Wednesday, June 23, 1999

1999 Commodore Perry Race

The old Commodore would have been proud. NCYC turned out a small but very competative fleet for the annual race. Conditions were ideal, with a moderate East wind that built throughout the day.

TIME MACHINE started the day early, with Paul and JIM W. helping Robert to bring her from TYC to NCYC. We departed TYC and 0620 and motored up the channel. At the last lighted marker before the light-house, we hoisted the mainsail, completed the run up the channel and turned left towards NCYC. As we approached NCYC we attempted to contact RED CLOUD or the club by VHF, with no success. The start was scheduled for 0900 and at 0830 we could see JUBALENTE DEO coming out the mouth of the channel. Something was very wrong, as she quickly ran aground and swung broadside to the swell. Soon RED CLOUD approached, threw a tow rope, and pulled the distressed J/35 to saftey. DEO made another try to get out, and succeeded. We would have competition this day. But where was the crew?????

As RED CLOUD approached, we could see Chuck, Rick and Jim S. on her deck. What a relief. We brought the mainsail down and matched course with RED CLOUD. The crew scrambled aboard and we were ready for the rest of the day.

The sails for the day were the #1 Heavy and a full main. This would be our first long distance sail with the new main, where we could see what we were doing. The starting sequence was fairly calm, even though the committee boat was running everything 5 minutes late. As we made the last turn towards the line, TIME MACHINE found herself in a bad spot. We were outside the committee boat with WIZARD and DEO pinching up to cut off all room. NATURAL HIGH tried to squeeze between WIZARD and the CB and fouled. They had to re-round and restart. TIME MACHINE charged into the fray, and turned down, dipping the whole mess at the last moment. We then hardened up and started to work to windward. The next mark was Niagra Reef light (the first mark in the Mills Race). After a couple of tacks to get into clear air, we set off on port-tack towards the South. WIZARD and DEO decided to go North and to the left side of the course, we took the South side, hoping for a southerly shift. Our decision was bolstered by seeing RED CLOUD charging along to the same side of the course.

For several hours NATURAL HIGH stayed with us and even worked up to windward a bit. But determined trimming and a better feel for the helm got TIME MACHINE working well and we started to pull away and to windward of NATURAL HIGH. The wind however was not cooperating. There was no evidence of the shift, in fact we were getting lifted, which meant the boats that went left (North) were getting an advantage. But we were commited, so we sailed on. As we approached the Ohio shore, in the area of the Davis-Bessie power plant, we tacked to starboard to avoid several shallows. To our surprise, we crossed in front of DEO, but behind WIZARD. They were not on the layline to the Niagra Reef Light. DEO tacked to cover us and we sailed equally for quite some time. As we approached the layline, DEO tacked early (still don't know why) and we tacked right on the layline at a distance of 4 miles. Jim S. had hit it just right! We charged through a fishing fleet and rounded the mark 1st overall, ahead of DEO and way ahead of WIZARD.

The next leg was to Middle Sister Island. The course was a close reach. The wind had picked up to about 14-16 Kts and with #1H sheeted to the rail and the main liberally eased, we roared towards the Island. DEO kept creeping up, Paul would tweak the main and Rick would tweak the Genoa and we would pull back out in front. It was a real duel!!! As we approached the Island Robert prepared the foredeck for the spinnaker set. At the last moment he looked at the water and remembered John Greiner's words, "if you see white caps, it's over 14 and use the heavy chute". The .75Oz went back below and the 1.5 Oz came up on deck.

We rounded the Island with lots of room to spare, (no sense running aground when in the lead) and had a good set of the chute. The course back to NCYC was a dead run. We sailed a bit high, thinking that we would get some speed, and for saftey (avoiding a crash-jibe). This tactic it turns out was a mistake. The wind was now 20-22 and TIME MACHINE was running at hull speed. DEO turned the Island very close and sailed a more direct course. He started to creep up on us. About 10 miles out we setup to jibe and got it done, although not as well as when Bill is with us. It was now time to run to NCYC. The waves were building and we were really starting to surf. At one point we saw 10.93 Kts on the NKE readout. WOW!!!!! Dispite our best trimming, DEO passed in front of us and finished 0:0:45 in front. We were the second boat over the line. It was 18:05, almost nine hours after the start and we were that close.

