December 9, 2006
The law of averages was bound to catch up to us at some time. The last two races provided us with a plentitude of wind and mild temperatures. It was therefore imminent that Race 3 be met with somewhat less than desirable sailing conditions. Last Thursday a nasty cold front invaded our Indian summer and brought big winds, bitter cold, and some brief snow showers, the latter of which to our utter amazement did NOT cause a local barrage of school closings and a mad rush to the grocery stores to stock up on enough bread and milk to feed a small nation. The snow melted quickly as it always does and the winds departed early but like an unwanted houseguest, the cold lingered around. Our low this fine December morning was a shivering 13 degrees and the frost on the boats was deeper than Thursday's snowfall. But less worrisome than the cold and the frost (it would warm up to about 45 or so today) was the calm wind looming.
At the skipper's meeting there were several suggestions of a "Plan B". Huddling around Anthony's portable propane heater that raised the ambient (meaning 1 foot radius) temperature to a sweaty 28 degrees it was concluded that freezing cold hinders creative thinking and we couldn't think of anything else better to do than proceed with the original intent, and that was to go drifting today. We stuck to our envisagement of a short (depending on your point of view) 3.2 mile course. Craig Lenfestey (Hunter 28.5 Victory), who was captaining his first Shakcleton race today, estimated we could sail this 3.2 miles in 3.2 hours. Little did we know at the time that 3.2 hours would be optimistic.
There were several crew variations for today's match - when asked where his crew was at during the skipper's meeting, Warren (I Soar) replied that he was being "weight conscious" today. Also soloing today was Mike Rice on Just Ducky, Anthony West on USS Georgia, and yours truly on Comfortably Numb. Meanwhile, the crew on A Shot In The Dark displayed an unparalleled intensity for the prevailing conditions and it is well known that having matching uniformed shirts is a proven formula for success on the race course.
The ever so little draft of wind present before the race must have been frightened off by the air horn that signaled the outset of yet another Shackleton bout. Yeah, the horn blasts were probably a little overkill since all 9 boats were within talking distance. But this is what happens when you give a generally quiet guy a loud object like this. It must have been a bit disorienting for several of us since instead of heading upstream after the start like we were supposed to, some opted to go the opposite direction. The boats were still POINTED upstream but our forward progress was impeded and reversed by the gentle flowing river. And gentle flowing is a good description since there wasn't really a whole lot of current out there today. Perhaps the most amazing aspect of all this was that Beago (Chuck's O'Day 222) was on the course side of the starting line when the race began. Weaving in and around the fleet, Beago laboriously worked back to the proper side of the line in an unexaggerated 30 minutes time. Upon completion of this task, Beago found herself ahead of A Shot in the Dark, USS Georgia, and Comfortably Numb, who had all (along with maybe one or two more) drifted downstream of the starting line!
Leading the pack of course was the light wind sailing machine, Hasta La Vista. Once again, Andre and crewmate Jesse pulled away early while the rest of us were seemingly content with hanging out at the starting line. Might have a hard time catching him but that was the least of our worries. Simply finishing during the daylight hours was the main concern right now, and the wind forecast for tonight and tomorrow showed no promise either. I think the record time to complete a Shackleton race is about 6-1/2 hours - would that be in jeopardy today?
A few puffs here and there finally sent us in the right general direction and soon the fleet found itself scattered all over the lake. By the time we were heading to Buoy 2 there was a little air flow for most of us. Not getting this wind was Hasta La Vista, who remained entrenched on the east side of the lake, apparently a defensive strategy that all of us implemented from time to time today. Hey, if there is no wind, it is best to hold your ground firmly- or water in this case. On the opposite side of the river and sailing almost all the way to Sale Creek Beach (the small exposed point on the 2nd slough above the creek) was A Shot in the Dark. This was perhaps the least direct route to Buoy 2 and covered a good bit more area. But after making their tack at the beach, Mark and company sailed into a band of wind that gave them a direct layline all the way across the lake to Buoy 2. That band, which was visible by the only ripples on the water looked no wider than their beam and remained stationary. And with divine like intervention, it guided them from no-man's-land and safely over the shoals to Buoy 2 in second position behind Asylum, who had taken the lead.
Not too far behind the dark blue hulled front runners, the rest of us arrived at the second turning mark. Hasta La Vista remained closer to shore while Numb, I Soar, Beago, and Just Ducky all but rafted up side by side while rounding the mark. Following directly were Victory and USS Georgia. I must say for being so spread out about 20 minutes prior, the grouping at Buoy 2 was impressive. The tight pattern would have been more impressive had our knotmeters actually been registering any kind of activity and I wouldn't doubt if there have been raftups that lasted as long as the Buoy 2 rounding. Chuck graciously offered to hand out refreshments stowed in Beago's icebox for any thirsty skippers. A kind gesture or was he trying to lighten load a little by jettisoning his provisions?
