SHACKLETON RACE 6
February 5, 2005
A question to all you readers out there in cyberspace - of the following, which day would you rather sail? One with the conditions we saw in Race 5? (If you haven't read about it or need a refresher, click here.) Or would you prefer one very unordinary balmy February day with lots of sunshine and the gentlest of breezes? Before you answer that question, read on...
First of all, if it was going to reach 60 degrees today, it was going to have to do so fast - our decks were all covered with a little frost, making pre race preparations a tad hazardous. It would be kind of ironic if we got our only "cold point" of the series on what would be one of the warmest days we have seen this season.
By the time of the skipper's meeting, however, the air was warming up and the frost melting. The wind prediction was discouraging, which may have been the reason for the unusual quietness at the meeting. Or perhaps everyone was just in a zone, knowing what was at stake. We did find out that one member of our fleet has built a reputation and a local following. Before the race, David Hoover stopped at the "Crossroads", a local grocery store/deli that Dan Sisk frequents for lunch. David was asked by the good folks down there if "Dan The Man" was racing today. Kind of like a tavern's clientele favoring a local football team or something. Who knows - they might even have Dan's sail number posted on the wall!
The start of the race was delayed until noon since the hourly wind forecast on the Internet stated that the wind would build (11 a.m. - ENE at 2 mph, Noon - E at 3). If that ain't building, I don't know what is! Somehow, even with this anticipated crescendo, one could sense Race 6 would lack the intensity of its predecessor.
Without question, we could not have picked a prettier day. There was even a bit of a NNE puff and it looked promising that we would complete our approximate 3.5 mile quest for the day with ease.
It was a good start by everyone (except yours truly). Early on, David and Christopher on Banana Split were sailing strong and determined not to let Maniac escape their grasp. But alas, they would discover the Sale Creek Shoals. David Hoover and son Zach were close behind and thanked the Freye's for pinpointing the shallow water as True Blue made their tack just a few feet from Split. David Freye would later say, " I noticed that Dave (Hoover) is finally making use of my groundings. So now, good things are happening to boats that sail near Split." But it would only be a short setback on the San Juan as they were soon off the bar and back in the race, sailing strong as always.
As we made our way to the first upstream turning mark, the breeze began to thin out and we saw the commencement of the "voodoo winds" as Rodger would call them. The western side of the lake would turn into a parking lot as Banana Split, Myrtle the Turtle, True Blue, and Food Acres appeared to moor their boats in the general vicinity of Buoy 2. Manaic was able to round Buoys 2 and 3 (3 was directly across the river from 2) and head back downstream before the wind died completely. But even with the mighty chute up, it wasn't all roses. As Tim said, "we got a 150 degree (wind) shift about 40 seconds after hoisting the spinnaker and went from a port tack run to a starboard tack close reach." It was more of a westerly draft now and it wasn't too long before the spinnaker flight on Maniac was abandoned.
On Comfortably Numb it appeared that I, Eric "Magellan" Almlie was back to old habits and forgetting about Buoy 2 and sailing directly to Buoy 3 instead. What, you guys didn't hear me sound the signal to shorten the course? Actually, while everyone on the other side of the lake was virtually dead in the water, I still had a draft on the eastern shore and was making almost 2 knots. It was purely intentional and as I approached Buoy 3, I reluctantly tacked knowing that I was headed towards imminent doom myself.
We were now ALL officially in the doldrums. Even Maniac wasn't making much headway. Miss Problem Solver and Summer Breeze were also at a standstill just a little ways back. This race was now officially a "snoozarama". It is at this point sailors really begin to question themselves and their plight. And it certainly doesn't help that due to the fact it was such a nice day, many other boats and homeowners on the lake were out and about. In other words, there were people watching! And because sound travels a great distance over the water in certain conditions, we heard many of the comments about "those sailboats out there." They could scoff all they like - we had our mission and had no intentions of abandoning it (yet), even if we were just inching along.
The idea of installing stadium lights along each shoreline began to cross my mind as this could very well continue into the night time hours (had a lot of spare time to think here). Come on, admit it, the idea of having a prime time Shackleton race is intriguing, now isn't it? As you can see, one has to keep oneself occupied during a drifter to keep the madness from setting in. Mark Simms mentioned that he "adjusted his bimini, ate lunch,...took a nap." Annie on Food Acres actually did some reading about Shackleton while at the helm. Rodger lobbied for an extra point for this feat but the RC was unyielding as the rules are quite clear (if you dig deep enough) - the extra point reward for reading a book while steering was for Race 5, not for Race 6!
It is quite sad when you are probably only about seven boat lengths behind someone but yet, they lead you in time by about half an hour! It was creative, skillful, and awe inspiring as no two boats had the same sail set or course. And one by one, we plodded our way around Buoy 2 to Buoy 3 and made that long aspired turn to go downstream. We were certain the turn around Buoy 3 would be the end of the struggle. At that point, all one would seemingly have to do is hoist a spinnaker and let that little bit of whatever it was that guided us to this point push us downstream. If that didn't work, surely those white water currents would!
WRONG! The current was really a non factor (otherwise we wouldn't have made it THIS far). The chutes on Banana Split, Myrtle the Turtle, and True Blue weren't exactly billowing and I doubt we would see any death rolls today. It was good to see David Hoover's spinnaker after a two year hiatus. Well, sort of...again, the mighty sails on the aforementioned vessels never really filled and a draping spinnaker is not the prettiest sight in the world - especially if you are the one who expended the effort to hoist it. Furthermore, guess what? The wind, if that's what you choose to call it, would clock its way to a southerly direction and the spinnakers would have to come down. Grueling conditions, I say!
The now southerly draft, although immeasurable in terms of actual speed, was persistent and my knotmeter registered something other than 0.0 for the first time in an hour and a half. By this time we had lost Summer Breeze (the boat, which had retired from the race), and Maniac had long since finished and for all we know, celebrating their victory and infiltrating the Crossroads! That term "dynasty" has been thrown around a lot this week, hasn't it? Back on the course, Mark Simms took full advantage of the southern blast of air and hoisted his nice looking spinnaker as Miss Problem Solver was still making its way towards Buoy 2. After this much earned achievement, Miss Problem Solver retired from the race as well. Banana Split's early grounding had no long term effects as David and Christopher crossed the line second soon followed by Myrtle the Turtle. An impressive outing for the conditions by True Blue and Food Acres. And bringing up the rear...I was actually a little disappointed that I didn't get to fly the spinnaker on this day. On the turn around the secondary channel marker to head up into the mouth of Sale Creek for the last hundred yards or so to the finish line, Numb was on a downwind course and I thought, "NOW!" was the time to make my move. However, I resisted the temptation to hoist the chute but if it would have taken any longer than the 7 minutes it took to sail that last hundred yards, I would have seriously considered it!
So there you have it! Which day would you rather sail? If you say today, you are probably crazier than the rest of us...and therefore, an ideal candidate to sail with us in the Shackleton Series! We welcome everyone!
Pictures by Rodger Ling and Eric Almlie
Story written by Eric Almlie. ęCopyright 2005. All rights reserved.
RACE 6 RESULTS