Fall Series #4: Cold and rainy, but racing nonetheless!

Sunday certainly started out as a cold, rainy, dreary Sunday.  Three Lightnings braved the conditions, though, and as the weather cleared we ended up with a decent day for racing (albeit a challenging one!).  Keep reading for all of the details (including our observations from the RC perspective).  Links to photos from Fall Series #4 racing are also included after the break, and scores will be posted soon.

Well it certainly was chilly when I headed to the marina on Sunday!  Temps in the 40s with a cold drizzle coming down combined to keep many sailors home, I think.  There were a few die-hard Lightning sailors that showed up and, despite some initial reticence, also managed to convince each other to go racing.  And so it was that our three brave crews set out in the rain: Frank, sailing with Bob and Mladin on Resistance is Futile; Chris, sailing with Nicole and Palmer on String Theory; and Tom Apker driving Chessie along with Tom and Frank as crew.  As a side note, kudos to Ben Ackerman, the lone Hobie Cat sailor who showed up…but then (understandably) decided to stay warm and dry.

Given that there were only 3 Lightnings and that we had rain and very light breeze, we opted to sail on the lower course just off the power plant.  The tide was coming in, and although boats reported bumping bottom in a few spots, we had enough water to set a good W2 course and get the boats racing.  The wind was certainly fickle, though, as Jeff and I watched it oscillate through 40 degrees (or more) every few minutes.  The pressure was also very spotty over the racecourse, and with the planes landing from the south we saw (and heard) the wingtip vortices spin overhead and touch down throughout the day — in some cases, giving a boat a nice shot of pressure to take it past the others to the mark (Frank got lucky on a number of these!).

Overall the breeze was roughly from the NE, so we set the marks and got the boats racing.  Frank got off to a good start and led the pack around the W2 course, followed by String Theory and Chessie.  A shift in the breeze made the downwind legs a no-jibe affair, so there weren’t many passing lanes in this race.  Chris kept things close for a bit, but Resistance is Futile eventually pulled away for a bullet.  Tom was working double-duty on Chessie as he worked with a new crew and as they all worked on figuring out light air sailing in a Lightning (not an easy thing!).

During the first race the wind went from oscillating right (from NE to E) in the first race to then swinging left (oscillating between NE and NNE or even N), so we reset the course and sent the boats off again.  Nicole took the helm on String Theory and got a great pin-end start with a nose out ahead and to leeward of Frank.  String Theory seemed to hold the lead up most of the first beat, but gradually was worn down and then passed by team Resistance is Futile.  The guys on Chessie did a better job of easing things out and “letting the boat breathe” in this race (something that is so critical in light-air sailing; over trim and you’ll stop the boat dead!) and were able to stay a bit closer as they took another 3rd place finish.

In the third race Palmer took the helm on String Theory and Mladin took the helm on Resistance is Futile.  I really like to see this crew/skipper switching on the boats, as it ultimately makes everybody on the team better.  I know it is not always feasible on every boat or every Sunday, but to the extent that you can do this with your crew, I’d recommend it.  Sitting in the other spots not only helps you develop your own skills, but also gives you a better sense of what that person is seeing and thinking when you’re not there.  For example, I think I’m a better driver around marks (especially in terms of timing) having done foredeck and thus knowing the timing and sequence of events that needs to happen up front for a good rounding.  Conversely, I’m a better foredeck person having driven a fair amount since I now know what the driver is watching and what the sense of timing and space looks like from the back of the boat.

Race 3 saw the closest start yet, with all 3 boats on the line at the gun and headed up the course in decent pressure.  The fleet did split a bit on the way up to the windward mark, with String Theory leading Resistance is Futile around the top with Chessie in hot pursuit.  The guys on Chessie did a *fantastic* job of sailing deep and fast on the first downind, working themselves inside of the other two boats, both of which had managed to take each other up a bit as they came downwind.  Chessie got around the leeward mark first (I hear they may or may not have been some dispute about mark room…no protests were filed, though, and that made your RC very happy), with Resistance is Futile hot on their heels.

On the second upwind we (the RC) watched as the boats tried to negotiate the patchy conditions and find passing lanes.  Calling tactics from the RC boat is always easy, and this was a day with some very challenging conditions.  That being said, we did see a *very* common mistake play out a couple of times on the upwind leg — namely, the temptation to engage with or cross another boat rather than sail in the right direction.  It is easy to get “tunnel vision” as you sail up the course, and focus on crossing the next boat that you see with the (often mistaken) impression that crossing them means that your’e ahead.  The problem is you may well be sailing the wrong way (into a header, on the unfavorable tack, etc.) in order to make that cross; making the cross thus essentially gives the lead back to the boat you just worked so hard to get across!  It is always important to keep an eye on the compass and on your progress towards the mark as well as your progress relative to the boats nearest to you.  Watching a couple of boats in this race focus on getting the cross rather than taking the correct tack/course ultimately helped give the lead back to Resistance is Futile, who led around to a first place finish, followed by String Theory and Chessie.  Kudos to Mladin for being very patient in this race, and for working Resistance is Futile back into the lead in challenging conditions.  Remember, though — it is may be a better idea to tack short of a boat and lead them back in the favored direction rather than to go for the cross!

Overall we ended up with a much better day than any of us expected at 10am.  The rain went away, the air warmed up a bit, and I even saw a fleeting bit of sunshine peek through the clouds at one point.  Nonetheless we were rather cold and tired after 3 races, so we all shared a beer or two and then headed home to warm up in lieu of the post-race BBQ.  Hopefully we’ll have better weather next Sunday!  Thanks to Jeff, Rick, and Hank Kraft for helping out with RC and thanks again to the Lightning sailors who went out to race.

Photos from the days racing are posted here and video from on board String Theory with Chris, Nicole, and Palmer will be posted soon.

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