I’ve been a bit behind in posting my weekly summaries of the racing, so I thought I’d take a moment to share a few thoughts now that we’ve had three PRSA Fall Series racing days. We’ve also posted photos and videos from the first few weeks of racing to the website. As always, I encourage all of you to add your own comments and observations to this post.
The one overarching lesson that I’ve learned from the first few weeks of sailing in the fall series is a simple one: watch out for Bob Gotthardt! Bob just started sailing Anger Management this fall, but already he’s demonstrated some great starting technique, good straight-line boat speed, and solid tactics. Bob and his crew (a different crew each week, I might add) has probably been first to the windward mark in more races than any other “beginning” Lightning team that I’ve seen of late. We’ve got some new competition in the fleet, and that is great!
I was up in Annapolis sailing the SSA Fall Regatta during the first PRSA fall series races, so I’m afraid I don’t have much to say about week 1 (but if you were there, please post your comments!). In Annapolis, it was great to sail with Lisa-Marie all weekend for that regatta. As you know, she and Jim are new fleet members. In her first ever Lightning racing experience, Lisa-Marie did a great job on the foredeck of Sinistra, helping us net a 3rd place finish overall for the regatta! I underhand that Frank, Nabeel, and Bob G. were the only folks who made it out for racing on the river. By all accounts, Bob managed to lead a number of legs and even pushed Frank over the line in at least one start. He might not have won the day, but as I say, we’ve got a great new competitor here!
PRSA fall series #2 was a fantastic weekend, with great breeze and a great turnout (including Frank, Nabeel, Bobby, Bob, Jeff, John, the new crew on Thunder, and Lindsay on RC). It was a solid N/NW breeze, but on Sinistra we had all sorts of trouble getting off the line in good shape. As a result, we ended up playing catch-up for most of the day. To make things a bit worse, we struggled a bit with finding our way to the best side of the course. Normally the left pays in a N/NW breeze, on account of better wind along the airport shore and a lift that gets you to the mark right on the port-tack layline. For the same reasons, the river doesn’t pay in these conditions, especially when the tide is going out as it was on the 22nd. Yet we never really benefited from going left, and we found that boats that went right did gain, or at least hold even against us. We did manage to catch a few boats, though, as we got some good video footage of the racing as well. Above all, it was a beautiful day on the water with sunshine, great breeze, and even some good puffs that allowed us to plane all the way back to the marina after the racing.
For PRSA fall series #3 we all got our taste of light air racing. Aaron, Bobby, Bob, Lindsay, and John all came out to play, with Nabeel as PRO for the RC. We sailed up to the course in decent breeze, but by the time we got there, things had died down a bit and we had a very, very light North breeze at the start of the first race. Mercifully, Nabeel sent us off on a W1 race. On Sinistra we nailed a great pin-end start and led all around (thanks to some excellent crew work from Lizzie and Derek, both of whom were sailing with me for the very first time). As we crossed the line in a dying breeze we were certainly glad that it was only a one-lap race! In race two we were over early, over by a lot according to Nabeel. My fault for not glancing over my shoulder for a quick line check as I pulled the trigger! We trailed most of the fleet to the windward mark after dipping the line to restart. It took an eternity to make it around the windward mark in the dying breeze, and once we did things didn’t look much better going downwind. We watched Bobby and Bob get into a little reaching war trying to fill their spinnakers, so we decided to stick with the jib and just point down at the leeward mark. Bobby and Bob got sucked into one another and I heard some chatter as it looked like they tried to disentangle their masts or backstays from each other (what happened there, guys?!?). The important lesson for me, though is to keep your separation in light air. Boats will get sucked together as the breeze goes around a clump of them rather than flowing through, and as a result a group of boats will end up going slow together.
We managed to keep the flow over the jib and main so as to keep the boat moving forward. We also noticed the breeze start to rotate towards the west, such that we were beam reaching, and then tight reaching as we continued to point downriver. Then the wind went all squirrely and we “tacked” several times just by hopping over to the other side of the boat and flopping the sails over (without altering course at all). Gradually a semi-solid breeze filled in from the *east* and we were able to keep reaching down towards the mark, now on port rather than starboard tack. Bobby managed to keep his lead, but we had moved past Bob in the drifting war. The RC wisely decided to finish us at the leeward mark, so we ended up second…not all that bad after a restart and a very challenging couple of legs. RC reset the course in the hopes that the East breeze would fill…but it didn’t and after attempting to start a third race Nabeel wisely decided to abandon for the day and tow us back to the marina so we could enjoy some great food and drink around the grill on a beautiful, but windless, afternoon.
Overall, the “lessons learned” from the first few weeks of the fall series are familiar ones. The river is tricky as ever. Finding pressure and a shift is critical, and starts are also very important in these short-course races. More than anything, though, boat handling is key. A solid set/jibe or a flawless douse can be more important than finding that 5-degree shift…and not executing one of these can result in you losing all of the boats you worked so hard to pass in the race!