Wednesday, August 05, 2009

2009 Mac Race, We saw it all!

The 2009 Mac Race is in the books. TIME MACHINE was once again a contender for a podium finish, but at the last moment the fickle winds of Northern Lake Huron favored MAJOR DETAIL. Having thrown everything we had into the attack on MAJOR DETAIL, we did not see NIGHT TRAIN sneaking across the line at the pin end. Well, when you have a chance to 'medal', fight for all your worth, and there is no real difference between 4th and 5th.

The race started in fine fashion. We got away from the line in clear air, but soon ended up in a sandwich of J-120's, who started with the J/35 - T/35 fleet. It turned out to be a great photo op and there was a great picture of us in the Port Huron paper the next day as we rolled over the top of the larger and faster J-120. Things settled down as we worked the Southerly winds. Watch schedules were established and everyone made it on deck for the fly-by of the Boat-pix helicopter. Jim kept a close eye of the weather radar as first one storm skirted to our south and then another storm started to work towards us.

Actually, it was coming right at us. Since we could not out run it, there was no real choice but to head directly across the path of the storm. The previous storms had been fairly mild, no warnings were issued and boats that we could see near the storms did not seem to get hit very hard. However, this one was different. The first big gust was a big knock and rounded us up. The wind had gone from 12-15 knots to 25 knots. The spinnaker refilled.... the wind picked up to 35 knots and the spinnaker failed. The clew of the sail tore off and the the sail tore across the foot. Immediately the crew pulled what was now a flag into the boat as the wind increased to 40 and then 50 knots. The greatest concern now was to keep the mainsail intact. With only the main, the boat wanted to head up into wind, which would cause the sail to flog. The flogging in such conditions would disintegrate the sail in seconds. The trick was to hold the boat down just enough to spill most of the wind and yet not flog the sail. The rain and hail was coming horizontally. The wind had actually flattened out the water and TIME MACHINE saw boat speeds of 9.8 knots, unheard of in flat water!

In the midst of all the chaos, Colin and Carol got the #3 rigged and ready to hoist. It was about 12 minutes before the wind speeds reduced to under 30 knots at which point we hoisted the #3 and resumed our course towards Cove Island. It was about another 5 minutes and we set the 'skreacher'. 20 minutes after the first blast, it was as if nothing had happened. Soon marine warnings started to come in over the radio, reporting 50-60 knot gusts. No kidding!

The crew settled in for night and we continued to reach up the lake under spinnaker and full main. As the night progressed, the cold waters of the Lake generated thick fog, making for a real challenge for the drivers. Look away from the compass for 3 seconds and you would drift 20 degrees off course. It was cold. It was wet. But there was wind. Soon dawn arrived and with it the wind started to diminish. By mid morning we found our selves parked very near SNIPE (a T-35). The bubble machine and the cassette tape and all the other light air tricks were deployed as we tried to sniff out where the breeze might be coming from. Somehow we seemed to pick up the scent first and we hopped from puff to puff. In the mid afternoon we spotted BILL'S WILD RIDE and FALCON and NIGHT TRAIN all in our area. The breeze filled in from the Southeast and we all sped towards the Cove Island mark.

Approaching the mark we went through several fog banks and just as got with about 2 miles the fog cleared. We saw that boats were rounding at a point well to the east of where the GPS was pointing us. Well, better to go with what you can see, so we gybed twice and made a nice rounding of the mark just behind SNIPE and ahead of NIGHT TRAIN. Little did we know how lucky we were to be able to see the mark. Just minutes after we rounded, the fog descended again and many boats spent valuable time searching for the mark.

After rounding we were close hauled. Conditions were ideal, 12 knots of steady wind, flat seas and the boat was just flying. TIME MACHINE displayed great boat speed, passing SNIPE and pulling away from NIGHT TRAIN and we flew through the fog. Conditions slowly changed as the evening progressed and by 0100 hours on Monday we were pounding into 3-4 foot waves under the #3. Our couse was taking us into the lee of the Duck Islands, so we made a tack out into the Lake and the back onto port. The wind continued to build and the seas became 4-5 foot. At dawn we made a horrible discovery. The pounding of the waves and the shock loading on the rig had begun to tear the #3 sail apart. At some point the night the check-stay which had been well tensioned, had come loose. The pumping of the rig most likely delivered brutal forces to the sail.

We had to get the #3 down, so we set the #1 and put a reef in the main. Conditions were well above the normal range for the #1, but we were making it work. It took many hours before we made the better choice and put up the #2 and then shook out the reef in the mainsail. Boatspeed improved and the boat was much better balanced. Expecting a wind shift to the North West, we continued to sail on the Northerly route and then tacked out from behind Martin's Reef. In retrospect, it was the wrong move. A long tack back took us to the Eastern tip of Bois Blanc Island and then another series of tacks brought us to a point about 5 miles from the finish.

Then..... the wind died! We were dead in the water. MAJOR DETAIL came sailing up to a point about 50 yard off our starboard side and they too parked. So now it was game on. We knew from listening to the radio that BILL'S WILD RIDE and FALCON had already finished. If we could get moving before MAJOR DETAIL we could still get on the podium. All but Bill and Colin and Jeff sat below on the keel-bolts. We worked and worked for any advantage, but there was none to be had. Suddenly from the right side, cat's paws appeared on the water and the zephyr filled MAJOR DETAIL's spinnaker. 20 seconds later our sail filled. Now 3 boat lengths behind, we went into full attack mode. We pointed higher, they pointed higher, we went low, they went low, we faked a big turn higher and then dove lower, they matched it. This went on for 4.75 miles until we were within a 0.25 miles of the finish. Once again the wind died and we struggled to make way and to stay out of the current. At the last moment MAJOR DETAIL caught the slightest of breezes and was able to drift across the line, just as we pushed a bit too hard and ended up caught in the current. When we got going again, we saw NIGHT TRAIN drifting across the line at the opposite end of the line. BANG... was it us.... keep sailing.... BANG.... was it us.... keep sailing..... BANG.... well one of those had to be us.

As it turns out, we finished overlapped with NIGHT TRAIN in 5th. MAJOR DETAIL's crew paid us a great complement by commenting that they had not been attacked as hard or with such imagination as we had done. They did a great job of holding the advantage that the wind god's had given them.

We hope that all our fans and followers had a great time watching the tracking of the race.

The TIME MACHINE crew, for the second year in a row had an 'Old Goat' and a 'Newbie' aboard. Shawn was doing his 26th race and Colin was on his first. The sailing-crew of Robert, Bill, Rick, Fred, Jeff, Carol, Jim and Dennis were supported by a great ground-crew.

Robert Gordenker,
Skipper, TIME MACHINE Sailing Team.


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