November 22, 2008
It was only a matter of time before we were pleasantly greeted with one of those nice steady southerly breezes - you know the kind of wind that pushes one around the lake at hull speed, where the boat bounces joyously on the small swells, catching a little spray in the cockpit, a nice comfortable heel on the beats, jibe-less spinnaker runs - yes indeed, it was only a matter of time - too bad that time was on Sunday the 23rd instead of Saturday the 22nd, the day of Race 3. Oh, Race 3 certainly had the potential to linger on into Sunday's finer winds had we sailed the intended course in its entirety. And I am actually kind of making an assumption of the lake winds on Sunday as I was not near the lake that day and just viewing the conditions from at home - having had sworn off sailing for good at least 50 times during Saturday's struggles with the wind! For equally frustrating was the fact that the winds on Friday the 21st were 10-20 out of the north!
But I guess it IS for the better that we didn't sail on Friday even so the frigidness of that day would be considered a precision model of the perfect Shackleton Race - grey skies, blustery winds, and a sub 40 degree day (for all those cold point counters out there!). Well, fear not counters - it was slightly over 20 degrees when we started preparing our vessels for today's match and despite the sunny skies, it was not warming up fast. I dare say it never reached 40 degrees at all today and therefore everyone who showed got that bonus point.
But today's cold point would make no difference in anyone's hierarchy in the overall standings - everyone who has already raced this year was present and we even added a couple more boats to the fleet. Returning from a 4 year absence in the Shackleton Series is Greg Hollis on his Coronodo 25 Wavelength. And skippering his first Shackleton Race ever is Andreas Montgomery on his Pearson 30. Andreas got the bug crewing for James on Carol Lynn last race and has joined in the insanity of winter racing. And Greg? Well, he probably forgot about all that "fun" we have out there!
And today would be one of the "fun" ones - although it was looking to be another beautiful fall day the wind predictions were not promising as one may have surmised by this document's opening text - yes, we were anticipating light and variable. And I know it is not December 21st yet, but doesn't about an inch (or so it seemed) of frost covering the boat mean we can call it winter? It may not snow much here but the amount frozen dew we have is impressive and if the local meteorologists kept track and added up our frost accumulations for the year we are competing with the likes of Buffalo, NY! Instead of actually sailing in another drifter today we were discussing granting victory to the first one to slip off their boat and into the water.
Believe me, some of us would have really opted for this in lieu of sailing the actual race course once it was made public. Andre does do a very good job on coming up with the majority of the courses we sail - and quite often he comes up with the unexpected. Today was no exception as it came to quite a shock that we would set out a 5 mile journey in a light and variable wind prediction. But the neat thing about this course was that we were staying close to home as the course was composed of basically 2 laps around a certain set of buoys. We could logistically shorten the course if it was indeed a drifter. Perfect! The one drawback to the "perfect course" was pointed out by Chuck. "Do you realize what you have done here? You have created a course in which we can be lapped!" And the probability of being lapped by one of those Formula One type sailboats (we all know who I am talking about) was even more likely to become reality when Andre sounded pretty adamant that we were going to sail the course in its entirety as the skipper's meeting dispersed.
Throughout the years I have from time to time (meaning practically every race) made reference to my signature starts. Today would be another prime example. Of course in my defense I must say with 12 boats jockeying for position on that starting line things are a little cramped. Regardless, James on Carol Lynn captured on film the essence of the "Eric Maneuver" in which one simply sails in the opposite direction from the fleet. It actually works best BEFORE you have crossed the starting line and although simple in theory, it takes years to perfect. Some will never master it! Truth be known, for the first time I was unable to "shoot the hole" on Beatnik for the simple reason that they do not have to give room on an overlap at a starting buoy. To add insult while performing my "do over" the foresail snagged on everything imaginable on its voyage over to leeward, backwinding and spinning the bow and making a much tighter turn than expected - in the history of sailing has anyone ever made forward progress while doing a 360? By the time I finished my revolution I was still beyond the starting buoy and on the wrong side of it! Well score me two 360s - gonna save those guys for later if I foul anybody and make no mistake, I was now in the mood to foul someone! No, I know you can't do that but it would be nice to be able to bank 360s like they are rollover minutes or something for when you really need them.
