SHACKLETON RACE 8
March 5, 2005
After the last two yawners we were curious as to what would be in store for the final match of this series. We were not asking for much - just a little more breeze to work with than we have had recently. The response from the wind gods: "you want wind? Okay, we'll give you wind!" For Race 8 was not a sailboat race - it was a broaching contest! Always save the best for last they say.
Leaving port, it was unknown to Captain Hoover (the determined seafarer on the left) and crewmate Andre that True Blue was a marked boat for this race. Soon after Race 7, Tim Chambers, skipper of Maniac had mentioned that after their brief entanglement with one another during that contest, the gauntlet was thrown down and their plan for Race 8 was to "attack the big blue boat", even if they lost ground doing so.
For the most part, though, True Blue was saved from this wrath since this particular contest would be a pursuit race. For those unaware of how a pursuit start works, instead of all participants starting the race together and applying each handicap to the finish time, the handicaps are applied up front, resulting in a staggered start - the slower rated boats going first. Each skipper must also decide their spinnaker status before hand. Normally this is a fairly easy decision, but with the wind advisory and the gusty westerly winds expected I sensed a tad bit of apprehension when asking, "okay, who is flying a spinnaker today?" The uneasiness from the group was more about seeing the slightest movement or twitch that would even remotely resemble raising one's hand resulting in a rapid chain reaction of suicidal spinnaker declarations. It is simply not permissible to allow just one of us to declare a spinnaker - where one goes, the rest follow, regardless of the consequences. But we were a wise bunch today and the temptation to wrestle with the big sails was resisted.
One of the nice things about a pursuit start is that the starting line is a little less congested. This is probably good due to those vicious sand bar traps located on either side of the starting buoys and the secondary channel leading out to the "big" water. That's not to say there weren't some tension filled moments preceding the start. There were wind shifts and gusts. Some boats put in reefs. Some like on Banana Split went for broke and took them out. On Comfortably Numb I literally sailed out of my shoes. Somehow when stepping off the cabin top back into the cockpit, the back of my shoe got caught on something (still unsure as to what) and it slipped off my foot and into the dark and turbulent river waters. It was too close to starting time to organize a rescue mission. The shoe was gone - that fact would have to be faced - I can see the personal ad now: "SWS (Single White Shoe), Reebok, seeks right footed mate, lost in boating accident." Little was it known that this loss would be a precursor of unfortunate events and strange happenings all over today's course. Yes indeed, we saved the best race of the series for last.
Leading off the race at 11:15 would be Mike Rice in Summer Breeze and Anthony West in the USS Georgia. Although the handicaps of the respective vessels differed a little, we went for a few group startings to make things a little less complicated. This being about a 10-1/2 mile course would mean that the fastest rated boat, Maniac, would have to wait and start the race until...oh, sometime next Tuesday. We had awhile before a specific time had to be nailed down. In the meantime, the Maniac crew "volunteered" their services to handle the starting horns for each boat or group of boats. In reality, they started the race at 11:48 - at least we have to assume that is when they started - the nearest boat, True Blue, was 12 minutes into the race and probably a mile and a half away by that point.
I read somewhere that the Greek mythological god, Zephyrus is responsible for west winds and the breezes he brings are expected to be gentle (hence the term zephyr). Zephyrus had an off day - or maybe we didn't read the fine print. Yes, we got wind but around here west does not mean west - it means westerly and any position on the compass with "W" painted on it - NW, SW, WNW, etc. And the 10-20 mph forecast turned out to be anything from 5 - 30 knots of wind.
Regardless of all the curves we were thrown wind wise, this was still a fun race. When the wind is up, it is amazing how far apart boats can get in just a matter of minutes. In the photo on the right, you will see Andre piloting True Blue during a gust. If you look closely and squint hard enough, you might actually see Maniac. And for a change, we were not trailing them by this distance. But like the side mirrors on a car - objects are closer than they appear and each person further up in the course knew they would have to keep up the pace, because at some point, those in the rear would gain ground - we didn't start them that far back for nothing!
The USS Georgia gained a good amount of separation from Summer Breeze and set a challenging pace. The fleet was gaining but it was going to take some time. David and Debra Freye in Banana Split were generally 2 - 5 boat lengths behind me in Comfortably Numb for the majority of the trip downstream. This may have actually been part of their strategy. After the race, the Freye's indicated they could see when the next gust or shift was coming by watching me round up or fall off. Glad to be of assistance.
About a mile and a half from the downstream turning mark, Numb overtook Summer Breeze and moved into second position, still about a mile or so behind Anthony. Split fell a little bit further behind but this did not set my mind at ease because I knew they would definitely be back and Food Acres, Miss Problem Solver, and Seaqual (good to see Robert back out on the course) were fast approaching. In fact, Food Acres moved into second position just prior to reaching the downstream mark. After rounding it, Rodger and crew went road runner on us and took off at a scalding pace, snapped a photo of the fleet behind them, and set sights on the USS Georgia.
The return trip upstream was more of the same - more gusts and shifts. The fleet was tightening up slowly. I knew for me, catching Food Acres was highly unlikely unless there was a grounding involved or something. The mighty S2 had full canvas up and if my knotmeter was reading a steady 7 plus knots, theirs had to have been approaching 9!
Speaking of 9 knots and speed and all that kind of thing Maniac was still gaining. Guess I didn't tweak the numbers used to obtain the starting times enough - we were all supposed to have finished before they hit the downstream mark!
