For the first time in recent memory, the Frigid Digit wasn’t all that Frigid! What’s more, we had a fantastic turnout (38 boats!), great breeze on both days, and some incredible competition. If you weren’t there, you missed an amazing regatta! In addition to the details that I’ve posted below, I’d also recommend reading Geoff Becker’s excellent summary of the racing. Geoff finished 2nd in the regatta, and I’ve included a link to his write-up in the post on the Fleet 50 website. A huge thanks to our friends up at SSA in Fleet 329 for hosting a great regatta and a great party!
Despite the wonderful conditions, the Frigid Digit was as challenging as ever. On Sinistra, we finished 27th out of 38 boats…and as frustrating as that was, it also wasn’t as bad as it might sound (well…OK…it wasn’t great!). We had trouble getting off the line all weekend, so we spent a number of races playing catch-up from the back. It goes without saying that starts really matter in big fleets, and that a second-row start can be deadly given how chopped up the air gets around the whole pack on the line. Finding a hole is one thing, and then being able to accelerate out of that hole with very little room and no clear air is a whole new challenge. These are the kinds of things that you simply can’t learn by sailing on the river alone. Moreover, after negotiating the start, trying to catch boats in a pack like this is difficult as hell. That being said, I’d rather go out and compete in a fleet like this any day than shy away from the opportunity.
Even as we had moments of frustration, we also learned a lot of lessons on Sinistra. We took each race as an opportunity to work on our long-range / big fleet tactics and strategy: find the pressure, find the lanes, and make sure to balance tacking on lifts/headers with calls for going to a side or a spot that might have pressure/current or some other more persistent feature (something that would make it OK for you to eat a header for a bit in order to reap a larger gain later on, for instance). Making sure to avoid a big line-up on the starboard-tack layline was another key element of our strategy. This was a lesson that we learned last year at the Frigid Digit, and Rick was diligent in reminding Lisbet and I that we really wanted to set up for an approach that was more or less on the port-tack layline as we got to the top end of the course. With good breeze an extra tack to get you there was worth it in comparison to the losses that you would accrue if you came in on the starboard-tack layline from a distance and, as a consequence, were forced to eat bad air from a whole string of boats. With that in mind, I worked hard to help position the boat so that we gained from a side or from areas of pressure, but always had the option of moving left a bit on the course well prior to hitting the starboard-tack layline. In general, I think we did OK here, as we were generally able to lee-bow a pack at the windward mark and move up a few spots in most of the races.
Overall, one great thing this year was the fact that that we had great breeze both days. Saturday was a bit frustrating because there was some decent sized swell (the breeze had been blowing from the South for a few days) on top of some chop, such that the 12-15 kts that we had really wasn’t enough to help you feel comfortable in punching through it all. To be frank, we’re still learning how to drive a Lightning in that stuff. Sunday was much better, at least for us river sailors, as we had flat water and a steady 15 kts from the North. It is no coincidence that our Sunday finishes were much better. Nonetheless, the crowd and the conditions at this particular regatta each year are always a combination that reminds me that I still have a ton to learn about racing Lightnings.