January 10, 2015
For the Shackleton fundamentalists still out there, Race 5 would have been your type of race. But it would be possible that even with the prevailing coldness today's pretty and rare dosage of sunshine would put a crimp in your vision of what the ultimate Shackleton race consists of - frigid temperatures enhanced by gale force winds, ice, white out conditions - that kind of thing. But these days, the general populace of the fleet isn't exactly overwhelmed with such temerious zealousness - and those of us who have sailed this thing from its commencement, or even a fair portion of it, are pretty much over that stage in our lives. Now that doesn't mean we WON'T sail in such conditions, it just means that we tend to get more enthused about those milder sunny days with fair winds than we do with any conditions that could serve up a cold point. But it was inescapable today - we were going to get our cold points as temperatures were in the teens during prep time and would only top out in the mid 30s. And one of this year's newer participants, after reading through the series archives, learning of our exploits over the years, and realizing that we really DO sail in these crazy conditions he said, "man, you guys are something else!" Those were his exact words and honestly, probably one of the nicest compliments ever given to us. And truth be known, he was pretty pumped up about an adventurous sail today. The purist party still lives on!
Meanwhile, the Suzuki outboard hanging on the transom of Hasta La Vista wanted no part of the cold and refused to participate in today's contest. This unexpected mutiny made for a hurried dash out to the main channel under sail since we were aiming at an early 11:00 start and as normal (always read the fine print before signing a lifetime contract) the starting horns were my responsibility. But membership in the RC is not without its privileges and a 5 minute delay to the start was granted to me by..., well mainly me. In my defense there were no objections when I hailed the fleet to inform them of my certain tardiness and I did even offer to start the race at its scheduled time (here's a hint - choose a time where your VHF battery is a bit weak so that it sometimes broadcasts static and doesn't always pick up everyone's communications to pull off such a trick) . But honestly, if we had stuck with the original 11:00 plan, the starting horn sequence might have been a bit difficult to hear from the line. And no doubt that it would have certainly sent a wave of confusion to the trolling bass fishermen I was on a collision course with while frantically tacking through the narrow secondary channel. Then again, I am sure they would have yelled out, "you're on a port tack, you have no rights!"
There were actually a few different reasons for today's rushed start. First and foremost, today's Wind odds were 5-10 out of the NNE. And despite that this prediction was accurately being experienced as seen in the photo on the left, it was a Wind that had a busy schedule and thus, was going to disappear rather quickly as the day progressed. Therefore, we did not want to get stuck out there during the doldrums, especially while still attempting to work upstream. A simple and short 3.5 mile course was created, or should I say photocopied from the Race 1 files.
Secondly, it was cold. The sooner we got out there, the sooner it would be over. Even though it was going to be warmer later in the day by about 15 - 20 degrees more than it was at prep time, it was still only going to be around 35°...with no Wind! So take your pick - colder with some Wind to work with, or a little less colder with no Wind to work with.
Finally, there is a new tenant at Sale Creek Marina for a short time period. Those who arrived at the marina this morning might have gotten excited about what they thought was the new committee boat. (No doubt being familiar with our profuse disbursement of entry fee funds over the years.) No, the large vessel moored back in the marina slough was none other than The Tennessee Aquarium's River Gorge Explorer catamaran (70' x 24') that would be conducting sandhill crane tours to The Hiwassee River over the next couple of weekends. And this morning, their first tour was set to depart at 11:00 or slightly after to allow for any late arriving passengers (probably some entitled RC members from somewhere). Picking an early time to begin Race 5 seemed like the best option to avoid any type of confrontation with the MUCH larger vessel bowling its way through sailboats set up in the narrow secondary channel. That AND taking advantage of the best Wind of the day.
Apparently not everyone received the 5 minute delay memo. And as it came time to sound the 5 minute horn (now at 11:00 and not 10:55) , not only had I made my way to the general starting area, I actually found myself pretty much on the line going full speed along with Windrush. In hindsight it was a bit unfortunate that the start was delayed. Windrush had not gotten the word but figured something was up, perhaps since Maniac was not near the line (and not on the ground either this time) and the foresail wasn't even hoisted on Smoke on the Water. The San Juan 34 crew set themselves up for an 11:00 start just in case though.
The 11:05 start went almost as well for Windrush and was a definite improvement for Maniac from that of Race 4 as the latter led the way out. It was going to be curious to watch Maniac this race as there was a major change on board for this and we assume the rest of the season's skirmishes. No, it was not a new fancy transparent sail made out some of space age cloth or any type of carbon fiber spar. Nor was it a fresh bottom painting either (that was done last fall). And Jimmy Spithill, Dean Barker, or any of those other hot shot America's Cup skippers were not guest crewing - just as well since Maniac has plenty of
highly qualified crew already in rotation. No, it was the end of an era as The Lucky Hat (seen on the left) was officially retired - not sure if there will be a burning ceremony or if the hat will sadly ride out the rest of its life tucked away in the back of some dresser drawer behind some socks and handkerchiefs. Regardless, The Lucky Hat has now been replaced by matching (sort of) aviator bomber type hats. I think they are from the Elmer Fudd Line (actually they look really nice... and warm!). And of course, we need not mention the impact of matching uniforms on the race course. But we were a bit confused to see crewmember and old marina friend Warren Sickler on board sporting a common toboggan style knit cap. Not sure if it was because of some kind of demotion or a rank and status thing but Captain Tim later cleared up the matter and said that since normal Foredeck Union Shop Steward (Lynn) was not available today (or the only one of us smart enough to stay at home where it as NOT cold) and therefore Warren was scab labor for Race 5.
