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The Commodores Trophy

Commodores Trophy Racing Day is an annual event at Bewl Valley SC. Entrance fee £6 per boat and all proceeds go to the RNLI.  The race attracted both very young and very old and a variety of dinghies. The day was overcast and rather cold 10C. NNW wind 12 knots average but gusting to 23 knots. Some rain showers. Total of 3 races. Two in the morning and one in the afternoon. One discard.

Our racing experience is very limited so as we registered for the race it was with the intention of managing to keep up with the tail enders rather than with any hopes of coming near the front. In the morning 26 dinghies took part, several Lasers, Toppers, RS 400, Topper Magno, Flying Fifteens etc.

We were slow in launching after the briefing and consequently arrived as the race started. Set off from an unfavourable end of the line well down the field.

The first section of the course consisted of a long windward beat towards the Clubhouse, followed by a downwind section to the mid point of the reservoir, a turn to port and a reach towards the dam wall then a semi downwind reach to the finish line.

After a poor start we settled down to a difficult beat. The wind was changeable with frequent heavy gusts. Many crews chose widely differing routes down the course. We managed to hold our own but the turn into the reach was a little awkward but on the reach the Xenon came into its own and we moved up the field in the heavy wind. The next mark involved a turn into the downwind section and we travelled rather wide. A clever Laser sliced past our stern and managed to recover his position just ahead of us.  We reduced our centreboard and set the Mainsail against the shrouds. The Xenon picked up speed but also a nasty roll. The fitful wind added to our problems with the wildly rolling dinghy. We eventually lost control when a combination of a steep roll and a wickedly timed gust brought the Xenon over on top of us. 

In the urgency of trying to get going again we attempted to right the Xenon without using the righting lines - mistake - after losing time we unhooked the righting lines and righted the Xenon in the proper fashion. We now found ourselves near the back of the field. We managed over the next 2 laps to catch up some other competitors but finished close to the back of the field.

The second race used the same course but keeping the start flags in sight or the gun within hearing range was difficult in the strong wind conditions. Again we did not make a good start and again were towards the rear of the field. However we stuck with it and performed well in heavy conditions on some sections.  We did not use the Gennaker. The downwind sections were not ideal for the Gennaker and to get best power it would have been necessary to sail rather high. Some competitors did this but several retrieved the gennaker shortly after launching as their dinghy became unmanageable in the changeable gusting winds. The decision not to use our gennaker was probably wise in spite of the strong temptation.

The afternoon race also did not go so well. During the lunchtime launch we discovered a jammed rudder. In practice at our earlier sailing the rudder pull down line had been threaded incorrectly and the line had been pulled down beside the blade, jamming it in its pivot. With only 20 mins before the race start we dismantled the rudder assembly and correctly threaded the line.  We arrived about 30 seconds late at the start line, once again at the tail end of the field.  However in this last trace we handled the dinghy well in changeable but moderating winds and managed to overhaul some competitors.

Final results left us 23 out of 26 in the first two races and 13 out of 15 in the afternoon race. Not a very encouraging result but this is the dawn of our racing experience.  In all races we had poor starts - need to improve on this. Also choice of course could be improved but it is not yet clear what we are getting wrong.

Another lesson we need to learn is how to control a wildly rolling dinghy. In the afternoon race we avoided any significant shifts of weight as the dinghy rolled and this seemed to prevent the worst of the rolls.

At the end of the day we were both exhausted after a total of 3.5 hours intense racing.  A very enjoyable day and yet again the Race Officers had chosen an excellent and testing course.

For the future we are likely to abandon our lone sailing in favour of seeking racing opportunities as it is becoming clear that we are learning much more about dinghy sailing as a result of the discipline that racing brings.