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Dangles from Beaujangles at the Menai Strait Regatta

Hello from Bojangles, the International Contender reporting after an exciting week in Wales. As you can see from my title, I have adopted a little spin on the Welsh town in my name, to celebrate the wonderful adventures I had which started in Beaumaris and ended in Caernarfon.

The event started with strong winds, which were enough to cancel the long distance race from Beaumaris to Red Wharf Bay on the Sunday. By Monday, the winds abated and the drizzle arrived as I set off for the start line of the Royal Dee Regatta race. I had my work cut out, because a Contender isn’t quick in light airs and I struggled to make ground over my competitors. Nevertheless, I stayed in touch with the Albacore and Wayfarer over the first two legs. There followed a long run/broad reach to mark Aber on the bank and the rain stepped up another notch. By this time we were well in the lead and the visibility was much reduced. Owner took a gamble on where the next mark might be by pinpointing where the bigger boats seemed to be heading in the haze and hoping that we were rounding the same mark. The gamble paid off and the large red channel marker B8 honed into view, although I had to illegally sneak inside a large keelboat who was doing a poor mark rounding with the manoeuvrability of the Ark Royal. The final leg was a long, close-hauled, trapezingless plod back to the finish line in a dying wind. There was a loud canon blast, which I thought was my kicker breaking, until I realised it was our finish. Somehow, I managed to squeeze a second place on corrected time, with the Wafarer “Sunny Side Up” winning the day.

The following morning, the high winds returned and Owner pulled my covers over my head and told me to go back to bed. Some of the bigger boats set off towards Bangor for their regatta day in a ridiculously strong and gusting wind. There were tales of blown out spinnakers and broken booms at the end of the day and it was top class entertainment for the non-sailing spectators.

Finally my Big Day came. It was the event of the week my Owner had been anxiously waiting for; the Sail Through. This 20km race starts at Beaumaris and involves sailing under the two huge bridges that span the Menai Strait and finishes in Caernarfon on the Welsh mainland. The weather was already windier than forecast before we left the beach and there was a pile of my undigested dinner under my boatcover by the time that Owner turned up. She had already taken my trolley and trailer to Caernarfon the day before, so I was rocking nervously on the grass. I got a lift to the sea on the Albacore trolley and my sail was doing wham bam thankyou ma’am in the force 5 squalls, whilst Owner gave us both a stern pep talk. I noticed that she had her luminous yellow Rooster hat on, in case we became separated en-route.

We were last off the half-hour start sequence and the wind seemed to funnel along the straits, getting windier as we closed onto the first bridge. We were still too early and the tide was strong against us. We tacked back and forth trying to make some ground in the narrow channel, between moored boats and dodging the other fleets as we crossed tacks. At last we were under the first bridge and beyond that was a windless vacuum. Everyone who spoke to Owner before the race had told her to stay in the main channel. Go left, no rocks, they said. The tide will sweep you through. Well, the tide hadn’t turned and all of the boats ahead of us had elected to go right, between the islands. I looked in horror at the rocks and whirlpools and imagined the other hazards lurking beneath my centreboard. I parked us in a windless tidepool, where we could have some kind of dialogue about what happened next;

Bojangles “I want to go home NOW”

Owner “That’s not too safe Bo, besides which your trolley is in Caernarfon

Bojangles “ Home NOW, or one of us is leaving”

Owner “I’m hooked up, we are in this together”

By this time, the tide had started to turn and we were ejected beneath bridge two to the awaiting Force 5 with gusts of something even fruitier and some serious waves. Owner hopped out onto my gunwale and we shot off upwind to overtake everything ahead of us bar two Hilbres. I even surfed upwind on the waves which felt very strange. The canon at Caernarfon sounded for us after 2 hours 23 minutes of beating and we finished in second place on handicap, happy to be in one piece. One of the Star boats behind us was not so lucky. I later heard that the boat was having the same sort of dialogue as us with it’s helm between the bridges. The helm tacked by a white house which someone thoughtfully built on a rock in the middle of the channel. The Star boat tried to make a grab for it’s seawall (presumably to call its lawyer, or to make some kind of transport arrangements back to Beaumaris) and then tried to wing it back home. In the confusion and kerfuffle that followed the boat took an accidental overdose of sea water and sank.

The Owners were taken away to safety and the poor little Star was towed the length of the Menai Strait with little more than its sails showing, to land with us dinghies on the Aber Foreshore. The dinghy sailors gathered to help bring the boat ashore, where it was later recovered by a team of 18 helpers/Owners/sailors and families. Much beer was swigged and the many hands made light work, also kindly assisted by a local farmer with his land rover.

The following day, the race was run by the Royal Welsh Yacht Club, which is a super cool club as it’s built in the castle. The canons are set very high up, so that they stand a better chance of hitting any boats over the line at the start. There was a massively long start line, which seemed to span the entire width of the strait. The two orange outer distance marks looked like a pair of escapee petit pois on Owner’s kitchen floor. We went to visit them before the race and realised that we couldn’t see the flag posts on the castle wall from there. Or the flags, or even the castle if it was raining. So that decided which end of the line to start.

We set off against a strong tide, short-tacking up the Aber shore, until Owner got bored of bumping her head on my boom and leaping in and out on the trapeze. Instead, we aimed for Anglesey and left the other dinghies to rockhop amongst themselves. On the Anglesey side, the tide had fortunately turned, so we arrived first at the windward mark. The wind was increasing, allowing me to roll my way down wind, away from the spinnaker-carrying boats. We completed 3 laps of upwind/downwind legs, leaving me longing for a massive Bojangles reach which I needed to help me with my fast handicap. They promised me one for next year, but for this race it was second place again.

So to Friday and the Caernarfon Sailing Club Regatta. It was a light wind day and our first beat was against a strong tide. As I have an aversion to rocks, Owner let me decide and I chose the sandbank, so long as I could take the Albacore “Lyra Silvertongue” with me for moral support. Everyone seemed happy with this plan (Lyra’s Owner was not in the consultation process) and we chugged off to play in the sand, whilst the GP14 “Sea Lord” and Wayfarer “Sunny” played on the rocks. Unfortunately for us, the rocks were fast and the sand not, so we had some chasing to do downwind. It took a lap to get back in front of the pack, by which time the tide had turned and it was a new game downwind. We opted for the running by the rocks game, as this really was the only option of getting home at all. I tucked up all my furniture and accessories and tried to control my anxiety attacks whenever I could see seaweed swirling before me. The wind dropped further and I started counting plankton to pass the time. When we were parallel to our final downwind mark, we had to perform a leap of faith out into the current and hope that we could lay the mark. Luckily, a small zephyr arrived at just that time and we heard the canon boom for us once more. It was not a speedy Bojangly day, so we finished 4th on handicap. At least I came home with a nice pointy rudder and centreboard and no holes in my hull, so it was a happy day.

Altogether, it was an amazing week full of scary adventures, new places and horizontal friends. I rode the Menai Strait Elevator and tiptoed around hull crushing rocks with whirlpools you could lose your gel coat in. I sailed in sun, drizzle, rain, howling winds and fog. I am still a happy go lucky boat, but I have a new-found courage and an excellent repertoire of rude Welsh songs to hum on my foils.

Farewell land of dragons, castles, mountains and wild seas. Farewell to its people of great heart and hospitality. We’ll be back.

Mr. Beaujangles Caernarfa-Potteur.

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