October 25, 2008
There has been much discussion here about bow sprits lately as the marina is involved in a repair job on one. Both Andre and Clarence have recently read a lot in books about them and have been sharing that knowledge with me (I searched amazon.com for Bow Sprits for Dummies but had no luck.) Anyway, it seems that the tip of a boat's bow sprit is customarily painted white. That is until it crosses the Arctic or Antarctic Circle, in which case it can then be painted blue in an earning your stripes or feathers kind of deal. Well it occurs to me that these boats still have to pass an even more grueling and demanding test before they can (with ANY kind of honor in my opinion) smear some blue enamel on a pole sticking out in front of the boat. That's right. They need to sail the Shackleton Series! But thinking about it a little further, the right to dab a little paint on the boat hardly seems like an equitable reward for such an accomplishment (crossing one of these parallels OR sailing the Shackleton Series.) After all, we boaters are ALWAYS doing some kind of painting on our watercraft and therefore one could possibly be subject to bodily harm if they were tell a boater, "hey you just sailed 5,000 miles through ice and snow and 50 knot winds! Congratulations, for that you get... to do some more painting!" But seriously, thinking about this further, we do need to come up with something for all participants who sail this series to bedaub their vessels with. That way when we sail around the lake in "normal, non brutal race circumstances" we will be identifiable and the envy of all other boaters!
Yes, crazy as it seems, after all these years we are STILL doing this and I dare say that our best race participation around here comes during this series. The worse the weather, the larger the gathering of sailors. And be assured that the cold and nasty weather is coming...but not today. We have always had the good fortune of nice weather on opening day. Not always nice wind but nice sunny, comfortable days. Today was no exception. Albeit a chilly morning, we would hit about 70 degrees this beautiful fall day and anticipated WNW winds in the 10-15 range. If you weren't out sailing today...shame on you! Racing or not, it was a beautiful day for boating.
It was our patented start at the mouth of Sale Creek where we have to make our way out the secondary channel. Some swirling winds in this area (so what else is new?) made things interesting in the beginning. Wind shifts could put one who was towards the front of the fleet to the rear in a hurry - and vice versa. And what a nice looking fleet we had. Despite my best efforts to schedule race dates that conflicted with Tim's Thistle racing schedule, Maniac was still present in today's event and leading the pack as always. My apologies to the rest of the fleet - I did my best! Mike Burrus and Mark Welsh, last year's Shackleton champs were sailing the J24 Beatnik. Mike Edge's Ranger 23 Smoke on the Water will be challenging Beatnik often this series and will not only be going after the crown, but looking to beat the J24 boat for boat (none of this handicap stuff) at least one time before the end of the season. At stake between these two boats is something more coveted than the first place trophy, that's right - two cases of cold brew (one case for the captain and one for the crew mate)!
Great to see the yellow hulled San Juan Banana Split back in the series, too. There were even rumors in the air that we might see David Freye on board today but it was Christopher captaining again and doing a great job as expected. Ellen and the all girl crew were back sailing in Sassafras and having a blast as always. True Blue and Carol Lynn were out there sailing and showing off their speed. Andre hurried and did some last minute preparations to get Dutchess race ready. And finally, Andre had graciously granted my request to sail the San Juan 24 Hasta La Vista again this year. Today I would have the crewing services of Rodger Ling of Seaductress, Food Acres and Possible Mallard fame from Shackleton years' past.
Did I mention the swirling winds at the start of the race? Hasta La Vista and a few others got off to a poor start as Andre used the "Starboard Tack Park Method" at the starting line to his best advantage. It was purely unintentional and honestly not all that advantageous but yes, Dutchess was kind of dead in the water with no wind guiding her, blocking the pathway and leaving nowhere else for us to go but duck behind. This meant we also had to duck behind True Blue who was directly behind Dutchess also with a starboard tack right of way. For years I have been ridiculed at for practicing it but today was the opportune time to implement the "Sail Away from the Start Line" technique. Yes it seems strange to sail away from and in a different direction from the rest of the fleet but soon with the right shifts, some clear wind, and a little luck, we got back on track and were STILL able to "shoot the hole" between Beatnik and the buoy boundary. Rodger shot several pictures during these maneuvers, this one of me barking out some kind of order. I don't recall what I was saying at that exact moment as there are myriad of phrases shouted out during a race on board any particular boat or among boats in proximity that you may hear. Here is the top 10 countdown:
Must have been the last one that I said, either that or I was responding to Rodger's question as to where the microwave oven was located on the San Juan so he could warm up his slice of pizza. Sorry, Hasta La Vista has just a few less frills than Seaductress and thus any meals aboard this cruise would be served cold.
Although it was a nice southerly breeze that we began riding downriver, it was different for all of us. The fleet spread apart and the further we went downstream, the stranger the wind became. At one point I glanced back to see the odd sight of Dutchess and True Blue wing-on-wing and the rest of the fleet on the opposite side of the lake on a close-hauled course. And yes, we were all headed in the same direction. Such is lake sailing!
