Well, as they say, showing up is step one! We were fortunate to sail Sinistra to an overall victory in the SSA Summer Series this past weekend, primarily due to the fact that we were one of the few boats to sail in all four race days. Nonetheless, it is no easy task to keep pace with your competition when your competition is the Hurbans or John Guth or Todd Johnson or Joe Friebele. Overall, we had some great racing and the series provided me with a great chance to keep working on the challenge of sailing in light wind and chop. Many thanks to Diane and John Butler for crewing for me this past weekend, and to Nicole, Tree, Kyra, and Rebecca for sailing with me during the first summer series weekend in late June.
Thanks to Joe Friebele and the folks up at SSA and Fleet 329 for putting on two great weekends of racing this summer, and many thanks to Rick for letting me sail his boat while he was away. Keep reading for some details from this past weekend’s racing, including an account of one of the most exciting finishes I’ve had in a Lightning race of late!
Like the first SSA Summer Series weekend, we had light breeze and lots of chop to contend with on both Saturday and Sunday. Diane and John did lots of sitting to the low side and forward to help keep us moving as I did my best to drive the boat through the lump by staying powered up and avoiding pinching (much easier said than done!). For me, at least, these are some of the most challenging conditions for sailing a Lightning, so it was a great chance to match up with some fantastic competition.
We had south breezes of about 5-10 for both days, with a bit more breeze on Sunday than on Saturday. The RC went with “short course rules” for the weekend, meaning 3 minute starts and relatively short 4-lap races (3 on Saturday, 4 on Sunday). The short course, combined with a small fleet (~8 boats sailing on Saturday and 6 on Sunday) meant that getting a good start was key. I had a mix of success and failure here, and on Saturday in particular I learned how being late, or buried underneath a boat, can be deadly. With light breeze, chop, a short course, and fast competition, there is simply no room or time to catch the pack if you’re over early or have a bad start. Diane showed amazing patience in trimming the chute in these challenging conditions and John did a great job of trying to find breeze and chart a course through the waves. Even so, I learned that I still have much room for improvement when it comes to sailing the boat in these conditions. John, Todd, the Hurbans, and Joe were consistently a tick faster than us for most of the day, though we managed to keep things close.
We had a bit more breeze on Sunday, which certainly help me drive the boat through the chop. We were also working even better as a team in the conditions, concentrating on weight placement (fore and aft as well as to windward/leeward) and small adjustments in sail trim. In particular, moving weight well forward (both crew sitting forward of the bench; one to leeward, one to windward) really helped us drive through the waves. We did a much better job hanging with Joe Friebele and the Hurbans (who sailed with Piercarlo on Sunday), though they still edged us out in the first few races. An over early start in one of these races didn’t help at all, though we were feeling much better about our boat speed throughout the day. It was also great to see Patrick McKnight come out and join in the fun for a few races on Sunday!
The final race of the day and of the series sticks in my mind as it was certainly our best race, but also because it had one of the tightest and most exciting finishes that I’ve experienced of late. We timed the line just right so as to be up on the line chasing the pack towards the pin as we neared the gun. The boats towards the pin end were a bit early and they started to bail out as we were able to accelerate down the line. We turned up and pulled the trigger with speed and with entire pack below us…but as I looked up, I saw the Hurbans stalled out on port tack directly in front of us! They had bailed from the pin end with a last-second tack, but weren’t able to accelerate out of it, so ended up parked broadside to us just above the line!
Knowing that there was nobody to windward of us, we swung into a crash tack to avoid cutting the Hurban boat in half and headed to the right side of the course. The right had actually been paying all day long (less chop, some favorable shifts) so we probably benefited from the chaos at the start. I glanced over my shoulder and watched other boats forced left and also watched Joe Friebele, who had tacked onto starboard right behind us, tack back over to get out of our dirty air. We pushed out to the right side, tacked short of the layline…and then caught a nice right shift that lifted us right up to the windward mark such that we rounded in first! Sometimes it does pay to be lucky 🙂
We led the pack downhill, and here again I realized I had a bit to learn about sailing in these conditions. Joe and the Hurbans were both able to sail a tick faster on the same angle, or to sail a few degrees lower and equally as fast as us. Diane did a great job in focusing on the chute and eventually John and I found a good windward heel angle so that we could sail down and fast in order to maintain our lead. We protected the right side on our way back up the course and led the pack back to the windward mark. Our lead was a bit narrower here, but we still were leading the pack as we went back downwind. Both Joe and the Hurbans were able to work inside of us by sailing a bit lower, though, such that we lost our option to jibe across the pack (in hindsight, we should have jibed early, and then jibed back to protect the favored side).
We all jibed together over onto port at the same time, and it was a broad reach dead heat to the finish. We were positioned to be at the favored (boat end) of the line, but we were struggling to keep our air clear and our speed up as the Hurbans and Joe worked up on our weather side. We also closed laterally, such that we were neck and neck with only a foot or two between each boat. John kept imploring me to sail lower (right at the committee boat) to get to the favored end of the line even as I tried to balance this with sailing high enough to keep our speed. Due to current, the committee boat was not sitting quite square to the line, such that one could pass by the stern of the boat and then still turn down across the stern to cross the line — this is what John saw, and it turned out to be key. We sailed right past the stern of the boat so close that John had to pull in the boom we didn’t whack the RC folks in the head, and I turned down hard. It was literally a matter of inches between all three boats, and none of us knew where we stood until the RC posted the scores. As it turns out, the Hurbans surged to first on the outside while we took second overall with Joe in third. It was as close as it gets, though, and even though we were a bit frustrated at being nipped in the last 10 yards after having led the whole way, we also felt great about having such a competitive race to end the series!