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Spring Blaster 2015

Spring Blaster –April 2015

As I write this blog, preparations for the Xenon Nationals are well underway and it is hoped that some visiting Xenon sailors will be tempted to make the journey to Kent to join us in this exciting but friendly competition. Visitors will be made very welcome and all details are available via this web site. Due to very unsettled weather, the opportunities to practise for the event have been few and far between so this weekend, being bright and breezy was looking promising.

Saturday 11th April – a ‘Helming Masterclass’

Mr T was on Safety Boat duty at the club and our good friend, Instructor and excellent Xenon helm offered to give me some helming tuition. As a somewhat reluctant helm, who prefers to stay up the pointy end, I was rather nervous, especially as my previous experience of helming the Xenon was on a very gentle evening with winds of F2. The weather as I drove down to the club was wet and windy although the rain had stopped by the time I arrived.

My crew for the day suggested using the excellent Xenon reefing system which involves rolling up the bottom of the main sail and zipping it into place thus reducing the size of the sail. This proved quite a quick and simple procedure and made me feel a little less anxious.

Nevertheless as we launched, the wind was F4-5 with some very cheeky gusts. My good friend asked if I was happy and my pale face and weak smile must have said it all. As soon as we launched and I tried to point the Xenon into the wind, the strength of the wind became apparent and my crew had to put the rudder down for me whilst I attempted to keep the Xenon steady.

Once organised, I sat down and attempted to gain control all the while thinking that the steering felt very heavy. As we approached the first headland, I glanced down to see that the rudder was not fully down and as a gust hit, I let go of the main sheet in order to hold the tiller extension with both hands (don’t try this at home). The result was inevitable and over we went. Fortunately my crew quickly jumped onto the centre board and we were soon up and away with the rudder firmly in position.

After a short while acclimatising to the conditions and the centre sheeting, my confidence gradually grew under the careful and patient guidance of my instructor. I started to enjoying the fast planing across the water as I realised that I was actually in control and it was quite good fun. The wind did eventually die down a little, allowing me to attempt a few gybes with confidence and even a little upwind sailing in order to get back to shore at the end of the session.

I concluded that the Xenon was actually quite a stable boat to helm, even for an inexperienced helm such as myself and I was rather pleased with my progress and of course extremely grateful to my friend for his excellent instruction. All in all a very rewarding and enjoyable session on the water and my instructor did not seem any the worse for his crewing experience. He was quickly revived with the aid of cake and coffee and I went home a little tired but with a big grin on my face.

Sunday 12th April – a challenge for all

A lovely sunny but windy Sunday morning and we were all delighted to see 7 Xenons on the foreshore preparing for club racing. The conditions were challenging with a F5 gusting F6 and once on the water, we suspected that some gusts were more than that.

I was a little concerned to see that it took 3 strong men to assist with a test launch of the gennaker on the shore with the Xenon looking ready for a vertical take-off. At this moment I decided that unless the wind dropped, it was likely that the gennaker would remain in the chute. The conditions were definitely on the border of our capabilities but due to the lovely sunshine and 6 other Xenons we decided to give it a go.

There were some lively launches and following a slightly confusing start we were all off and away and were battling upwind in the sunshine as a very impressive fleet. It wasn’t long before the first capsizes and fairly soon it looked as if a fleet of white submarines had joined in the racing with the safety boat team working overtime to help the capsized dinghies.

Mr T and I weren’t the only ones not to risk the gennaker but those who were brave enough were clearly enjoying an exhilarating ride. Even without a 3rd sail, we experienced some very fast downwind moments and despite some slightly unnerving gusts we were having a great time. During all of this ‘him in front’ and his very able crew had set up a cracking pace with a couple of other Xenons doing their best to catch him.

As we approached a particularly gusty corner towards the end of the 1st race, we decided to finish the race and then call it a day. We were suddenly flattened by a huge gust and were both thrown off the boat with no chance for Mr T to get on the centre board. We were very glad of the 2 masthead floats which prevented the Xenon from fully inverting.

Thankfully, we fairly quickly got underway again by deploying a method recommended to us by a fellow Xenon sailor (formerly known as ‘Captain Capsize’ but who is now one of the ones to watch). This method involves the crew hanging on to the centre board and from the water whilst the helm climbs up the inside of the boat using the hoop as a step ladder. He can then climb over the top and onto the board. Of course if you are young and fit, you may be able to pull yourself onto the centre board from the water but sadly, neither Mr T or I fit that criteria.

We continued the last leg of the course and managed to cross the finishing line at the back of the fleet but nonetheless very pleased that we had survived the morning and had rather enjoyed ourselves. Only 2 Xenons remained for the 2nd race and hats off to them as the conditions were not getting any easier. Some of us had a few dramatic moments but mostly a good time was had by all and we all felt a lot better once we had de-rigged and changed and were back in the clubhouse eating lunch and drinking coffee. We are hoping that conditions will be slightly less challenging next week and I’m sure we will all be attempting to sharpen up our skills for the coming summer season and of course for the Xenon Nationals in June. We hope to see some of you there and look forward to an enjoyable and successful day.

Happy sailing smiley



I cannot resist adding a comment to this blog after such an enjoyable and very lively sail - and now the soreness is wearing off! 

The Xenon is an excellent heavy weather boat and from the photo Debbie has included you can see both the serious racing and the fun that we have in a fleet of Xenons.  Last Sunday the Xenon fleet gathered in the Galley after sailing with a sense of satisfaction at having survived in such fierce conditions and to celebrate a birthday (any excuse).

If you belong to a sailing club do try your hand at racing.  It really is the only way to improve your sailing skills with the added bonus of creating long lasting friendships. It adds much to the value of sailing club membership.

PS Note Debbie's capsize recovery tip - copyright of yet another member of the sailing club. It avoids the exhausting task of clambering on to the centreboard after being thrown out of the boat - yet another advantage of sailing a double hander!.

Enjoy your sailing and comment if you wish.