It was a familiar day on the river. The morning started with a nice northerly breeze, became increasingly unstable and then died, and finally picked back up again from the south. The tide was ebbing the whole time and the current got stronger and stronger.
When the wind was northerly, it was easy to see the patches of stronger wind and there were 20+ degree shifts only part of which could have been due to velocity changes. So the classic strategy of connecting the puffs or trying to sail in stronger and lifted breeze as much as possible consumed our attention and was successful in race 1 and most of race 2.
However, as the wind started to die and become unstable we made a classic mistake. We rounded the windward mark for the last downwind leg in the lead. The wind had shifted right and the wind looked better in the middle of the river so we gybed to port immediately. The fleet behind us did not gybe as quickly and so we were the furthest right (looking upwind). As the wind died we had to sail hotter to keep the boat moving, thereby moving further right. Initially, I was happy with our speed, but I ignored the fact that I was giving the fleet behind more and more leverage to catch up if the wind shifted even further right — a header (and downwind headers are good, especially for boats on the outside of the header, just the opposite from upwind). And that is exactly what happened. Despite the header, I was too far to the right of the course and had to gybe and come back on the unfavored starboard gybe while my competitors sailed deeper and directly to the mark on the favored port gybe. One boat (Aaron) passed us and another (Will Summers) arrived at the mark at the same time.
Lesson: When the wind is unpredictable and you are in the lead, cover the boats behind, i.e. stay in the middle of the course to take away their leverage and minimize any potential gains they can make from a wind shift. Plus that puts you in the position to adjust your course right or left to take advantage of a finger of wind coming down the river.
A big thank you to Yates Dowell, Ben Arthur, and Marc Carre who stepped up on Thursday to join Melissa Morgan and save us from having no one to run the races.
That is the last of the Spring Series but next Sunday there will be a fun Distance Race which is open to all.
One thought on “Spring Series #8 – June 11”
Indeed, I was lucky enough to benefit from the shift in race 2 to get past Nabeel and get a lucky bullet in the dying/shifting breeze. Once the breeze had gone that far right there were no tactical options for the boats following on the last beat to the finish (we ended up having to reach off to get down to the finish) so the thing was decided on that downwind leg. Nabeel’s tips for those conditions are good — and it is *always* tough to lead and try to cover in a dying/changing breeze. I know the frustration of losing a lead like that all too well!
In the third race I re-learned another valuable lesson: always, always, always, always, always go for clean air when the wind is very light and swirly/shifty. The RC did a nice job of resetting the course as the prevailing southerly started to fill. We had decent breeze as they sent the Lightning fleet into sequence, but looking down the river it was clear that it was still quite patchy. By the time that we started the wind had shut off completely. The pin was favored at the start, but John VanVoorhis led the pack to the windward mark because he had his boat moving, and he had clear air, as the gun went–even though he was at the “wrong” end of the line.
We all converged at the windward mark in absolutely zero breeze, such that we all found ourselves drifting south (farther below the mark) as we rounded. The current let even the trailing boats catch up, so we were one big cluster at the mark (with Will Summers having to work his way all the way around the mark — literally circling it — to stay clear in the current). We started to get some puffs from the east and the boats that could get their noses out — John and I — started to pull away. Nabeel sailed a bit higher and over us and then was the first to launch a spinnaker. John and I followed. Since we were covered, we fell behind them, so I worked up over John and then went high on Nabeel (tip: I dropped my board all the way and I think this is why I was able to stay up above and moving forward even as Nabeel responded to our luff!). Once we were over them and ahead I made another mistake, though–I drove down too hard, such that we sailed faster than the breeze we had, collapsing the spin and allowing the boats that we had just passed to catch up and get over us! So now I’ve gone from mid-fleet to last to first to near last again in just 1 and 1/2 legs! In the meanwhile, Will was trucking up the leg far over on the airport side in clear air (clear air!).
The wind squared back to the South a bit such that we could carry the spin into the mark in an inside position, so we rounded after Will and John. I then proceeded to repeat my mistake, tacking into the middle of the course (in disturbed air) and then tacking back but underneath a boat (more disturbed air). It was terrible for boatspeed and point. Nabeel made his way past us near the finish and — once again — I had worked us back from a spot near the lead to the back of the pack. Lesson (re)learned — always go for clear air in that very light and shifty stuff!
More broadly, there is another important lesson here. Once we are into June the prevailing wind is a southerly. If you know it is coming, it is going to be a better breeze if you wait past the first few puffs/indications and let it fill. It’ll get there — just listen to the WX reports at Quantico (or check the wind readings on the buoy south of the Wilson Bridge) and figure that what they have that way will be coming up the river in 45-60 minutes. Doing RC is tough, and I truly applaud Yates and his crew for stepping up at the last minute. I might have done the same thing — get the race started — but, hindsight being 20/20 and all, waiting another 30 min would have had us sailing in a nice consistent southerly. I don’t mean this as a criticism of the RC at all — just a data point to remember for future days on the river. Thanks to the RC and to everybody for a fun day of racing!
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