Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Lakes Classic OCSG Meet.

I've been looking forwards to my next Open Canoe Sailing Group meet since I attended my first one at Loch Ken back in April. For geographical reasons the next realistic one I could make was the Lakes Classic held at Ullswater Yacht Club. To add to my anticipation I'd ordered a rudder and pivoting leeboard from Solway Dory and Dave, Dave and Jan from SD were going to the meet and bringing my new bits with them.
I left home at 9:30am on Friday morning and drove down the new M74 extension for the first time (which knocks a significant amount of time off the journey south). After stopping off at Happendon Services (to drop off some motorbike bits to the guy who bought my bike last week) and Carlisle (to buy some canoe gear from a shop there), I finally arrived at Ullswater Yacht Club at lunchtime. I'd taken my tent with me but as it looked like rain preferred the option of sleeping in my van (which saved some time setting up camp).
It was nice to meet up with familiar faces from Loch Ken and some new faces too. Stephen (my regular sailing partner) arrived a little while after me and others were arriving all the time. One person I'd not met before (Walter) had forgotten his outrigger spars, boom and tiller. He toiled away (borrowing some of the tools I'd brought to fit my new bits) making replacements from stuff he'd reclaimed out of a skip in Pooley Bridge!
After chatting and having a bite to eat, myself Graham and Andy decided to get out on the water as there was a light breeze blowing. We sailed a little way north on the lake then the wind dropped completely.
Graham with Howtown bay in the background.
Andy (left) and Graham (right).
After drifting about for a while chatting and waiting to see if the wind would come back we admitted defeat and paddled back. By the time we arrived back at the campsite more folks had arrived and Dave Stubbs was there with the new bits for my boat (I felt like a little kid at Christmas!)
I cooked my dinner then headed to the clubhouse for the evening which passed in a whirl of chat, laughter and drinks! We all retired to our respective beds once the bar closed around midnight.
Saturday morning dawned sunny and breezy and after breakfast I strolled down to the lake for the safety brief/meeting. I wasn't the only one to be feeling a little worse for wear after the previous evenings festivities!
After going over the weather and other safety points (and good cafes to sail to!) Keith (who organised the meet) cast us all free to do our own things. Most were heading south down the lake but I had my new parts to fit to my canoe so had resigned myself to not being on the water before lunchtime. Dave Stubbs kindly sacrificed some of his own sailing time to help me fit my rudder mounts and spent a while selflessly helping out other folks with their kit too. I was especially grateful to Dave for his help as fitting the rudder mounts involved drilling two 10mm holes through the end of my canoe, nerve wracking stuff!
There was loads going on and apparently there were twenty five canoes and thirty seven people in attendance.
Julie (left) up to no good and Dave (kneeling) being helpful. 
Fitting the rudder went smoothly and I moved onto fitting my leeboard thwart which was much less intimidating. Stephen headed out onto the lake for a sail but said he'd come back so we could try to get a cruise in down to Howtown in the afternoon. Meanwhile I had more expert assistance from Wayne, he really seemed to know his stuff when it came to woodworking (which wasn't surprising once he revealed that he's a joiner!)
After lunch I was itching to get out and try my canoe with it's new additions. The wind had picked up quite a lot and the regular UYC racing fleet were charging up and down the lake. I thought I'd picked a lull in the racing to make my way from our launching spot over to the far side of the lake to wait for Stephen to join me. Unfortunately I misjudged the speed that the approaching can bashers were sailing at and before I knew it I was surrounded by 49ers, RS800s and Musto Skiffs! After a few sketchy moments when I intended turning one way only to do the opposite (thanks to not being used to a push/pull tiller) I decided to just go head to wind and let them all fly past. Not ideal conditions for learning a new skill then! Eventually I managed to get across the course without ruining anyones race and Stephen joined me (timing his crossing far better). We set off down the lake in glorious sunshine and ever increasing wind. Just as I was starting to get to grips with my steering I heard Stephen shout that he'd lost his leeboard. I immediately thought about starting to zig zag and search for it in the water but then he shouted again and held up the board which had come off but hadn't fallen in. There was nothing for it but head back and carry out repairs. Fortunately with my tools and some spare stainless bolts I'd brought along just in case I needed them Stephen was able to make a decent repair. When we got back down to the lake the wind had got pretty strong and Stephen (who's confidence had been temporarily shaken by his kit failure) decided to call it a day. I reefed my sail and went back out to practice and things really started to fall into place. The wind actually started to moderate again and I could have sailed with my full rig up but the smaller sail was no bad thing as I was feeling my way a bit. After a good sail about near the Yacht Club I called it a day too and hung about to chat to the cruisers who were arriving back from their trips down the lake. There were a few tales of dodgy moments and at least one person ended up taking an involuntary swim.
