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Fast Handicap Racing in the Xenon

When we started sailing the idea of racing never entered our thoughts. We merely wished to learn to handle a dinghy and enjoy a sail on a sunny day. Much later, after buying the Xenon we happened to be sailing on a day that Bewl Valley SC were staging a Novice Race - anyone could sign up and the rules were relaxed.  We took part and did not do very well but nevertheless managed to hold our own. However taking part in that informal race was an eye opener for us. During the RYA Level 2 course much advice was given on getting best performance from the dinghy. I noted the advice but no more than that. During the Novice Race much of that advice came to mind and suddenly a new sailing chapter opened.  It is only while racing, not necessarily seriously, that the skills of good boat control and sailing efficiency become important and the lack of them apparent!

We decided to enter one of the Race series. The Xenon falls within the Fast Handicap Fleet at Bewl and so we duly signed up to both morning and afternoon races. We did not do well in either race. The wind was South West varyng between 12 - 17 knots with gusts of over 20 knots. The day was quite chill, around 12 C

Our start was not ideal and we were therefore almost last across the line. The Xenon performed well in a long beat to windward but as later became apparent from a video of our progress we made a decision to tack early on the approach to the first buoy and lost all the ground we had gained. Our hasty attempts to recover the situation then resulted in a capsize. Not an enormous problem as we were up and away very quickly indeed but we now trailing the field.

Turning on to the downwind section we attempted to launch the Gennaker but sadly we had rigged it incorrectly and the Gennaker sheets were running outside the Tack line preventing the Gennaker from fully inflating. Even so we made reasonable progress but the rest of the racing fleet were almost out of sight.

The race consisted of 3 relatively long laps of what was an excellent course. The course consisted of long upwind and downwind sections with some interesting intermediate cross-wind sections. Towards the end of the second lap we were on our own and we capsized yet again with the Gennaker floating around the dinghy. It took a while to haul in the Gennaker to avoid the dinghy being flattend as it was righted and we finally finished the second lap but by that time there was no point in continuing.

Strangely we enjoyed it even though it vividly demonstrated how much we had to learn.

After a hot lunch and warm up we set out again, after having re rigged the Gennaker sheets. The afternoon racing has the reputation of being less competitive and more relaxed so we were more hopeful. Not a chance! Our start was no better than that of the morning but once again we successfully held our own up to the first marker buoy where once again we capsized and worse the Xenon turtled. The only aspect of sailing that we can really claim expertise in is righting the dinghy. One climbed on the upturned hull while the other used the righting line to gain a knee and then toehold on the upturned gunwhale. Waiting patiently for a short while the dinghy began to come on to its side. The crew on the top took over the righting line and used his weight to hold the dinghy on its side whilst I went around to free the sheets. After which it was a simple matter to bring the dinghy fully upright and scoop me in. We rounded the marker and once again noted that the rest of the dinghies were almost out of sight. We launched the Gennaker and for once that worked well. The Xenon surged forward with spray flying out both sides. It required total concentration on the helm to keep the Xenon running at full power but by this time we were well out of contention. We completed another lap and then decided to call it a day as by then we were both tired and getting cold.

Although our first serious attempt at racing ended so poorly it has made us all the more determined to gain the skills needed to do better. It has also illustrated how much more of a challenge there is to sailing than is at first apparent.

The next race for which we will be available is mid October 2010. We can only improve!