At first it seemed that the 5 mile beat down to Opossum Creek would be a quick one. But the winds near Eldridge Slough were really strange. Headers upon headers made course setting challenging. The decisions of when to tack and when not to tack started to make a difference. Some had better wind than others, some who didn't have good wind (velocity wise) had better ability to sail directly downriver, while others added what seemed 5 miles to the course just by tacking back and forth. And yet looking downstream, the gap between Maniac and and the rest of the fleet was constantly widening - even though every time I looked up, the J 29's mast remained almost perfectly vertical and it always appeared that Tim was sitting still. How was he doing that?
It turned out to be an eternal crawl to the downstream turning buoy below Opossum Creek. Maniac arrived first and did not hesitate hoisting the spinnaker despite the fact the winds were starting to clock to a more westerly direction now. It is just amazing how the fleet, which had been SO spread out throughout much of the race, seemed to arrive at this turning buoy at the same time. Even more amazing was the fact that, approaching the, we were all sailing a close hauled course but the course headings on each boat could vary 10- 20 degrees. Now the closer we got the more the wind became consistent for all of us. Beatnik rounded a good bit in front of the bunched up fleet but Dutchess, Banana Split, Hasta La Vista, and Smoke on the Water had a tightly packed rounding. Carol Lynn and True Blue were right behind. Sassafras was the only boat we were missing at the party here! But looking back upriver, they were making good progress.
Now we all KNEW the forecast was for WNW winds today. We all KNEW that although winds had been southerly most of the race up to this point, they were making a gradual shift towards that direction. And we all KNEW that Maniac had been having issues with the spinnaker whenever we looked upriver and it had long since been doused because of those issues. Yet what did all of us lemmings do when we rounded that buoy? You got it. It was like the race within the race, and hitting a Powerball jackpot would pale in comparison for whoever achieved boasting rights about being the first to get their spinnaker up and start struggling with it! I believe James mentioned that they had no intention of raising the one on Carol Lynn but gave in to temptation when all the other colorful sails were flapping in the wind. It would be Shawn on True Blue who was the only one armed with a chute that resisted this peer pressure. It was probably the shortest collective spinnaker display in the history of sailing but the funny thing is, every single skipper who flew one said the same thing: "yeah, overall I think it paid off to fly it today! We made the right choice!"
After the spinnakers went down we were hoping for a wild ride back to the finish line, which we so often get with those westerly breezes. But that would not be the case for the wind began disappearing here and there. Maniac was long gone, Beatnik was just becoming a small white spot off in the distance, Hasta La Vista had pulled even with Dutchess who was in 3rd position, and the remainder of the fleet began playing leap frog. Ever so slowly, we could see the wind start to fade...well except where those darn J Boats were! Or so it seemed, anyway. By the time we reached the infamous "Three Hour Nun" (the red buoy across the river from Camp Vesperpoint) we were practically drifting with still a couple miles to go. Hopefully the buoy wasn't going to live up to its name today. Soon we saw Dutchess with sails down steaming past us with the trusty Volvo chugging. Had madness set in this soon in the series? No, Andre simply had somewhere to be and would not have time to finish the race and still make his appointment. So sadly we score a rare DNF for Dutchess!
By this time Maniac had long crossed the finish line. About 45 minutes later Beatnik would finish and about 20 minutes after that Hasta La Vista would cross. You know, I think the two of us might have a shot at correcting out in front of the J 29.... Okay, I know what you are saying...well it sure SEEMED like it was a 41 mile course! The next group started coming in to the finish line about 10 minutes later. It was quite fascinating to see True Blue, Smoke, and Carol Lynn, three boats that are very different in rating and design approach the finish line bunched up, finishing a 10 mile course within 30 seconds real time within each other. It was indeed a photo finish. Banana Split would be just a few minutes behind the group. And kudos to the crew on Sassafras for hanging tough and completing the course after the day's wind supply had exhausted. There was some discussion about Beatnik passing on the wrong side of a buoy somewhere on the lake, but those accusations came from Edge and Chuck on Smoke, who as mentioned earlier, have more at stake here than just a trophy or bragging rights (gee, what can be better than the latter?) Well, I guess beer AND bragging rights! Expect to hear more banter about the side bet in the upcoming races!
Thanks to everyone who showed up and participated. It was a beautiful day. Thanks to my crew, Rodger, for his hard work and for supplying some of the pictures in this write up and also showing me that perfected acrobatic "seat cushion maneuver" upon each tack we made. Never missed a beat on the jib sheets or moving his seat cushion from one side of the boat to the other. Great sailing by everyone today and congratulations to Maniac for a huge victory. At Tim's request, or rather his INSISTENCE, I was to penalize him for asking him to check a few things on his boat after he left for the day. For this race his handicap was to be set at "0". Fair enough, but it still wouldn't help and I feel we should be able to penalize even more for having the song "Maniac" from the movie Flashdance blaring on his boat stereo as we crossed the finish line. I guess the rest of us need theme songs now! That and to smear some blue paint on our bow sprits for completing Race 1. Oh wait, none of the boats that sailed today have bow sprits! See you next race!
RACE 1 RESULTS
Race report written by Eric Almlie ęCopyright 2008. All rights reserved. Photos by Andre Rijsdijk, Rodger Ling, and Eric Almlie.