February 24, 2008
Have we reached the last race of the season already? That went by too quick. Well hopefully our experiences over the last few months have taught us something about ourselves and our boats, helped us become better sailors, maybe even become smarter sailors. Okay, scratch that last one. If we were smarter sailors chances are we would NOT be embarking on an expedition that would involve us sitting still in our boats on a cold, grey, February afternoon with an occasional sprinkle and an absent wind. And the prospects of wind today were not encouraging - so light the winds were that the weather forecasters wouldn't even commit to assigning a number to the wind speed - all they would say was light or light and variable.
Today was free t-shirt day! What, you didn't know that the first four who stepped on board Sassafras today got a free shirt? Actually, Ellen surprised her crew with some nice custom shirts. It is just a shame that it wasn't exactly t-shirt weather today because we all know that wearing matching uniforms is an automatic bid for success on the race course. Over all these years we have seen it...oh, twice? Overwhelming support for that theory!
Tallying up the attendance at the skipper's meeting we had 9 boats with 9 captains and 8 crew. Of course those latter two numbers are up for debate as it can be argued that it is not always known exactly how many captains are on a boat at a given time (as in, "this boat has too many captains and not enough crew"). But we won't go there. Oh, and we had two hopeful eyed, gleeful, tail wagging dogs at the skipper's meeting looking for a boat ride. Honestly, they seemed a little more anxious than some of the REAL crew (and captains) - but we won't go there either. The final meeting of the year came to a close when David from Alexa, presuming a late finish announced, "in case all of you <expletive deleted> are gone by the time I get back, it has been a pleasure racing with you!" Such warm sentiments are seldom expressed in our highly competitive series it was a good thing we broke the meeting as I could feel the tears welling up.
Those tears became reality when we got out to the channel and were greeted with nothing but calm and some light intermittent sprinkles. 3.3 nautical miles, the exact measurement of today's course, sure doesn't seem like much in theory and looks even smaller on paper. But I dare say these Shackleton drifters can be every bit as brutal as say..., a Cape Horn rounding. Okay, maybe our boats in the tranquil waters of the Tennessee River don't take nearly the physical beating they would take off the southern Chilean coast. Nor do the captains take that kind of beating - well, the THREAT of a physical beating is always there - doesn't matter that it is from a disgruntled crew instead of the elements, a threat is a threat! This combined with the determination and mental challenges required to WILL yourself around the lake (the wind sure ain't gonna do it) are extremely demanding. This is not child's play!
So boldly we set forth in today's mission, which was to get out there, get it over with, and get back to port before anyone saw us. There was a little puff at the start that pushed us along at a very gentle pace. The good news today was that the river current was negligible. Good thing, too. The little puff disappeared as we just got of the secondary channel and pointed our boats upriver. Maniac lead the way, of course and started pulling away. Would those west winds save us today? Would ANY wind save us today?
The fleet spread out as expected with many boats pointed in the same direction but on different points of sail. The J 24 went WAY over towards the western shore and seemed frighteningly far out of the channel. This could be big because although Mike has a pretty commanding lead in the series, it is not sewn up. A grounding over there could be costly. But then I remembered that Mike and Mark both know these shoals rather intimately from prior groundings - so I figured they had the bathymetry mapped out in their heads from memory, "okay, go NNW for 10 yards, turn 7 degrees to port for another 8 yards, okay whoa... now back up slightly and turn sharp to starboard." And sure enough they never touched bottom and held on to second position as we continued our way north towards the upstream turning mark.
Hasta La Vista, the light air machine that it is, would eventually catch and pass the J 24. Maniac still had a slight lead boat length wise, but a commanding lead time wise. (Although a somewhat crude measurement, in drifting conditions it is permissible to say that 1 boat length is equal to about 5 minutes). After they rounded the buoy, we noticed a barge approaching. We were expecting to watch a good game of "chicken" between the J 29 and the big tow but to our disappointment, Tim and crew stayed well clear. But most impressive today was how Andre was handling Dutchess in the conditions. Andre was pulling even with the J 24 while they approached the upstream buoy. Not sure how he accomplished this feat in the heavier Trintella but by the time he rounded the upstream mark, he was in 3rd position. But alas, any forward momentum that was not lost after making the rounding came to a halt when the keel of Dutchess located the muddy river bottom. Although not stuck for too long it appeared that Andre's hopes of a top finish were doomed. Or were they?
Shortly after this event, a strange thing was taking place. The gloominess of the day was disappearing - the sun was burning off the cloud cover and the air temperature was rising to very comfortable levels. Mike and Mark passed Hasta La Vista and were now back in second position. Freya and Carol Lynn were rounding the mark now and making a move on Dutchess. At least as much a move you can make in these conditions.
But then, something even stranger happened. Someone clicked the wind switch to the "on" position It seemed that all at once, we had a NICE southerly wind. Unfortunately, there are no pictures of this phenomenon. Not sure if anyone else had a camera this day but the leisurely pictures I was able to take earlier were of no consequence. But the race now was, indeed, on and I couldn't waste time with the camera!
We tacked to the Grasshopper Creek nun before turning onto the final reach to the finish. Maniac had the lead. The J 24 and Hasta La Vista swapped positions 2 more times, with the J 24 maintaining about a 20 second boat for boat lead at the buoy. Freya and Carol Lynn once again began their battle with one another. True Blue, who had been very quiet today picked up a good bit of speed as did Sassafras and Alexa. But Dutchess was making up the most time and attempting to make things interesting. Perhaps if there were another mile or so on the course, things might have turned out different for several of us.
In the end it would be Maniac taking victory today. Congratulations to Tim and crew for another fine race! But for the second straight year, Maniac would not be in the winner's circle for the series. Okay, so they missed some races these past couple years. Still, what took them 5 races to accomplish last year (3rd overall), it took them 6 races to accomplish this year (another 3rd place they will have to explain amongst all those 1st's hanging on their trophy wall). Yes, we definitely have them on the ropes now, don't we?
But the big winner would be Mike Burrus on the J 24. Him and crewmate Mark Welsh sailed extremely well and consistent all season long. Congratulations to them for an outstanding job! But not so fast...after the race I told Mike that the J 24 needed an official name to be put on the 1st place trophy. And since there was none, by default the the 2nd place finisher (what do you know, it was Hasta La Vista) would assume the top award. But Mike, who had once told me he was not good at picking out names like this, had already come up with Beatnik. An excellent name, Mike! Congratulations again.
A HUGE thank you to everyone who participated this year, captains and crew alike. It is truly a pleasure and honor sailing with each and every one of you. What does next year hold? Well who knows? We might see the Ranger 23 I Soar back on the race course as it is under new ownership (Edge, Chuck's crew on Freya). We might see Warren, previous owner of I Soar return in a different boat. Comfortably Numb might possibly be back out next year racing, which means - who will sail Hasta La Vista? Will Freya finish somewhere OTHER than 4th? Will we see Banana Split back or Seaductress more often? Have we finally figured out how to beat Maniac? Will we ever see crews any more enthusiastic than those on Sassafras and Alexa? Will Mike on the Tanzer 22 paint enough pictures to give everyone a "special award" next year? Just how fast will Carol Lynn be when we see that new155% genoa? How scary will True Blue be? Will we have any more speedy rogue boats (i.e., J 92) come in and wreak havoc? And what about Dutchess? Yeah, what about Dutchess? Well, sorry Andre. I am out of suspense filled open questions at this point. See everyone next year!
RACE 8 RESULTS
FINAL SERIES STANDINGS
Race report and photos by Eric Almlie. ęCopyright. 2008. All rights reserved.