Although Buoy 3 was less than a mile straight upstream, it seemed an improbable task to reach it as once again our wind was fading. Asylum had sailed to the middle of the channel and although in a bit less current, they also lost their draft and their lead. Hasta La Vista was convinced that the course map had instructed them to sail as CLOSE to the shore as possible. Jagged rocks and fiberglass hulls are natural enemies but the current here was even less and Andre and Jesse caught a little down draft from the shoreline that pushed them back into the lead. A Shot in the Dark remained in second position while I Soar broke away from the flotilla to move into 3rd position.
Buoy 3 slowly began to appear larger and we saw lots of ripples completely covering the water to our south. But the wind back there, where we WERE an hour ago had been there awhile and was taking its sweet time getting to us. Hasta La Vista rounded the upstream mark first followed by A Shot in the Dark. Oops! The mighty Ericson didn't allow enough room and drifted down into the buoy and rubbed it. Although not having to go completely back and round it, they would have to perform a 360 penalty turn, which they did with all the finesse and speed an 8,500 pound boat can do in drifting conditions. Furthermore, they (and maybe a few others within earshot) were under the duress of crewmate Mike singing along with the chorus of Lita Ford's Kiss Me Deadly that happened to be playing on the radio at the time. The song only lasted a little over 3 minutes but the entire maneuver took approximately 10 and cost them second position as I Soar glided past.
The remainder of the fleet that was still struggling upriver saw Hasta La Vista drift into the wind first and then take off. Warren wasn't too far behind but it appeared at this particular point, the San Juan was going to be difficult to catch. After separating a bit, the remainder of the fleet reconverged at Buoy 3 although not quite with the congestion of the prior mark. Mike on Just Ducky, deprived of sleep from working night shifts, mentioned that he was ready to get this race over with. About that time, the southerly breeze FINALLY hit us and our patience for the day was rewarded. The speedy J 24 rocketed away. But there was no chance of catching Andre on the San Juan and he and Jesse made sure we were all reminded of their commanding lead by photographing the fleet from a distance. Yes, we are all way back there with the exception of Warren on I Soar who would finish about 10 minutes behind Hasta La Vista. Both boats sailed a great race as always.
The battle for third would be between A Shot in the Dark and Just Ducky. Mike wasn't kidding when he said he was ready to get this race over with. At Buoy 3, he was probably in last place corrected time, but made a great comeback. It would not be enough though since as mentioned before, matching uniformed shirts are tough to beat! Great job by both of these boats as well.
Numb and Asylum had a couple crossing battles before Numb took a decent lead. However, during the last tack before rounding Buoy 6, the jib sheet I had just released curled and knotted up and jammed in the now windward jib lead. This cost precious time and the lesson for all you folks at home here is: when things like this go wrong, always blame it on equipment or crew. Since I was sailing solo, I will blame the former. Seriously, it wouldn't have mattered anyway since as the two of our boats rounded the last mark pretty evenly, Mike and Tom had their chute up in nanoseconds. We had a little over half a mile to go to the finish but the wind was mellowing and by the time Asylum escaped the shadow of Numb's rig we were almost halfway through the last leg. To give you an idea of how well a spinnaker can aid in these types of conditions, Asylum would gain 10 minutes on me in that short of distance. Although it probably would have taken me about 10 minutes to get Numb's chute up and filled, it pays to fly 'em if you got 'em. Another great job by Mike and Tom.
Somewhere along the windward course back the USS Georgia's radar blip vanished off the screen meaning Anthony had retired from the race. Victory, victimized by the muddy bottom of Chickamauga Lake earlier, and Beago were battling it out on the last leg, but the diminishing light winds would be most advantageous to Chuck and crew. Great job by all these boats and crews as well.
Thanks to the Myers family for having hot chocolate and soup ready for us when we returned to race headquarters. Clarence had also kayaked out to the channel during the race and thought about shooting some video footage of the action but quickly realized still shots worked just as well! Thanks anyway, Clarence. And thanks to everyone for hanging in there today! Seasons greetings to all and we look forward to seeing you in 2007!
RACE 3 RESULTS
Race report written by Eric Almlie. ęCopyright 2006. All rights reserved. Photos by Eric, Andre, Jesse, and Mike.