It wasn't exactly a strong consistent wind at the start (is it EVER?) but it was very impressive to see the spinnaker handling early on. Dutchess, Maniac, and Banana Split were the early aggressors. Christopher was doing a great job on Split, got some clear air and was soon leading the pack as we headed to (20 points deducted if you guess wrong) Grasshopper Creek. It was light and fluky but there was a little puff we could work with and other spinnakers began popping up at random - on Beatnik, Opus Dei, and Smoke on the Water. I decided to hold off on Hasta La Vista as it was really not going to be very far downstream to Buoy 2 (the second green can down from Sale Creek) and once rounding Grasshopper that might have been more of a beam/close reach anyway. But Buoy 2 was M.I.A. The crew on Manaic, who was now leading the pack looked for it but it was nowhere to be seen. Well they didn't exactly do a relentless search and thoroughly comb the upper half of Chickamauga Lake. What kind of effort is that? But they did do the smart and correct thing and sailed down to the next green can at Camp Vesperpoint, which was now the new Buoy 2 (and Buoy 5 - remember we were only on the first lap of this adventure). With the extra distance tacked on here, this could end up being about a 6-1/2 mile course. Anyone pack their overnight bags?
Actually, there had been a decent enough breeze up to this point - . Maniac, Banana Split, and Opus Dei rounded Buoy 2 first and headed back upstream towards Buoy 3 (the green can above Sale Creek). Hasta La Vista had moved to 5th position (and there are those that STILL scoff at my starting techniques) and was chasing Beatnik. But Mike and Mark were doing an excellent job handling the spinnaker and there was no way I was going to catch them downwind. Also handling the spinnaker well was Andre soloing on Dutchess and Edge and Chuck on Smoke. Both boats would pass and arrive at Buoy 2 before me. But it was around our approach to this downstream mark that the wind began to fade. And in a matter of minutes we were just drifting.
Fortunately, the river current was negligible as it has been all this series thus far and we were still able make headway upstream. The fact that it was less than a walking speed in slow motion is inconsequential. We were still able to move! Well some of us could anyway - if there are any kind of bragging rights in that. Tim did later mention to me, "man that San Juan is pretty fast in that zero to one stuff!" Well Maniac at one point experienced absolute zero and kind of parked in a dead spot, their forward momentum virtually stopped. Opus had the same happen to them, only their stoppage was more a result of finding the river bottom. Probably about a 15 minute grounding overall but it was not too harmful as far as lengthy groundings are concerned. If there IS a convenient time to run aground, this would be it! Maniac did gain a few boat lengths during this but it wasn't much and Banana Split was also stalling out in this dead zone.
Beatnik and Smoke rode out the edge of the shoal on the green side of the channel - the same side that currently held Opus in its muddy grasp further up. And apparently in the world of big game hunting it isn't "duck season" or "wabbit season" or anything like that. Nope - it is sailboat season. Not only was Opus caught in the time proven mud trap but Beatnik and Smoke were in danger of sailing up on a fisherman's nets and trot lines that were being pulled up. (A more modern and skilled technique of snaring sailboats.) "Whoa - lookie there! She put up a fight but I finally bagged me one of them red stripe-ed, fat-bellied sloops! That baby's gonna look good mounted on my wall!"
All 3 boats did manage to escape possible capture but we still had a lot of course to get through. As I drifted past Smoke and Beatnik we had a conversation that led to the shortening of this course to 1 lap instead of 2. Naturally that decision was made the second I got in front of the 2 respective boats! Seriously, it had been in consideration all afternoon and the fact that the lead boat was maybe two-thirds done with the first lap at best almost 2 hours into the race, shortening seemed to be the prudent thing to do. And smart thing if I ever wanted anyone to speak to me again. Unfortunately the battery in my handheld VHF was kaput and I had no way of hailing the fleet. Wasn't to worried about not getting the message to those in front of me - those guys were on their own. But David Barrow's presence on the water in his beautiful ketch Moriah gave me an idea. David was kind enough to motor around the fleet and deliver the message to head to the finish after Buoy 4 at (banned from the series for life if you haven't guessed) Grasshopper Creek. And yes, I did instruct him to deliver the message to the boats in front first! Thanks for your assistance today, David!
