January 9, 2016
The creation of a typical Shackleton race course is an involved and complicated process. There are so many variables to take into consideration, the basics of which are as follows. Where is the wind coming from and with what velocity? How much river current will be flowing? Will it be raining, sunny, sleeting, or hailing...none of the above, or all of the above? Do we want to keep it simple or do we wish to addle the fleet with 15 buoy roundings? This latter component is somewhat arbitrary and is really dependent upon the whims of the race committee.
With these basic elements plugged in the formula for today's contest (SE winds near 10 forecasted by EVERY SINGLE weather aficionado, professional and amateur alike; 85,000 cubic feet of sparkly Tennessee River water spilling through the gates at the dam with the passing of each second; and a 90% chance of some moderate rain showers to arrive early to mid afternoon) it was a tossup between a 4.8 mile and 5.8 mile course. Yes, it IS only one mile difference but with the impending precipitation, we really wanted to avoid putting our foulies to the test. And despite our reputation of sometimes sailing in less than desirable conditions, it does not mean that we actually yearn for them. We WILL sail in the rain if need be with a "because it is there" type attitude but in reality, we much prefer fair skies, 80 degrees and pleasant winds. Who wouldn't?
Despite the relatively strong current, it was determined that it was no match for a 10 mph breeze and confidence was high that we could get the 5.8 miles of Race 5 in before the weather turned on us. Furthermore, tossing one other twist into the mix, we were hopeful of avoiding any confrontation with the Tennessee Aquarium River Gorge Explorer boat that has been making tours to Hiwassee Island out of the marina for the past week.
The River Gorge Explorer is about as wide as is the Sale Creek secondary channel so it was in our best interests to attempt to start and finish this race without having to maneuver around them, or vice versa.
The 100% chance of SE winds was 100% incorrect as we were delivered a lighter variation of wind out of the NE. With this it was 100% probable that the 90% chance of rain would become reality at some point in Race 5. That turned out to be 100% accurate. Although not a drenching downpour, it was enough to make things quite wet and make temps in the low 50s seem much much colder. One other thing that has a 100% chance of occurring...leave Andre enough room at a downwind start, regardless of what boat he is sailing, he is going to find a way to cover the nearest boat. Much to the dismay of the Maniac crew, they would be victimized while the smaller J24 Luna Teak built a boat-for-boat lead and would remain in front for the entire downwind portion of the race. Was this a result of Andre's wind thievery early on? Was the J29 just not on their game? Was the J24 crew (who have been sailing outstanding this season) on top of theirs? Or was it just some kind of weird voodoo?
During the pre-start maneuvering (something that I am sure puzzles any onlooker illiterate in the ways sailboat racing, especially those wacky starts) we noticed something very interesting about the Maniac crew and their attire. Well, not so much their clothing other than it is not matching. And as we know by now, homogeneous garb = race course success. But since no participating crew on any boat was uniformed there was no distinct advantage or disadvantage as to how one was dressed today (Unless you were like me and left my rain pants on another boat.) No, it wasn't the outfits per se but rather the head gear. Again, non matching but if we are to zoom in a little closer and observe what is perched atop Captain Tim's head...
I must have missed the Lucky Hat's press conference about coming out of retirement. Was it the midseason drop in the standings that led to this or was The Hat looking at one more shot of glory? But while Luna Teak was the front running boat, we began to wonder if there was any magic remaining in The Hat. Or perhaps it was the fact that I had photographed it upon first glance, thus inflicting some type of "stealing one's soul" curse. Maybe I had jinxed it!
But during our return beat upstream (again I say the winds were supposed to originate out of the southeast and remain constant throughout the day), Maniac began pulling ahead. This was no real shock and all us remaining boats still held our ace in the hole - our assigned PHRF number! But as the early afternoon hours waned, so did our wind. The River Gorge Explorer appeared out of the north and would enter the Sale Creek channel before our arrival. We may have dodged them this time but there was a 2nd tour scheduled to depart the marina at 2:00, thus putting them back in the secondary channel around 2:15 or so.
As the 2:00 hour approached Mainac was flirting with finishing while I was stalling out just upstream of Camp Vesperpoint in Hasta La Vista. Luna Teak was inching along about halfway between us. What became of Dutchess you ask? About that time my forward progress halted and slowly reversed with the current, the distinguishing chugging of an old Volvo diesel became audible. One down! Would there be more?
Maniac would cross at 2:03:10 and barring a major change in the conditions at this point (the J 24 had also ceased forward motion, but at least prevented any downstream movement, having wisely set anchor) The Lucky Hat would score an assist to the victory. (Apparently the camera curse is only a temporary thing.) It wasn't long afterwards where we again saw The River Gorge Explorer exit out the secondary and make its sharp turn towards Hiwassee. Probably the last we would see of her for today...or would it be?
The next hour or so was agonizing and setting the anchor would have been the proper call for me (after drifting downstream a bit it was an hour after I returned to the spot Andre had motored past me). Call it laziness perhaps. I didn't want to hoist the 170% either as this would have been yet another sail to dry out. About this time Luna Teak was finishing up....we had no doubts they were not going to give in with the series lead on the line! No time limit was set for this race so we were out there for the duration. The J 24 crew did a great job utilizing the anchor and sailing over the shoals (in less river current) when the light winds returned. Finally, the winds did reappear with some consistency - right about the time I witnessed The RGE returning. At that point it was well after 4 p.m. and about 3 hours longer than I had hoped to spend out there. It was time to get dry.
As always it could have been worse and there was some good to this day of sailing. Being out on the water is still (most of the time) the best place to be. Congrats to the Maniac crew and The Lucky Hat! Will see everyone in Race 6.
RACE 5 RESULTS
Race report written by Eric Almlie. ©Copyright 2016. All rights reserved.