SHACKLETON RACE 1
October 29, 2005
With persistence paralleled only by that little pink bunny in those tv commercials, we are back with another exciting and action packed Shackleton Series. Prior years have been dominated by Maniac although last year we showed promise and actually beat them twice, once by Dan in Myrtle the Turtle and once by Anthony in the USS Georgia. If you haven't noticed, it is (and has been for some time) the fleet versus Maniac and this year our chances to keep them out of the winner's circle are better than average. Never mind the fact that the J 29 is not presently within 50 miles of Sale Creek and is at another lake beating other boats! That said it is wide open this winter sailing season, and we are all optimistic!
As I finished drawing out another one of Andre's dandy race courses for each of our eager participants, I began making note of who was present and accounted for. Looked like the skippers would have to labor extra hard today - no signs of crew. The weather hasn't even turned for the worse yet and we are already sailing solo! But faster than you can say "ringer", a grey Mini Cooper pulled up in the parking lot and out stepped Tim and Lynn Chambers. I had assumed that they would be crewing for Warren on I Soar. But it turned out that only Tim was, Lynn was looking for a boat to sail on. My first reaction, a trained response, was to make the announcement at the skipper's meeting that there was crew available to anyone needing assistance. Guess my mind isn't as sharp these days and after the few seconds it took to realize I was one of those needing assistance, it never made it the skipper's meeting! Let everyone else find their own crew!
It was a beautiful autumn day, there was a crispness in the morning air, and the sun was burning off the morning fog. With the forecast winds of light and variable (groan) given, we set a short course of just over 4 miles. Our initial start time was to be noon but as the skipper's meeting progressed, a nice NE wind was calling and we took advantage of it, advancing the start time up to 11:15.
Like an aging and tireless boxer, Rodger and Annie Ling on Food Acres came out of racing retirement again for just ONE MORE race. This being their last participation, one might think that we might treat them kindly on the race course, or at the very least, give them a special handicap. After all, their vessel is heavily loaded down with provisions for their upcoming trip to the Caribbean. But this is the Shackleton Series and there are no special favors! And like I said, they are loaded down because they are going to the Caribbean!!!!! Well, eventually. With about 750 miles of river and a myriad of locks before they even get to the Gulf, it is a pretty safe bet that they won't be island hopping in the Bahamas by the time the cold Shackleton weather arrives.
But today was seasonably warm and a most excellent day to be on the water. Can't imagine a better place to be as the race began. Well actually, the BEST place was where Banana Split was as David Freye nailed the start. We were fairly close behind in Hasta La Vista, the other San Juan 24 that I was skippering. Andre was single handing Dutchess nimbly as always. Dan and a crewmember were sailing fierce in Myrtle the Turtle. There was no telling what type of wicked strategy Tim and Warren would be brewing up on I Soar but we are quite sure it was...well, an actual strategy, more than my normal plan of "let's sail that way really fast...and don't hit anything!" Mike Rice, fresh off a long night shift (there is no rest for Shackleton participants) was soloing in Summer Breeze and showing that lots of sailing practice pays off. And of course, the aforementioned Food Acres was doing their shake down cruise with 3 months of food stocked aboard. Haven't there been some Shackleton races in the past that have actually lasted that long?
We began our customary exit of the secondary Sale Creek channel and began our ascent upstream. Once again, Captain Freye was on his game as he lead the fleet, getting good speed and pointing high. The mainsail on Hasta La Vista is a tad blown out and regardless of our efforts, the leech fluttered continuously. Furthermore, it was confirmed that verbal threats are useless to inanimate objects. But complaints shall be kept to a minimum as this is a borrowed boat that I am having the privilege of racing. And for those curious, Comfortably Numb is still around and who knows, just might make a Shackleton Series appearance this season. Yes, I realize that the points of two different boats cannot be combined. But as mentioned earlier, we are all optimistic and by possibly entering two different boats in the series, I am shooting for first AND second place!
The rest of the fleet followed and like in the River Drop a couple weeks ago, we began swapping positions. The only exception here was that Banana Split had built a pretty good lead and David did not appear to have any intentions of relinquishing it. Dutchess and I Soar were battling it out for second position while Myrtle the Turtle was continuously on my tail for a good bit of the upwind leg. It must have been frustrating to Dan as well since he yelled out, "get away from me!" at one of our many meetings and crossings. Well to be truthful, Dan actually got away from us on the very next tack as he turned on the J 24 afterburners (an exclusive J Boat option).
Also battling it out were Summer Breeze and Food Acres. On one crossing, Mike felt like a marked man as Food Acres drew a bead on to the Buccaneer. Whenever Mike steered, the S2 altered course, as if zeroed in to slice the smaller vessel in two. Could it be that Alfred the Autopilot on Food Acres had taken over command? Don't you just love how sailors name, not just their boats, but their gear and equipment? That's one of the ways we pass time during those dull and boring drifters. Anyway, Summer Breeze was able to escape the trajectory and avoid any physical confrontation with the much larger and weighted down vessel. Being the true sportsman and gentleman that he is, Mike filed no protests but did want to add that his altering course was surely the thing that cost him the race!
The upstream mark turned out to be another pivotal point in the race. Andre pulled the ol' switcheroo when designing the course. I don't believe we have ever had to keep the buoy we used here to our port side in the past. Insuring that he had passed Banana Split BEFORE mentioning something, Andre asked David about whether or not he rounded that buoy properly! Yes, Split's lead was no more as David had to go back and correct himself. And there were a few boats that fell victim to the current in the area and had to make an extra tack or so as well.
Rounding the upstream mark in Hasta La Vista I said, "look, they are getting ready to hoist...", POP! In just nanoseconds, the menacing looking spinnaker on I Soar went from being harmlessly stuffed in its bag to soaring majestically. One might have expected to see an explosion of spinnakers follow but for various reasons, the remainder of us kept ours safely stowed. Too short a downwind leg, sailing shorthanded, no autopilot, and crew's concerns of the rigging integrity (so a cheek block pulled out of the deck in the last race - that sort of thing happens all the time!) were among the excuses. Regardless, when we returned to the dock somehow it would be me who would receive the brunt of the harassment (from those who didn't use theirs either!) "Why didn't you hoist your spinnaker? You would have won!" was heard a lot. Arguably, we did have a very good downwind run and which MAY have bettered by use of the chute. But our success may have been due to the fact that we DIDN'T hoist the spinnaker. After all, it has yet to be tested on this boat and furthermore, refer to the afore referenced hardware failure!
The finish was exciting. I Soar crossed the finish line first leaving no doubt as to their victory, since all of us nearby had to give them time. Since the rest of us were bunched together, how we would finish would depend on how I calculated the numbers. Mike and Andre were present to insure that no one interfered with the process. Admittedly, there were a couple of time discrepancies, which we cannot figure out...my "official" watch was in synch with those that differed but their finish times had them well in front of I Soar boat for boat. So there are a couple of estimated times below, but they should be pretty close to correct based on everyone else's finish. We are now accepting volunteers for official time keepers!
This year's series looks wide open so stay tuned, and hey - better yet, how 'bout getting out there with us? The more, the merrier! Even though you may have missed one race, a DQ here and there and a little bit of magic with the numbers, you might find yourself competing for the coveted title. But then, also remember it is all about camaraderie and learning how to sail better. Look what its done for us - Maniac is no longer in the lead!
Story written by Eric Almlie. ęCopyright 2005. All rights reserved.
Photos by Rodger and Annie Ling.