Raptor UK canoe sailing

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October 2008

I travelled to Windermere for the OCSG Camping Expedition Meet on Friday, 3 October. After leaving my bag in a B&B, I drove down the east side of the lake to Newby Bridge and then up to the launching site near the Lakeside YMCA National Centre, a 20-minute journey. The weather was fine and the launch site seemed remote, so I decided to start assembling my Raptor and take the risk of leaving it unattended overnight.

I was glad I had done so when I looked out of the window on Saturday morning, as it was raining heavily and the inshore waters forecast for the area was for south-westerly F5-7 winds, veering to the north-east. Our start-point was about 5 miles from the sea though, so I thought conditions on the lake could be less severe. I changed into my dry-suit before leaving the B&B and when I arrived at the launch site found another nine boats being prepared for departure.

At SteveR's (the meet organiser) request, we "buddied up" into three groups of three boats each, with Steve taking the "back marker" position, available to help anyone in difficulty. My group consisted of Peter and Penny sailing a trimaran and a new OCSG member from Ulster, Frank and his son Ed, sailing a converted canoe and the only one of the ten boats without any form of lateral stability aid. Most of us had outriggers and JohnS had buoyancy bags attached to the outside of his canoe's bulwarks. The plan was to head up to the National Trust's Low Wray campsite near the northwest corner of the lake, where we would spend Saturday night, returning to the southwest launch site on Sunday. We arranged to stop for lunch at a beach near Bowness-on-Windermere, where the lake narrows to a gap of about 550 ft (170 m) between the mainland and Belle Isle. We set off at 11:20 am and the strong southwest wind allowed us an easy run to our lunch spot. Although everyone had their sails heavily reefed, we were still reaching speeds in excess of 8.5 knots. I tried to keep station astern of Frank and Ed's canoe and, rather than continuously adjust my sail, found I could brake very effectively by occasionally easing my Raptor's foil into the water. Peter and Penny had to zigzag behind us both as they tried to stay nearby. As we approached the Belle Isle narrows, the wind and swell picked up significantly and Frank and Ed's canoe starting a death roll and taking on water, with their bow becoming submerged at times. They followed Steve's departure briefing advice and released their mainsheet, but were then blown into the east side of Belle Isle and had to back-paddle vigorously to keep their mast out of the branches of shore side trees. A few of us stayed nearby, if only to offer moral support, until Steve arrived to help out. He tied up his own boat and helped Frank and Ed take down their mast so that they could paddle across to the beach, where the rest of the group were waiting. I sailed across the gap and furled my sail completely to paddle the final 30 metres, which was hard work into the strong wind. This is the one time I can see the advantage of taking down the Raptor's mast to paddle, to reduce its windage. In calm conditions, when sailing is not possible, I would have thought the extra drag from the mast (with furled sail) and rigging would be negligible. We arrived at our lunch stop at 12:45 pm, so the morning's sail had taken less than an hour and a half.

The Bowness cafeteria seemed quite unfazed by having thirteen bedraggled sailors dripping water onto their floor and the infra-red fire they had set up in the seating area was welcome relief to us all as we ate lunch and drank coffee. The wind and rain eased for a short time while we were inside but then picked up again and there seemed no great enthusiasm to leave the warm and dry haven and continue up the lake to the campsite, about another hour's sail away. However Steve started to become anxious, reasoning that if one of us did capsize it could take a couple of hours to sort out and it would start to get dark around 7 pm, so we finally headed out again before 3 pm. Peter had a wind gauge with him and measured F4 at the comparatively sheltered, tree-lined beach, so the wind was probably still blowing at least F6 through the narrows.

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