Friday, 10 September 2010

Helter Skelter... Hawkestone Race 3

"When I get to the bottom I go back to the top of the slide,
where I stop and I turn and I go for a ride
till I get to the bottom and I see you again
Yeah Yeah hey Yeah..."

Paul McCartney & John Lennon

On Saturday Morning, Iris was nestled in beside Tecumseh, quietly tugging at her docklines while a light breeze moved across the lake. I woke up SWMBO and Buddy, went for a stroll ashore, and came back to let everyone know breakfast was ready. Chuck had spent the night sleeping in the clubhouse, and was eagerly eyeing the breakfast that the folks at Hawkestone had prepared.

We all had a delicious breakfast of bacon and egss and sausage and fruit and yogurt and cereal and toast and bagels and all the fixings, toppings, and garnishes that can be imagined, then I went to re-rig a mainsail on the boat.

The ferocious winds of the previous races, our already torn sail, and the damage we had sustained were all on my mind, but so were the great results we had enjoyed. Today was going to be race 3 of the weekend, a long distance race from the yacht club to Maynard’s Shoal, and then around Thorah Island and back to the club. Last year I had finished this race in second place.

As I rigged the boat, the skipper from Icarus came over to lend a hand. We talked about rig tension, and sail choices, and the job went quickly. In no time I had the main on. The bell rang for the skippers meeting. I dropped everything and ran for the meeting. I would rig our reefing lines later. As I went to the meeting a light breeze rippled the surface of the lake.

At the meeting flags were handed out for our previous races. Iris was awarded 4 second place flags and 1 first place flag, bringing our total count for the season to 7 flags. Newfie handed Chuck his first place flag from the night race, giving her credit for his finish. I was a pretty proud skipper at the end of the ceremony.

From the flag ceremony, we moved into the details of the race at hand. The course was defined and procedures laid out. At the end of the meeting we were told the race would be starting in 30 minutes. That gave us 10 minutes to get out of the harbour.

10 minutes isn’t enough time for me to rig reefing lines. I looked out on the lake again. The riffle had built to small waves. I looked at the reefing lines sitting in the cabin, coiled them up and hoped I wouldn’t need them. The engine started on the first pull, and we were away.

The wind wasn’t nearly as strong as it had been the day before, and as we sailed out to the lake, folks lined Hawkestone’s breakwall waving and shouting to the boats as they passed. We cleared the club, headed out to find the committee boat, and settled into sailing. With the full main and 110% jib out, Iris was behaving quite nicely, and we were able to sail without much trouble.

I don’t remember much of the start sequence, except that we didn’t have a fantastic position, but it wasn’t awful either. Iris seemed a little blasé and neither inspired nor let down. She just sailed without spirit as we headed downwind toward the Maynard shoal marker.
The fleet passed us as we plodded along, and I soon saw Newfie and Icarus pulling ahead of us as we sailed along next to Canadian. He puffed on a cigar, and we did what we could to keep our jib filled. We really needed a whisker pole.

Our whisker pole was sitting at home, in 2 pieces, broken on the night race.

Chuck and I could both feel the wind building as we sailed, and the boats ahead of us were taking advantage of that wind in ways we couldn’t without a pole. I looked around the boat for a way to devise a pole.

Running below I grabbed a boathook, and extended it as far as I could. It looked about the right length to work for our jib, good thing we didn’t have a genoa up. I quickly fastened it to the jib and pushed it out over the water. Now I had to find a way to attach the inboard end of the pole to the mast, or risk being protested.

Using the spare halyard, I could attach the end of the pole to the mast, but I had to get the right knot on it to prevent the pole from sliding back inboard. In my mind I ran through the list of knots I knew. Rolling hitch, timber hitch, round turn and two half hitches, clove hitch – which one was best to attach a rope to a pole at a right angle? Would the load on the pole be axial or perpendicular if the sail was flogging out there? Could I tie it and have enough tail left to cleat the line off to the mast?

In the end I decided I was overthinking things and just tied a rolling hitch, then left it be. It worked.

The boathook flexed madly, but held the sail out, and the knot never slipped. We picked up a little speed and alternated between flying wing on wing and broad reaching. Canadian slowly moved aft, and we sailed away from him.

We reached Maynards Shoal ahead of Canadian, and barely able to see Newfie and Icarus ahead of us. Tobasco’s bright red hull was easy to see on the horizon, and a few of the other white sail boats were up ahead. One of the spinnaker boats, a Sonic 23, that had run into trouble was close by, recovering their sails after losing a halyard. They rejoined the race just as we rounded the shoal marker.

I handed Chuck the tiller and went forward to bring down the boathook. With Canadian and the Sonic nearby, we at least had folks to race, even if we were at the back of the pack.

With the boathook stowed, I took back the tiller and aimed Iris at the back of the fleet. As we came up to the wind, I could feel its intensity growing. The waves came up, and we found it increasingly difficult to hold our course as we sailed the gap between Thorah Island and Lake Simcoe’s East shore.

