December 7, 2008
By now I am sure the Shackleton Series fan base is growing weary of hearing us lament about the absence of any type of consistent wind so far this series. Therefore, we shall refrain from any comments of the pessimistic nature regarding said wind from this day forwa..., er, from this day until the next race. Sorry, we simply CANNOT give a lifetime guarantee on something like that - come Race 5 we may start the gripe fest all over again - after all, we are sailors. And because of our frustrations with fickle winds this year, we were abnormally psyched up about a garden-variety 5-10 northerly puff. You'd think they had predicted a Category 3 or something! But yes, it is those little things in life that are so important and we really did enjoy and were very appreciative of today's northerly winds. Now the temperatures on the other hand...
Yes it was a tad on the chilly side and for the 2nd consecutive race, the mercury would fall short of that magical 40 degree mark despite the sunshine. There was even a little patch of ice in the corner of one of Hasta La Vista's cockpit seats that never did melt this day. But we're not going to complain about the cold either - after all, it is to be expected in a winter series. Yes, I am being a bit passive about all this - I am saving my rants and ravings for later!
There was indeed a nice northerly breeze present as we counted down to the start. I was a bit apprehensive about sounding the starting horns since it always seems the wind diminishes with every single horn blast. Well no such problems today as we sped off through the secondary channel to Grasshopper..., WAIT! Hold it! Could it be? Holy cow, we were avoiding the Grasshopper Creek nun altogether today! Oh, this was big. And perhaps risky? I mean, we ALWAYS pay homage to the G.C. nun - would today's slight of it lead to bad karma? Furthermore, looking at today's map, we weren't rounding ANY buoys! This might have something to do with last race's missing marker and it was highly probable that today's windward mark (one of the Highway 60 bridge pylons) had not floated off somewhere downstream. Surely something of that magnitude might have been a newsworthy event that at least one of us would have heard about.
Early on those fast boats (Maniac and Opus Dei) were indeed fast. Only thing was Opus Dei was a bit on the tardy side and still headed to the starting line while the rest of us had practically exited the secondary channel and were headed upriver. Well that is one way to beat a fast boat like that...or not... We didn't even have time to savor the moment before Opus showed us that our celebration of their belatedness was premature. In just a short time they were at the front of the fleet dueling with Maniac. Oh, and that theory about two boats in a larger fleet suffering when they duel amongst themselves? What a crock! I think these two boats sail harder and faster just at the very sight of each other.
Regardless of fast boats, medium paced boats, or slow boats, we were enjoying the upwind beat to the bridge. The northerly winds were nice and the fleet was making good time upriver. You already know about what "those other two boats" were doing. David Barrow was crewing with Andre on Dutchess and the Trintella was coming alive in these winds. Mike Burrus and Mark were tearing it up on Beatnik, True Blue was also enjoying the pleasant breeze, James and Kristen were doing a great job on Carol Lynn, Banana Split was looking sharp, Ellen and company on Sassafras were moving along nicely as was Greg soloing well on Wavelength. Finally, Edge and Chuck on Smoke on the Water were engaged in a nice little tacking battle with me on Hasta La Vista for a good portion of the upwind battle. There were some nice lifts here and some tough headers there but as I said earlier, we weren't complaining. No sir, this was a good day and there would be nothing to spoil it. Nope, smooth sailing from here on...uh, is anyone else aware of how muddy the bottom of our river is and how shallow it seems to have gotten?
Yes, unfortunately a few of us would strike bottom today. (Should never have bypassed Grasshopper Creek!) After the race I was speaking with Bill Simon (one of the crew on Opus Dei) and we both agreed that if you can see the bottom of Chickamauga Lake from the deck of your sailboat, you are where you shouldn't be! And you are either standing still or are soon to be! And Opus would discover bottom late in the race in perhaps the most hit shoal in North America, the one just north of the Sale Creek secondary channel. Well that's another way to beat a fast boat like that...or not... Yes, the Olson was able to free themselves and finish the race. Banana Split was actually the first victim today as they hit bottom good and would require the use of the mighty iron genoa to gain freedom. That is a shame since they were sailing well. True Blue, seen here earlier on in the race also suffered a bad grounding late in the race and Shawn and Kristen were doing a great job also. And finally, I am going to have to contact the agency in charge of buoys on our river. Not only are there buoys missing out there like last race's departed green can but I would venture to say that some of the daymakers out in the water have drifted around as well. What else would explain the sudden halt on Hasta La Vista? Certainly not operator error!
