Breezy Fun at PRSA Fall Series #5

We had a great day for racing this past Sunday!  Six Lightnings, two Bucs, two Albacores, and an I-20 came out to play on a sunny day that featured some great, albeit shifty, breeze.  PRO Farley Will and his crew did a great job managing a “wacky west wind” in setting a course that gave us a mix of O2, T2, T3, and O3 courses.  The wind reports from National Airport show a breeze of 12-15 throughout the afternoon with the occasional gust in the 20s.

Scores will be posted soon, and I think we will also have some great photos taken from the RC boats to post as well.  Stay tuned for that information, and keep reading for some of my observations from aboard Beedobeat with Piercarlo.  In many ways, it was a great day to be double-handing!

On board Beedobeat I was shorthanded, sailing with Piercarlo but no third.  Given some of the tight reach angles (and a rather short downwind leg due to the wind direction) we didn’t fly the spinnaker at all.  We were still right in the mix with the rest of the Lightnings, though, winning a few races and enjoying some great planing rides on the reach legs under jib and main alone.  However we certainly had to work our butts off to keep the boat flat going upwind in some of the puffs!

Piercarlo and I have sailed together for years now, so one of the things that made the day so enjoyable was the fact that we know the boat, we know each other’s moves, and we can communicate well.  Having decided to keep things simple (no spinnaker) on the sail up to the course, we were already taking note of puffs and wind direction.  It was a shifty day, but many of the puffs tended to be to the right (west or northwest even as the general wind was southwest or west).  After a race or two we also started to notice some patterns in where one could find puffs on the course.  We flirted with flying the spinnaker, but the puffy and shifty conditions were not *that* predictable such that we stuck with jib and main all day even if it might have cost us a spot or two here and there.

With the current coming in (upriver) all day the first upwind leg was a bit of a challenge.  The wind shifts, especially right shifts at the start line, favored a boat-end start.  Going right after the start, though, meant that you had to fight against the current as you came back left (south) against the current in the softer wind along the airport shore.  We lost out even after a great boat-end start in a few races when we went right too soon on the first leg.  That being said, a shift or swirl could shake everything up as well.  Things were very tricky up around the windward mark.

Rounding the windward mark we would sheet in, sail a bit high, pull the board, and then search for pressure.  After a few races we figured out that you would run into a great puff just as you cleared that new rock jetty to the south on the airport shore, so we would deliberately sail high, hook into that pressure, pop on a plane, and surf down over top of boats in front of us.  That all works great until somebody tries to defend their spot with vigor, as Nabeel did in race 3 or 4.  He took us up — as he has every right to do — and I went up, but still slid sideways into him!  Remember to drop your board if you want to try to sail over top of somebody!!!  Nabeel was kind enough to wave off turns, but we did them because (1) it is the right thing to do, as we were the keep clear boat and we didn’t (even though I initially told Nabeel he didn’t give me enough room to swing my transom), and (2) Piercarlo and I talked about the idea of keeping clear vs. giving a boat enough room to respond to a luff, and we realized that our board was up — in other words, we didn’t do everything we could do to keep clear!  So, centerboard trim matters as much as sail trim.

As puffy and shifty as things were, there were also some patterns on the second reach leg.  We noticed that in the last 1/3 of the leg there was a pretty reliable shaft of pressure coming off of the airport shore and across the course.  Once again we did our best to sail fast (boat balance and jib trim are as critical to speed as main trim on a reach) and hold our position…and then, more than once, we drove up to hook into that pressure, popped on a plane, and drove over top of boats to gain a spot or two.  The conditions of the day meant that the reach legs were battles, not the normal “parade” legs that we associate with reaches, and that made for lots of fun!

Upwind things were a bit of a battle for us.  Thankfully the upwind leg was relatively short given the westerly wind.  Piercarlo hiked like a man possessed and that was certainly key to keeping the boat flat.  This was also one of those days when I was thankful that the Lightning has so many strings to pull.  We played the backstay a lot, adjusted the traveller in puffs, went on and off on the cunningham, and also played with jib car position as the wind conditions changed.  I’m not certain we got all of these adjustments 100% correct, but I know that they mattered — I could feel the difference in the helm and in boat speed and boat balance, particularly as we tried to hold our position going upwind.  My general progression was to pull on backstay and cunningham at the leeward mark depending upon the wind we were seeing at that time.  With those controls set I would first dump the traveller in big puffs and then, if needed, ease the mainsheet.  We never got to the point where Piercarlo had to ease the jib sheet (something that is sometimes a necessity in very gusty conditions).  Piercarlo would adjust the jib cars a bit as I moved the traveller: traveller down a lot, cars would come back a bit to twist off the top of the jib and minimize backwind from the jib into the main.  As the pressure eased we’d reverse those adjustments and then ease backstay.  That all seemed to work — along with the fierce hiking — as we went upwind pretty well.  Catching a nice shift (the right in the middle of the course was very favorable!) also helped, of course.

As the day went on the RC went from T courses to O3 courses. Given the wind direction and velocity this was a great choice overall.  It meant that the Lightnings who could pop the spinnaker would have an advantage on the two downwind legs, but so be it — that’s the idea of racing in the conditions you have.  Piercarlo and I did an OK job of holding our spot by driving down (wing-on-wing) for a bit and then jib-reaching.  Nabeel was certainly able to gain by having the spin at his disposal in these races, though.  Being able to fly the spin made a difference, but I was also amazed at how close we could keep things — especially if a boat trying to fly the spin made a mistake in a jibe or at a rounding!

All in all it was a great day to sail and we had a ton of fun. I think both Piercarlo and I are feeling a bit sore today, but it was all worth it!

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