Tuesday, 30 June 2009

LSIS #3 - Racing Like We're Racing, Pt. 1

You just can’t do that in a Catalina 25…

This post could also be called “Feeling like a 15 year old boy caught in a sorority pillow fight,” but I don’t think SWMBO would approve of that title.

Saturday’s race was… amazing. I’m not sure where to start, so I’ll go from the beginning. The beginning was around 6:30 AM when I woke up and reluctantly dragged myself out of bed.

Last year in this race I had hit long shoal, blown multiple tacks, and ended up so far back from the leaders in the race that the committee boat has radioed to me to verify that I was still racing. As I pulled my clothes on and drove to Barrie, I was expecting a repeat performance, hopefully minus finding the bottom of the lake.

I had no crew, the boat’s rig was nicely tuned, but her interior was a shambles from the late night sail to Barrie, and I was groggy from Chucks Birthday party that had kept me up until the wee hours of the morning. I parked the car, went and unlocked the boat, and drove it from the Government docks across to the Barrie Municipal marina where the skippers meeting was scheduled to take place an hour later.

While milling about waiting for the meeting and enjoying breakfast, I met up with Tabasco’s skipper. Apparently she had extra crew who would be willing to sail on Iris with me if I needed a hand. I tried to hold back the smile. This was great news! I was worried about exhaustion after my late night, and extra hands would definitely be a good thing.

Judi came aboard and lent a hand putting new split rings into the turnbuckles, then stowed her gear and got familiar with the boat. She was easy going and fun to talk to. It was going to be a good day on the water. With loads of experience, Judi would able to take over if I needed a rest, and she would be able to offer tips to help us go faster. We strolled over to the skippers meeting and got the race instructions.

There would be an upwind start across the Barrie waterfront, and then the fleet would turn and beam reach down K-Bay to big Bay Point. From there we would sail south into Cook’s Bay, and end the race just outside of Kon-Tiki Marina. Everything was the same as last year. I told Judi about my concerns with long shoal, and she agreed that we should make sure we were clear of it. Then we started the outboard, got away from the dock, and headed out into K-Bay.

Before the race there was some confusion with where the start line was, but eventually we figured out which boat was the committee boat, and which mark was the start mark. I hear a car honk faintly on shore, and then saw the spin fleet turn toward the start line.

“Judi, did you just hear a horn?”

“I’m not sure, I think I heard something”

“It looks like the spinnaker fleet is starting.”

We sailed over closer to the start, worked our way into the pack, and got close to “Blue Sky,” another boat from our home fleet.

“Do you have the start time?” I asked.

“Yup,” the skipper called back, “On my mark its 2 minutes to start… MARK!”

I didn’t have our timer in hand, so his mark didn’t help much. About 30 seconds later I found myself fumbling with the timer trying to figure out how much time had passed. I looked at Judi and said “We’ll just follow him.”

Following Blue Sky was a great idea. He had a great start, and we were just below him on the line, in the first wave of boats over. 100 meters later, a little green Tanzer 22 just ahead of us, Newfie Screach was hunting us from behind and “I am Canadian” one of our fiercest competitors was right by us. It was a tight pack.

As we moved along, the Tanzer was causing me trouble. He was dead ahead, and I didn’t want to be in his draft, but the wind was gusty, so passing to his windward side would be difficult since he could round up in a gust and hit us. Passing to leeward was tactically a bad choice, but would give me more control of my boat, and less concern about his. I decided to pass to leeward.

As we came alongside the little boat he started bearing off the mark, and diving a lot lower than I would have liked. I let the boat slow a little, and then tacked behind him, aiming for the mark that would start the reach along K-Bay to big bay point.

I don’t remember what boats were around us when we reached the mark. I do know that hot on our heels was Newfie Screach and I Am Canadian. The little green Tanzer was close by as well. Ahead of us we could see Tabasco, Blue Sky, and My Excuse. Ahead of them was the spinnaker fleet.

As we sailed up K-Bay, it was hard to decide where to go. The wind was patchy, and at some points the near shore winds were strongest, while at others the mid-lake winds were better. We passed and got passed as we worked up the bay, trading places with some boats as many as 3 or 4 times.

Eventually we were ahead of most of the boats we had started with. Blue Sky and Tabasco were ahead, and the spin fleet ahead of them. Not sure of where the winds would be best any more, we decided to follow the spin fleet, and cut across the bay on a long angle. Off our port side the green Tanzer was staying closer to the north shore of the bay, and we marked our time against them. Newfie was behind us a fair ways, but he would surge ahead whenever he hit good wind. We couldn’t guard our lead, and just hoped we were sailing in the strongest wind.

