The PRSA Fall Racing Series is Underway!

The challenging conditions this past Sunday reminded us all of how sailing on the Potomac can be challenging, frustrating, and rewarding all at once…but ultimately of how coming out to race on any given Sunday is always great fun!  All told, seven Lightnings showed up to race.  We were especially pleased to see Andy Wescoat out with his sons, Ethan and Noah, for their first races in Fleet 50!  We also had a few new sailors on other boats as well: Trey Goggins crewed for Frank and Scott Cullen sailed with Joe Warren.  Chris Kozel was generous enough to make sure that his boat was racing even though he wasn’t around, and it was great to see Blair, Nicole, and Jen out on the racecourse with us (be careful Chris – they had a great time…you might not get your boat back!).  A big welcome all around — we hope to see all of you out again next Sunday and for the rest of the fall series!

I’ve included some more details from the racing below, but first let me note that a number of boats were sailing shorthanded this past Sunday.  We have a great crew roster filled with folks who are interested in crewing (go to the “Officers” section of the website and scroll down a bit) and we also have the Yahoo! Group listserv that can be used to let us know if you are looking for crew.  Moreover, Blair Overman from DC Sail tells me that they have several folks who, having started to learn racing through their great program across the river, are now interested in sailing and racing more regularly.   Since we have boats needing crew and crew looking to sail, we should be able to put 2 and 2 together!  Be sure to send a note and consult the crew roster if you are looking for crew; if you are a crew available and looking for a ride for a Sunday, then go ahead and send a message via the listserv or post a note on the website!

Keep reading for some great racing tips and the details from this past Sunday’s racing…

Arriving at the marina on Sunday morning, I think most of us expected a somewhat blustery fall day of racing.  The breeze was up a bit, the clouds were low, the occasional whitecap could be seen out on the river, and sails were flogging as teams hoisted and left the docks.  Once you got out onto the river, though, it became clear that we were in for a typical Potomac day of a different sort: light, shifty breezes, strong currents, and some confusing swirls that seemed to come out of nowhere and then disappear in a heartbeat.  In short, it was one of those days when your jib telltales would tell you that you were both pinching and footing at the same time!  The RC, headed by Nathan Marsh from the Albacore fleet, did a fine job to get us 4 races in the light and variable breeze that generally blew from the NE but also had some serious “righty” in it early in the day (with some breeze lines filling from almost due east) followed by some north phases later in the afternoon.

Needless to say, all of this made it challenging to set a course; it also meant that judging the phases of the breeze all around the course was very important.  Generally speaking, a boat-end start and quick flop over to port tack paid off as it got you going towards the puffs and the more consistent pressure; it also meant that you were sailing more directly upriver rather than across the current and tidal flow.  A persistent right trend in the breeze also means that you should jibe-set at the top mark because the direction, combined with the pressure that could be found out in the middle of the river, favored the port jibe downwind.  Having said all of that, though, I watched Bobby Astrove (sailing with son Billy and with Laurie Duncan) work his way up the airport shore in race 2, sailing in what I would have called a “no go zone” but nonetheless passing most of the fleet and finishing strong.  Bobby — tell us what you were thinking!  Why did you choose that side?  Why did it work out for you?  This is the kind of conversation that we want to have here on the website!

At the risk of revealing a “trade secret”, I want to share a great lesson about sailing in these conditions that I learned from Rick on Sunday.  Like most boats, we initially started the day by rounding the top mark, hoisting the spinnaker, and then jibing.  As the day went on and we saw that a jibe-set would be advantageous, we started taking the bag down on the starboard side of the boat so we were then prepped for a quick jibe and hoist.  Later in the day, though, we saw some significant north (left) phases in the breeze, such that hoisting and remaining on starboard jibe for a bit was favored (and dousing on the starboard side was thus not always a good idea).  So we went back to dousing on the port side of the boat, but at the same time Rick prepped us all for a new jibe-set move: keep the spinnaker stowed on the port side of the boat, and as you round the windward mark you roll right into your jibe and douse the jib simultaneously.  As the jib comes down, the middle crew pulls the clew of the spinnaker around the forestay and keeps pulling like mad to get most of the chute around as the hoist starts (notice here that there is no pole involved at all).  As the spinnaker goes up, either the foredeck crew (if you hoist from the back) or the middle crew (if the front crew hoists) literally throws the rest of the spinnaker out in front of the boat.  As it catches breeze it fills out in front of the boat and, even though it started out on the port side of the boat, fills such that you’re now on port jibe with the chute flying on the starboard side of the boat.

Here’s why I think this works well (please note: past performance is not indicative of future results).  First, as Rick pointed out, with the jib down when you hoist the slot effect is gone so the spinnaker goes around the front of the boat rather than getting sucked into the foretriangle.  Second, in conditions where you really want to jibe-set the breeze has moved right to a significant degree.  This means that you’re either approaching the mark on port layline (having avoided getting too far out to the right on purpose) or you’ve overstood (you tried to call the layline from too far out).  Either way, you’re not pinching right up to the mark so you can drop the jib as you round and jibe without any real loss of speed.  Finally, in this light breeze you have to go hot to fill the spinnaker, and doing so means that the middle crew can “hook” the windward corner of the spinnaker on the forestay and then trim it in that position until the pole is rigged (after the jib is fully down and the chute is hoisted and drawing).  It worked like a charm in race #4 for us.  Of course, when we tried it again on the sail back to the docks it all went wrong…but that was probably because none of us wanted to put down our beers and use both hands!  It’d be great to hear any thoughts that you might have on this (or on other aspects of the racing on Sunday) – just post a reply her on the website and start a conversation!

Overall, Rick and Team Sinistra took the day with three bullets and a fourth.  Frank did a great job of double-handing with Trey; in fact, Trey even got to drive a bit as Frank realized (before hoisting, thankfully) that his spinnaker didn’t have any strings attached and thus had to do a bit of housekeeping on his first downwind leg.   Blair, Nicole, and Jen in Chris’ Boat had some amazing starts (I believe that, at various times, they pinched every other boat off the line at least once); they will be a force to be reckoned with very soon!  Jeff Storck and Bruce Heida made a strong showing in conditions that were great for double-handing, and it was good to see Scott out with Joe as well.  Finally, we also saw the Butler clan out sailing for fun after their recent return from a trip to France.  Although we can give them a jet lag pass for not racing this time, I hope that they’ll join us on the racecourse next Sunday…especially as I hear that Sarah kept asking why they couldn’t go around the marks like they were supposed to do! 🙂  That’s the kind of competitive spirit that we need to nourish!

Remember that Fall Series #2 is coming up this Sunday.  Come out for the racing, bring something for the grill, and stay for the BBQ afterwards.  I look forward to seeing all of you there!

Cheers,
Aaron Boesenecker
Fleet 50 Secretary

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