Fall Series #7: Another spectacular day of racing!

Fall Series #7 was another great day on the river, with 4 races and a good turnout all around.  It was predominantly a Lightning affair, with 10 boats showing up to race.  A couple of Bucs and Albacors also came out to play, and with all fleets starting together we had a lively starting line and good racing all day long.  I’ve included my observations from the Lightning perspective below.  Keep reading for all of the details and, as always, be sure to contribute your own comments and recollections!

At the competitor’s meeting the Hobie Cat race committee headed by PRO Yates Dowell prepped us for a short East-West course based on the wind forecast.  However, we sailed up to the racecourse in a consistent North-Northeast breeze, and the RC set an O2 course based on these conditions.  This breeze died not long after we got to the race area (and while some boats were still on the way up to the course), which suggested that the predicted South-Southeast breeze would soon fill in as forecast.  The RC nonetheless opted to send us off on an O2 race in drifting conditions, so away we went, ghosting our way towards the windward mark set up near the airport shore.  As is typically the case in these no0wind situations, luck and serendipity played a large role.  John Butler, sailing with Russ Roberts and Mladin Karcic, made it to the windward mark first even though they were shut out at the boat end during the start and had to circle back around outside of the committee boat before starting.  What little breeze there was filled in from the right (NE), though, and these sporadic zephyrs meant that boats that were to that side of the course profited whereas those who started on the line and on time found themselves up against the airport shore trying to tack back out to reach the windward mark.

If I recall correctly, John did not have to tack to reach the windward mark, and we followed him around on Team Sinistra, with Mark Ewing (sailing with Greg and Nick) close on our heels.  Mark did a great job of staying high on the breeze and above the boats around him on the next leg.  Looking downriver, we all saw the breeze start to fill in from the south, and a slow motion battle for the windward position developed as we inched our way towards the jibe mark.  On Team Sinistra we stuck to the inside, driving towards the jibe mark and hoisting our ‘chute as the breeze filled.  We surely would have been first to the mark, but the RC opted to shorten course and finish at that jibe mark and (much as in week 6) set the line with a boat bias such that the windward boats finished first even though they were farther from the mark to which we were racing.  Mark was clearly bow out on us, though, and had done a great job of keeping his air clear throughout that tricky leg, and so he earned a well-deserved victory in a race that demanded patience and tenacity–congrats to Mark and his crew!

The RC reset the course for the new southerly breeze and sent us off on 3 great W2 races.  Overall, the conditions remained tricky as the wind was patchy but also not clearly visible on the water.  At times you’d sail into a spot that looked dead and glassy on the water, yet find that you were still in breeze.  At other times the ripples on the water that might indicate a puff never really translated into anything in the sails.  With all the fleets starting at once, hitting the starting line with speed and having clear air for the first few lengths off the line was paramount.  The RC set a very long line, but the boat end was generally favored given both the pin position as well as the position of the windward mark to the right side of the course.  This made for pileups at the boat end and the very real risk of a second-row start in bad air if you weren’t careful.

In race 2 I did, in fact, find myself buried under a heap of Lightnings, Albacores, and Buccaneers at the start after making my tack up to the line just a bit late.  As a result, we had to press out farther to the left side of the course than we had originally planned, and were forced to watch as the boats that went right (towards the airport shore) found better pressure and better angles.  Nothing like watching how your plan works out for other boats, but not for you!  We were deep in the fleet at the top mark, but a quick jibe onto port got us past a large portion of the pack.  From third place we followed a spectacular duel between John Butler and Nabeel (sailing with Lisbet – welcome back! – and Scott Bradford).  Let me tell you–this was a match race worth of a feature film, and it was too bad that John and Diane weren’t also filming it!  A fierce jibing duel and battle for inside position on the second downwind leg ended with John being able to execute the pass, only to then make a wide rounding.  Nabeel snuck his bow inside and John then responded by going to head to wind.  After both boats fell off and sailed upwind John extended, tacked, and then held on to the lead with Shadowfax in second and Team Sinistra in a distant third.

The boat end was also crowded at the start of race 3, and once again we found ourselves underneath a group of boats and unable to get our bow out into clear air.  I was starting to think I was living Nabeel’s experience in Charleston (How do you blow four consecutive starts? See his post below!).  We took a number of transmits to get out to the right side of the course and clear air, only to see Nabeel profit from going left, even though it didn’t seem as if there was any breeze over there, at least judging from the water.  We clawed our way back into the hunt, but the College Boys did a masterful job of staying ahead of us for all four legs, playing shifts and covering such that we couldn’t get by them.  Nabeel took the bullet, John was second, the College Boys third, and we were fourth.

In addition to the teams mentioned so far, I want to point out again that we had a great turnout overall. Chris Kozell was out on String Theory; Jeff, Becky, and Bruce were competing on Team Ariel; Eric had Patrick McKnight and Tom with him on Team Ferris Bueller; Joe Warren was out doublehanding with Catherine; and Red Fehrle was out with his son David and Sue Humphreys.  In fact, it was in race 3 that Red, David, and Sue managed to set a new record by racking up a total of 18 penalty turns at a windward mark rounding gone awry.  Now, I’m only relaying all of this detail since Red, David, and Sue made it clear that they see the humor in the situation.  Here is how Red and Sue summarized the situation:  “18 penalty turns….. How does one manage that?  Well, we hit 4 boats (on our own or major instigator of the collision), fouled 4 boats (just plain and simple), and hit the weather mark twice. So therefore: 4 X 2 = 8, 4 X 2 = 8, and 1 X 2 = 2, making for a total of 18 penalty turns owed and completed.”  Sue reminded me that she was driving at the time, not Red, but even more importantly I want to point out that all of this happened on the second leg of the race, as the wind died a bit at the top mark.  On the first leg, Sue did a masterful job of getting her boat to the weather mark in the top pack–so kudos to Sue, David, and Red for that, as well as for their Corinthian sailing after a botched mark rounding.  We’ve all been there!  Plus, we have a great nomination here for the Fleet Bungle Bucket Award! 🙂

In race 4 Rick got us a great start for Team Sinistra with clear air and to windward of our closest competition (Nabeel and Team Shadowfax).  We sailed all the way up to the port-tack layline, keeping Shadowfax to leeward of us and then forcing them to follow us in to the windward mark.  We set the ‘chute and extended as the College Boys gave Team Shadowfax a run for their money on the first downwind leg.  Nabeel was passed to windward, but then headed up behind the College Boys and took them into a bit of a reaching war, which ended with Nabeel establishing inside position and hanging on to that spot to finish second behind us but ahead of the College Boys (who nonetheless had another great finish!).

After the racing, we had a fantastic PRSA-wide turnout for the BBQ as well, with loads of dogs and brats on the grill and lots of cold beer in the beer tub.  There were lots of great stories to be told, and as it turns out there was lots of bumpin’ and rubbin’ on the racecourse!  At one point during the BBQ I overheard a shout of “Raise your hand if you did NOT hit a boat today!?!”  Now, of course, we all need to avoid contact (and fortunately, there was no *major* damage done on Sunday), but it was also good to hear that everybody handled things with good sportsmanship (folks did their turns and owned up to their mistakes) as well as good humor.