PRSA Spring Regatta Recap

It was great to have 30 boats at the PRSA Spring Regatta, including 17 Albacores!  With 5 Lightnings competing (Aaron, Chris, Lindsay, Will, and John) and one more (Bob Gotthardt) on RC, our own fleet’s turnout was a bit light, but we still had some great racing.  Congratulations to Team Sinistra (Aaron, sailing with Rick, Piercarlo, and Lisbet over the weekend) on their victory with straight bullets for the regatta.  It was also great to see David Fehrle driving the “College Kids” boat (hey…David is almost a college kid now!) and very nearly taking his first bullet in the class on the second day of racing.  If it weren’t for the vagaries of the river, and a lucky puff that carried Team Sinistra around the mark while David was stalled, they would have had it!

The RC under Bob’s leadership did a great job in getting us 4 races and a variety of courses in a shifty N/NW breeze on Saturday, and two more on Sunday when it looked like we wouldn’t have any breeze at all for a time.  A huge thank you to all of the competitors and to all the volunteers who made the event possible.  Scores for each class are posted on the PRSA website, and some GoPro footage from day 1 (aboard Sinistra) has been posted to the “Photos and Videos” area of the Fleet 50 website.

Keep reading for some more details on the racing, and feel free to add in your own comments and observations!

By now, the first day of the regatta is a little bit of a blur.  We had decent breeze from the NNW as we sailed out of the marina and up to the racecourse.  After a brief postponement to make sure boats had made it to the racecourse, the RC sent us off on a W2 course.  PRO Bob Gotthardt and his crew had set a nice, long course using all of the real estate that the river would give us in this wind.  However, the pressure was a bit spotty, so it took us nearly an hour to finish the first race.  Not that this was a bad thing, but my brain definitely hurt after we finished!  That being said, the racing was competitive among the three Lightnings that were out on Saturday (us on Sinistra; Lindsay, John Van Voorhis, and Todd on Lil’ Lightning Bug; Chris, Liz, and Ed on String Theory).

The overall rule for the day was to go left, stay left, and protect the left.  The puffs were generally more west than north (though the wind did oscillate quite a bit) and there was typically more pressure along the airport shore than there was out towards the channel.  There were a few races in which we, on Team Sinistra, fought for the boat end of the starting line given the right phase of the breeze at the start.  In general, though, we headed left even after a boat end start (and in the other two races we fought hard to win the pin and head left).  After the first long W2 the RC shortened up the course a bit and gave us O courses with nice long reach legs.  This was excellent, as the oscillating breeze meant that any given reach leg could in fact be a run with a series of jibes (it wasn’t just a parade).

The other major lesson that we saw on the course on Saturday was the importance of keeping the boat flat — and here I mean really, really flat — in these conditions.  With moderate winds and flat water, we were clearly faster than other boats in the little puffs because we made sure that the windward chine never really lifted out of the water much.  There is always a temptation to heel a boat over in light spots, and to sailed a bit heeled in light to moderate breezes.  I can be especially guilty of this as a former round-bottomed dinghy sailor.  But experts have pointed out that the Lightning needs to be sailed flat…flat…flat!  We saw that firsthand on Saturday, and the evidence on the racecourse certainly trumps what my intuition might have once told me.  Keep the boat flat and maximize your power, as you’re not going to gain much with heel in moderate breeze, especially as the board is not faired in the same way that it is on some smaller dinghys, so you don’t generate nearly the same amount of “lift” to windward with heel on a Lightning.

We were happy to have a few more boats join us on Sunday.  John sailed his own boat,  Shamrock, with his daughter and Bruce Heida as crew, and the College Boys boat was also out, with David Fehrle driving!  For me, the story of the day was watching David drive…and nearly net his first bullet in our fleet.  The conditions were definitely a bit more challenging, as most of us were towed up to the course and the light NNW breeze was spotty and inconsistent at best.  The first race — an “O” course — saw all of us trying connect the dots as we looked for pressure and puffs.  We led for the first lap (the triangle portion) on Sinistra, but were passed by David and the College Kids boat on the long upwind leg as we sailed into a bit of a hole and got pinned in a bad spot by a Buc.  David found pressure, rolled over us to windward, and then continued to find the puffs as he extended and rounded the windward mark with a substantial lead.

The wind shut off altogether for most of the full downwind leg.  David & Co. went right (facing downwind), sticking to the little bit of pressure that was along the airport shore for a bit.  That pressure wasn’t there for us any more as we rounded, and we were still tangling with a Buc, so we jibed away (out into the river) to clear our air and to hopefully catch a bit of a puff that we saw out there.  There wasn’t a ton of pressure in the river, either, but sailing broadside to the river flow and outgoing current helped push us down a bit as we tried to keep the spinnaker full.  We crossed all the way over to the left side (looking downwind) and jibed over towards the mark.  David was parked at the leeward mark in no breeze along with a school of Albacores.  Our spinnaker was hanging limp when…miracle of miracles…a little westerly puff marched across the course.  We hooked into it, squared down, and made our way around the leeward mark inside of David and the Albacores.  This puff never got down to them, and we slid by on the inside as they were all dragged further south by current.  After that, we were ahead and we were able to cover when the pressure did return, ending up with a bullet that was due more to luck than skill.

I do have to say, David and the folks on 14376 did everything right…and in 99.9% of the races, if you catch all of the puffs and shifts but for one, you’re going to win.  It was bad luck for them, but David was gracious after the race (I would have been fuming!!!) and I’m looking forward to seeing him drive some more races.  It won’t be long before he starts to stack up some first place finishes in the fleet, so watch out!

The wind died out a bit, but then piped up around 2:00, such that the RC quickly hoisted a “T” flag and started sending boats off racing.  In the Lightning/Buc start we were all a bit anxious and we crowded the line and the boat in a right phase, earning us a general recall.  We got our chance a few minutes later (after the RC wisely let the Albacores start) and I managed to get us a good boat-end start.  Piercarlo kept telling me the pressure was to the right in this race and, despite my disbelief and grumbling, he was correct.  We went there, and we ended up 2nd at the windward mark, following Lindsay and Todd around.  Great crew work, including 3 jibes on the first reach leg, and a great reach-to-reach jibe at the jibe mark, netted us the lead.  We blasted along on the 2nd reach leg with the pole forward and everybody hiking.  An early douse and an orderly rounding netted us a bullet — this one well-earned through great crew work — in the final race.

After the racing we all enjoyed some great refreshments on shore as we shared stories and started thinking about the next weekend.  I hope you’ll be out there then!

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