29 August 2018
Sapphire, Class 5: Cowes - St. Peter Port
After twenty years of racing and cruising one of the oldest and smallest boats in the JOG fleet, Team Ariane has become Team Sapphire, in the form of a First 31.7, and moved up to Class 5.
What a difference three decades makes – the contrast between a yacht designed in the 1970's and one designed at the end of the century is spectacular. What is particularly noticeable, apart from the sheer amount of working space in the cockpit due to the much broader stern, is the ease of operation of the sail controls, although, as will become apparent, learning how to handle some of the systems was not entirely painless.
Because of issues (lack of wind) on the delivery trip from her former base in Burnham on Crouch, Friday’s start was the first time ever that we'd had the sails up, and it showed! Wrestling with un- hanked foresails and main led to Sapphire briefly carrying two spinnakers at once as the luffs of both main and headsail pulled out of their respective grooves and flew free, making us late over the line and putting the crew into a state of embarrassment, the more so because it also showed that we had no reefing lines rigged. Two days earlier the skipper had promised us a comfortable Code 0 breeze all the way across, so we set up the big sail ready to launch it once out of the Solent. We should have known better, because in the Ariane days his promises of fair weather have always brought down the ire of the weather gods and new boat or not, it was inevitable that for the majority of the night we were to be down to our smallest headsail and a reefed main.
Mrs Patrick Campbell, when asked how she found marriage, replied “ Ah! The deep, deep, peace of the double bed after the hurly-burly of the chaise longue". As with marriage, so with a more modern yacht. That Friday night on an elderly Oyster 26 would have been hard work, but on Sapphire it was exhilarating as she tore through the chop, heading towards the full moon and rewarding every tweak of the helm and the mainsheet. We were only three on board, and it was apparent after several wilder moments, that in the much healthier breeze than had been promised a main trimmer was needed as well as a helm, so sleep was in short supply. But the pleasure in her responsiveness, the much more comfortable cockpit, and the sheer speed made the night pass more enjoyably than we had any right to expect.
If it sounds as if we were glad to have left Ariane behind, nothing could be further from the truth; the challenge of racing a small IOR based yacht that embodied the original JOG spirit has made all of the team far better sailors and has given us immense rewards and pleasure. Not one of us regrets the time spent on one of the toughest and most sea-worthy small boats ever made, but aging backs and arms deserve a little more comfort and space.
As the moon went down and the sun came up, so the wind at last began to drop to more reasonable levels and, long delayed, the Code 0 came out and stayed up until the finish, pushing us over the line at one of our favorite destinations. Our result was not at all distinguished, but as a shakedown sail the learning curve was steep and I think we all felt happy with the boat and ourselves.
Whether we will ever manage to match the success we had with Ariane remains to be seen, but all the signs are that we are going to enjoy a very different but equally rewarding type of sailing.
Vale Ariane, ave Sapphire.