Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Hawkestone Regatta

Well, after our many “adventures” on vacation, I had to get myself psyched up for the annual labour day weekend regatta. 4 races in 3 days, and as of the day before the races I still hadn’t put the boom back on the boat. Too busy licking my wounds, and fixing stuff around the house that had been neglected in our pre-vacation preparation.

Friday night, I took all the “Camper-crap” off the boat, and got her close to race ready, put the boom on, and motored across the lake to the Barrie Marina. Arrived at 2:30 AM and joined the raft-up, then crashed.

At 07:by-God-30 some prick woke up the fleet for breakfast. I stumbled to the clubhouse for coffee and eggs, then returned to the boat and realized I hadn’t checked the rig since raising the mast. A quick tweak here and there, and the rig was close to right for racing, then it was off to the skipper’s meeting.

At the skipper’s meeting , I received my flags for previous races, a first, second and third, and felt pretty happy with myself, then it was the instructions for today’s race. The day would start with a windward-leeward race, followed by a medium distance race to Hawkestone Yacht Club. Due to light winds, courses would be shortened if necessary.

I don’t remember much of the windward-leeward course. I think I started middle of the pack, and worked hard to hold position, but this is usually my worst race of the season, so I didn’t expect much. Some of my fiercest competition (“I am Canadian”) finished ahead of me, but I was happy when I finished the race in what looked like a decent position. After the race, I hove to and waited for the start of the second race.

Race 2 was the distance race from Barrie to Hawkestone Yacht Club. Only 6 boats were entered in my division, but I hoped I would do well in this one. In light winds, Iris tends to do well, and our tacking angles and strategies were working OK. The race would have a struggle to windward in Kempenfelt Bay (about 15 miles long and only a mile or so wide) then we would skirt the North shore of Lake Simcoe to reach HYC.

The race committee blasted out the pre-start warning, and I moved to the preferred end of the line, getting ready for “the ultimate start sequence” I thought I had it too, until, with less than 2 minutes to start, I realized that I was on the leeward end of the line, in the dirty air of every boat in the race. I ended up crossing the line behind the rest of the fleet. A dismal start, with both classes beating me through the start, and heading up the bay ahead while I sat alone, trying to get traction in their dirty air.

I tacked over to port tack, and clawed my way to windward. I decided early that going up the bay, I would only tack once I was so close to shore that I could read addresses, or that the air was failing due to shoreline features. While on each tack, I made sure I was as close to the wind as possible without losing speed, and used my compass to hold a true heading. Last year in the night race I had taken in excess of 30 tacks to make it up Kempenfelt Bay This time I was making much more progress with much less work. By the top of the bay I had worked my way through more than half of the fleet, and was ahead of every boat in my division. I was ready to celebrate.

As I cleared the bay and got into Lake Simcoe proper, the wind began to fail. As it dropped, the boats behind filled in until they too sailed into the dead calm. A light rain fell, a tiny breeze blew on and off, the sun was hot and humidity filled the air, and we sat.

In this part of the lake a current pulled the boats along at 0.3 knots (GPS) and careful steering could get you up to 0.5 knots, but there was no hope for us to finish the race before the allotted 7:00 PM curfew. Still we sat.

For hours we drifted across the top of the bay until HYC came into view, then the RC sitting on shore waiting for us, and the tetrahedral that marked the finish. With half a mile between the 7 boats waiting to finish, and the finish line, the speed on my GPS dropped from 0.3 to 0.1 – in the wrong direction. I was actually drifting away from the mark.

There was no way any of the boats in my division would finish in time.

I took a dockline and quietly tied it to a bow cleat, then went back to the cockpit and took off my socks and shoes.

Dockline in mouth, I dove off the bow and started swimming toward the line. Everyone laughed and one of the other boats took pictures, and protested me, it was all in fun. Everyone knew this race would not have a finisher. Sure enough we were still sitting out there within a half mile of the finish when the RC called the curfew and packed it in.

I took Iris straight into HYC since SWMBO and the kids were waiting, but the boats that sat out the calm ended up finishing about an hour later. For me 7 hours of going nowhere was more than enough.

The party that night was good with some great guitar playing and drinks and food, but after getting to bed so late the night before I was mostly tired, and was glad to curl up in my berth. Too bad the baby had other plans. He whined and cried until SWMBO brought him to our bed so he could kick and squirm and keep us up all night.

At 07:by-God-30 some prick woke up the fleet for breakfast. I stumbled to the clubhouse for coffee and eggs, and met my crew for the day – Peter. Peter is a dinghy sailor who has sailed on the coast and places between, but has little racing experience. I though we’d have a good time.

Right after breakfast I ran for the Men’s room, and was seated comfortably when the call went out for the skipper’s meeting. I hurried hard, but by the time I got out and joined the gaggle, I had missed the first 5 minutes. This would turn out to be critical. The course for the day was handed out, and everyone headed to their boats. We got Iris away, and were out and set for the pre-race circling. Peter settled in nicely, and I gave him the run-down on the boats we were up against.

All of our best competition was out, and the course wasn’t one that I particularly relished. We would be sailing from HYC to a channel marker for the Trent seaway, and then we would set a course to round Thorah Island – a part of the lake with a renown for light winds and shallow water, before returning to HYC for dinner. Once again there was a 7:00 curfew, and once again provisions were made for a shortened course due to light winds. Out in the starting box was Icarus, Newfie Screach, I am Canadian, Lake Effect, and Second Wind – all boats that are fighting to beat us out of our current first place standing.

At the start we circled about as usual, and tried not to get pushed out again. With 2 minutes to start we spun the boat in a tight donut and came out right next to Icarus. 30 seconds to start, and we were leeward of him at the pin end. 10 seconds to go and we pushed him up into the pin, forcing him to circle back.

