This is a well-earned beer. I don’t care what anyone says, I am categorising this as a well-earned beer. Last night we had a small dinner party and I have just finished the washing-up and I have just finished hosing down and hanging up two sets of sailing kit whilst someone else dozed on the sofa in front of the golf. Don’t say anything - this IS a well-earned beer.

(Maybe you've thought of this but if you find this page too wide for comfortable article reading, you can make your browser window narrower whilst you're reading and then widen your browser window again when you've finished. I know I do.)

Through the dark days of the autumn and the winter I would return home on Sundays to report my latest stuttering attempts at club racing (see previous Duffer’s Diaries). As the list of DNF’s and DNS’s grew so did the criticism, advice and even derision to which I was subjected by my personal commodore and sailing muse, Di (see previous Duffer’s Diaries). I was clearly rubbish and would be soundly beaten any time she deigned to race against me. In the summer, perhaps, when the weather might just meet her tropical standards. In the interim I studied my Laser manual, I honed my skills and I upgraded my cordage. When the time came I would be ready.

The Committee Boat Start (CBS) series consisted of nine short races spread over three Sundays a month apart. This looked like the perfect format for us to settle the argument. The spring heat wave tempted her out and the game was on. At stake was the delicate balance of power and moral superiority that’s to be found in any relationship. That, and a lot of washing-up duties.

CBS 1 - Showdown at the Windward Mark

A steady SW breeze made for perfect conditions. A world-class Laser sailor (ie Mike K) helped Di to rig the club boat, almost making himself late for the start in the process, and I walked her through the new signing-on system on the PC in the Committee Room. We glowered at each other along the start line and then suddenly we were off.

A couple of times recently I had found myself in the unaccustomed position of not being in last place when approaching the first mark. Its a situation that tends to induce a certain level of panic, which in turn leads to the advantage being lost. Here I determined that, with Di a half a dozen lengths behind me, I would keep my head - a smart turn could gain me another couple of lengths. I levelled with the mark and tacked with intent: a neat rolling tack, straighten up, sheet in and hike straight out. In this case, straight out of the boat - I missed my hold on the toestrap and dived backwards out of the boat. I surfaced somewhat confused to find that Merlarkey had executed an elegant capsize without my help and was within easy reach. The sound of laughter reached my ears. Behind me, Di was in danger of losing control as she doubled up in the cockpit whilst beyond the mark there was a great deal of merriment in the safety boat - something about wishing they had had a camera.

As I swam to my boat a question arose: why is the tiller extension still in my hand? Slowly it dawned on me that it had become separated from the tiller. I righted my boat and set off for the club to effect repairs. Di tacked neatly, sheeted out and set off on a run for the second mark. I failed to effect a repair (and would have to sail the remaining races from the back of the boat), whilst Di fell so far behind the rest of the fleet that she abandoned the race so as not to miss the next start. We were level at a DNF apiece.

CBS 2 - The Captain’s Hat

Di found a good position on the line but just before the gun a gust of wind took her hat off. This hat was a present from her father and was a souvenir of a race he had sailed in. She turned back and executed the hat overboard manoeuvre perfectly despite being roughed up by the cats starting behind us. Realising she would never catch up she cut across the course and we sailed in company to the finish. For the first time in my racing career I was ahead on points.

CBS 3 - Piracy on the High Estuary

The committee boat for the these first three races was in fact the Commodore’s yacht. As we lined up for the start of the third race Di found her way to the left-hand end of the line and thought she had pole position. What she hadn’t quite calculated was that the course of her first beat would take her through the Commodore’s yacht. I was further down the line and as we set off I was surprised to hear people shouting “Look out, Nishok!” I saw figures running along the yacht’s deck frantically waving and shouting whilst Di headed straight for it. At the last moment she managed to bear up just enough to miss the boat but caught the anchor chain as she passed.

The rest of the race was uneventful. Di’s attempted assault on the Commodore’s yacht cost her valuable time at the start, but, hampered by not having a tiller extension, I was powerless to prevent her gradually overhauling me and finishing one place ahead.

Back on shore, the Commodore apologises for assuming it would me that was threatening to hole his boat and I admit that it was totally understandable - in the circumstances, I would be the usual suspect. With three club officers present, my real interest lies in steering the conversation round to the question of whether the anchor chain is part of the committee boat and Di should therefore be disqualified as she did not do a penalty turn. The question is shrugged off - probably they are shocked by the depths to which I am prepared to sink in pursuit of domestic glory. No matter, I think, after three races I’m ahead overall.

Once back home, I decide to spend some time gloating and call up the results on the club website. I am shocked to discover that Di’s shortcut in race two has gone unnoticed and in fact she has been awarded a finish ahead of me. This puts her one point above me in the series table. Di is delighted but I force her to email the forum and confess. She remains delighted for the few days it takes to update the results, reminding me a number of times that, on paper (on screen?) at least, she is ahead.

CBS 4,5 & 6 - Natural Order Restored

A stiff NW wind slowly increased through the morning and, blowing against the tide, made the water increasingly choppy. These are conditions that have caused me problems in previous races but I am able to draw on my experience, keep the boat moving, and complete the course. With little experience in a Laser, Di does well to make it round some ten minutes later having dealt with four capsizes. In the second race of the day she gets stuck on the beats, eventually having to give up and take a DNF, whilst I keep going to claim last place. By now she’s had enough and heads back in for an early shower. I capsize on the start line but again complete the course to claim a position (last).

