Sailing Cruiser: Papillon (2014)
Posted by Archie Campbell, 7th Oct, 2014
Papillon in the 2014 Three Rivers Race
Papillon is an 18ft Challenger Micro
Background & Preparation
The length of the race can be adjusted by the race officer by selecting the down river mark to be at Stokesby, Stracey Arms Windpump or Six Mile House but in the very light conditions he chose to place the mark immediately upstream of Acle Bridge.
Potter Bridge is probably the most exciting point for spectators with the opportunity of watching boats shooting the 6ft high bridge with all sails set – and, of course, the calamities with failures, mooring up etc. Generally a great spectacle.
We had taken a cottage at Hickling so I towed to there and launched at Whispering Reeds boat yard. Larry Priestnall joined me as crew. On the Friday we sailed from Hickling to Horning in readiness for the race. This gave us a dress rehearsal for passing Potter Bridge. The tide was against us so we had a strenuous paddle against a 2-3knot current through the diminutive arch. In addition I had made a mast support which was a bit too long so we had to drop the mast off the support onto the transom. I bought a saw in Latham's and shortened the support by 8 inches for the race though later I took another 4 inches off as it still proved a little too high during the race.
Shortly after passing St Benet's we met the trees. These proved to be Papillon's bête noire as her relatively narrow plate needs way to create lift so short gusts are likely to just drive her sideways. The tide was again contrary and progress was painfully slow. A massive river cruiser with a topsail about 15ft above the top of Papillon's mast came through sailing straight up the river at over 2knots and disappeared round the next corner as we slowly tacked back and forth in the small amount of wind available at lower levels. It was here that we were caught up by a half decker just as we started to make progress again and we sailed the rest of the journey, through trees and then the houses of Horning in quite close company. They had the edge on us in these conditions but we still managed to grab a few advantages and certainly didn't trail them.
There were 104 starters divided into 14 starts, generally at 5min intervals, except that there was a 15min gap in front of the Thames A Raters. Considering that they have a handicap of -27% and most of those in front were about +20% such a gap was clearly essential. We were in the 13th start with four other small sailing cruisers including two other micro tonners, a Gem and another Challenger. There was also a Sailfish, two foot shorter than a micro and with a smaller rig to match but surprisingly nippy.
Unfortunately for us the tide was contrary as was the wind which also faded about 15mins before our start. As a result we crossed the line about 10mins late although we were ahead of some in the start before us. Eventually we started and then rounded the point beyond so that the wind was behind us. Up went the spinnaker and we were pursuing the Gem and the Sailfish which had both made good starts. In these light conditions the spinnaker nearly doubled our speed in the water which, with the foul tide, had an even more dramatic effect on our speed over the ground, and we caught the Gem and the Sailfish very rapidly and soon had a medley of about 15 boats in our sights including boats that had started about 50mins ahead of us.
This block took a little longer to overtake simply because they filled the river. I had learned that low tide was effectively at about 9pm and was aiming to reach Acle Bridge about then before going up the Thurne. This suggested that both short legs should be taken on the way downriver. Thus we turned up the Ant when we reached it. We were now meeting racers coming towards us as well as crossing tacks with boats going in the same direction.
The change of the first start time to 11am instead of the 3pm in my previous races meant that there were relatively few hire boats around as this was the major changeover day with most boats being handed in at 10am and starting after 3pm – the second day was to be very different with massive fleets of greenhorn skippers still learning how a boat handles.
We rounded the Mark at Ludham Bridge nicely but got caught below a river cruiser which far from giving us water to tack lost way and ended up colliding with a moored boat while we were trapped on the inside and between two moored boats.
Eventually we escaped but had lost a lot of time. The Gem re-overtook us about this time and we never caught her again.
