2013 Lightning WJM North American Championships

There has been lots of racing going on of late, with the Women’s, Junior’s, and Master’s North American Championships up in Nyack, NY; the Poquoson Challenge; and the DC Sail Cantina Cup all being held over the last week/weekend.  For my part, I was up at the WJMs crewing for John and Diane Butler.  It was an amazing experience to see 32 boats in the Master’s division, 22 boats in the Junior’s division (wow — what an amazing thing for the sport!), and 5 Classic boats for the Classic Boat rally.  We might not have had much wind, but it was still an amazing regatta weekend!  I’ve included a few details below from the WJMs.  If you were sailing in the Poquoson Challenge or the Cantina Cup please post a few comments on your own racing!  Results and photos are posted to the regatta website.

When John and Diane asked whether I’d like to crew for them for the WJMs, I jumped at the chance.  We knew we’d be facing some very, very talented competition, so we went into the weekend with the mentality that we’d have fun and enjoy some time in a beautiful area.

It’s a good thing we had a positive mindset, as just getting to the regatta proved to be an adventure of its own once I experienced a bearing blowout on I-95 just north of Havre de Grace.  The damage to the trailer axle was sufficient enough that we all had to spend a day locating a repair shop, finding parts, and then waiting for the repair to be made before we could continue to NY (we posted a lot to the Lightning Fleet 50 facebook page, so make sure to “like” the fleet page if you haven’t already done so!).

We made it up to the regatta late on Wednesday evening.  We missed the scheduled practice race (cancelled due to excessive wind) and the opening party, but we were happy to have made it without further incident.  We set the boat up, enjoyed a few drinks with our fellow sailors and the friendly folks at Nyack Boat Club, and then headed off to bed so as to be well-rested for the racing.

Thursday turned out to be a great day for sailing.  It took a few hours for the wind to build, but when it did we had a solid 10-14 kts from the N/NW (an odd direction for the area, according to locals) with flat water and nice warm temps.  In the end, Thursday was the only day with enough wind for racing, so the three races we got in then ended up constituting the regatta.

In all three races, it generally paid to go left (W/SW towards the Nyack shore) off the start, and then work back right to the windward mark.  The current and tide were ripping all day (and all weekend) so figuring out the best way to navigate it and to spend as little time as possible broadside to it was key.  In the first race John got us a great start down towards the pin, we headed left, went back right later, and found ourselves in the top pack going downwind.  A persistent left shift and build meant that the first “run” was really a very tight reach — pole on the forestay, everybody hiked out hard.  Diane did a great job flying the chute in the building breeze, and we had a nice ride (though there was no passing to be done).  The RC dropped a change mark to account for the shift, and we again worked left upwind to get there.  The run was more square this time, and we again played the left side of the course (looking upwind) trying to keep our air clear.  As we converged on the finish we were in pack with the Hurbans just to port of us, but coming in on starboard jibe.  We did a last minute jibe to starboard and edged out most of the pack for an 11th place finish — a great start, especially given the tough competition!

Prior to the regatta both John and I had been reading the issue of Speed & Smarts that covered sailing in large fleets, and we knew that playing the middle was generally not a good idea, and that coming off the line with speed was key since it would be so tough to make up ground in the disturbed air behind a big pack of boats.  Unfortunately we got buried at the start of the second race (with the wind easing up just as the gun went) and were spit out the back of the pack.  Try as we might, we just couldn’t make up ground, and finished with a disheartening 28th in race 2.

John was determined to get a good start in the third race.  By this time we were hot and tired from having been on the water nearly 6 hours, but we were determined to do better. We all noticed the breeze go into a left phase at about 1 minute prior to the gun, and John made sure that he was up on the line near the pin end with space to accelerate.  John pulled the trigger and came up to the line at full speed just as the gun went off and we nailed the pin end start!  We were off, and as the pack was starting to flop over onto starboard it was looking like we could tack to cover the fleet and end up in the very top pack…until we heard two more guns.  General recall.  We’ve all been there — the general recall takes away your great start!  How frustrating!  Nonetheless, we rallied, and John did a good job avoiding the pack that stacked up at the pin this time (since folks realized there was an advantage there) and found us a clear spot on the line about 1/3 of the way up from the pin.  We again hit the line with speed and flopped over on top of the majority of the pack.  I think we were about 5th around the windward mark (just behind Ched Proctor!) and we worked a bit high on starboard jibe to stay clear of all the disturbed air around the windward and offset marks.  It would have been nice to jibe over, but it also would have been deadly to sail through that patch just below the marks.  We ended up playing the starboard jibe most of the way down the course and rounded the right-hand gate.  The fleet split a bit on the second upwind leg as the breeze oscillated some and then started to die down.  We lost a few boats, and just got nipped by a couple more at the finish as the RC shortened course to finish at the windward mark, but we still finished strong with a 12th in race 3, so we left the water feeling pretty happy.

At the time, we didn’t know that race 3 would also be the last race of the regatta.  The breeze never came up on day two, and on day three it filled in only enough to get a race started before shutting off.  Some of the Juniors managed to finish their race 4 (they started about 10 minutes before us), but on Beedobeat we found ourselves struggling to make it back up to the windward mark for the second time…and eventually starting to drift down current.  Bobby, who started in the classic division 10 minutes behind us, was even able to use his masterful light-air sailing to catch us!  Needless to say, we weren’t disappointed to see the RC come motoring through the fleet with the “abandon” flag flying!

Even with the lack of breeze it was a fantastic regatta.  All the folks up at Nyack were wonderful hosts, there was plenty to eat and drink while we waited for breeze, and many games of “cornhole” and “frisbee toss” were played on the lawn overlooking the Hudson. Simply relaxing and reading in a rocking chair there wasn’t bad either!  All I can say is that it is a fantastic locale for a regatta, and I’d definitely recommend going up for their “Last Blast” regatta later this fall!



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