On the final run, the rest of the fleet well ahead of me, I calculate that I have gained 5 points on her and will be well ahead in the series table. This happy reverie is interrupted by the sudden appearance of a cat which shoots across my stern, the crew inexplicably shouting “Starboard! Starboard!” when it’s me that’s on a starboard tack and they on port. As they cross the wind a few feet behind me Merlarkey slews around and I only just manage to retain control. It all happens so fast that I don’t have time to clock who it is. Puzzling, but I soon return to my warming thoughts of the series table as the finishing line gets steadily closer.

“Look,” Di laughs as I arrive in the clubhouse, freshly showered, grinning, and ready for a celebratory bacon roll with cake to follow (perhaps a beer is in order?). “Look at the results!” The results show that I have been disqualified from all three races. For a moment its as if the whole Hurricane fleet has taken the wind out of my sails - confusion, panic, disbelief. Ignoring the bacon I identify the Race Officer. This is obviously some kind of technical error which can soon be ironed out. I go off to iron it out.

“You didn’t register for the race?” asks an incredulous Di.
“No. I spent so much time helping you rig your boat that I was in a tearing hurry to change and I forgot. I’ve never done that before.”
“And they can’t change that now?”
“Well no, and I can see their point: if they started doing that then people would probably get really casual about signing on. But you remembered to register?”
“Yes.”
“And you didn’t mention it to me?
“No.”
Silence. I start to sulk. If I’d have registered I’d be 6 points ahead. In the event I’m 2 points behind. I sulk for a month.

CBS 7 - Becalmed

“I’m going to win this you know,” Di informs me as the day of reckoning finally arrives. It doesn’t sound like a boast or a provocation, more a statement of fact, or perhaps fate. I say nothing. All I have to do is (i) remember to register, and (ii) repeat my last performance and I’ll have won our personal series. If she DNFs once I could even afford to lose a race as long as I finish the one she doesn’t. The odds are stacked against her.

A SW 4 is forecast with strong gusts and that’s what we find when we arrive at the club. As we clear the Salmon Pool on our way to the start line one such gust capsizes Di and knocks her confidence for 6. I hang around whilst she gets her boat upright.

“You go on,” she says. “I might go back in - I think this is too much for me.”

I go on. If she goes back in now then all I have to do is finish a couple of races and I’m home and dry. Home and dry. Is that a nautical expression? Whatever. The start is delayed by the shifty gusty wind and the first race has to be recalled when the committee boat anchor slips. We spend some time out on the water and I’m pretty pleased to survive some ferocious gusts as we wait for the start. Our start comes round and suddenly, and for the first time, the wind drops completely. At least it does where I am, and I can’t find it again. The rest of the fleet is slowly moving away from me. Every time I do find a breath I seem to end up in the channel just as the wind drops again and I drift back towards the starting line. Eventually the wind returns and I finish the first lap but then find myself being overtaken by the leading Lasers who have just finished lap two. I sail with them for the final leg down to buoy 29 and think I hear myself getting a finishing gun. Its a DNF but if I end up needing the result there might just be a moral dilemma in this one...

CBS 8 - Backwards

Back to the start line and more noodling around as we wait for our second start. At one point I look up and jump when I see a catamaran with pink sails bearing down on me, the crew shouting. They pass a few feet astern scrambling my wind. I move further away from the start line but when the time comes to head back there I discover that I’ve crossed the channel and the Stuart Line cruise ship is full steam ahead in my direction. I have to sail carefully around that obstacle and consequently I’m late starting. My nerves are now getting a little frayed and once again I find myself becalmed in the channel as the rest of the fleet heads happily for the windward mark.

By the time the wind picks up again I have drifted on the tide back over the start line. My patience is wearing thin. I start to beat and as I pass the committee boat someone hails me: “Are you racing?” someone asks. Something snaps. Realising the inevitability of a DNF, and with a hollow laugh, I call back: “I don’t think so.” I ask if they are selling coffee and cake but they just grin at me.

CBS 9 - Befuddled

I have been on the water for two-and-a-half hours, I’m tired and hungry, and I’m frustrated that I can’t seem to get my boat to move forwards when he wind drops. The first stage of nicotine withdrawal is starting to take its tetchy toll. Without exactly making a decision I head for shore. Caught up in my foul mood I sail too casually and capsize the boat a couple of times, laughing ironically in the face of the strongly gusting wind. In my mind I’m just taking a break for a coffee and a cigarette whilst I regroup for the third race, but once ashore the simple, reliable pleasures of a bacon roll, cake and a long hot shower soon seduce me. Relaxation sets in and I barely notice as the Laser fleet start its third race without me.

“I’m the winner!” says Di, handing me a coffee with a bright smile. “Would you like a bacon roll? Apparently they’re nearly ready.” She had indeed gone back in and spent a pleasant morning basking in the sun in front of the clubhouse, chatting with galley slaves and champion sailors, and discussing the need for extra fenders on committee boats with the Commodore. She has come fourth overall in the Laser class, one place above me, and whilst I pack away my boat she wanders off to ask the Fleet Captain whether that’s a medal position. The sound of chuckling reaches my ears.

Home Life

As I sit in the garden with my laptop writing up this diary, someone is singing in the kitchen. “The winner’s dinner will be ready in five minutes,” she calls out happily. “Would you like some?” I grit my teeth. This is a well-earned beer, I tell myself, opening another bottle and making advance plans for the washing-up.


Disclaimer 1 (given under duress): Any resemblance in this article to actual persons or events is entirely co-incidental.

Disclaimer 2:
In previous episodes of Duffer’s Diary I may have unwittingly made comments about catamarans which could, perhaps, by some people, under certain conditions, sometimes, be construed as lacking the proper respect and awe due to these fine craft. If that is the case then I would like to take this opportunity to withdraw any such comments and apologise unreservedly.