The race officer had warned the fleet that they would take no prisoners and come hell or high water, Race one would get underway at 1030hrs.
Sails were hoisted and snacks were stuffed into boats. Off we went braving the first challenge – making it out to the race course - while dodging the Lymington ferry, pleasure cruisers, moored boats, tide, pylons and our fellow competitors – all while trying to gauge if we had made the right choice in launching at all.
“20 knots….. not bad”. We all made it out of the harbour and to the Lymington starting platform. Right, now to bear away, get the kite up and sail down to the committee boat for the start.
“Pull the halyard up, disengage the take-up bungy, grab the kite sheet and here we go!”
“Ok, this isn’t too bad, I’m almost at the committee boat, granted there were a few short steep waves… let’s just find a good spot to put in a nice and easy Gybe. There it is, right, you’ve done this loads of times before - step in off the racks, fly the kite till the last moment and go – start the gybe turn, let go of the kite sheet, grab the main, grab the main, grab the…****! Oh well, I did want to check if the water was warm.”
Capsize number one.
“30 mins to the start. No problem. This is going to be a fantastic day!”
It took another three capsizes before I realised that the 3 min countdown sequence had begun.
The RS700s were battling hard as we shared the line with the Musto Skiffs and RS800 fleet and as the starting gun went off, everyone on the line seemed to be there more by luck than by choice.
Matt Carter and Tom Porter were down by the pin end and in the best of the tide while yours truly opted for a committee boat start. As we blasted out to the left hand side of the course, Richie Thurlby and Paul Hemsley went out to the right.
Spray was blinding everyone up the first beat and the initial 20 knots seemed to gradually get stronger and stronger. As we reached the windward mark, the left hand side had paid off and all the sailors who didn’t over-lay the mark by miles were at the top of their game. The tide was ripping and the spreader mark turned into a passing downwind mark. Most of the fleet, saw that the way down was going to be bumpy and opted to go left - inshore out of the tide - on the run and the fools that went right were in for a wavy surprise.
“Get the kite up, come on! Man-up and get the kite up.”
Carter was on full form as no hesitation with the kite led to a lead that looked so promising. Alas the gybe inshore was the end of his short-lived dream. Matt went over and as I went to pull off one of dodgiest gybes ever, the feeling that I had done the impossible was swiftly followed by a stiff gust that cemented capsize number five. At this point, we haven’t even finished one lap.
Lots of rope tugging, tightrope walking on a centre board and a fair amount of cursing later, the first lap concluded with the realisation that we were all just trying to survive this. No one really knew who was in the lead. Short moments of clarity were followed by deep meaningful conversations with fish and the inevitable begging for this twisted form of torture to end.
Before we knew what was going on (by my count it was around capsize number eight) the finish/gate sounded that amazing horn to signify that the course had been completed. Amazing!
“Right lets figure out who was in front and who was behind….. Matt Carter…. classic – he loves these conditions, Ed Reeves – local legend, I should have asked him for tips on Saturday, Me - now there’s a mistake that the race officer will correct later, Matt Conner – now he should have been ahead - the fish probably had something interesting to say, Tom Porter, finally baptised in true RS700 style, and after that, I just lost track as another gust gave me capsize number nine.
“Focus, lets shake off the bad vibes, time for Race two”.
Everyone was looking battle ready now. Mistakes were left behind and enough adrenaline was flowing around. We were so high that we lost our sanity and were actually looking forward to the next start.
At this point, the breeze was a consistent 25 knots (that’s what I tell myself anyway) with Solent chop that makes Stokes Bay waters seem like a pond in comparison.
On the way towards the start line, everyone looked hooked! It was on, the race was about to get serious. The gun went off, everyone went left. Carter, Conner and Tom were all bunched together and Carter just gave a master class of moding to force Tom and Conner to tack off. Capsize number ten was my downfall and I watched everyone thinking – “well, the entrance to the harbour is near the windward mark anyway, might as well sail up there and watch the fleet go round”. Carter, Conner, Tom, Ed, Paul, Richie, Malcolm Streeton everyone was absolutely killing it upwind. “They must have been practising!”.
Spreader mark bear-away and…… wow, it took me a moment to count how many boats were upside down. Mustos, RS800s, RS700s - the fish must have thrown a party. I took the bait and stayed in the race. “I’m back in it!”…so naïve.
Capsize number eleven.
I stopped attempting single sail gybes at the end of the first lap of the first race but now even tacking around seemed to be impossible.
At this stage, it was impossible to get a feel for the racing. Race leaders were changing so often that it was hard to tell who was racing which lap and the only strategy on everyone’s mind was just head inshore for flat water and if you have enough energy left to right a capsize, pull your kite up.
Moral was collapsing at this point and avoiding nosedives was the only goal achievable. I just remember sailing upwind on the second lap and seeing that Ed had dropped his rig.
Somehow, like a flicker in the dark, Conner seemed to emerge with a winning strategy. Upwind – Survival, Windward to spreader mark – Survival, Bear-away Chicken gybe – Survival, NO KITE! Head inshore – Survival. Chicken Gybe – Survival. Now this is where - “those who dare” - bring it home. Out came the kite – Pure skill! Years of experience and there he goes screaming to the Leeward mark. This magical tactic was genius and not long after the second lap, seeing Conner in the lead, Carter and Tom gave it a go as well. I too opted for capsize number twelve.
At this point, it was hard to tell who was left in the race. Conner was miles in the lead, Tom was nowhere to be found, Ed retired, I hadn’t seen Malcolm or Richie since the start, Paul was nowhere to be found, but Carter…..ooo, Carter was right in front of me. Only one downwind blast to go…
Capsize number thirteen was tempting but if I wanted to beat him, I would have to put all my skills to the test and make sure that I resisted the temptation of getting that blasted kite out.
Single sail race it is then. We both channelled our inner “laser sailor” and it was a miracle, not one capsize. At this point, Conner had won the race and it seemed like only Carter and myself were left so it was all or nothing at the leeward mark, go for the single sail gybe! - sod it, I’ve had enough of capsizing, Carter went through the leeward mark as my chicken gybe clucked its way to the finish line some boat lengths behind him.
“Look around….Hmm no one left on the race course. Didn’t the race officer say - four races to be held today?”.
Ahh, there’s the November flag flying high off the committee boat. Never have I felt such affection for a race committee in my life! It’s over. We have been released.
Capsize number thirteen came 50m from the slipway but hey, we made it!
Matt Carter took first and was the most consistent. Matt Conner took second and showed his experience in the class. I weaselled my way on to the podium third just thankful to still have a boat to race in the upcoming nationals. Honestly after two of the most challenging “races” ever, everyone came off the water a winner. We were all older, wiser and just grateful that it was finally over. Shots were fired at people that were heard saying “let’s do that again!”.
Lymington and their amazing staff, volunteers, race team and sailors hosted what was a truly memorable event and without their skill, experience and hard work, we would have all probably enjoyed a great weekend getting fatter on the couch. Thank you so much for all your hard work and devotion to the sport and for keeping us humble. We look forward to seeing you again next year. The forecast - a drifter with neap tides please – just for comparison. Thank you to Rooster our National Tour sponsor.
Report by Nathan Steffenoni RS700 710
Up on Y&Y here