Having sailed DX just once before I was keen to have a bit more of a shake-down and an opportunity arose to do so at Bala. The Catamaran Club at Llangower is a perfect location for Cat enthusiasts of all persuasions and I arrived directly following an Easter Egg Hunt. Members sail on a fortnightly basis and make a weekend of it in caravans, motorhomes and tents (or other local accommodation). Following a warm welcome from the Commodore I was able to drive straight onto a large piece of flat, grassed area close to the gently shelving beach where I could rig.
The three-plus miles of Llyn Tegid is a haven for sailors, especially if a SW wind is working. Taking up the offer of joining in with the racing I signed on as a competitor in the “Blue” fleet with some Dart 16’s and a Dart 18 during part of the Club’s “Easter Cup”.
At Windermere I had discovered that the DX accelerates enthusiastically from the shore and found myself halfway across the lake from the Youth Hostel at Ambleside before I finished tidying my legs, feet and the mainsheet. This was in a kindly Force 2-3 breeze. The conditions were similar at Bala, although F4 gusts were forecast, so I took the precaution of making the trampoline tidy before I leapt aboard. The next item on the agenda was making sure that the downhaul on the mainsail was sufficiently tensioned. Steve Sawford had advised me to get it as tight as possible so I stayed hove-to with the traveller at full extension whilst I cranked on the mainsheet and then gave the lanyard at the bottom of the mast some serious welly. A satisfying curve appeared in my faithful old two-piece mast and we were all set to play.
My ancient craft showed no hesitation in streaking along the adjacent start line to where some serious Nacra F18 and F20 money was readying to slice into the first leg of the race. It was an “everyone at once” beginning so we all tootled off to the windward mark together. My tactical error was to go from the windward end along with the big boys which gave me lots of time to sit on the side in mega-dirty wind and water whilst working out where the first mark actually was. A Dart 18 cruised past on the early part of the first leg so I tacked off to get some cleaner air. I took that too far because the 18 made the mark in one tack whilst I was left fetching in some way behind. It was explained to me later, however, that Les (the helm of the Dart 18) and his crew are very experienced sailors. OK – I can live with that as their boat was bigger than mine. Fortunately, early in the downwind leg I did get some wind that Les had less of and I was able to dispatch him to the rear without much trouble by sailing a bit higher and making use of the DX rocket’s lively acceleration. It was a bit of a ding-dong after that but I squeezed in front of him at the leeward mark and held him off all the way back up to the top of the course without too much trouble. This was fairly light stuff and trapezing was not much of an option so the lighter weight of the 15 sailing single-handed seemed quite an advantage. On the next down-wind leg I lost out to Les who took a more direct line down the middle than I and he avoided the flat spot near the trees on the far bank that I found myself in. On the final beat up to the finish he kept me well covered until I took an early tack towards the line, just squeezing in ahead of him and dragging my rudders on the bottom whilst he went a bit further, avoiding the tack, and just loosing out at the other end of the line. This illustrated to me a benefit of the DX rig. It seems to tack significantly quicker than the standard Sprint 15 Sport rig and very much faster than the Una Rig, as one might expect. Thanks to Les and his trusty crew, I was beginning to get a feel for this new DX set-up.
During the second race Les wasn’t sailing but a couple of Dart 16’s were in evidence with young crews. There was also a boat in the red fleet which was trailing at quite a distance so I did have some company. The wind had freshened slightly and once again the DX took off from the line but I still hadn’t the sense to stay away from the Red Fleet. Without Les in contention I started the downwind leg significantly ahead of the Dart 16’s and the larger cat. I needed as much lead as possible because I knew the competition would be flying kites, which they duly did and made up a bit of ground as I progressed through a dead patch going past the start line again. I was to be rescued by Llyn Tegid’s wonderful “Secret Surprise”. In the rising breeze which contained a bit more west than south I was swept up by a lovely “venturi” effect, which presumably results from a slight constriction in the airflow due to the local topography as it sweeps past the Llangower Point. As it exits it accelerates and sweeps all before it. Wow! The DX rig went into hyperspace drive and the spinnakers behind receeded into the distance.
This was all very well but the Red Fleet had made use of this feature some time before me and I was no longer able to use them as a guide to the location of the bottom mark on the unfamiliar course (which had been changed from the previous race). Somewhat ignominiously I had to admit that I was lost so I rounded up and sailed back to the following 16 and 17 foot cats to ask the way. Muffled directions indicated the general heading and I gybed round to follow them towards mark number 6. By now the venturi was creating a solid force 5 or so and things were getting exciting. To my surprise whilst I was sitting on the deck near the rear beam, hoping to stay upright, my dear boat screamed past to windward of the other two craft and I was able to comfortably start the beat ahead of them once more. I was not ready for this because I was spilling large amounts of wind pressure, not wanting to get over-powered in the relatively short distance left to be travelled. The rest of the race was just fun, looking back to see how far ahead I had progressed.
The race was shortened to one lap for the Blue Fleet and I went ashore to sign off and contemplate the experience. Sadly the 17 footer had to do another lap as it was part of the Red Fleet. Experienced Windsurfers (I know one) would explain to me that the reason I was reaching so fast despite dumping what I thought to be vast amounts of wind in the gust is that the square top of the sail acts as a “vent” for the middle of the sail. Apparently, this is the function of the top of a Windsurfer’s sail, where the greatest proportion of the drive comes from lower down the rig and the top of the sail is not pulling in the way dinghy sailors usually understand. Effectively the efficiency of the middle of the sail is significantly increased because the square top smooths out the turbulence that would have occured otherwise when wind pressure is released. It seems to perform a similar job to the vertical “winglets” that can be seen on modern airliners. That’s my interpretation, anyway, and it seems to work. Another great benefit is that the vent works to some extent automatically when the boat is gusted by generating extra mast bend, thereby freeing off the leach and reducing wind pressure. I don’t mind admitting that I was tentative about sailing the DX in anything above Force 4 but I needn’t have worried because it took care of me very well indeed.
The final race was great fun and I was able to predict with much more confidence what the rig would do. Sufficient to say that I was not disappointed with its performance, I managed to stay on board when it sprinted away, no other boats in the Blue fleet with spinnakers came close and the power on the beat was easy to control. Oh yes – three Formula Twenties came to grief downwind in the venturi, so I think I can be a lot braver when looking at Windguru in the future and deciding whether to sail DX! The answer is emphatically YES!
Special thanks go to Steve Sawford for lending me his sails. I am very grateful to the members of Bala Catamaran Club who facilitated this trial for me and and gave me lots of useful advice. I look forward to visiting the Club again soon and can wholeheartedly recommend it to any Cat sailor as a sympathetic, convenient and welcoming place to take your craft. If I’m lucky I’ll be able to get to one of their open events later in the year.