Dixie Districts Recap

What a fantastic weekend!  The folks down in Hampton put on a great regatta for us!  It was a shame that the turnout was so light — the racing was fantastic, as was the hospitality!  Congratulations to Craig Cobbum & crew for their win.  Ron Buchanan (sailing with Hadley Greene and Jeff Ullman) was the top Fleet 50 boat, notching a 5th overall.  I was racing with John & Diane Butler on Beedobeat, and although our finishes weren’t up to our expectations or capabilities, we had a fantastic time (including a rockin’ 3rd place finish in the final race).  Keep reading for scores, race-by-race details, and links to photos and videos.  A huge thanks to Joe Buczkowski and the Hampton YC folks for hosting us!  Also, please remember to post your own comments and recollections (just click on the little “comment bubble” at the top right of this post.

No matter what direction you came from, it took a bit to get to Hampton, VA on Friday given the rain and the associated fender-benders that resulted from Tropical Storm Andrea.  After some quality time on I-95 and I-64, I made it to Hampton in the early evening on Friday and was greeted by a friendly crew there.  It wasn’t long before John, Diane, Ron, Lisbet, Jeff, and Hadley arrived as well.  Soon enough, we were out on the town for drinks, seafood, and other fun in Hampton!  Charlie Wardwell was kind enough to secure arrangements for some of us on a Benetau 37, so I had great accommodations right at Hampton YC for the weekend.

Day 1 of the regatta dawned with a gentle W/SW breeze and lots of sunshine.  Andrea had passed, and although there were predictions for isolated storms in the weather report, the day looked to be a fantastic one for sailing.  What follows is a race-by-race report from what I managed to see sailing with John and Diane on Beedobeat.  Please feel free to add in your own comments and recollections!

Race 1: We had a decent mid-line start in a 10-12 knot W/SW breeze.  We worked our way up the right (shore side) of the course trying to stay out of the current and waves…and lo and behold, we found ourselves 3rd at the windward mark!  John did a great job of driving the boat and reminding us to keep the boat flat upwind, and we had a good hoist/set to head downhill.  We held our position, made a nice rounding, and headed back upwind in 3rd.  Things looked great as we tacked over onto starboard, thinking we were well above the layline.  As it turns out, the current & tide were ripping and as we approached the mark it was clear that we were being pushed down faster than we were going forward!  I told John he could just “punch it up” to work around the mark, but that was a huge mistake…as he punched up, we simply stopped…and then went straight backwards.  We tried to tack around the mark two or three times, but each time we either stalled or had a starboard tack boat to avoid.  In the end, we managed not to foul anybody…but the cost was losing almost the entire fleet in one botched rounding.  We headed downhill a bit frustrated and ended up finishing 9th out of 10 boats.  Ugh.

Squall Interlude: There were ominous grey clouds building to the West and to the South as the RC sent us into sequence for the 2nd race.  The WX radio was also starting to issue alerts for a storm well offshore in the Atlantic.  Although we were a bit concerned, we blasted off on another 4-lap race hoping that the storms would pass by on either side.  That was a bit too much to hope for, as 2/3 up the windward leg a solid 20-kt  blast came through.  All at once the pack dumped their mains, eased jibs, tacked over to starboard (the blast was also a huge right shift) and began reaching and “motorboat planing” (as Ron Buchanan put it) towards the windward mark.  Sitting on the front of Beedobeat, it was pretty much like being hit with a fire-hose every few seconds as we blasted through the waves and wind.  As we neared the windward mark, the RC came through the fleet to flag us and indicate that the race had been abandoned.  Not a bad decision given the conditions and, perhaps more importantly, the fact that the shift had turned a W-L course into a reach-reach course that wouldn’t have been very competitive.  Everybody handled their boats well, and after about 10 minutes the squall subsided and was replaced by some gentle winds and sunshine.

Race 2: it took a bit for the wind to resettle (and for the sailors to dry out), but eventually the RC reset the course and sent us off on a W2 in the new wind (roughly a northerly breeze).  It was apparent at the start that the wind was going to continue to shift right, so we made a plan to start at the boat end and favor the right.  In some bizarre sequence of events that I still don’t understand, both Diane and I manged to start our watches 1 minute ahead of the actual starting sequence.  The only thing that I can think of is that we hit our start buttons as the postpone came down, and then missed the fact that we were off vis-a-vis subsequent horns.  Either way,  we guided John to a beautiful boat end start, amazed that we found a hole and nailed the line on time…only to notice that nobody else had started!  I even yelled “great start” to John as we crossed the line…that must have been amusing to the RC as they watched us (and, I assume, reached for the “over early” flag).  Given that we started *sooo* early we had plenty of time to work our way over the fleet, turn down (dodging a boat or two) and jibe onto port so as to duck the line and re-start on port tack.  In the end, we had what we wanted — a clear lane to the right side of the course.  In the end, it also paid off, as the wind not only moved right, but built from that direction.  It was shifty, but we ended up 3rd or 4th at the windward mark and then played “dodge the no-wind areas” as we went downhill.  We did OK at that, rounded in about 3rd or 4th, and re-played the strategy.  One boat got farther right and picked up more wind, such that we ended up 5th…which wasn’t bad given that we had started about a minute after the rest of the fleet!  Above all, we were happy that the strategy that we had thought through before the race paid off (though perhaps not as much as we would have liked).

