November 15, 2009
As I was drawing up the course for today's race, Bob Rupe, skipper of Nightwind, came into the office and discussed the anticipated sailing conditions of the day. Seeing as we would be encountering a swift current with little wind to battle it with, Bob asked a very logical question that any first year Shackleton Series sailor might ask, "so, at what point do we call the race?" The stretch of silence that ensued indicated I was caught somewhat off guard by this asking. Although we do have a list of rules in place now, I have never heard such rational thought in this series and abandoning a race at any point in concern of conditions is not even on the radar of practicality! Once a race has commenced - and make no mistake, it WILL start, even if crossing the starting line is a physical impossibility - we are in it for the duration. Those of us who sail this series are unfaltering in our avidity to complete the task at hand and shall overcome any harsh elements thrown in our paths. Nothing, absolutely nothing, shall stave off our efforts to reach our destiny! (Insert slight pause.) Or is that density, as George McFly would say? I had a shop teacher in junior high who, after grading some our work, would always ask "what are you dense or something?" Density in this context might be a more suitable application here. But I digress. To get back to Bob's question - in reality, once the coolers are all empty, then were outta there!
It was no secret that over the past couple of weeks, there was some additional work in the boat yard going down. Some boats were getting their bottoms "spruced up" in anticipation for this contest. There are those around here, though, that have proper diving gear to clean their boat bottoms with a little more subtlety. However, seeing air bubbles surface in the vicinity of vessels other than the diver's, it gets one to wondering, "hmmm...just what are they up to down there? Is my keel going to fall off before the boat gets out of the harbor next race?" Sabotage is always a concern during racing season but now threats of this nature are escalating and some boaters have already stepped up security measures. Wyn Walker's "Gator Guard" on his Catalina 27 Sirenia is a good example. Keeps the rodent population down, too (as well as discourages unwelcome and uninvited boat guests).
With all this talk of impairing boats, for those that would by happy chance escape and actually make it out to the main channel, most of them would probably ask later, "why couldn't my boat have been disabled?" Things were certainly looking dismal and even the designed race course was kind of a throw-in-the-towel concession. For once we had no overly ambitious plan to defiantly attempt to drift upstream. I guess we are mellowing with age. Instead we decided to do nothing but sail downstream and let the current sweep us to the finish line. Total course length for the day - 1.6 nautical miles. Of course we still had to zigzag across the lake a few times to reach the finish line, or should I say, finish buoy. There was no finish line per se, but rather, a simple touching of the Three Hour Nun would denote the conclusion of this contest. Yes, all that had to be accomplished was to have a crewmember or captain physically reach out and touch the buoy. And to make matters a little easier the boat COULD touch it as well without being penalized as long as one didn't block the buoy for others or drag it downstream or something. And no, reaching out with a boat hook or long object was not allowed. Now that we have established this, can I take a moment to tell you about the specials the marina is running on gelcoat repair and buffing scratch marks out of your hull?
But there was a glimmer of hope as we motored out to the river. A bit of breeze was present and the current really didn't seem that bad as we huddled around the starting line. It was even suggested that we consider lengthening the course, sailing down to the buoy and back. But we all know what happens as zero hour approaches and especially when the starting horns signal. Sure enough, any ripples on the water that indicated a hint of wind disappeared about 10 minutes before the start and we were left just creeping around.
For the most part we did have forward momentum as we crossed into the foreboding waters of Race 2. It was as we were making our way out of the secondary channel that the first effects of the river current were noticed. Probably a good thing that we didn't hold to our normal stipulations about passing all buoys on the channel side. And although our direct course to Buoy 1 (Grasshopper Creek, indubitably) was about SSE, we were for the most part sailing almost directly to the east to insure that we would could sail to Buoy 1 without drifting below it. And yes, "sailing" is a very liberal term for what we were presently doing. Even with big sails up we were just inching along. Mark even made the comment that I could probably hold my jib clew by hand, referencing the fact that the big 170% stretched all the way back to the cockpit. But who was he to talk? I didn't notice it when I took this picture, but after zooming in for editing purposes, it was Mark who was doing just that on board Beatnik. Okay, so he is not sitting in the cockpit and I could have easily held the jib clew in one hand and the tiller in the other on the San Juan. But bigger sails than the one I had hoisted have been used! And big sails are required in drifting conditions.
But reaching about the midway point across the main channel, we noticed a strange sight. Ripples began appearing on the water to the southeast. Even stranger, was that although the ripples were getting closer to us (approaching from the southeast), the wind was actually coming from behind, the northwest. The front half of the fleet - Maniac, Hasta La Vista, Beatnik, Carol Lynn, Smoke on the Water, and Nightwind - would manage to catch this puff and spinnakers suddenly burst out of their bags on four of these boats.
