January 10, 2009
Things were not looking too pretty for Race 5. The Tennessee Valley had received a lot of rain earlier in the week, swelling the river up to summer pool in no time. Of course summer pool is certainly quite welcome but the waters were now receding at a rapid pace. Although the river current certainly wasn't white water status, it was definitely present as they were dumping in excess of 100,000 cfs (cubic feet per second) at Chickamauga Dam this fine day. That's a lot of water. Not only had we received a lot of rain this week but we were scheduled to receive some more today - "scattered showers in the morning becoming more steady in the afternoon" I believe was the exact wording used. And the southerly winds of 10-15 they were predicting on Race 5 Eve (for those who choose to celebrate and honor the race the night before - open presents, that kind of thing) were downgraded to 5-10 the morning of. Uh oh.
River conditions were of concern, so we obtained an aerial scouting report the day before the race (some hard working folks do not get to enjoy the holiday). Yes, the official Shackleton corporate jet surveyed the course ahead of time. It is amazing how much we are able to procure from those $15 entry fees - although I still think a helicopter or blimp would have been cooler. Seriously, thanks to Andreas Montgomery for supplying this photograph during his flight the previous day. It does depict a pretty muddy but fairly tame river here near the famous Highway 60 bridge we so often visit and mention in our races.
The current was indeed strong for Race 5 but it was Tim who suggested not to think of it as current, but rather an ebb tide. The waters were definitely drawing down and the summer pool level we had just two days prior was now halfway back down to winter level. But being at this midway point between high and low could make things interesting as well. There just might be a few of us tempted to sail further out of the channel than normal (as if low water has ever stopped us from trying). And the other interesting thing was the first observation I made while motoring out to the main channel before the race. The wind had really yet to pick up and although there were a few little wavelets on the water, it was relatively calm. But yet there were swells out there like a continuous boat wake rolling through - like a real ocean swell.. Only there were no other boats on the lake. It almost seemed kind of eerie.
Anyway, it was a good thing that the wind appeared to be picking up, because after a charted Grasshopper Creek buoy rounding (yes, we are back to our hold habits), our mission was to go upstream. Yes, you read right, we scoffed at the possibility of any current and held steadfast in our passions to sail upstream. Going with the flow would be TOO easy and another trip to the bridge was SERIOUSLY considered but we decided not to be quite so bold and settled on a shorter 5-1/2 mile venture today. Concerns over that short a distance against a swift current not being quite enough of a challenge, we threw in 9 buoy roundings just to keep things more fun.
Not sure what it is, but as we have mentioned numerous times, the wind seems to disappear at the onset of almost every race. At the 5 minute horn we are zipping around the starting line and by the one minute horn, half of us are pointed in the wrong direction or nowhere near the line because the wind has died. Well this start wasn't too bad, really. Only 2 of us were pointed in the wrong direction, but we were all there on the line together. (That's batting 1.000 for this group!) But again, we were in a flat calm. And it was obvious I was the only one that didn't account for the current flowing out the secondary channel as I drifted in to the starting buoy. I thought I could get away with it if no one noticed but Andre made sure he captured the event on film (well tiny little memory card to be specific.) Then again, one didn't really have to see it to know I had hit the marker. Because, had I really been quick thinking I would have done the fake cough or sneeze thing to cover up the fortissimo of buoy thumping down the side of the hull that resonated. But then again, this was a pretty drawn out process that actually reversed itself as I think the keel got entangled with the buoy cable and sprung the boat backwards. Oh, the agony!
One boat that was not at the start was Opus Dei. No, they weren't fashionably late, but rather, the boat was on the hard (and I don't mean aground again!). Chris was stripping the bottom and refinishing it - unfortunately, the weather has not been cooperative over the past few weeks for bottom work. But there was a surrogate boat in the wings that the Opus Dei crew was ready to compete with. A D&M 22, which I was told had a PHRF of 355 by Scott Cline. Ah, here beginnith the handicap negotiations, a common ritual performed among racers and race committees that dates back to the precise moment the very 2nd sailing craft in the history of human kind was launched. One person gloated their boat was faster, and the other said, "whoa, dude. That's a bigger palm frond you have there. You gotta give me some extra time for that." And in this ritual, EVERYTHING imaginable is taken into consideration (mostly amongst the racers, not the committees) in coming up with this crucial number that, in the end, no matter what it is, will be under debate well beyond the lifetime of the boat and the fiberglass it was built with - either with the captain of the boat (and their heirs) or the rest of the fleet complaining about it. Anyway, the final number rating of 258 (I can hear the cries of dissent as I type this) was all a moot point anyway. It turned out that while inspecting the rigging on the boat during the pre race preparations, rot on the bulkhead was discovered and a chainplate was not far from pulling through the deck. So sadly, we would not see how accurate that 258 rating would be today, and worse, there would be one less boat in the race.
But Scott and Chris were searching to crew for someone. They made a kind offer to me but I was prepared to sail solo on this one and mentioned that Andre might want some crew. Man, I got to stop being that nice to the competition. Turns out the anxious crew was unable to locate Andre and ended up getting scooped up by Tim, who was also planning on sailing solo. Curses! I didn't see that coming!
Well despite that, it was Shawn in True Blue who had the best start and was doing a great job of soloing en route to the G.C. Nun. (something just feels SO right about sailing that direction). Absent from today's contest was Christopher on Banana Split - we were sorry to see him missing as he has been doing a great job so far this series, especially with some impressive spinnaker handling. But the yellow boat was out on the race course, being sub-skippered by David Freye, whom we haven't seen out racing in some time. Early on there were reports of some kind of encounter between Split and Beatnik but I was too busy with my buoy wrangling to take any notice. By the way, Andreas Montgomery in his Pearson 30 saw how much fun I had with it, he decided to try it out for himself. Between the two of us, we gave the crew on Sassafras quite an obstruction to have to maneuver around at the start. But the girls on Sass were doing a good job, and were quietly sneaking up on me once we were all actually sailing the course.