We also took the leg to South Walsham. A slow creep down to the broad, meeting the Gem and the Sailfish, which had omitted the Ludham Mark, just as we came into the open. We went rather faster on the broad and round the mark and back into the trees. I kept to the lee side of the cut and gradually crept past other boats and into the clear. Hours had passed and we now had the tide with us as we sailed down past the mouth of the Thurne and beat down to Acle. We met boats running back from Acle, keeping well into the side to avoid the tide which was over 1knot. An A Rater came through at three times our speed, we hailed them as to whether they had completed ALL the other marks and when they replied in the affirmative asked them to think of us while they drank their pints in the pub later (In fact they finished at nearly 1am).
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We reached Acle bridge at about 8.30. Three marks down and one to go.
We were now running so it was up with the spinnaker all the way to Potter. It was getting dark, lighting up was 21.10, so time to go round turning on the navigation lights. These were cheap LED lights from Halfords (£3.00 for 2) with the LEDs changed to red and green as required and other minor changes including reducing the current in the white stern light to avoid dazzling the opposition. By the time we reached Potter it was really dark. Also the tide direction had changed. The boats coming the other way were finding increasing difficulty as they were beating against tide and wind and the latter had dropped to very light.
We saw twenty or more boats which had moored up because they were making no progress and felt that stopping for a meal or sleep made more sense.
I can't remember when we reached Potter Bridge but the mast came down and went up in the dark. The spinnaker didn't go back up as I really didn't know where the wind was coming from and was sailing partly by adjusting our sails whenever a particular nearby boat started catching us. By the time we reached Hickling the sky was beginning to lighten, we passed the Sailfish which retired shortly after. We rounded Hickling mark at about 4am and set off for home.
Larry spelled me for a while on the way back to Potter to let me get some shut eye. Probably a wrong decision as maybe the spinnaker could have been up but the rest was also important. The drop for Potter went without a hitch but when we raised again I realised that the main was no longer attached to its halyard. Panic! Were we going to have to retire?
We came alongside the guardship as we needed to drop where we could reach the top of the mast. Down she came again. Luckily the halyard was OK as what had gone was the strop between the head of the sail and the halyard, which was doubled. Once this was refixed and the mast and the sail rehoist we were ready to go. At this moment our friends of the half decker from the previous day came past so we had a pacer. We were racing. Up went the spinnaker and we were pushing them.
It was neck and neck all the way. The spinnaker slowly took us past them till we had to drop soon after joining the Bure. The lead changed a few times till we reached the trees and they slowly pulled away. We knew that they had started at 11.20, 50mins before us and were concerned that they should have the best opportunity to finish in time. As we entered Horning we knew that their time limit had passed and we also got a lucky freer and overtook them. We heard a bell as we came abreast of the clubhouse and could relax at last.
Later we learned that we had come 9th out of 45 finishers, two places behind the Gem which had finished 7 mins ahead on handicap. Of the others 52 retired and 7, including our friends, had finished out of time.
We were lucky that the race officer had shortened the course to Acle. Our average speed was about 1.5mph so another 4 miles would have taken 2.5hrs giving us no chance. As it was a boat with a handicap of 24 (slowest handicap was 25) would need to have beaten us to be within time and 17 finishers took over 23hrs including one boat completing within 2mins of the limit. A more equable limit would be to set a time for the fastest boats and then pro rata it up for slower boats.
How easily could we have saved that 7mins to beat the Gem? Any one of the following actions would have saved that time though the same could possibly be said of their sailing and the hypothetical effect of changes are just that - hypothetical.
1) Our lateness at the start, we should have set off earlier so as to be at the boundary of the exclusion zone at the 5min.
2) Avoiding getting caught inside that river cruiser at Ludham bridge by being more defensive, I should have kept on the outside of it as I had previously seen it having problems while tacking in light airs.
3) The hassle with the halyard at Potter, I later realised that lowering the mast increased halyard tension which was why it had snapped. In future I will relax the halyard by six inches before dropping the mast.
4) A masthead light to make the burgee visible. This would improve sail setting after dark. Possibly even enabling the spinnaker to be used.
5) Increase the crew to 3. The advantages would be speed lowering the mast (?), speed while paddling with the mast down, improvement in boat handling and weight distribution but most importantly the spelling of duties to maintain freshness.
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