Great day to kick off the falls series. The sun was warm, the air was dry, the breeze was from the northeast (sort of) and varied from none at all to as much as 10 mph. The current was strong. The RC set up a triangle and signalled 3 O-2s and 1 W-3.
Shadowfax won the day in the Lightning fleet, but certainly not all the races. I took away three lessons that you might find interesting:
Judging the time to the line.
The start line was very pin favored and the current was ripping down the line against a traditional starboard tack approach. On Shadowfax, we decided to start the races on port at the pin. I knew the main threat would be from Bobby Astrove coming down the line on starboard. So we had to judge how long it would take him and us to get to the pin. Tom Hutton, in the middle, helped judge that time and called it. We crossed him once and ducked him twice but had a good start every time. In addition, it was clear that most of the other boats starting on port were getting to the line far too early and having to bear off down the line thereby losing a lot for every second early that got there. It is well worth practicing deciding how long it will take to get to the line and learning how to speed up or slow down to get there at the right time.
By the way, in the first race Bobby could not get to the pin on starboard and at the gun he was roughly midway and tacked immediately. In at least, two of the following three races, he approached the line from above the committee boat and executed a beautiful dip start near the pin. Dip starts are risky because 1) leeward boats may not let you dip and 2) because you may not get yourself all the way below the line and get called OCS. So it take good judgement of what the other boats can do in the conditions and of where you are relative to the line.
When in doubt sail the long tack to the mark.
The wind was spotty and shifty and so it was difficult to decide whether to go off to the right and try to get a puff coming down the Anacostia or go left and toward that puff coming down from the north. We found that if we simply sailed the tack that was lifting us to the mark, we did very well. So although it always pays to look for the breeze and try to get there, when in doubt simply sail the longer tack toward the mark.
Related to this lesson was a case of bad luck for us or good strategy by John Van Voorhis. John was on starboard maybe 10 boat lengths from the windward mark but not fetching by a couple of boat lengths . We were approaching him on port. Our plan was to duck him, tack onto starboard on the layline and force him to duck us as we approached and rounded the mark. Good in theory, but just after we tacked the wind shifted left. Now we were headed and not fetching the mark. He tacked to the lifted port tack and made the pin many boat lengths ahead of us. He was sailing the long tack to the mark and waited for a good shift. We sailed the short tack and had little choice of what to do when the shift came.
Where to point when the wind dies.
We were ahead of John Van Voorhis approaching the leeward mark when the wind went very soft. I kept steering at an increasingly hot angle trying to keep the spinnaker full. Not only did that not work because the wind simply wasn’t there, but I was going further away from the mark. In contrast, John Van Voorhis just pointed to the mark and the strong current I mentioned above took him past us. When there is current, consider simply using it when the wind dies.