PRSA President’s Cup: Light Winds Didn’t Stop Us From Having Fun!

We didn’t have much breeze for the 2017 PRSA President’s Cup, but that didn’t stop us from having fun!  With 50 boats in 6 classes registered we were all ready to race on Saturday morning.  Mother Nature had other plans.  However, we did get to go racing on Sunday, and among other highlights we were happy to welcome a couple of new sailors — John and Amanda — first spotted sailing a Thistle on Saturday but convinced to sail an Albacore on Sunday, thanks to Barney.  As it turns out, they beat Barney at his own game! 🙂

It turned out to be a great regatta with good fun had by all.  Keep reading for some of my observations from aboard Lightning #14592 and, by all means, please add your own observations as comments on this post!  Scores are here and you can view the great photos from Lindsay Bach here.

Despite our enthusiasm on Saturday morning, Mother Nature had other ideas.  The river was so calm that you could see a picture-perfect reflection of the buildings on MD shore from the WSM docks.  PRO Jim Graham postponed from ashore twice before (wisely) cancelling racing for the day.  There were no complaints from the sailors as we all cracked cold beverages, engaged in some bocce ball competitions, tossed a frisbee or two, and enjoyed a beautiful fall afternoon that was rounded out by a tasty regatta dinner from Lebanese Taverna.

There was not a great deal of wind on Sunday morning, but we were determined to go racing.  The RC towed boats up to the course as a  gentle northerly breeze started to build.  The wind held long enough for most classes to get in two races — far better than none! — as we tested our light-air sailing skills against each other.

Aboard Lightning #14592 (sailing with Jess and Blake) we saw a few things and missed a few things, but overall did well enough to take 2nd in the Lightning class.  Above all the day reminded me of the importance of keeping the boat moving (first and foremost), of getting a good start when the course is short, of always looking for the next bit of breeze, and of remembering the amplified role that current/tide can play in light breeze.  These  all are sailing fundamentals, but sometimes we forget them as we try to puzzle our way through light and shifty conditions.

We had a decent start in the first race (boat end — important when the course is short and the line is short) and managed to find decent clear air lanes going upwind.  Getting close to another boat in light air can be deadly since you tend to go extra slow together.  Jess and Blake were great looking for pressure upwind and then Blake did a great job keeping the spinnaker full downwind as we sailed the higher angles necessary to keep the spin full and the boat moving.  It is a delicate balance, but when there is just a bit of breeze the higher angles are worth it.   With high tide around noon the tide was still coming in during the first race, so the airport shore paid going downwind (south) and getting out in the river paid more going upwind (north).  We lost sight of this a bit in tacking back towards the shore one time, losing out vs. boats that stayed out in the river — demonstrating that current/tide can be more powerful than breeze in these light conditions.

The breeze was even lighter, patchier, and a bit shifty in the second race.  We had a nice start on the line and left (towards the airport shore) which allowed us to stay out of the current (now flowing downriver) and round the top mark close to the pack.  We worked our way back out into the river, using the current and our angles to catch and pass boats…only to find us all clump together at the leeward mark in a blob of barely moving boats.  We got spit out the back at the rounding and, frustrating though it was, we tried to remember the importance of staying calm, sticking to a plan, and not giving up.  I tried to balance keeping clear air with remembering Nabeel’s advice from Fall Series #1 (stay on the long tack).  For us, this meant a quick tack away from the long tack to clear our air and head to the airport shore, followed by a very long tack on port up the airport side to the windward mark.  It looked dire for a bit, as boats out in the river had some pressure and seemed to keep gaining.  But, when they tacked to starboard to head to the windward mark they were all sailing broadside to the current and we quickly closed the gap.  Smart sailing in clear air and great boat balance and trim from Jess and Blake meant that we went from last to 3rd in the final portion of the top leg and the 2nd downwind, holding our spot for a respectable finish.

In hindsight I also realized that boat balance was especially important in these conditions as was, of course, boathandling.  Jess and Blake were both fantastic in moving around the boat gently and trimming gently (it can be too easy to yank on a sail or overtrim in light conditions).  When needed, they moved quickly and definitively.  We had great roll tacks, and those matter — especially in these light conditions and even on a “bigger” boat like the Lightning.  With all these things together we were just fast enough to take 2nd overall.  Congratulations to Bill Mauk and his crew (a mostly rookie crew, I undestand!) for showing us all how it can be done even better with some smokin’ first place finishes!