We struggled to get the chute down and then watched as NATURAL HIGH surfed across the line within the 14 minutes that we owed them on the PHRF rating. We then were shocked to see KALEIDOSCOPE (a PHRF B boat) cross the line. They had sailed a great race and used their superior surfing ability to take the overall position. WIZARD was well back, but as it turned out they took 3rd on corrected time. This was a bit hard to take. We had sailed a nearly perfect race, and were getting killed by the PHRF rating system. The final result was 1)NATURAL HIGH, 2)DEO, 3)WIZARD and 4) TIME MACHINE. Overall, we were 12th out of 15, mostly due to our excursion to the southern side of the first leg.

After dinner and getting the results, we sailed back to TYC under #1 Heavy alone in lumpy conditions. Tired, by satisfied, the crew departed for boat and home and Robert stayed the night on TIME MACHINE to clean up in the morning, but also because he was too tired to drive saftely.

It was a great day.

Tuesday, June 15, 1999

1999 Mills Race, First Overnighter

Sorry for the delay in getting out the news of our first major race. All that fun just wiped me out!!!!!

This weekend we had:
-- The night of the party
-- The day of the delivery
-- The evening of the start
-- The night of the bedeviling calm
-- The morning of the spinnaker battles and the first bug hatch
-- The afternoon from Hades
-- The sprint to the finish
-- The crash at the Put-in-Bay
-- The reach to the Harbor Light
-- The night of the Fish Fly hatch
-- The morning after.......

Everyone wants to know..... So how did we do? In PHRF B we were 9th of 9 boats, finishing 1:40 behind LOVE LETTER. Overall we were 37th. I do not know how many PHRF boats there were, but I think that puts us in the middle of the pack. Not bad for the first time out with the new Main

and only the second race. Here are some of my thoughts on the race. We did a super job on the first 3rd of the race. The way that we worked to windward was great. When we rounded Niagra Reef, we started to pick up on the wind oscillations and made a whole series of crisp tacks. We actually crossed in front of LOVE LETTER a few times. When the wind did finally die, we made a picture (couldn't see it in the dark) perfect sail change.

It was when we got into the really light air that we had trouble. As John Greiner said, "the race was about being in the right place when the wind died". We were in the WRONG place. Still, we were able to keep the boat moving, except for a 1 hour period. When the wind did restart and we got to the Sandusky channel marker, we set the chute and battled hard, through a cloud of bugs, all the way to the Mo "A" marker at Point Pelee.

Rounding the Mo"A" showed our true spirit. It was our first jibe with the full crew and when the pole came off the ring, NO ONE PANICED. We just kept the chute flying, got the pole back on and when we were ready, completed the jibe. That's crew work!!!! The next leg was a full blooded reach to the Pelee marker. Rounding the marker, we reset the #1 Light and started to close reach around the island. Once again we were beset by the light air. Only this time, it was accompanied by a blazing sun and biting flies. As we approached the finish, we reset the chute and battled with HEARTBEAKER to cross the line ahead (as it should be).

There were a number of lessons that I took away from the race.
1) Sailing in the dark in very light air is really hard to do. I could not rely of "feel" to tell if I was steering a full course or pinching. If I pinched, we stopped dead. We need to rig a light, or maybe a blacklight system to illuminate the telltales.
2) We have to be very careful to not over trim the main when sailing off the wind. During the long run from Sandusky to Pelee, we were over trimmed and could not pass AURELIA, when we figured it out, we walked right over the top of them.
3) We need to get a session with John Greiner to help with the Mainsail trim in general.
4) The spinnaker tweaker situation is not right and should be looking into.
5) We need to be very careful about keeping heel in the boat. When it got light and we didn't put people to leeward, we went slow.
6) The skipper needs to get more sleep. I was getting stupid at times when sharpness was important.
7) We all need to eat more and drink more fluids during the race.
8) TIME MACHINE is FAST!!!!! When we get it right, we can walk away from anyone.

After some napping and feasting, we made a really wize decision to head back to TYC. The wind had turned to the North and was a steady 12-14. We set the #1 Heavy and close reached all the way home at a steady 7.25 to 7.75 Knots. Ashton got a chance to take the helm and did a great job. As we passed West Sister Island we were set upon by a swarm of Fish Flies. They covered the deck and the sails and made funny splat sounds as they hit our glasses, faces, and foul weather gear. It took a hour of scrubbing to get them all off the deck the next morning.

