2011 Duck Challenge

Hello Lightning Fleet 50! Are you getting ready for some fall sailing?  Here is a quick write-up from last weekends Duck Challenge Regatta in Havre de Grace, MD, to help get you excited about the upcoming season!  

Nabeel was kind enough to ask me to sail with him and Lisbet for the Duck Challenge, and I jumped at the chance.  I’ve heard that the folks in Fleet 192 always put on a great regatta for this event, and I had certainly enjoyed sailing up there for the Dixie District Regatta.  Leaving the DC area right around 7 a.m. on Saturday gave us plenty of time to get the boat set up and in the water well in advance

of the competitor’s meeting.

Saturday’s racing was mixed in terms of results for us, as well as in terms of winds and conditions.  We started the day in light (~ 5 kts.) E-SE breezes with puffs and shifts that seemed to favor the right, so we planned to head that way.  Our strategy paid off as we reached the windward mark first and then led the majority of the next two legs.  We were passed just before the last windward mark rounding, though, and got pinned out to the left side of the course unable to recoup those lost spots and finishing fourth.  A bit frustrating, but not a bad start.  

After the wind died and we drifted for a few hours the breeze filled back in with a more consistency from the S-SE.  For us, the next two races were a mix of some mistakes and frustrations.  At various times we tested the left (which seemed to pay for some boats) to no avail, found ourselves on the port-tack layline with a lot of boats to duck in order to get around the top mark more than once, and tried to figure out why we didn’t seem to have as much punch as some other boats going upwind.  Nobody likes 2 consecutive 9th-place finishes in a 16-boat fleet, but at least we got it out of our system and, importantly, tried not to become too frustrated.  Nabeel got a great start in the final race on Saturday, we stuck to our strategy, did a better job of finding a few shifts, and did a great job defending against some charging boats on the final downwind to net a 3rd place finish.  With a steady breeze still blowing we could have even fit in another race, but the RC sent us to shore for some cold beer and a great steak and salmon BBQ.

Sunday morning greeted us with a line of thunderstorms moving through the area.  The slate grey skies and intense lightning made for some great viewing from the safety of shore and gave us all the chance for an extra cup of coffee.  Soon enough the weather cleared and we were on the water.  The last vestiges of the storms left us with a sold 12 knots of breeze and a few whitecaps for the first race.  Working with Nabeel and Lisbet, I learned a good deal about working the backstay while keeping an eye on jib sag and shape in a breeze (we often rely on the traveler a bit more on Sinistra, and sometimes I forget that your backstay adjustment affects your jib!).  I was also reminded that sailing flat is much, much faster than pinching or feathering up into the puffs in breezier conditions.  Nabeel nailed another great pin end start just to windward of Jason Werner, who we chased around the course from the moment we crossed the line.  We were never able to close the gap, but we also held off our closest competition to secure a second place finish.

The final race saw the breeze moderate even more, and after another great start from Nabeel we gradually went from hiking and playing the backstay to sitting to leeward, shifting gears through lulls, and trying to stay powered up in a breeze that died even as the chop refused to do the same.  In an extended deja vu moment, we led the first two legs and did well to recognize a right shift that meant a quick tack at the leeward mark nearly allowed you to fetch the windward mark.  We didn’t quite go far enough, though, and saw our lead shrink as Trevor Prior tapped into a better shaft of wind even farther on the right side of the course.  We lost the lead at the top mark and, after a brief attempt at flying the chute, went back to the jib in a very light (non-existent) breeze.  We drifted down the course behind Trevor and well ahead of the rest of the fleet, which had gotten tangled up together in the light air mark rounding.  At times we were stopped, without steerage, or even going backward…and the same was true for Trevor.  Nabeel had us all experimenting with weight placement and centerboard position, among other things, just to keep the boat more or less pointed towards the finish line, and Lisbet hand-flew the jib for the better part of our seemingly endless drift.  We were on the lookout for breeze while also keeping an eye on the way that moored boats were swinging to try to make use of the current if possible.  As another thunderstorm started to build we figured (hoped) that the breeze would fill from the opposite direction as air was sucked up into the storm and because of Nabeel’s great efforts to steer, to the extent that one could, we were closer to that side of the course than the first place boat, such that we caught a few whispers of air first and ghosted across the finish line ahead of Trevor for a bullet for the final race of the regatta.

We certainly finished strong, and it proved good enough to move us up from a tie for 5th place after day one into 4th overall.  Ending the regatta with a bullet was great, but of course we were wishing we could throw out both of those 9th-place finishes!  Nonetheless, it was a great weekend.  Congratulations to Jon Guth (1st), Trevor Prior (2nd), and Pat Phelan (3rd), and Mark Hutchinson (5th).  Finally, a *very big* thank-you to Pat and the folks of Fleet 192 for hosting a great regatta — I’ll be back next year for sure, and I hope more boats from Fleet 50 make the trip!

- Aaron Boesenecker, Fleet 50 Secretary

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