The water behind Thorah Island is very shallow, and as we sailed along the waves came up quickly. The Sonic struggled along behind us, and we worked the mainsheet feverishly to keep Iris on her feet. We watched the fleet turn and head west back toward the yacht club, and we continued sout, deep into the area between Georgina and Thorah Islands. The sonic tacked and headed back toward Hawkestone. Newfie worked his way along the south shore of Thorah. Canadian slipped further and further behind. Icarus was following Newfie. I wanted to time my tack to take as much advantage of the wind we were facing, and held on, waiting for the right time to tack over.

Then it was time. Chuck released her sheet, I hauled in mine. The main snapped across the boat, and the tiller went to leeward. We were aimed at the open water of Lake Simcoe, waves crashing over the windward side of the boat, troughs deep enough to swallow us. We headed out to the middle of the lake, and watched as Newfie sailed his course aimed at Strawberry Island on the north shore of the lake.

Shortly after we tacked, we saw Canadian lower her sails. She was out of the race. The Sonic tacked over and joined us. Then Icarus did the same. Soon we were sailing in a pod of three boats, Iris leading, followed closely by the Sonic, and Icarus close behind. We were baffled by Newfie, watching him sail north to our west, looking like he was going to visit Orillia. Later he would jokingly tell us he was headed for holy ground, looking for the Pope.

My idea was to hold a course in the middle of the lake. Here the winds would be strongest, but Iris had shown the day before that she was up for the task. I could dump wind out of the mainsail by playing the mainsheet, and out 110% jib had performed without issue in all the races. With our high freeboard, I wasn’t too worried about the big waves. Chuck was having fun getting wet from the waves breaking over the bow.

We Aimed to sail as close to the wind as Iris could, pinching just a little, and worked our way toward the centre of the lake. The Sonic set his sights on us and followed. Icarus surged along beside the Sonic and the three boats, sailing about 30 feet away from each other formed a triangle of solidarity, fighting the wind.

Behind us we could see Icarus trying different things to gain more boatspeed. He seemed to struggle to keep up with Iris and the Sonic, and eventually he footed off, heading toward the lee shore. We held our course, the Sonic pushing us along.

As we sailed thewind grew more and more intense. We rounded up once, then again. The Sonic gained ground. Eventually he was sailing behind us. A wave would raise us up and the Sonic would be below us, then we would fall into a trough and the boat would disappear entirely behind the wall of water, reappearing as he rose on the next cres, up above us.

Again and again the two boats changed places, appearing and disappearing from each other, barely a boats length away crashing down on the waves as the wind drove us toward our goal.

As we got closer to shore, I decided that staying in the middle of the lake would be fastest for us. Shoreline effects would act to funnel and swirl the wind, but in the centre of the lake it would be more consistent in terms of direction and intensity. I tacked, heading back out to the middle of the lake. The Sonic continued on its course for a few minutes, then tacked, following us. We would sail alongside each other for a mile or two before he decided to tack back toward the shore and calmer waters, leaving us to finish the race on our own.

As we recrossed the lake, Chuck and I kept an eye out for other boats. We were headed west, and the Sonic headed North. Far in the distance, barely a pinprick, we could see Newfie, and between the Sonic and Newfie, we could see Icarus. Being so far from them it was impossible to tell what they were doing, so we stuck to our own plan, holding our tack as long as we could, focusing on steering a straight course in the wind, and not allowing the boat to round up or the waves to push us around too much. The GPS ticked off the miles as we went.

Navigating by GPS I advised Chuck that we would only do one tack to get to Hawkestone. Since we were so far out in the lake, we would need to keep a diligent watch for the finish mark, and only make our move once it was about 100° off our course. The little dot on the GPS moved closer and closer to us. We watched the waves for a finish mark floating off our starboard side about 3 miles away.

Eventually I caught a glimpse of something orange off in the distance. Then Chuck saw it. We watched for it to be dead abeam, then overshot it. Finally it was time –TACK!

Iris turned, I lined up the mark, we looked down the shore and saw the Sonic coming towards us. Iris sliced through the water, making a beeline for the finish mark. We were high on the mark. I put the tiller over and pinched. A wind shift put us low on the mark; we fought to keep lined up. The mark got easier to see. Then it was defined. We were lined up on an orange barrel floating in the lake.

I checked the GPS – the finish mark was over a mile away but still on our course. We might make it, but would need a little luck.

I started putting a little extra space in the bank and tried to feather our course to make it to the mark without any extra tacks. The Sonic got closer and closer, eventually passing astern.

Down the shore I saw Icarus, and behind him Newfie making their way towards Hawkestone. The Sonic tacked and gave chase as we made for the line. I slipped Iris in behind the finish mark, rounded the mark, and finally rested. After the fury of the lake, the bay in front fo Hawkestone was like a millpond. Chuck and I exchanged High fives, took down our sails, and motored into the yacht club.

After the race we found out that Newfie had started taking on water someplace behind Thorah Island, and had to bail for much of the race. He had been heading for the closest shorelines in order to keep out of the big waves in the middle of the lake. When he tied up at Hawkestone, he was sitting about 6” low on his waterline. Canadian had suffered similarly, and abandoned race when he took on more water than he was comfortable with. In the end, only 3 boats in our class finished the race.

Iris finally took a first place flag from Newfie.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please take a minute to share your thoughts!