Race 3: After about 90 minutes (or more) of watching the breeze clock right…10 degrees every 10 minutes or so…and with the RC trying to send us off on races…and with John winning the boat at each start prior to an abandonment…we finally entered a postpone sequence to wait for the easterly sea breeze to settle into place.  It finally did, and all I can say is that I was mentally toasted at this point in time.  It should have been a straightforward race, but I couldn’t figure out the favored side or a place for the boat to save my life and we finished pretty deep.  At least there was plenty of beer, rum, and lasagna to console us (as well as a great street festival in Hampton) that evening.

Day 2, Race 4-5:  Sunday dawned a beautiful day after a nice cool night and some restful sleep on the big boat.  The sea breeze was filling in at 9:30 as we launched, and though it looked a bit light at first, it gradually filled in to 10 kts or so for the first two races of the day.  Unfortunately for Team Beedobeat we couldn’t quite figure out how to get the boat up to speed for the first two races of the day.  Granted, we were close…but close in this fleet meant finishing in a pack where just 1/2 a boatlength meant the difference between 3rd and 8th.  Everybody was fast, and making just one mistake or missing one shift had huge consequences for your finishes (or, at least, for ours!).  I think we were all a bit frustrated (I know I was!) in general, since we couldn’t pinpoint what we were doing wrong.  It was a bit disheartening, knowing how fast we were on Day 1, and in various moments in the first two races of Day 2.  Of course, at a Championship regatta you have to be able to string together all of your fast moments in every race, so perhaps the lesson here is to sail as much as you can!

Race 6: There was one key difference in this race — I finally remembered to turn the GoPro on to capture the action.  Although it is certainly coincidence, I wish I had remembered to do so in the prior races, as we had a knock-out race and a 3rd place finish!  If nothing else, it is great to end a regatta with the performance that you knew that you and your team and boat were capable of all along!  It would have been even better had I not mucked up the spinnaker douse after the first run, but more on that later…

John did another great job of being patient at the start and of finding us a hole on the favored boat-end.  We knew that the right was generally favored given our experience in the prior two races, so after a short hitch on starboard tack we flopped over and headed right.  All of this is still a bit of a mystery to me since there were no obvious differences or shifts on the compass…but sure enough, after going right, flipping back left, taking a look, and then going back right, it was clear that we were gaining on the boats that went center or left.  The difference was most clear as we approached the windward mark and (finally!) watched the whole pack duck us as we headed in on the layline.

We had a great set and a great downhill run.  Diane was spot on as she trimmed the spinnaker, and John and I worked together to avoid a “go high” reaching war with the pack behind us.  We were able to sail deep and fast, and we headed into the leeward gate with a plan and a clear lead over the pack behind us.  Everything was set up for a great finish…until I realized that I forgot to do my own job!  As we doused, a huge knot involving the spinnaker halyard and the starboard side jib sheet jammed the block at the deck.  Totally my fault…in my excitement at being well ahead in a race and in calling lanes for Johbn, I hadn’t fully cleared and sorted my lines.  It is a rookie mistake, but one that cost us.  John did a great job driving the boat around the mark and back up to the right while Diane contained the spinnaker…but it took an eternity for me to sort out the nest of lines that had lodged in the tiny block for the spinnaker halyard.  Terrible (and basic) oversight in such a regatta and such a race.  Gah!

We ended up ahead, but to leeward, of Charlie (sailing with Randy and Lisbet) as we headed back up the right side of the course.  We should have been clear ahead, but now we had to work to move even with them in order to tack over to starboard.  John was relentless in exhorting us to hike and keep the boat flat — and rightfully so!  We were gradually able to work to weather on Charlie.  Once we were even on his line, he tacked over, and we tacked as well.  At that moment, I thought that we were all well below the starboard tack layline.  But…the right side giveth and it shall receive!  As we worked our way towards a very distant mark, we all ended up in another right shift.  It turns out that Charlie & Co. were able to work up to the mark.  John kept telling me that we were overstood, and that turned out be true…but given our experience in race 1, I refused to let him crack off until we were very close to the mark.  Had we done so earlier, we might have been able to sail down onto and (perhaps) over Charlie…but John let me have my way, and we ended up rounding close behind Charlie.

We paralleled Charlie and the new leader, Craig, downhill.  At the gate, I made a case for going left (facing downwind) such that we’d be back on the right side of the course as we headed uphill.  John saw that the right gate (facing downwind) was closer, and decided that we were headed that way for both the distance advantage and ease of takedown.  I wasn’t convinced of the call, but at the least I managed to keep the halyard straight for the takedown!  After we rounded, we found ourselves with one boat on our windward hip preventing us from tacking over and heading right again.  We all hiked like crazy, and eventually we were able to tack and cross that boat.  As we converged with the boats who had taken the left gate (facing downwind), it was clear that John was right — we hadn’t lost anything at all, and we were still in the game for a top finish.  We worked hard to reel in Charlie over the course of the final upwind leg.  At each crossing (as we split sides of the course) we gained — literally — perhaps one or two inches.  If the leg had been another 1/2 mile long, we might have gotten them, but as it stands, they crossed exactly one boatlength ahead of us right at the finish pin to take second in the race, with Team Beedobeat taking 3rd.  What a race, and what a way to finish the regatta!

Thanks once again to Joe and the Hampton YC folks for organizing such a great event, and to all of the Dixie District boats that came out for the regatta!

Click here for 2013 Dixie District Results

Click here for Photos from the 2013 Dixie District Championship Regatta (note: these are all photos of our fun on shore!)

Video link: http://lightningfleet50.org/?page_id=1657 (with more coming soon!)

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