January 20, 2008
Okay, I admit. I did it. Put all the blame on me. It was in the last race report that I made reference to the mild conditions we have been spoiled with in this year's Shackleton Series. I know it - I shouldn't have said it, my behavior was reckless. Forgive me. For after a statement like that you already know what kind of weather we were destined to receive for Race 6. When I glanced at the thermometer first thing this Sunday morning it scowled 12░ back at me, and the rustling I could hear outside the window was an indicator that the wind chill was hovering near the zero mark. Quickly I scrolled through the bylaws of our winter series, searching for a loophole, hoping for a way out. All I wanted to do was go back to that nice warm bed. Perhaps, at the very least, things could be delayed while sorting through all the documentation to obtain an "official" ruling, stalling until warmer weather arrived. I quickly came to the conclusion that our organization of the Shackleton Series needs more bureaucracy. Kind of hard to sift through only one page of bylaws, or "byLAW" as there is only one rule of this series - and that is, as you know, "we sail regardless of conditions"... Still, isn't that open to interpretation?
Well, maybe it wouldn't be so bad and I wouldn't have to take too much abuse for first, jinxing things in the last race report, and for second, organizing an event that takes place in the bitter cold. After all, how many people would show up? I figured it would be mostly captains because as far as obtaining crew - well, none of us in this fleet has THAT kind money. But seriously, I knew otherwise. This is a very enthusiastic and hearty group of sailors and when the congregation finished filing in to the skipper's meeting, we had amassed a total of 11 captains and 14 crew, including 2 who were there to volunteer their services. And EVERYONE was anxious and ready to go sailing. The question is: would everyone still be so eager once finding out we had to deal with stiff jib sheets, frozen winches, stuck centerboards, and shattering mylar (the latter reserved for those serious racers amongst us)?
Speaking of serious racers, we welcome a new participant to the Shackleton fleet. Rob Fowler from PYC would be sailing his J 92 (that's 92 as in 9.2 meters, not 92 feet just in case anyone was wondering!). Rob would have a good size crew that consisted of some other PYC members - Chris Cyrul, Scott Cline, Bill Humphries, and Bill Simon - all very excellent sailors. 5 excellent sailors on a very fast boat. Hmmm...I see a new bylaw in our future. Have any of us ever had 5 people on board during a race here? Do any of us know 5 people, especially the kind that would voluntarily go sailing on a cold day like this? Well, at least there would be another boat to contend with Maniac today, which basically means, yes you got it, the rest of us are gunning for 3rd place! Seriously, it is always a pleasure having another boatful of good people sail with us. So we welcome Rob and crew.
We also welcome Ron Harr, another PYC member and longtime friend of Sale Creek Marina. Ron offered his crewing abilities today and was drafted by Andre to sail on Dutchess. And warm greetings to Mary (sorry, I didn't get her last name), another willing crewmate who hails from Signal Mountain (Canada, originally if I understood correct - gee, today's weather would be like old times, wouldn't it?). Mary was invited aboard Asylum by Mike Miller, who was unable to convince his daughter Betsy to come out sailing today.
I know you have heard me say it a million times and I understand if I am received with a rolling of the eyes response of, "yeah, sure - whatever," but today would turn out to be another fun day on the water. The sun was shining, the wind was blowing - what more could a sailor want? Well, aside from the heat packs that Ellen on Sassafras said she was using to keep herself warm. Why couldn't I have thought of that - not only for my own benefit of warmth but for the income potential if one were to enterprisingly vend those things out at the skipper's meeting?
Today's northerly wind warranted another trip to the Highway 60 bridge, a very similar course that we had in Race 1. This time we had a short off wind leg down to the Grasshopper Creek nun before turning north to battle the forthcoming shifty winds. The J 24 rocketed out of the gates and to an early lead with an excellent start. Maniac and the J 92 followed closely but the front of the fleet was not just reserved for the J Boats. Andre and Ron in Dutchess also had a great start and was hanging with the big boys. Mike and Mark rounded the Grasshopper Creek buoy first and were sailing hard and proud. The bad thing about being at the head of the pack is that if you tacked right at this buoy instead of sailing a bit above it first, you would find yourself sailing against the grain and to leeward of the rest of the approaching fleet. This happened to the J 92 but it didn't seem to phase them any as they scooted along remaining amongst the pack in front.
As we headed upstream it was clearly evident that after a couple tacks the wind was going to play an assortment of tricks on us - changing speeds and directions at will. As if the cold conditions didn't present enough challenge. I think all of us experienced a frozen winch or two - made sheeting in our jibs a little more interesting. At least the workout kept us a little warmer. Asylum and Sassafras were victimized by their centerboards being frozen in the up position. This also makes upwind sailing a bit frustrating. Asylum's would be freed before the one on Sassafras but it was well into the race before this happened.