Like pretty much all groundings, it is NEVER the skipper's fault and I shook my head in disbelief and did the obligatory throwing the hands up in the air gesture. While there are those with FAR more experience at sitting on mud bars that I have (and SOME of those have no room to poke fun at me like they did upon my return to port - but I still don't blame them!) I must say that I am getting better at it as my groundings have become more frequent (once a season now as opposed to once every 4 or 5 years) and I am doing a bang up job (probably not really a good choice of words there) at getting stuck GOOD. Had a nice heel on the boat when hitting and was struggling trying to get free. A kind gentleman on a bass boat soon idled over to me and asked if I needed assistance. 20 plus years of sailing on this lake and I have never needed to be pulled off a bar before and I knew any outside aid I accepted was an instant disqualification from the contest. I really wasn't ready to give in at the time and felt like saying, "well I don't need any help yet, but do you mind waiting close by for about another 30 minutes and I'll let you know when I am ready?" (Yeah, that would go over good!) Well, then I thought I better accept his generous offer or I might be here until next spring or at the very least, wait until Mike, Mark, Chuck, et al came to my rescue. They have mounted some very impressive and successful rescue missions in the past but they do come at a price. No, it is not necessary to open up your checkbook or anything like that- it is not that kind of price they command. You see, the last time I witnessed one of their preparations for a mission, they could hardly wait to get out there on the water...and make SO much fun of the stranded party!
Anyway, during my futile efforts of continuously probing a spinnaker pole into the muddy river bottom I was missing out on the spinnaker parade taking place. It was a beautiful sight and all of our regular spinnaker flyers participated in this event as well. And the wily crew on Beatnik had apparently upgraded spinnakers and kept it top secret until its deployment during the race. After further investigation it was revealed that this chute was borrowed from one of the crew members on the Olson 30 who also crews for Bruiser, a fast and feared J 24 down at PYC. Don't know if we will see another appearance of this spinnaker but Captain Mike mentioned that it helped Beatnik in their attempt to chase down Dutchess during the downwind leg.
I had actually considered flying the spinnaker on Hasta La Vista after being pulled off the bar but decided I had enough excitement for one day and just kind of leisurely sailed back down stream. While sailing near Sassafras we had both observed True Blue's grounding not too far ahead. Ellen mentioned, "if this keeps up I'm going to beat all you guys today!" Yes, three boats would now be scored the dreaded DNF. Would there be any others?
Well, no - as mentioned Opus Dei was the other grounding victim and although they did free themselves it may have been a costly hit. Opus was neck and neck with Maniac before hitting and who knows what might have happened had they not hit the shoal. Therefore, it would be yet another victory for Tim and Lynn on the J 29. Congratulations to them for their win and a great job today. The Olson 30 would take 2nd place - an excellent comeback after a very late start. It was mentioned earlier that Beatnik was running down Dutchess during the spinnaker run. Did they succeed in catching Andre and David? Well, not quite, Dutchess was fast today and Andre mentioned later that the 3rd place finish was as good as a 1st place finish with those "other two" boats in the mix. Meanwhile, Captain Mike felt a little longer course might have given them a shot. Hmmm...seems to me a short leg to Grasshopper Creek might have provided that extra distance. We just might need to think about sailing over that direction sometime!
Great job by everyone today and we had a nice breeze to enjoy the day with. And kudos to James and Kristen in Carol Lynn for going to offer assistance to True Blue after the race. Of course I never did hear how much of that rescue was motivated by the potential of being able to give a good natured ribbing to one of your fellow sailors! Seriously, it was a very nice gesture and I have always said this the best bunch of people to spend a chilly day on the water with! The Shackleton Series will have a several week intermission for the holidays. We hope that everyone has a wonderful holiday season and a happy new year! See you in 2009!
RACE 4 RESULTS
Race report written by Eric Almlie. ęCopyright 2008. All rights reserved. Photos by Eric Almlie and Andre Rijsdijk.