Asbo: First Impressions

Asbo finally took to the water at Stone SC on the Monday of our four day Nationals.  As always it was all the final details that took the time and when I realised that I would not be ready for the Saturday I texted Phil Robin to apologise for my absence.  He bet me a pint that I wouldn’t be there on Sunday so that really forced the issue!  I had determined to complete the fit out before arriving as there is nothing quite so embarrassing as boat-building at a Championship and I figured I was better off working at home with all my own facilities than scratching about in a dinghy park. 

When Asbo arrived there was all of the expected banter, tooth-sucking and faintly dismissive “not how I’d have done it” routine.John Ellis scored a notable first by asking which end was the front!  Continuing to fit out during all the postponements on Monday did nothing to silence critics or move on those who chose to stand behind me silently watching but saying nothing.  However Asbo managed to get dressed for the fleet photo and proudly took her place on the sea wall.  

The launch was very low key. No champagne, just a splash of sea water on the bow and a bit of a pat. Thanks to Peter McLaren for taking some shots as I boarded and headed off. Initial stability in the light wind was pleasing and I managed to get myself sorted – rudder clipped and daggerboard down – quite easily. When I pulled in the mainsheet the first surprise was the acceleration.  At rest the water lapped up the sloping ’transom’ but immediately she was underway she sat nicely to her designed waterline and started to ‘skitter’ – the best word I can think of to describe the sound and movement over the ripples.  Second surprise was how slack the leeward shroud was! First tack went quite smoothly if rather slowly as I eased her around.  I got the impression that the stern sank more than a Nethercott – but then there’s less of it! Back at the beach I adjusted the shroud tensioning cascades as far as I could – upped the tension and set off again. 

By now I was a little late for the start sequence so started to crank her up in the 5-10 knots of wind.  On the end of the seat I was relieved that the carbon carriage seemed to work well and the seat seemed OK the mast was bending nicely  – but that leeward shroud was blowing in the wind.  The boat felt very stiff and the flat sections were smacking over the waves in mid-river. Every now and again a larger wave would appear and the bow went straight through- seemingly with no loss of speed and the water just streamed back and away.  No tendency to nose dive – she kept a very level attitude. Then came a loud bang! No loss of speed and a quick look round confirmed all was OK – apart from that leeward….The second loud bang was accompanied by the gentle disappearance of the rig to leeward and a pale green light and temporary inability to breathe.  I couldn’t believe it had broken even before a race.  As I tried to sort things out a rescue boat rushed over and I sent them to support the masthead while I got the sail down and stowed.  The fleet reached past – commiserations were given and then they went off to race.  Climbing on board confirmed my first impression of good stability for such a narrow platform. I’d expected her to just roll over without a rig even though I had the seat out to windward.  Low freeboard and being able to reach over the centreline easily made boarding remarkably straightforward. The ignominy of the tow alongside home was relieved by the rescue team’s enthusiam. They had been impressed by the speed I was making on the way out and were very complimentary which was just what my bruised ego needed! Once ashore it was apparent that the problem was a wire double block which had just exploded!  Colin Brown opined that the lead might have been out of line slightly and said he had had the same experience- the block being pulled apart.  The lack of any other damage boosted my confidence in the boat – indeed I was quite proud of the fact it was strong enough to destroy wire blocks! 

On the Tuesday I just made up Vectran lanyards to hold the shrouds and pulled them on as tight as I could.  We then completed three races – including the long distance race.  The boat was out of tune but performed well enough – I threw away a place in front of John Ellis when I omitted a second windward mark and had to re-round.  My starting was as dreadful as ever and I was stumbling around after four years out of canoes.  Otherwise I was very excited by the prospective performance. 

The long distance race was a good indicator. I could see the mast beginning to pump low down during the second race and the leeward shroud coming loose.  However I decided to press on and eased her upwind trying to nurse her through the gusts and not crank her up from the end of the seat.  Even so I kept station with Colin Newman and overtook Peter McLaren on the beat out to the Bradwell baffle. Bearing off around the top she really started to fly and when I headed downwind in the chop she lifted her nose and scuttled away with no tendency to nose dive or career off to the side.  I chose the wrong side of the channel but approached Osea Island in touch with John Ellis.  Some rough water gave me some cause for concern but she coped with it well and I managed a few gybes without mishap. The final beat home was in the strongest wind – about 10-12 knots with the tide underneath me.  By now the knots and splices in the Vectran had taken up and introduced a little extra length into the shrouds.  The mast foot jumping out of the step was my main concern but in the end she got me home in one piece after about four and a half hours on the water and no capsizes or embarrassments.   So next thing is to cut off the C-Tech fixed spreaders and replace them with longer limited swing spreaders which will be angled further forwards at their fixed rest – to stiffen the centre of the mast more and hopefully enable the standing rigging to be set up at higher tension.  That will probably improve the speed and tuning options but render her far more uncontrollable! Further work needs to be done on he seat carriage tracks to ensure easier fore and aft movement and the control layout needs to be made more ergonomic/ efficient.  So she is back home, in bits again, but the work is underway and by the time I get back home in mid/late September she should be ready for the late season meetings.  Final footnote; building a boat is very satisfying, designing and making sails and foils is pretty good too – but Asbo is the first canoe I have designed and built from scratch and the buzz I got from getting the balance and displacement and all that stuff right was huge.  She is far from perfect but I’m confident she will deliver – and Asbo Mk2 – the provisional lines are already drawn – will benefit enormously from the lessons being learnt now. 

Alan Powell

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