5 seconds and we were next to the pin.
4 seconds and we were at it accelerating
3,2,1 – at the line, across it and accelerating with no one to windward. No black flags, no second horn, no recall. I finally got my perfect start. The rest of the white sail fleet was dueling it out behind us while we sailed in clear air, with the spinnaker fleet up ahead of us. And we were accelerating.

We put time on the rest of the fleet most of the way to the first mark. About 2/3s of the way to the mark, the fastest of the PHRF lo boats passed us, but most of our own fleet was way behind. Then we headed for the Island, and kept our position pretty well with only 3 PHRF-lo boats ahead. Going around the island though, proved to be our undoing.

On every tack we seemed to lose ground, and before long more boats were ahead of us than behind. It was absolutely frustrating watching them pass us one after the next as we blew tacks, failed to trim to conditions, had tacking angles way over our normal 90, and generally gave away the race. Peter was trying hard, but I wasn’t giving the sort of guidance he needed to make the boat move. Eventually, we were reduced to sitting with the rest of the boats in our own class, rather than sailing with the class ahead of us.

Then the wind died, and the water got skinny.

Our batteries were low, so our depth sounder and fish finder weren’t working. I sent Peter on the bow to watch for rocks, but with low wind it was difficult to get good steerage anyway. We picked our way through the shoaling waters on the back of Thorah Island at 2 knots or less, and then sat and waited for the wind to fill in. I began doing the calculations for how long it would be before we got in, and whether we would make it before the curfew.

The rest of the boats came up from behind. I worried.

Then a breeze came up, and we took off with the other boats getting further and further behind. We were making time on them, and would certainly finish before them. Behind us was Canadian and Second Wind, and a couple others. We had a chance if we could just get this last leg perfect.

The boat accelerated with the wind and the water hissed as it sheared off the bow. We heeled nicely and sliced our way to the finish line. I made sure we were lined up perfectly between the mark and the lighthouse at the entrance to HYC, and we dove toward it at breakneck speed. Now the rest of the fleet were getting up to speed and some of the faster boats were challenging us. Dammit this would be tight. Perfection. If ever there was a time I needed perfection, this was it, and dammit, I was getting it. I told Peter not to let up in speed until we heard the horn at the finish. On PHRF we needed every second we could get.

We crossed the line at full speed, but I didn’t hear the horn. Maybe I had missed something. I looked at Peter, he looked blankly at me. The horn finally sounded, and I looked behind me. The rest of the boats had rounded the end of the line and finished, crossing the line in the opposite direction.

I swore, gybed, and fought back up to the pin to round it and cross the line, adding about 5 minutes to what would have been our time. The instructions for finishing the race had been given while I was in the washroom at the start of the skippers meeting. Peter hadn’t heard them, I didn't even know, and there was so much separation between us and the boat ahead that I hadn't seen their finish.

Supper was provided by HYC, and I got a lot of comments on our non-conventional finish, but it was OK. There was a lot more to the race than the 5 minutes at the end. Next time I’ll be more judicial in my choice of times for restroom breaks.

That night we hung out on Tecumseh and enjoyed their company, before going to bed. The next morning was a flag ceremony followed by the skippers meeting for the last race of the weekend. I wasn’t expecting much at the flag ceremony since the windward-leeward race wasn’t (in my opinion) one of my better performances, and the fiasco at the finish in the distance race had pretty much dashed my hopes for placing in that race. To my surprise Iris took third in the windward-leeward race, and third in the Thorah Island race though. To my dismay, Newfie Screach beat us in one of them and I am Canadian beat us in both, tightening up the race for the cup. We are now only 1 point ahead of Canadian.

The last race of the weekend was to be a short course around the buoys right at HYC. I circled the line, got an OK start, and tried in the light winds to pull off a good race. All the way through the race though I was blanketed by a pair of Hunter 28.5’s (Lake Effect and Second Wind) and at every mark rounding had at least 3 boats to contend with. I was keeping an eye on Newfie Screach and I Am Canadian behind me, and trying to get ahead of them, but match racing tactics were being employed against me at every turn. Then Icarus sailed up behind and made things even more complicated.

I was being headed up by 3 boats who all have PHRF ratings 20 points or more less than mine, while the guys I owe time to were making on me from behind. I had to get out of there.
Eventually I got ahead of Icarus, and Lake Effect opened up a gennaker, putting him ahead of me. Now it was just me and Lake effect, but we had caught up to Peanca – a boat in another class who thought it would be fun to play games. Once again, caught in a 3-boat fight with match racing tactics, I was forced to leave my plan to get clear and sail my race. The only boat I was really concerned with was another Catalina 25 “Allegro” who I had beat last year, but was now cleaning up on me way up ahead, however if these low-PHRF boats didn’t stop messing with me, I would be in trouble very shortly.

Luckily, the RC shortened the course so that after a final windward leg, the race would be done. As I rounded the final mark with Second Wind and Peanca, The high PHRF boats were pointing high for the finish, while I aimed low on the mark. The separation this gave meant I was no longer being harassed. Trouble was that while I was fighting with Second Wind and Peanca, Icarus had rounded the last pin ahead of me, and we were crossing very closely.

To my starboard, Second wind was pinching high to make the finish without tacking, while Icarus was crossing ahead of me, and Peanca fell behind. Altogether, about a half dozen boats crossed, recrossed and did hard battle in the last mile of the course to get to the finish first.

In the end I crossed the line ahead of I am Canadian, Newfie Screach, Icarus and Second Wind, but behind Allegro and Lake Effect. On PHRF, I took second, with Allegro taking first – that’s 2 Catalina 25’s in the top 3 positions!!

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like you had a great time! Yahooooooooooo! I can just imagine all the facial expressions...some days it's better not to hear the expetives LOL kwgma


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