Race 8 was becoming a true battle - with each other and the elements. Lots of boats lost some of their, as one participant put it, "doohickeys". (We call them sail shackles, slides and slugs in the industry - those things that attach the mainsail to the mast). Breaking down from UV exposure over time, they have known to bust in these types of conditions making for a less than desirable mainsail shape. Fatigue was also setting in for many of us and we were going to dread the last half mile or so of this course, which would involve a lot of tacking.
About a mile from the last turning buoy at Grasshopper Creek Numb skirted along the eastern shoal just outside the channel, desperately not wanting to tack. When the depthfinder alarm went off indicating that I was in six feet of water (or less), I caught a break and got a lift, sending me back to deeper water and in a better position to make the Grasshopper Creek mark. Looking back behind me I noticed Miss Problem Solver and Myrtle the Turtle (who had quietly snuck up) following my path. Not sure if they would get the same lift, I wondered if they would be taken out by the shoal - Mark's depthfinder had ceased functioning at some point in the race and Dan's - I am not even sure if he is equipped with one. Apparently they escaped without incident (I didn't have the stomach to look back at what would have been a pretty hard grounding) since no one fussed at me later for drawing them into the shallows.
While this was going on, the race appeared to be between the USS Georgia (how's that for a twist on things?) and Food Acres as they began their beat to the finish line. Meanwhile Banana Split had made another surge and True Blue and Maniac all threatened to pass me to windward. Obviously my wind scouting services were no longer required by anyone! A gust nearly sent True Blue broaching into Banana Split. Interesting tactic to try and glance off one boat to knock them out and get yourself back on course - combining billiards with our sport now are we?
Virtually all of us with the exception of the two front runners reached the Grasshopper Creek mark around the same time. Maniac had taken over 3rd position while True Blue and Banana Split were battling it out for 4th position. Numb was fading as Miss Problem Solver and Myrtle the Turtle were directly on my stern as we started tacking to the finish.
Food Acres crossed the finish line first and it appeared that victory was sealed. But upon review of the course surveillance tapes, and by Rodger's own admission, Food Acres did not round the Grasshopper Creek nun on the trip downstream. What is it about that buoy - is there some type of natural element present in that area that effects our memory? So instead, victory would go to...
Maniac was fast closing in on the USS Georgia. As witnessed first hand today, the Alberg 24 is a quick little boat off the wind - great on reaches, which is what we did 90 percent of the time today. It lacks the pointing ability of a J29, however. With Maniac in hot pursuit and seconds behind, Anthony's spinnaker pole rolled off the deck and into the river. Having little time before it would sink to the depths, Anthony's reaction was swift - "forget the pole - I'm ahead of Maniac!" And on this day, March 5, 2005 A.D., let it be known to all that we watched in stupefaction as Anthony West in The USS Georgia rattled the entire local sailing community and took first place! Maniac would cross the finish line about 15 seconds later. Congratulations, Anthony! It was Secret Weapon "Z"* that finally did it.
Finishing next in order, all VERY close to one another were True Blue, Banana Split, Myrtle the Turtle, and Comfortably Numb. I barely had enough energy to yell a futile "Starboard!" to Dan and I knew he would make the finish line on the next tack and I would need two more. That finish up the secondary channel was brutal - the channel is so narrow and by the time the sails were set and sheeted in after one tack, it was time to tack again! Mark on Miss Problem Solver filed a facetious protest on the race course designer (It was Andre - all his idea! Not me! Well maybe I had a little influence.) Miss Problem Solver found the river bottom for the third time today but this time, they were REALLY stuck and required the assistance of the big iron sail to free themselves. Meanwhile Robert and Mike single handing on Seaqual and Summer Breeze respectively, wanted no part of the tacking workout (lose 10 pounds in 5 minutes, GUARANTEED!) and retired from the race.
The wheel of misfortune continued rolling on Food Acres even after the race. In a span of about two minutes, their jib furling line jammed, Rodger injured his foot (which was diagnosed as a roll strain the following day), and during an intentional jibe, blew out all their "doohickeys" and suffered damage to the mast sail track. And after returning to port, crewmember David Levine lost a cell phone in the water. With today's experience under our belt, I think we should all have serious consideration for the Vendee Globe! Great job by everyone today - finishing or not.
Generations from now, divers exploring the Tennessee River will discover mysterious nylon sail slide fragments, a spinnaker pole, a shoe, and maybe some bottom paint residue in the same general vicinity and wonder, "what the..? That must have been some race!"
This concludes yet another fun filled Shackleton Series. Congratulations to Maniac, this year's overall winner and to the runner ups Myrtle the Turtle and True Blue. But remember this series (and all our racing) is not about winning or losing. It takes a good deal of determination (and maybe a little stubbornness...okay, a lot of stubbornness) to sail in less than ideal conditions. Unlike the pictures in the magazines, it is not always sunny and the wind is not always a steady 10-15. Racing develops sailing skills - whether you're serious about competing or not - you will come out a better sailor in the end and those skills are valuable regardless of what type of sailing you do. And MOST importantly, I can't reiterate enough as to how much fun it is just to get out on the water with this great group of people here and sail around in good weather or bad - I don't care who laughs at us! Thanks so much to everyone!
*Anthony has employed various techniques to gain boat speed - installing a mizzen mast here, new sail there. Each one was labeled Secret Weapon A, B, C, etc. To be honest, I am not sure what Secret Weapon Z was - but it sounded good writing it!
Race report written by Eric Almlie.
ęCopyright 2005. All rights reserved.
Photos by Rodger Ling, Andre Rijsdijk, and David Hoover.
RACE 8 RESULTS
Note: no times were taken at the finish. Those who finished the race were very close time wise. Those who retired from the race were very close behind. Just to throw another stat in for your information, race start times are listed below for each boat.
FINAL SEASON STANDINGS