NA Championships, Day #2
The cold front that caused all the big breeze out of the South West passed overhead just as we were pulling into the slip on Day #1. It brought a minor shower and more importantly a windshift to the North West and even more pressure. As we prepared to head out onto the lake, XM weather was forecasting 15-25 knot winds. It was that and more.
The morning started with a bit of angst and running around as the #3 jib had not come back from the repair loft. At about 0915, Winston Beckett delivered the sail along with the news that it had required the combined efforts of several people and 5 hours to completely rebuild the head of the sail. "We did a proper job of it", he said, "should be stronger than before". So, armed with our weapon of choice, we slipped our lines and motored out of the harbor. Instantly, you could tell that the conditions would be rough and tumble. Even though the wind was 'off-shore', by the time we got to the race course area, waves were running 2-3 feet. The instruments were showing a steady 25-28 knots with gusts to 31 knots. Doing our usual pre-start spinnaker hoist did not seem prudent.
The Race Committee (RC) boat was in the area, but something was not right. She was abeam to the waves and rolling quite violently. Soon word came over the VHF that they could not get the anchor to hold in the 150 foot depth. They soon dropped the biggest anchor they had along with 900 pounds of chain and got that to hold. During the 60 minutes that it took to establish the RC boat position, the fleet was reaching back and forth. Did I mention that it was COLD FRONT.... Air temperatures were 15C lower that on day #1. It felt like the wind chill was below freezing.
RC called all the boats into the area and with a loud canon shot, they hoisted the class flag to start the 5 minute sequence. The start was wild. Boats flying this way and that. Bowmen hanging onto pulpits and getting launched into the air as the boats dove into the troughs of the waves. Our start was off just a hair, which in this fleet means we got spat out the back. A quick tack and we were off on Port tack looking for clear air. There were 5-8 degree shifts in the puffs that were blasting us. It was hard to get in synch and keep the boat moving. At the top mark we put up the 1.5 oz kite, in order to preserve Big-Red (0.6 oz). It was a white knuckle run to the leeward gate, where the douse was perfect. We had confidence that we could handle the big breeze, now we had to sail faster. The second downwind leg saw MAJOR DETAIL roll under us and a 12th place finish. Not the way we wanted to start the day.
Race 2 was delayed a bit as one of the boats finished under jib and main. Soon we were back in sequence. Wind conditions were just as strong as in the first race, but the gusts did not seem to have the same power. On the start we make our last turn onto Starboard and held up most of the fleet, leaving ourselves what looked like a huge hole that we could dive into. And dive we did, but the extra speed that resulted from the stiff breeze meant that we closed the hole too soon and when we turned up towards the line, there was Paul in the bow calling us on the line with 2 seconds to go. The starting gun fired and we heard the dreaded words.... #16 over early. So back we go....This time we settled down and really worked to catch the shifts. We caught several boats on the first windward leg in part by coming in on the Port layline and spinning at the mark just a couple of feet from the oncoming starboard parade. The runs were controlled and the douses were textbook. On the second windward leg we tacked on almost every shift and made small gains each time. Again, on the downwind leg we got passed by a boat, SOCIABLE. We started dead last and still pulled an 8th place finish.
Race 3 saw lots of boats changing to #1 or #2 genoas. There was a spirited discussion on TIME MACHINE about us changing also. However, I had noted that there was significantly more pressure at the top of the course than at the bottom and we stuck with the #3. Our start was again poor and we had to tack off behind most of the fleet to clear our air. The boat was under canvased for the first 1/3 of the leg, but as we got closer to shore our boatspeed improved as compared to the boats with big headsails. By the time we got to the weather mark, I was really happy that we chose to stay with the #3. We did switch to Big-Red for the run, and there was a dramatic improvement in boatspeed. It was neat how 20 knots of breeze felt almost sedate. Rounding the leeward mark we set our sights on picking of a couple of boats, but only managed to hold our position. On the downwing leg, BATTLEWAGON managed to sneak inside us when we were delayed in executing a gybe. We sailed neck and neck with them to the finish only to see them catch the last surf and nip us by what must have been inches. It was One Design racing at it's best!
Coming back to the club we took care of the boat. She had done a wonderful job of taking care of us. The crew was spent. The RC radioed that they might still be out there in the morning, given that the primary windlass was dead and they had to haul in 900 pounds of anchor and chain. Kudos for them to even get the races run.
We had just completed 3 windward leeward races in the biggest and toughest conditions ever. We left the dock with 90 fingers and toes, and returned with 90 fingers and toes. Yes there were lots of bumps and bruises and certainly there was a feeling that we could have done better.