After rounding Grasshopper Creek, the wind appeared to be filling in rather nicely and I actually did begin to consider doubling the course length and sail back from where we came - otherwise, if this kept up we would be finished in record time. But for some reason I ignored the impulse to hail the fleet with this plan and began concentrating on Buoy 2, which was just a very short ways downstream but across the river. With the present wind direction, the shortest route to the green can as the crow flies, or the catfish swims if you prefer, was to sail a beam reach. But remember the current! Maniac had rounded Grasshopper and immediately tightened their spinnaker sheet and sailed as high as their Code 3 would allow and were just able to make the Buoy 2 rounding. Hasta La Vista and Nightwind, who were sporting 170s in lieu of spinnakers were also able to make this rounding without incident. The remaining boats (of this portion of the fleet) were less fortunate, having been swept downstream of the turning mark with their chutes still hoisted. It is indeed a gut wrenching feeling and having been there before myself, your instinct (okay, call it stubbornness) is to first try and sail back upwind while still carrying the chute. Alas, it never works!
As we continued our downstream descent and approached Three Hour Nun, we looked back to see that Beatnik had indeed recovered and rounded Buoy 2 and redeployed their chute with Nightwind in pursuit. It was at this time I realized that not lengthening the course was the proper call as the taunting line of wind still had not reached the other half of the fleet, which remained trapped in the still waters of the secondary channel and the surrounding area. David on Moriah later mentioned that they had actually drifted downstream into the shoals, thus representing the first grounding of this young Shackleton Season. We are sure there are more to come and I do believe that there are actually some in the fleet already banking on beating Hasta La Vista and Dutchess in a race or two this year due to the imminent groundings these two boats will surely suffer. Or so it has been foretold.
Speaking of Dutchess, we were without Andre's presence this race due to him feeling a bit under the weather. Even though in actuality, the weather really was very nice and if there WAS a good day to be drifting around the lake, this was certainly it. Despite him feeling sickly, it was Andre who was mostly responsible for developing today's race course and it turned out to be a good one. The touching of the buoy was his idea, being able to actually hit it with the boat (I think I used the term "ram it" at the skipper's meeting) was my addition. I was really only sort of kidding about that part - after all, who is going to actually hit the buoy with their boat? Well as it turns out, the majority of us made contact with it in some form or fashion. One would not think that it would be a very difficult task but the closer you sail up to a reference point like this, the more you realize how strong the current is, how light the wind is, and notice that the buoy itself is actually moving a little bit itself. We will give Carol Lynn a "10" for style points as James got himself in the proper buoy touching position. (There are those that utilize less orthodox positions but James' hip slide down onto the deck is the traditional preferred method.) Even with this I did hear a BAM! as Carol Lynn finished. Either they struck it with their hull too or James now has a nasty bruise on his hand. That was a loud noise but at least it was only one loud noise - unlike the several BAMS that resonated when Maniac and Hasta La Vista finished. That's okay - we will all wear those red scuff marks on our respective hulls as badges of honor. That is unless one does not want to gloat about their battle scars and would rather treat those wounds with a little rubbing compound.
I had mentioned that we were all going to finish this one in record time. But alas, the wind was beginning to die and it never really did make it to those trapped in the secondary channel. Sirenia, Stella, and Moriah had all retired. At a little over 2 hours of elapsed time into the race I heard jubilant shouts of victory coming from Athena as they had finally reached the Grasshopper Creek mark. This accomplishment was also realized by True Blue a little earlier. But now the wind in the main channel had subsided making reaching Buoy 2 an improbable task with the current. That is unless one wanted to set anchor and wait around for another pocket of wind which could come at any time... or not. Money was put down on the latter and both True Blue and Athena would later retire from this one as well.
Despite the abundant sunshine and warm day, it was tough sailing conditions and who knows what might have happened had we not received that batch of wind. Only one race in the history of this series was never completed and that was due to being fogged in during wind and current conditions similar to those experienced today. It is a shame, however, when conditions vary on the water that can make completing a course more difficult for some than others. But that is lake sailing and we have all been stuck in the doldrums while others caught the wind.
And for like the gazillionth time we will again congratulate Maniac on their victory. Nice job! And a very nice job of everyone hanging in there on such a challenging sailing day. But again, the weather itself was beautiful, and if we had to pick a day to be out there to struggle with the wind and current, this was most certainly the best we could hope to have. Much colder days are ahead. See everyone next race!
RACE 2 RESULTS
(S) - Spinnaker, *- Non Spinnaker, sailed with 170% genoa
Race report written by Eric Almlie. ęCopyright 2009. All rights reserved.