Wayne in his beautiful canoe "Cream of Manchester".
Oliver, Jan, Ellen and Keith watching the fleet return.
Dave Mack and his lady friend (sitting on the sidecar of the Raptor outrigger canoe) arrive back from reaching the southern end of the lake. I'm not sure who the guy is in the other canoe, I didn't get chance to meet him.
Graham, safely back after accompanying Dave M to the end of the lake (and almost broaching while surfing downwind on the way back).
We all loafed about chatting about the days exploits and enjoying the early evening sunshine (and in some cases a pre-dinner drink!)
Our evening meal was in the Yacht Club and was very nice. We adjourned to the bar afterwards but the members bingo competition drove some of us out onto the veranda to enjoy the views and escape the noise inside! Many of us were feeling a bit tired after the excesses of the night before and a busy days sailing. I left in reasonable time determined to make the most of the final day. During the night I got up to answer the call of nature and was greeted by an amazing view. The sky was still lit by the setting sun and the lake was like a mirror, it was beautiful. My little camera struggled to capture the scene but the picture gives some idea.
I was awake by 0730 and got up for a shower before breakfasting. There was another meeting held at 1000 and it was announced that there would be a race for the canoe fleet. Under normal circumstances I would have had a crack at racing but Stephen and I were determined to try to get further down the lake than we'd managed on Saturday. We also had a loose arrangement to meet Rich (Shewie, a Song Of The Paddle friend) although we'd not heard from him yet regarding his plans. We set Aira Point as a rough target but being realistic weren't convinced we'd get that far in the available time. Still, nothing ventured, nothing gained so off we set at 1030. We tacked steadily down the lake into a decent wind which was a little lighter than the day before. It was great to be sailing with a purpose and we were soon past Howtown.
Once we rounded the corner at Skelly Neb the wind picked up a bit with occasional white horses. It was great sailing, the added freedom and accuracy I had with a proper rudder and leeboard meant that I could sit up on the gunwale and drive the canoe much more aggressively through the squalls rather than having to sheet out and be conservative like I used to while steering with a paddle. As I tacked across to the eastern shore between Sandwick and Long Crag I saw a green canoe with two people in paddling in the opposite direction. As I got close I heard someone shout my name, it was Rich and his wife who'd put in at the southern end of the lake and paddled north in the hope of bumping into us. Pretty soon Stephen came across as well to see what was happening.
 We spent a while chatting and catching up and Stephen and I had a conflab as to whether to continue on to Aira Point. We were tantalisingly close but time was getting on and we were aware that we had to drive home that afternoon. We decided to turn around and head back and left Rich and his missus to have their lunch in peace.
We were running with the wind now and so could go in a straight line to our destination instead of having to zig zag and tack into the wind. I was a little concerned about having my head banged by the boom if my rig gybed suddenly (which can happen when sailing downwind) so I sat in the bottom of my canoe with my feet up and my head down, it was relaxing and fun.
There was a small swell running down the lake too so we surfed and enjoyed an easy sail back to the Yacht Club.

The journey back took a fraction of the time it'd taken to sail south and with hindsight we could have easily made Aira Point. Ah well, next time!
Once we got back we had a quick lunch in the clubhouse then Stephen packed up and headed for home. I went back out for another quick sail as conditions were so good. I spoke to a few OCSG members who said they didn't want to go home because it was so nice!
Eventually I packed up my canoe and said cheerio to the folks who were still there before making my way back up the M74 home. It was a fantastic weekend with great sailing, great hospitality by UYC and great company from the OCSG crew. They really are a friendly and sociable bunch. I can't wait for my next chance to attend a meet.

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