Continuing on northward, things got even more interesting as we approached the Doughty's Bluff Light and Daymark at mile 497. I know our races can seem/be somewhat long at times so before any one of you comedians out there chimes in, that's the Tennessee River mile, NOT the mile of this particular course! Anyway, as we approached this area, the front runners stalled out a little along with the wind, enabling the rest of the fleet to get close. The two big J boats that had, by this time, taken over the lead were still in front and swapping positions frequently. The J24 and Dutchess were hanging in there, too. Carol Lynn passed me on Hasta La Vista and was threatening to move up and pass Dutchess. Freya, Asylum, True Blue, Sassafras, and Alexa were all approaching as well. At this point it was still anybody's race.
The passageway between the aforementioned daymark and the bridge, which is approximately 2 statute miles, is known for its fluky winds. And today it was no different, just a continuance of what we had already been experiencing. We all struggled to find the wind when suddenly the 2 big J Boats took off. In Hasta La Vista I had somehow finagled my way into 4th position by this time and was getting close to the J24. Running out of deep water it was time to tack for me and I figured the J 24 would do the same. But somehow they managed to defy physics and hold their layline, continuing on towards the bridge on their present tack. Rounding the bridge pylon the front running J Boats had a commanding lead and it was now beginning to look like a J Boat sweep.
Spinnakers remained down on the return back until we cleared the shifty winded passage and prepared for...er, more shifty winds. The chutes went up on all the respective J Boats and on Dutchess. Although the spinnaker was packed on Hasta La Vista I was in no mood for that kind of workout today. But for once, the decision not to fly it paid off as the San Juan might have been the only beneficiary of a nice westerly shift that was ridden out for almost a mile at hull speed on a beam reach. Dutchess caught some of this wind too but Andre mentioned it was not quite strong enough to get the heavier Trintella above 5-1/2 knots, even with the mighty spinnaker flying. The gap between us and the J24 was narrowed as Mike and Mark were not as fortunate, sailing into the dreaded horse latitudes of Chickamauga Lake.
We all had victories and setbacks with the wind today. Chuck on Freya might say that he received the brunt of the setbacks and yes, by sheer bad luck, many times appeared to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, especially early on. But still, Freya had worked back to the middle of the fleet and in what is becoming a neat little rivalry this season, was soon tangling with Carol Lynn again.
And then a shadow fell over the lake. Yes, you guessed it, the spinnaker on True Blue was now flying. As I observed this I noticed Asylum sailing in the vicinity. Figuring it wouldn't take long for the Ranger 33 to start picking up ground on the front of the fleet I was surprised the next time I looked to see Asylum well ahead of True Blue. Another one of those private pockets of wind again, maybe? No, Shawn later said it was simply a a case of "puting on the brakes." True Blue was hard aground and unfortunately was unable to get free. Even the efforts of the mighty Atomic 4 inboard were futile. It would be well after the race was over before the posse was headed out on Edge's Trojan cruiser to assist in getting True Blue floating properly again. Sorry, Shawn - we have all been there - literally, many of us on the very shoal! Better days lie ahead!
It would come down to the two big J boats (big surprise). The J 92 would also suffer a grounding, albeit brief, but it didn't make much difference. Maniac had the lead boat for boat at the time and would once again, claim victory. Congratulations to both for sailing such a fine race. Although Mike and Mark did a great job as usual and crossed over the finish line in 3rd position, Hasta La Vista would correct out for the coveted 3rd Place slot. Dutchess would place behind the J24 and speaking of correcting out, Freya would edge out over Carol Lynn by a whopping 4 seconds. By now, though, as it does so often, the wind started mellowing and Asylum, Sassafras, and Alexa had to endure the cold weather a bit longer than the rest of us. David later said, "at least the weather was good." I STILL don't know if he was being serious or facetious!
So how cold was it really today? Returning to the dock, it appeared that the San Juan had developed some sort of rare gelcoat rash, never before seen in these parts. Upon further review by trained boat experts (meaning everyone on the dock because EVERYONE who owns a boat is an expert!), it was determined that these were simply frozen beads of water that had splashed onto the hull sides during the race. Hmmm...maybe it really WAS a cold day out there today. Extra cold points for everyone!
This day was not without casualties either. Maniac would suffer a good size tear in one of its jibs and Dutchess ended up with a folded spinnaker pole (well, a whisker pole that had been converted to a spinnaker pole). The good news there is now it folds up nicely for easy storage!
Thanks to everyone for coming out today. I have always said that this is a great bunch of people to sail with and today was definite proof of how hearty this group is. See everyone at Race 7!
RACE 6 RESULTS
Race report written by Eric Almlie. ęCopyright 2008. All rights reserved. Photos by Andre Rijsdijk and Eric Almlie.