As we began our upwind/upstream leg, many of us began dealing with some very rigid and frozen jib sheets which made it a bit difficult to wrap them around winches...at least for winches that were cooperative and not frozen as well. In actuality, winches generally freed up rather quickly in the sunshine and lines began to thaw out - mostly. The Wind was up... well as about awake as It has been so far this season, with the exception of Race 3 and it appeared that we were really going to have a full length Windward-leeward race. And just like that, we saw Maniac and Windrush pull away, with the San Juan 34 having actually surged ahead boat-for-boat very early. Hmm.. was this the beginnings of the curse of The Lucky Hat? Soon however, Maniac regained the lead. Luna Teak was also sailing strong as Captain Chris and father Jerry, along guest crew Chris Cyrul from PYC (and skipper of Whatta Ride! and Opus Dei from Shackleton years' past) had a solid grip on 3rd position. Meanwhile, Smoke and Hasta La Vista began what would be good number of crossing battles with one another throughout the majority of the upwind leg. The Blue Pearlfollowed a little further behind.
The Aquarium boat did eventually make its way through the fleet and one may note that the passengers aboard are all inside where it is warm and toasty and not on the observation deck where it is... not warm and toasty. They zigzagged through the fleet putting out a very interesting wake. It wasn't a large wake by any means (they were running at a pretty slow speed while passing through) but it came in two parts... the first was a pretty normal boat wake, nothing big (we have certainly seen MUCH bigger) soon followed by these rolling swells - again not big but continuous after the boat was practically out of sight... kind of fun to ride on really.
It seemed that the closer we sailed to the weathermark, the more The Wind began working in patches, shifts, and speed, and in general, a speed that was declining. I think all of us would receive a favorable shift or two - promptly followed by something very unfavorable. Now, have you ever noticed that often times when it is your boat receiving the beneficiary it is a result of pure skill, reading the water and surrounding environment, actually hunting and finding that evasive Wind? Conversely, when your opponent blasts ahead of you it is almost always, "why that lucky so and so! Why can't I catch a break like that?" This in no way has anything to do with the following picture posted below. By the way, a shout out of thanks to Michael McNair for taking all of today's shots (aside from the file picture of The Lucky Hat) from aboard Smoke on the Water.
Maniac was sailing an excellent race and appeared to be well on their way to victory with the lead they had built. But remember how things have played out this year so far. Nothing is over and official until we sail the ENTIRE race, return to port, plug in those handicap numbers, and consult the Magic 8 Ball for the final results. AND do recall that The Lucky Hat was not presently being donned by the skipper or any crewmember on the J 29. Of course a crewmember wearing it might be considered an act of impersonating and officer and we are not sure what kind of penalty that would call for. Anything in the rule books about something like that?
It was a good downwind run as we witnessed yet ANOTHER new sail on Luna Teak - this one a nice white spinnaker. New to the J24 that is. It is slightly used but surely better shaped and more crinkly than the original black and white one that has been a familiar Shackleton sight over the past few years. Gee, did they even have color spinnakers back in those days this one came from? Must have since the black and blue one on Hasta La Vista appears to be about the same vintage - maybe they experimented with primary colors to go with the black and white way back then?
Anyway, as the rear of the fleet approached the weathermark, Chuck was attempting to dissuade me from hoisting the old kite as he really was looking forward to a lazy sail back on Smoke. But even though the 3 frontrunners appeared to be far enough not to catch, The Wind was fading on us as predicted. Yeah, it would obviously be less labor intensive but it would have been a slow ride back and honestly, although I can't speak for anyone else, laboring was about the only thing keeping me warm out there. So, up the chutes went and although it does not happen often, afterThe Blue Pearl rounded, we were once again a 100% spinnaker clad fleet. And in color, too! Well, except for Luna Teak which actually does look pretty good dressed all in white.
Even though The Wind did diminish a good bit, to the point of where spinnakers began collapsing some, it would reappear and actually help Smoke and Hasta La Vista (us lucky so-and-sos) gain ever so much on the front of the fleet. Alas, The Blue Pearl was a bit too far back to benefit from this final gasp of what was perhaps the best and most consistent Wind of the day. In the end, even without The Lucky Hat's tassels flapping in the breeze, Maniacwould win handily today. Congratulations to them for an excellent race. The Windrush crew would place 2nd today while Luna Teak made their best showing of the year at 3rd. A great job by everyone today. Since order seems to have been restored according to those living in the Maniac world, perhaps they are at bit more at ease. "West and wewaxation at wast!" This may not last long, however. There is a possibility that the Race 6 conditions will result in a good bit of reaching (or would that be weaching?). See you all then!
RACE 5 RESULTS
|Race report written by Eric Almlie. ©Copyright 2015. All rights reserved.|