Everyone was a hero. Jim S. for putting up with my constant "Where the hell am I" am feeding my information the whole time. Paul for working the Main and learning a ton, under miserable conditions. Bill for a great foredeck save on the jibe. Heather for a great meal and patient trimming of the downhaul. Jim W. for grinding and trimming a great upwind leg while the wind lasted, and keeping the chute lit with Ted during the jibe. Ted for working so well with Jim W. on the sheets and catching AURELIA. Ashton for lighting the telltales, and calling out the course whenever I needed it. Chuck for crisp hoists and "I can't belive I have to move again" positioning.

Harvey Handler in the Tripp 50 WHITE LIGHTNING won the race Overall. It took him 17 tries. We haven't been out sailing 17 times yet. And look at what we have already done!!!! I am really proud.

When I got home, the Mac Race packet was waiting for me. We are officially accepted to the big dance. As they said at Put-in-Bay, if you liked the Mills this year, try the Mac, it's only 4 hours longer (hehehe).

Thursday, June 10, 1999

First-time skipper sets sail for fun

Sometime before the start of the 76th Mills Trophy Race tomorrow night, Time Machine skipper Robert Gordenker will remind his crew, "Sailing and sail racing is about having fun - and winning is the most fun. But we are out here to have a good time and not get hurt."

Only a year ago, Gordenker was packing up to sail his first Mills race as tactician for a colleague at work.

"We had a very fun time, although we didn't do very well," he said. "What I enjoyed was the experience - the camaraderie of the crew and the accomplishment of going out and doing the race."

This time, he will be doing it at the helm of his boat, a very fast J/35 he purchased last September.

Built in 1986, the 35-foot sloop is an offshore racing classic. Its design was a precursor of the new-wave one-designs.

"It was a Lake Michigan boat with a tremendous reputation. This boat was feared on Lake Michigan," Gordenker said.

In fact, the boat was formerly know as CRISIS MODE, and won the National Offshore One Design regatta in Chicago last year.

Racing his own boat in the Mills, one of the oldest and most respected sailing events on the Great Lakes, has been on Gordenker's mind since he first sailed the race last year.

And he has devoted the intervening months to organizing a crew and getting his boat ready to participate.

A 42-year-old senior test engineer with a firm in Ann Arbor, Gordenker has taken the same methodical approach to launching a racing campaign that he uses to design and build test equipment.

"You could say I'm pretty organized. I basically started in January and we've had crew meetings every two weeks. A lot of work had to be done before the boat was ready to go into the water. We spent the first three months of the year working on it and just talking through what we were going to do and getting to know each other. It was really a big team-building experience."

Normally, Time Machine races with a crew of eight, including the skipper, but there will be nine aboard for the Mills.

Getting a crew together involved luck and e-mail, Gordenker said.

"I knew a couple folks to start with, but basically I talked to everyone I ran into who was interested in or knew about sailing."

"We didn't steal any crew from Lake Erie. They all are either new to racing or to the lake."

Except for a charter in the Caribbean, Gordenker hasn't done much sailing or racing in about 11 years.

But he is far from a novice. He has been sailing since he was 5 years old and has raced small boats, including 420s, 505s and 470s, extensively in Europe.

His mother is Dutch and he went with her to Veere, in the Netherlands, every year for summer vacation.

He went to sailing camp there for several years and then was selected to attend a special school for instructors. At 16 he was certified as an instructor and went on to teach sailing for three years.

An opportunity to sail with a colleague rekindled his enthusiasm for the sport two years ago, and he started racing again.

"I had heard a lot about the Mills," he said, "but I didn't race it until last year when the boat I crewed on used it as a tune-up for the Mackinac Race.

"It was the 75th anniversary race and that was special - and always fun."

The things that make the Mills especially challenging and fun, he said, are its course and the fact that it's a night race.

The race will start approximately 1.5 miles east of the Toledo Harbor Light at 5:30 p.m. tomorrow and is expected to finish at Put-in-Bay Saturday morning.

"A lot of people have said that because the race starts at night it's very different from other races, that navigation is more difficult and also that it's harder to sail fast because you're so used to looking at the sail to see if it's trimmed correctly," Gordenker said.

"At night, you can't see how the sails are bending and moving with the wind, so you have to rely on how the boat feels to know if it's sailing well.

"Also, you can tell other boats are out there because they have navigation lights, but you can't tell who's who. That's going to be an interesting thing for us."

Most boats competing for the Mills Trophy are grouped according to handicaps based on potential speed, so Time Machine will be racing in one of the last few classes to start. "We'll have to catch up and work our way through the entire fleet, past all the other boats, and that should be fun, too," Gordenker said.

"That's what we really expect of the race, just to have some fun," he said, wary of the jinx said to strike crews that get too cocky about their chances.