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Winter update from the Dozy Crew

Mr T and I have continued to enjoy Sunday racing in the Xenon at our club with a varying degree of success and in many different conditions throughout the winter. The Xenon and the conditions have continued to challenge us and whilst we tend to be towards the back of the fleet, we have had some small victories which have been both enjoyable and encouraging. As a medium sized crew who have only been dinghy racing for 3 years, we are at our best during intermediate winds as we find both light winds and strong gusty conditions quite difficult.

Last Sunday definitely fell into the ‘heavy weather’ category and was a very good example of how the weather can change rapidly and can catch us all out. The forecast was for some wild weather and storms to hit the South East later in the afternoon but the morning was bathed in beautiful sunshine with a (slightly gusty) F3-4 as we launched. We aimed to be back on shore and packed up long before the worst of the weather arrived so weren’t too concerned. There was just 1 other Xenon plus a sprinkling of RS 400s on the start line and we all enjoyed a really good 1st race with some close sparring with the other Xenon. We were even ahead for a short while but eventually the other Xenon just beat us in what was a really enjoyable race.

In between races 1 and 2 we noticed that the wind was really whipping up with some big gusts and menacing dark clouds approaching. We agreed at that point that we would not take part in race 3 but would give race 2 a go. We set off quite well but the upwind leg was extremely hard work and despite the best efforts of the gusts we managed to stay upright for the whole of the 1st lap and enjoyed some lively runs. The wind continued to build during lap 2 and we witnessed some experienced crews being knocked over. Our 1st gennaker run of that lap was extremely brief as we (and a few others) decided that it was safer to drop and even without a 3rd sail we shot across the reservoir at great speed. At this point my instincts told me that we should head for shore straight away but I foolishly did not say anything, not wishing to be a spoilsport. We approached the final buoy with some trepidation having seen a very experienced RS 400 crew capsize and rip their spinnaker at this point. With no time to think or prepare a huge gust caught us and we were over and both in the water. Mr T is usually so adept at quickly getting onto the centre board, I did not react quickly enough and as the boat inverted, I was dragged under by the sail. Even with a dry suit, hat and gloves, one should never underestimate how a dunking in a reservoir in February can take your breath away and quickly sap your energy. However, I quickly came up again and we managed to get the Xenon up quite rapidly, only to be knocked straight over again and the Xenon quickly inverted again. By this time I was beginning to shiver and was pulled into the safety boat with Mr T and the Xenon being blown towards the wall at the end of the reservoir.

It was decided that if the Xenon could be righted with the aid of the safety boat, Mr T could attempt to sail it single handed far enough away from the wall in order to hove to and drop the main sail and then be towed to shore. I have seen a Xenon sailed successfully single handed but this was unfortunately not the day to try and despite a valiant effort the inevitable happened leaving us back at square one. Eventually Mr T was also pulled into the safety boat and a line was passed around the centre board of the upturned Xenon and it was carefully pulled away from the wall. Meanwhile I was taken to the shore in the 2nd safety boat and as I got out, an experienced Fast Handicap sailor took my place and having successfully righted the Xenon, he crewed for Mr T and the Xenon was soon back on dry land and was now the cleanest Xenon in the fleet.

Once we were back and following hot showers and hot drinks we had time to reflect. Despite a few bruises and a slightly ripped window on the jib, I’m pleased to say that there was no real damage apart from the fact that it had become a seriously ‘bad hair day’ for me. Mr T and I were extremely grateful for the help and support of the safety boat team and our fellow sailors and are very glad that we sail somewhere that this kind of support is available. Whilst it was a slightly unnerving end to a great morning on the water as ever there were valuable lessons to be learned. The 2 most important lessons for me were as follows.

1 – If the Xenon capsizes in future, I will always expect an inversion to follow and will move quickly to the stern until I am sure that the boat is not about to invert.

2 – I will always follow my instincts in future and we have agreed that if either of us is feeling uneasy in any way, we will speak out and head for shore immediately. Far better to be on the shore thinking we could have stayed out longer than wishing we had gone in earlier. Despite the rather dramatic end to the morning, we will be back next week (weather permitting of course. Happy sailing and roll on Springtime!