Just eight boats started the annual Bailey Southwell race on Sunday in what I would guess to be a 15 to 18 knot changeable south-south westerly. I almost missed the race as we had a stop at Nanaga for breakfast and then an unexpected detour to Port Elizabeth to get an asthma inhaler for one of the boys, but with the help of a few good mates (and a staggered start), I was rigged in two minutes and ready to sail. This being my first attempt at this course, I listened carefully to all the warning about sand banks and other deadly hazards and recall someone saying something about staying to the right on the channel between the first and second marks. I must have looked worried because Pierre assured me again that it would be fun.
Will and Tanya on a Sprog and Tim Mundy on his Laser were the first to go (they were so keen that they all started at the one-minute signal and had to be called back). Pierre, Peter and I on Lasers followed five minutes later, along with Ralph on his yellow Finn. After that it was Tim and Adam on their Sonnet with Jordan and Sheri on a 420.
I realised the warnings about sandbanks were to be taken seriously when Pierre, a master of the river, ran aground before we got to the village. The sailing down towards the bridge was fast and we caught up to the Sprog at the first mark. Much of it was downwind, with Pierre and Peter looking very comfortable while I sat uncomfortably on my haunches in the middle of the boat trying not to roll. I remembered to stay right (or was it meant to be left?) after rounding the first mark, but this was a beat in a very narrow channel and staying right proved to be much harder than anybody expected. I passed Pierre when he ran aground again, but then so did I. We both caught Tim Mundy at the next mark, as he had his rudder and center board up after finding his own route across what looked to me like a giant beach. Somewhere near the second mark Ralph managed to run aground and capsize in the mud, which brought his race to an end. I was first around the final mark at the bridge, with Pierre on my tail and Peter not far behind, but then that treacherous channel proved to be my undoing. Pierre had the edge on the inside and then while running by the lee, with my centre board well up, I felt my rudder vibrate along the bottom of the river. Leaning back unwisely to unclip my rudder downhaul, I watched in slow motion as my boat went into a death roll in what I soon discovered to be very shallow water. I could have sworn that I heard Ken Drake call my name, but that must have been a flashback to another traumatic time. Pierre flew away and Peter roared past. Then so did Tim and Adam, and Tim Mundy (or the other way around; I was busy then). Capsizing on a run is never fun and I got my boat up slowly but was then facing the wrong direction in that narrow channel where the right seemed to be as shallow as the left. Another quick meeting with the water / mud and I was off again. The beat home was a lonely slog, tacking from one sand bank to another.
Pierre got a well-deserved win, followed by Peter, Tim and Adam, Tim Mundy, me, Jordan and Sherie (more romance than racing, I suspect), and William and Tanya, who by this stage had nothing to keep their rudder down and were coping with some serious weather helm! Ralph, the great sport that he is, came in behind the rescue boat.
It was fun until it stopped being fun.
We sail again this weekend, with the start of the spring series. The forecast is a very welcome moderate easterly. The start of the first race is not before 2pm.
In the meantime, I see that YouTube has a set of videos titled, “Laser sailing downwind!”