Winners Write Up Day #2, 11/29

Tim Zimmermann won the day, below is his write up.

It was a perfect day for Laser racing on the Potomac: not frosty at all (temps in the 60s) and a light sailable breeze from the SSE at 4-6, shifting to SW and increasing a bit.

The first course was set up in the channel. There were plenty of boats racing and a shortish line, so getting a good start (not usually my strong point) was key. The line seemed to be slightly pin-favored and in the first race I set up a few BLs short of the line with about a minute to go because I expected boats to be up on the line fighting for a place in the front row. The tide was coming in, and held boats off the line, so it was easy to hang loose until 10 seconds, before accelerating for the gun. And perhaps because of the current many boats were off the line as the clock counted down, so there was room to put the bow down. I got a good start, and legged out toward the left looking for a header to hitch back to the middle on. The breeze looked okay on the left, and better in the middle. It also looked okay on the right, but up against the shore line it might be unreliable. Boats started to flip over behind me onto port to go back to the middle and I hung on for just a bit longer, lucked into a header and tacked back toward the middle. That was just enough to get a little cushion on the fleet and I was free to sail the shifts up to the windward mark and held that lead twice around, finishing downwind. It was a reminder of how easy tactics and sailing the shifts can be when you are not worrying about clear lanes.

Sometimes things just go your way, and the second race was almost the same as the first. I got another good start and sailed left with Robert Bennett on my windward hip. With the tide very low, I gave him a heads up that I would call for room to tack as the water got thin, and he courteously tacked away. I sailed a few more boat lengths, and tacked into a nice little lift (I wish I could say I planned it that way, but…). So again I had just enough lead to play the shifts and the fleet up to the windward mark, and established a nice cushion that held up twice around.

The third race was tighter. Another good start, but Cary and Steve Parsons rounded the second WW mark just ahead of me. I rounded third and dove low to get inside, mostly because that would perhaps put me on their wind. And again I got lucky (it really was one of those days). About halfway down the run the wind started to soften, and I could see a new breeze coming in from the left. We all scrambled to retrim ourselves for a fast reach (a nice little wind front brought the shift in), and because I happened to be on the left and got the breeze an instant before Robert and Alan I surged just enough to get my bow out and hit the line first. Where you were left to right among the three boats dictated the finish for us, and if I had been outside I would have been third. Now I was shaking my head and wondering if I should go and play the lottery on the way home.

My trim and settings for these first three races were pretty standard. Mainsheet was anywhere from 8 inches off block-to-block, to block-to-block, depending on the wind strength, and whether I needed to point or foot. Vang was on enough to keep the slack out. Cunningham was set to keep the wrinkles out, and I had the outhaul on a bit more than normal to flatten the sail a bit and gain some point. With the water so flat (and the fact that my sail was not the completely clapped-out frostbiting sail I usually go with) that seemed to work and I had good speed. Other than that: smooth roll tacks, quiet boat handling at the marks, and steering with weight whenever possible seemed to keep me going well.

With the wind shift, the RC (which did great work) moved the course so that the new windward mark was just off the docks of the marina in the southwestcorner of the cove. And if I seemed to have perfect instincts on where to go with the first course, I could never seem to figure out the second course. I got good starts, but the wind was incredibly shifty and sometimes the left
was good and sometimes the right was good. You just had to try and find a good lane, put the pedal down and hope you would be on the favored side of the course for that particular beat.

To make it even more suspenseful, the windward mark was enough in the lee of the marina and its trees that there were lots of holes in the final 20 boatlengths. And it was rare to get there without hitting one at some point and losing boats (or at least that was my experience). In the fourth race, for example, I rounded the leeward mark first, with Eric Johnson and Robert Bennett maybe five BLs behind. At the top of the beat, Eric and I were on the left on starboard tack (with me on Eric’s windward hip in a nice controlling position) and Robert working up the right, but a bit back. I tacked away shy of the layline to make sure I didn’t overstand in the very squirrelly wind around the mark, Eric carried on just a bit, and ended up passing me from the left while Robert passed me from the right. By the time I got through the potholes to round the mark three other boats came steamingin from BOTH sides of the course and passed me. Frustrating, and proof that no lead is safe when the wind goes loco. But I couldn’t complain given all the breaks I had already enjoyed.

Anyhow, without having any confidence I knew what the wind was doing, or what side of the course was favored (Eric John seemed to have it figured out), I just focused on getting off the line well, and finding any clean lane that took me up the course toward the mark. If I could tack on a shift into a good lane, I tacked. If not, I stayed patient and waited for the wind to shift the other way. And hope that I would be on the right side of enough shifts to stay in the top pack. It was so shifty, you might start to tack, only to have your big header suddenly turn into a big lift and force you to go back on the same board. Fun and funny. Boatspeed was all about shifting your weight in and out, looking for breeze, and making frequent adjustments to the vang and cunningham. And in the end though I didn’t have any more top three finishes, I also didn’t have any terrible races and held on just enough for the day.

The cove is definitely a mysterious and fascinating place to race, and it was a great time to be out there with a fleet that has such a positive and friendly attitude.