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Racing in the Xenon 08/05/2011

Pleasantly warm day starting at 14C and rising to 17C. Showers at first but then sunny spells. The broadly westerly wind averaged 11 knots for most of the day but the wind was fitful and changeable requiring a lot of concentration by the Helm.

The race course was a complicated 'around the houses' path. We made a reasonable start on a starboard tack and made good progress upwind. The other Xenon also made a good start along with a Vareo and K1, boats with a similar performance to that of the Xenon. During the race it was difficult to track the progress of these boats as much concentration was needed to keep the Xenon flat and on course. Wind shifts were quick, significant but very short lived and required a lot of work by both Helm and crew. The Xenon was throwing up plenty of spray.


Our experience as a team is beginning to show through. Our tacks are becoming smoother and sharper and gybes were working well, or so I thought! A gennaker gybe towards the end of a downwind run at reasonable speed was our undoing. The boom swung across at fair speed, not a problem we were ready for it and the gennaker swung across beautifully, just as it should but...... I made the mistake of focusing on setting the gennaker sail instead of giving priority to boat balance. I was a little slow in making for the side and over we went. A sudden capsize with the gennaker spread out and our boom kept high in the air by the strength of the wind. Helm made it to the centreboard (he never gets wet!) and I dropped into the water to sort the sheets and pull in the gennaker. The boom presented a potential danger as if the wind had dropped it is possible that it could drop on to me! With Helm keeping the Xenon stable I checked that the main sheet and jib were uncleated and then pulled the gennaker into its chute. Fortunately this went surprisingly easily. I then needed to persuade the boom to come down. I hung on to the falls (the mainsheet lines coming down from the boom pulleys). The wind pressure was so strong that I almost found myself lifted out of the water before the boom reluctantly settled flat on the water. After that it was a copy book righting. Helm leaned back on the centreboard and I floated into the Xenon. Helm tumbled in from the side and I was scooped in at the rear. We rapidly resumed our stations and were off again. I never bothered to look to see the amount of water in the Xenon as it self drains almost immediately - a real boon.  Although the righting procedure went smoothly (the water was nice and warm!) it cost us dearly in the race.


The second race was less eventful. We tried using the gennaker on a section of the course on which the wind was coming slightly astern of the starboard beam. We made some progress using the gennaker on this section but controlling the Xenon with such a strong wind on a broad angle was hairy with the boat yawing and Helm struggling to keep to anything approaching a useful course. We made an early decision to drop the gennaker and run on Jib and main only. The wind began to drop and we finished the race without further incident.


Lunch over and out we went again!  The wind had strengthened and tacking required some fairly smart boat handling although keeping the boat flat in the very fitful winds required hiking out horizontally one minute and scrambling inboard the next.  The Xenon performs very well in good winds and on several occasions the dinghy was almost planing without the use of the gennaker. Despite the good winds it was disappointing that the nature/direction of the course sections prevented our taking advantage of the maximum downwind power of the Xenon, never mind next time...

All told a very enjoyable days sailing, with the lesson that taking my eye off the ball and being slow to balance the boat during a speed gybe will be punished.