Meanwhile, the rest of the fleet got a little boost so to speak. Not only in morale from the shorter course announcement but also picked up a little more draft than they were getting up front. Although nothing registered on knotmeters and. 0.0 was now permanently burned into everyone's LCDs, the overall fleet was compacting slowly. Hasta La Vista moved into 3rd position as Split prepared for another spinnaker hoist. Most of the hoists today were short lived - some were beneficial, some were not. Christopher asked me how much different our handicaps were on the San Juan's when one of us flew a spinnaker and the other didn't. Then he asked me what my handicap would be if HE came over and raised my spinnaker, hoping to even things out a little! Tempting as it was at certain times, there would be no spinnaker hoists on Hasta La Vista, Carol Lynn, or True Blue today. Andre would be the only one to solo sail with a chute this race.
By this time, we still had a fair amount of course to finish and things were not looking promising. We had lost both Wavelength and the Pearson 30 who are obviously smarter and have better things to do than the rest of us! And the steam seen off in the distance at both the Sequoyah (to the south) and Watts Bar (to the north) cooling towers was billowing STRAIGHT up into the air. Not a good sign.
And just to make things a little more interesting a patrol boat from the sheriff's department came idling by. Now this brings up an interesting scenario - do the rule books say anything about a boat being stopped arbitrarily during a race? I mean, if you are whooping and hollering it up and being reckless or something, then yes, you are asking for it. But if you are minding your own business and get boarded for something like a routine life jacket or registration check, are you allowed extra time? Or do we hoist a caution flag and have everyone maintain their position? One thing for sure, if you do get pulled over it would be ill advised to offer the officer a "cold one." And unlike pulling over a speeder on the highway, today we would not hear the words, "ok buddy, where's the fire?" At first it looked like he was going to pass through but then we saw the boat idle towards the girls on Sassafras! Gah! It is the back of the herd that is always the most vulnerable! Actually there were no problems and just a short conversation took place between the law officer and the girls. There was no stopping and boarding of boats. Although Captain Ellen did say that she "tried to explain how we were actually in a sailboat race despite the fact that a) some boats had already finished and b) we were hardly moving at the time."
Well I don't know for sure if the race had been finished by anyone or not at this point but "hardly moving" - that was accurate. At the Buoy 3 rounding Maniac held a lead but Hasta La Vista was right behind and I dare say after Maniac's last spinnaker douse for the day that we were dead even with only about a mile of the course to be sailed. (I still cite the backwards start as the contributing factor.) Well, a lot of things can happen in a mile and this race was far from over. Out of nowhere a pocket of wind appeared as we approached the final buoy. Maniac and Opus took off (the latter still flying a chute until the rounding and actually in front boat for boat).
It looked like a promising beat to the finish line with some decent wind but about the time I was closing in on the entry to the secondary channel the winds began to swirl. The girls on Sassafras were in the same vicinity and also fighting the shifts on their way to Buoy 3. I overheard some talk about Ellen handing out demerits to her crew - wow, that's one tough captain! Meanwhile there was a good dog fight going on not far behind between several other boats. Split was in a strong 4th position but Carol Lynn, Smoke, True Blue, Beatnik, and Dutchess were bunched up really nicely. Again, another nice grouping of boats on a day with sporadic conditions.
In the end the day would belong to those Formula One boats - Maniac got the upper hand on the beat back to the finish and finished a minute ahead of Opus after the final calculations were tallied. Congratulations to both for an excellent job. Hasta La Vista would take 3rd while the other San Juan finished 4th - nice job by Christopher and his crewmate! Very close finishes by everyone else. Thanks to everyone for sailing today!
Maniac leads the overall series with 32 points. I think the entire series has been won with less points than that before and here we are only 3 races into it. Actually it is a sign of good participation which we are happy to see. And although I have joked about the winds and conditions as of late, it really always is a blast to be on the water, especially with a fun group of sailors. ONE of these days we ARE going to have nice steady winds throughout the race. Although it is always fun sailing in the conditions we are given for the day - it IS getting a wee bit harder to keep a smile while out there on the race course in poor conditions! See everyone next race!
RACE 3 RESULTS
* Sailed with 170% genoa
Race report written by Eric Almlie. ęCopyright 2008. All rights reserved. Photos by Andre Rijsdijk, James Drozdek, and Eric Almlie