Another pleasant Sunday on the Potomac. About 28 boats showed up which made for some interesting starts and mark roundings. The wind (or lack thereof at 12:30) started south-southwest and as predicted, built slightly and went south during the 3rd race. In the 4th and 5th races, the wind oscillated between the south and south-southwest.
The RC set the course in the same spot as last weekend, just east of the marina. When everyone got out there, RC started us out with a kinetics practice race before the wind filled in, with just a windward mark and a downwind finish. In the extremely light air, this was a great time to practice roll tacking and gybing.
The Start: In races 1 and 2 (both windward-leeward 2x around), wind was light but manageable. The boat was about a boat length high of the pin, which caused some congestion at the boat. I found that starting in the middle was just as effective because I could get off the line with speed and clear air. Fowl tide caused a sizeable line sag in the middle, also contributing to the opportunity for clear air at the start. Race 3 was pretty similar, but I got a little too anxious and was over early. The start line for race 4 was more square; clear air again was the key. For the 5th start, the wind had gone more south, making the pin more favored.
Upwind: My controls (outhaul, cunningham, and vang) for the whole day were pretty loose. There were 3 things I tried to focus on that translated into boat speed: 1) clear air—This is so important in a 28 boat fleet, 2) tell tails—I tried to always have both tell tales flowing back, no pinching! 3) heel—in the lightest air, a bit of leeward heel kept the boat moving, while in the relatively stronger breeze, keeping the boat flat worked. Playing the shifts was important as the afternoon went on. Most of the afternoon, there was enough breeze to almost two block the mainsheet and in the puffs (if you can call them puffs) I would two block to get an extra lift. One side of the course didn’t pay off consistently from race to race. Some legs I went right, others left. Focusing on boat speed, using the 3 points above, really made the big difference.
Downwind: The fleet’s tendency is to work its way left, to protect the inside overlap. In light air, I have found that sailing a straighter line, close to the rhumb line, can be quicker. This worked in most downwind legs (last week and this week), as many racers sailed extra distance to the left. However, this strategy only works if you can create separation with the boats behind you. 3 points for boat speed downwind: 1) clear air—a little more difficult downwind but if you can create a little bit of separation from the boats behind you, clear air goes a long way, 2) sailing by the lee—typical sailing by the lee worked: windward heel, center board up, and sitting forward of the cockpit, 3) mainsail trim—I don’t let the main out past 90 degrees because this causes some wind to spill out of the top, though this is an area for debate. Also, as the wind built through the afternoon, I added just enough vang so that the leech (the leading edge when sailing by the lee) was tight and could catch the breeze.
Mark Roundings: Tide was big factor today. The flood was strong so over standing upwind worked. On the leeward roundings, if you were clear of other boats, a wide and tight rounding mitigated some of the tide. If you rounded with other boats, the tide generally pushed everyone low of the mark, leaving the door open for boats behind. As we discussed in the debrief, communication leading into the 3-boat length circle needs to be more prevalent. If you are entitled to room at the mark, let the boats around you know. If you are not entitled to room, slow down so that you don’t get pin-wheeled, you might get an opportunity to gain a boat or two if they get swept past the mark by the tide.
Thank you to the Race Committee for running 5 fun races and dealing with the light conditions. Thank you Eric for bringing the TV and DVD player to the debrief. Looking forward to watching The Boat Whisperer!
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all!