Ahead of us, Railin was sailing close to shore and seemed to be doing well, so we followed over to where he was. Suddenly we realized he had stopped moving and was sitting still. Up ahead at Big Bay point, most of the spin fleet was sitting with slack sails. Close in to shore Tabasco and Blue Sky were fending off each other, drifting with no wind. It looked like the doldrums.

Judi and I had a brief discussion, and then decided to move out further from the shore and see if there was more wind away from the point. The little green Tanzer was becalmed, then put down his engine and turned to go home. Another boat followed him back to Barrie. Moving under 1 knot, we pressed on.

Eventually we built speed up to 2 knots, and turned toward the point again. Our speed was enough. We sailed between the becalmed boats. I asked Tabasco’s crew if this was the lunch stop, then we laughed, and moving at under a knot got clear of Big Bay point. We were in Lake Simcoe, and a different wind system.

Tabasco, Blue Sky, and a number of other boats were becalmed at big Bay point for over an hour. The spin fleet, ourselves, and 2 other white sail boats would get past the point, and form the lead group racing to the finish line. The second fleet, consisting of the boats that couldn’t escape the point would sail a completely different race.

As Iris cleared the point, Judi and I looked at each other in amazement. We were keeping up with the boats 2 classes ahead of us. You aren’t supposed to be able to do that in a Catalina 25.

We sailed southward along Lake Simcoe’s west shore and could see the spin fleet having definite problems just ahead of us. The wind was very patchy, and would blow in from a different direction with different intensities with every gust. Then it would disappear altogether, leaving you to drift on whatever momentum you had from the previous puff. Difficult conditions to set a spinnaker in.

We were the last boat in the pack, and the only boat in our class to have cleared the point. Although we were behind the pack, we were able to find a real advantage to our position. First we were sailing with boat a class ahead of us, second, they were flying spinnakers.

We began reading the wind by using the spinnakers.

The boats ahead of us were mostly grouped together, and we could see the chutes fall flat when the wind died, but more important, we could see which boats in the spin fleet kept going. By heading where those boats were and imitating their trim, we were able to maintain our position, and even gain on some boats. Some of the boats were having definite problems keeping their chutes flying properly since the wind was so inconsistent. Even those boats gave us hints though.

Eventually one of the boats in the spin fleet was definitely in trouble. His chute was streaming out horizontally from his masthead, and the boat spun downwind as the skipper, a friend who I knew was sailing single handed, tried to recover the sail. About 15 minutes later the skipper issued a pan pan stating that he had run aground, and couldn’t extract himself. His boat stayed aground for half an hour before a swell lifted him off and he sailed away.

Meanwhile we continued following the spin fleet deeper into Cook’s bay, wondering when the second fleet would appear from behind Big Bay Point. It would be quite some time. When the boats did appear, they were sailing east instead south since the wind that had filled in was from a different direction.

We continued into Cook’s bay, and eventually heard a pan pan issued from a second boat. Following this call, there was much confused discussion on the VHF. The boat had sunk. We weren’t sure what had happened, but the crew had been rescued and was on shore. Apparently everything had happened within minutes, and the rest of the fleet was trying to raise help.

We were too far away to be of assistance, and so continued on into the depths of the bay, keeping an eye on the spin fleet ahead of us. They were definitely getting away, but if we could just keep the boat at hull speed on the fresh, steady wind that had filled in, we would be fine. Judi and I kept knocking on wood and pinching ourselves since we couldn’t believe the results we were having.

We were the first boat in our division to cross the finish line.

The second place boat, Newfie Screach wouldn’t reach the line for nearly 45 minutes. Third place was almost an hour behind us.

I am elated with our win, it is definitely a high point. I can’t wait to get the flag. Somehow I need to pay Judi back for helping to get this.

On my club’s racing forum this message was posted lat night, it came as a surprise to me, but made me feel even more impressed with our win:

“Carl you are right Iris had the best corrected time on Saturday.
the best flying sail corrected time was 3:49:39 ( <-- Spinnaker fleet, race boats) the best white sail low was 3:44:01 ( <-- Big boats) Iris's corrected time was 3:32:30 !” ( <-- Little boat)

LSIS Race 2 Stats:

Distance Covered: XX.X Statute Miles (Slip to Slip)
Time on course: 3:56:44
Corrected time: 3:32:30
Time out of 1st Place (Corrected Time): 0:00:00
Iris was on course 0.00% longer than the first place boat.

Course to be edited in later…

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