It took several minutes but the wind finally started to appear and soon we were off to fight the REAL currents out on the river, not these piddling secondary channel currents. Maniac took over the lead position from True Blue, but Shawn was still sailing strong as they rounded the G.C nun. It would be a downwind leg to the upstream buoys but those of us who were soloing today opted not to fly the spinnakers. It was tempting, but the wind was actually building a little and by design of the course, it appeared that there might be several jibes upcoming. There were 3 great spinnaker sets on Maniac, Beatnik, and Carol Lynn. Now that I got a closer look at it (impossible the last race for me), that is a really nice looking chute that Beatnik is using - and fast, too! Wait, did I just hear someone in the fleet protest their handicap?
It was actually a fun downwind leg and it was interesting to see the different paths that each boat took, trying to balance staying out of the worst of the current and staying in the best of the wind. Carol Lynn, who had gotten stuck in the doldrums exiting the secondary channel really took off during their run, passing Hasta La Vista effortlessly and were soon working their way towards third position in the fleet. Andre chose to hug the eastern shoreline for part of the downwind leg, staying out of the current but also started losing some wind. So, he worked his way towards the other side of the race course and while battling it out with the two San Juans he mentioned something about "putting on the afterburners" and he wasn't kidding. We have no idea what he did (and I don't think he knew either) but Dutchess gained some serious separation as we headed to the two upstream buoys.
Yes, that is TWO upstream buoys, which represented Buoys 4, 5, and 6 in the race course. That adds up, doesn't it? Head upstream to Buoy 4, go directly across the lake to Buoy 5, then back to Buoy 4, which was now Buoy 6, which would require about a 270 degree rounding to head back downstream. Just your common every day race course. And in actuality, the amount of turn you had to do around Buoy 6 was mostly dependent upon how much downstream you got swept going back and forth between markers. But really, I make it sound worse than it was. It was necessary to modify one's course a couple times in the reaches across the lake but the wind was blowing nicely and it was really more curious to see what kind of meetings we were going to have at Buoy 6. It had all the potential for a few boats to be taken out commando style. But no problems at Buoy 6. It would be Buoy 7 that would take some boats out of the race.
It was just an innocent green can out there on the water - been there for years and we rarely acknowledge it in our races. And it was a buoy that really wasn't in a logical spot once we started our upwind leg after rounding #6. In getting greedy and wanting to make that buoy on the second tack after #6 I set a risky course that carried me into the shoaled up areas. Once again, Hasta La Vista struck mud! But fortunately it was a brief hit as I was able to spin the boat off the ground and continue on without too much loss, but still not on layline for the marker - it would require an extra short tack to get on the proper layline. Unfortunately, Banana Split, which was in proximity of Hasta La Vista tacked in time to miss the shoal but never went to round Buoy 7. But David later admitted that he had pretty much already disqualified himself from the race from concerns about possibly fouling Beatnik in their earlier altercation. He was just kind of following the course and didn't seem to concerned with #7. Meanwhile, once rounding the mark and heading towards Buoy 8 I noticed True Blue sailing back towards us. Apparently he had missed #7 and was going back for it. Quite costly as Shawn was sailing so well.
But perhaps it would be most costly to Beatnik. One eye witness mentioned they saw the J24 miss #7. The protest was later withdrawn and although Captain Mike was pretty sure that Beatnik did make the rounding, he wanted there to be no doubts about it. Actually both parties were very sporting about the situation and this is why I have always said we have a great bunch of people to sail with here. It was a shame for the J 24 crew as they had sailed an excellent race, had an valiant 2nd spinnaker run on the short last leg from Buoy 9 to the finish, and would have finished 2nd today behind Maniac if not for the missed marker. Congratulations to Tim and crew (from that other fast boat) for their victory today. Excellent job!
Meanwhile the race for 2nd, or what most of us thought was3rd at the time, was very close. Andre sailed an excellent race in Dutchess. But despite my "issues" on the course today, Hasta La Vista did get a favorable wind on the last leg and was able to correct out - just in front of Andre and missing the S2 27 by 12 seconds. Elsewhere on the course, Shawn made a scorching comeback and was able to overtake both the Pearson 30 and Sassafras boat for boat, but it would be Ellen and crew correcting out in front of True Blue. Great job by everyone today and thankfully it turned out to be a much better day of sailing than what was initially thought and other than a little momentary sprinkle, there was no rain - so sorry, no extra points.
Right now Maniac has a commanding lead in the series and Carol Lynn, which has sailed very consistent throughout has a pretty good grip on 2nd. The battle for 3rd... well that looks pretty heated right now! A review of the tie breaker rules might need to be covered here soon. (But I need enough time to make them up!) But anything could happen out there with three races still left to sail. So let's watch those buoys next time - rounding them and bumping them! By the way, we also missed Edge's Smoke on the Water today. Not sure where Mike was but we know that Chuck (one of Smoke's crew) and Amy (one of the crew from Sassafras) were down in the Virgin Islands. And Chuck, we would like to thank you SOOOO much from the bottom of our hearts for texting half the fleet pictures of your morning view at about the time our skipper's meeting was getting started. If Freya were entered in the series this year you would have been docked some serious points for such an act! See everyone at Race 6!
RACE 5 RESULTS
Race report written by Eric Almlie. ęCopyright 2009. All rights reserved. Photos by Eric Almlie, Andre Rijsdijk, and Andreas Montgomery.