Spring Series #7: A Drifter

Well, the wind certainly didn’t cooperate for Spring Series #7.  The Sunday morning forecast was for breezes around 8 kts along with steady showers.  We were lucky enough that the rain held off…but so did the breeze.  Seven Lightnings (along with some Albacores, Cats, a Buc, and two I-Scows) drifted up or were towed up to the racecourse.  The RC did as well as they could with the light to nonexistent breeze, resetting the course to take advantage of the only breeze of the day and send us off on a race at about 12:30.  When it did fill, the breeze seemed to come from the East or Southeast, though it was very patchy (more like bands that would come up the river from the S/SE) and it was key to be the first boat to the pressure wherever and whenever it appeared.  We did a good job of holding off the pack (and rounding some marks twice…more on this below) to take a bullet on Sinistra, followed by Chris, Liz & Palmer on String Theory (they very nearly got us, but we got one last puff as we drifted down to the shortened-course finish at the leeward mark).  Kudos to the RC for their work on a challenging day.  As it turned out, it was a beautiful afternoon for an extended after-race BBQ!

Keep reading for some more details of the racing from my vantage point on Sinistra, and add your own comments in if you have them!

There may have been no wind, but we still had our share of adventures on Team Sinistra. These started as we put the boat in the water.  We’ve gotten pretty good at stepping the mast and rigging the boat in 20 minutes or less…but Sunday we did this so fast that we forgot to attach the Windex to the top of the mast!  After a bit of hemming and hawing about whether to do without it, to re-step the mast, or to try something else we decided that we absolutely needed the Windex on such a light wind day, and that a “creative” solution was our best plan.  With the tide fairly low, we dropped the boat in the water and then pushed the hull out away from the crane, with Piercarlo holding stern lines on one dock and me holding the bow line on another dock.  With enough shoving and tilting we were able to get the boat heeled enough so that Rick, standing up in the parking lot, could attach the Windex.  Voila!  Apart from a bit of water that got in the boat, it worked like a charm.

Out on the racecourse, we all figured out that finding the breeze first was going to be key.  There was a fairly decent right shift as we went through our starting sequence in the Lightning fleet, and that meant everybody stacked up at the boat end.  Rick did a great job of parking us right below the line with 40 seconds to go, and holding that spot until we could accelerate away.  We avoided the chaos right at the boat (I heard lots of yelling!) and got off fairly well, with Bobby below us and the College Boys above us after they did a great job winning the boat end.  We went left until we saw pressure from the right, and then tacked over.  It was the right move, but we held it too long and missed a shift that would have taken us back to the windward mark, so ended up rounding behind the College Boys, Bobby (sailing with Tree and Jonathan), and Frank (sailing with Bob and Mladin).  A really quick jibe at the top, though, put us right back out in front.  I can’t emphasize enough how being able to jibe quickly (especially when there is lots of right phase in the breeze, making port jibe the favored one) is key to escaping from, and hopefully passing, a pack at the top mark.

Having jibed we were on top of the fleet and the farthest south, which was great since the breeze continued to fill from the S/SE.  We had to reach pretty hard to keep the boat going, meaning we were well south of the leeward mark when we jibed back over to starboard, inside of Bobby, to reach back up to it.  I was up front, so after getting the jib up, pole down, and chute down, I glanced up to see where we were…and saw the leeward mark going by on the starboard side of the boat!  Holy Bizzaro World, Batman!  In a moment of complete backwardness, Rick had taken the mark to starboard instead of port.  We were bow-to-bow with Bobby, who had cone around on the correct side.  After avoiding a slow-speed head-on collision, we turned around and went back around the mark in the proper order.  Since we had been inside the 3 boatlength circle for the whole time, we managed to push most other boats outside of us despite the extended time taken to round, though Frank did sneak inside of us.

Good tactics on the next upwind leg (find the pressure!) allowed us to get by Frank, and then pass Bobby by ducking him and heading back South as he carried on left up the river a bit.  Bobby ran out of breeze and we stayed in it on the right (south) side of the course.  The folks on String Theory did an even better job of staying South and finding the breeze, as they cruised by us and rounded the windward mark just ahead of us.  We followed, and neither of us put up the spinnaker in the light air, preferring instead to jib reach.  String Theory stayed to the left (south) of us going downwind, and should have been in better position to take advantage of the breeze.  But this also meant that they’d have to turn down more to get to the leeward mark, and we managed to keep a slightly better angle and carry a puff in to eke ahead of them at the rounding.  We didn’t see it at the time, but this was also the finish as the RC had (wisely) decided to shorten course and finish us at the leeward mark.  Good thing we got that last little puff!  Unaware at the time, we kept racing, picking our way to different patches of pressure until we crossed the original finish line, at which point the RC folks let us know that we had, in fact, already finished (and no, we couldn’t earn two bullets for crossing two finish lines!).

After about an hour of drifting the RC abandoned the day and we broke out the beverages and the tow lines.  Dan, Nabeel, and Keith did a great job stringing boats behind the 19, with something like 11 or 12 boats on two tow lines.  Back on shore the sun came out and we had a great post-race BBQ!

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