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The tale of Redwings West Highland Week

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Hyde Sails-powered Trapper 28 Redwing won Class 8 for the third time - the first boat to ever do so... Owner David Cooper tells the story...

Hyde Sails

Redwing is a 28ft Trapper, well over 30 years old and in my ownership since 1999. Over the last three years I have had the good fortune to sail regularly with Twig Olsen, who does most of helming and Christine McFarlane-Slack. For this year’s Scottish Series, and West Highland Week we were also joined by Twig’s son Alistair.

Redwing won her class at Scottish Series this year and for the last two years at West Highland Week. Going into this year’s competition we had reservations as to how we might do. Our main competitors from last year were all coming back, and there was a new boat on the block, which consistently ran rings round us in club racing - Popcorn, a restored Contessa 26. On Saturday’s feeder race from Oban to Craobh, we finished nine corrected minutes in front of Popcorn, which indicated that she was more vulnerable when the sea state was bigger, which gave us some hope.

An opening win for Popcorn Sunday’s race from Craobh to Oban started the series. Great start, steady reach out past Ardluing buoy , up the Sound of Luing in the sunshine and showers. Steady light wind from behind, struggling at times to keep the spinnaker filled. Finishing just short of Kerrera sound, Redwing came third, with Popcorn deservedly claiming the win.

A win and a discard

Monday was the Round Lismore Race , one which Redwing has raced twice in the past and won each time. No pressure then! A downwind start meant spinnaker up seconds before crossing the start line, and some fortunate clean air allowed us to slip away in the light wind from the pursuing class boats. We held off Popcorn for as long as we could, but inevitably they managed to slip past. Although they gradually increased their lead , when the race was called short for the slower classes at the Appin end of Lismore, they were not far enough in front to deny us first place on corrected time.

Tuesday was round the cans racing in the Sound of Lismore. We realised that Popcorn was going to be hard to keep up with in the continuing light wind, and indeed they were soon well clear of the rest of the class. To stand any chance at all we could not blindly follow them but had to do something radically different, and set off on a different tack looking for that little extra tide or wind which just did not materialise. Our subsequent fourth place was our worst position for the week, and turned out to be our discard. Popcorn was brilliantly sailed to a first, with Cherry Pie and Hot Toddy taking second and third.

Then the wind blew

Wednesday, however, was a different story. The forecasted weather front was coming through and we started the Oban to Tobermory race with a windward beat in 30+ knots of wind. Rounding the windward mark, we could see the boats ahead struggling to hold their spinnakers, with enough spectacular broaches and ripped sails to make us hesitate. With the wind coming slightly forward of the beam we decided to launch the asymmetrical cruising chute, which we held until past Lismore Lighthouse where the wind backed slightly. This sail did a fantastic job for us, taking us to a position a little behind Marisca, the lead boat in our class, which had managed to hold her spinnaker the whole way.

Once past the Lighthouse and out of the turbulent tidal water we swapped the chute for the spinnaker and held that for the next few hours till we had to drop it to make the final run to the finish line in Tobermory harbour. It was a fast exhilarating downwind sail with our tide assisted speed over the ground frequently exceeding 10 knots. Marisca beat us over the line but we had our corrected time on her by three minutes. It transpired that ours was the fastest corrected time for the whole 112 boat fleet. Popcorn, being a lighter boat struggled with the sea state and ended finished ninth.

Light winds and whales

The predicted light winds returned on Thursday for the penultimate day’s round the cans racing in the sound of Mull. After a delayed start, a confusing race ensued with 180 degree windshift resulting in an intended upwind leg becoming another downwind one. With the wind almost dropping out altogether the windward mark became very crowded with air full of shouts for water, starboard, overlaps, and no rights, and at least one protest. The surfacing minke whale in the area must have wondered what an earth was going on! Popcorn again sailed to a first, with Red October second , 21 corrected seconds in front of Redwing. Class 8 party that night was kindly hosted by Scintilla, great hospitality and craic.

Right down to the wire

With one race to go and one discard, Redwing was lying a point behind Popcorn in the series. The Tobermory race to Oban would decide the result and with light head winds forecast our prospects did not look bright. However, the head wind was steady over 10 knots, and the start crowded, with Popcorn getting ahead. There she stayed for the rest of the race, but we followed her every move, and the good breeze and breaking waves allowed us to prevent them from slipping too far out of touch. The wind stayed on the nose until just before Lismore Lighthouse, when it dropped away altogether, then filled in lightly from behind. We thought Popcorn would get away at this point, but by now we were in the middle of the flooding tide and although we put the spinnaker up for the last mile, it was the tide which swept us past the finish line.

We had an anxious wait for the results as we kept on losing phone reception, with the team’s various children in Bristol and Hamburg watching the website ready to phone as soon as they came in. Eventually they did, confirming our first for the race, with Scintilla second and Popcorn third. This gave us the series, the first time a boat has won this class three times in a row. We were delighted, but also felt for the Popcorn team, who had worked so hard and done so well.

Hyde Sails

A fortunate and happy owner

I have been incredibly fortunate to have such a great team sailing Redwing, and to them much credit is due. Redwing is a nippy wee boat especially downwind, but the sails we have, all made by Hyde, have been fantastic. It’s an overused word I know, but the spinnaker is truly awesome. The main and foresail are not new, and have been sailed hard over the last four years. It is to the credit of Hyde Sails that they have maintained their shape and power.

There is a part of me which thinks that team Redwing has taken the boat as far as we can. I am considering selling her, with a view to buying something a little more comfortable, a little bigger, with standing headroonm, and to do more cruising and less racing than I have in the past. No final decision has been made yet, but if I do buy something else, I would definitely want her sails to be made by Hyde.

Hyde Sails Ltd, Harbour Building Office A, Hamble Point Marina, Hamble, Southampton SO31 4NB

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