February 11, 2007
At the skipper's meeting, Tim Chambers (J 29 Maniac) mentioned that someone not from around these parts had asked him when the local sailboat racing season was going to start. We all shared a chuckle as we are right in the thick of ours. And why shouldn't we be sailing this time of year? In a week from today's contest, St. Petersburg will be hosting their annual NOOD regatta (National Offshore One Design), and there are a few local folks that will be crewing and racing in it. And certainly there are other regattas and races happening in February throughout the country. But arriving at the marina this cold Sunday morning, we were reminded that this isn't the tropics, Florida, or anyplace warm right now. The thin layer of ice skirting the shoreline served as a wintry reminder. But unlike the Great Ice Over five years ago that held all marina boats captive (yes we did chop through and go sailing that day), this icing paled in comparison and no axes or Lancer 28s were required to crash through the frozen barrier to do a bit of light daysailing.
The operative word here is "light". Once again we were subject to the wind forecast of light and variable and a short 3.1 mile course was set in place. What, only 5 buoy roundings? Actually, there really were only 3 - Buoys 1 and 5 were the same last secondary channel marker that we drew arrows around just to point everyone in the right direction. By our series rule of passing all buoys on the channel side unless otherwise indicated, this is the direction one would have sailed anyway, but a little reaffirmation never hurts. All our courses are fun but sometimes we long for those simpler days when when our course consisted of, "okay, let's sail up to the bridge, round a piling of your choice...in any direction, and sail back!"
Making our way out to the river before the start there was a nice northerly breeze, not at all light and variable. Mark on A Shot in the Dark told Andre on Hasta La Vista that we should make the course longer. Tim on Maniac echoed the sentiment to me as well. But right about the time the 5 minute horn blasted the breeze eased up.
It was an excellent start by A Shot in the Dark as they crossed the line first and in the best position. Sailing out the secondary channel and to the aforementioned Buoy 1, Mark noticed that he found himself quickly besieged by J boats. A J 29 (Maniac) to the left and a J 24 (Just Ducky) to the right. I'm sorry, that was incorrect. It was a J 29 to PORT and a J 24 to STARBOARD. "I just held my course and let them pass," Mark mentioned later. Many will agree that is the best strategy for dealing with a pack of J Boats. If you remain motionless and play dead they'll just sniff you and move on.
Exiting the secondary channel and starting our way to Buoy 2, which was about a mile up river, the wind forecast was about to become reality. We all got in line and followed Maniac. It kind of reminded me of how in elementary school when we would file obediently behind the teacher while walking down the hallway. Then suddenly and without warning Andre tacked on Hasta La Vista and headed the opposite direction. Well, there was always one nonconformist in the class. But such dissent can sometimes lead to rebellion and before too long Victory, Beago, and Asylum broke formation as well. We were now a fleet divided in our quest for wind. Unfortunately, we were all sailing out of it and prepared ourselves for the ensuing crawl to Buoy 2.
Sailing in such conditions can become quite exasperating. You must keep low, keep your movements minimal, and do everything possible not to lose whatever momentum the boat has. But most challenging is keeping your cool out there when you are growing weary of moving at a snail's pace. "That buoy we have to round is RIGHT THERE!!!! Only a few boat lengths away and we've been staring at it for half an hour!!!" It starts to become personal. At least the river current was a non-issue today. A good thing considering that Buoy 3 was directly across the river from Buoy 2 and Buoy 4 was a return to Buoy 2.
What might have been interesting at the Buoy 2/4 combo was the potential for two boats to meet there at the same time - one approaching it as Buoy 2 and having to round it clockwise and the other approaching it as Buoy 4 and having to round it counter clockwise. Viewing from the slight downstream perspective we had on Comfortably Numb it looked as if Asylum and Hasta La Vista were going to realize this scenario. My crewmate and better half, Kat, took photos just in case any type of evidence was needed. But it turned out Mike on the Tanzer was a still a bit downstream of the mark and both boats rounded the buoy without incident. It saved us from having to forage for the rule book after the race to obtain a verdict. Even so, this type of potential situation opens up the forum for a good discussion of the racing rules. Knowing who has right of way at a mark rounding like this is important to know - especially if boats are approaching at hull speed. Today? Well, at the sustained drifting speeds we were demonstrating, an actual discussion and ruling could have easily been reached BEFORE either boat arrived at the mark.
On the fast paced downwind leg we witnessed that Maniac at some point in the past year or so had added additional weaponry to its arsenal. The new downwind sail is known as "Big Red" but we may have to tack on a suffix or footnote to the name - Like Big Red II or Big Red, Jr. There are those who might remember a gargantuan genoa on Rodger Ling's old Hunter 25.5 Possible Mallard. We never were really sure as to the actual size of this sail but I did mention in a race write up years ago that had William Wallace been a sailor he would have wielded such a weapon in a regatta. Rodger had named his genoa Big Red and although on a smaller boat, there are those that will challenge that it was still larger than the Big Red we witnessed today. It is a nice looking sail but Lynn mentioned that it is quite new and crinkly and was not real effective this day. Of course wind is a key ingredient and the spinnakers on Just Ducky or I Soar would not fly well in this portion of the race either. Nevertheless we may have to implement some type of arms limitation talks in the near future.
Maniac and Hasta La Vista were a good bit downstream while Just Ducky and I Soar were in the second wave about halfway down the the finish line. A Shot in the Dark had just begun their descent downstream while the rest of us (Asylum, Comfortably Numb, Victory, and Beago) were creatively inching our way around the upstream buoys. In our crossing with Chuck and Amy on Beago I inquired as if they had lunch on board...then asked about dinner. We might be out here that long. But about the time Numb rounded Buoy 3 the wind began to awaken from its siesta (was there ever any doubt?). Well at least it did for us on Numb as we caught a southerly draft and after rounding Buoy 4 we began tacking downstream.
Finally it began to fill in for the whole fleet - about the time Maniac and Hasta La Vista were finishing. And they would finish close enough together that the Andre would correct out in front. Congratulations to Andre for an excellent job done as Tim and Lynn always sail so well they are hard to beat in any wind. A second spinnaker hoist by Mike Rice and Clarence on Just Ducky was an valiant effort (spinnaker looked real good on this run) but not quite enough to catch Warren soloing on I Soar, who would pick up 3rd place. Mark and his crew are on the Ericson 29 are sailing better every race and they would correct close but not quite to the J 24. Mike Miller and his daughter ambitiously hoisted their spinnaker on Asylum after rounding Buoy 5 for the last short run - it would not be quite enough to catch Numb. Victory and Beago would soon follow, both sailing very well in tough sailing conditions. Great job by all participants today.
Another Shackleton Series winds up soon. Last race is Sunday, February 25. See you there.
RACE 7 RESULTS
*Sailed with 170% genoa
Race report written by Eric Almlie. ęCopyright 2007. All rights reserved. Photos by Kat Almlie. Title photo by Chuck Alexander.