Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Season Opener

The first Weekend Series race of the season at the Chicago Corinthian Yacht Club was Saturday, May 30. Unfortunately, John had a family obligation that day so Cyclone didn't participate.

The following day, May 31 was the first Commodor's Cup race, and was the first race of the season I was able to participate in.

I got there a bit late and had to park a half-mile from the boat.

Then when I got to the boat, since I was running late and in a hurry, I couldn't remember if I had locked my car or not, so I had to go back and check. Holly was just getting back on deck from a trip up to the top of the mast to retrieve the jib halyard. Apparently when we stepped the mast the prior week, we forgot to hook the jib halyard to the lower end of the mast where we'd be able to reach it, and the weight of the halyard in the mast pulled the free end all the way to the top.

When I returned to the boat, the jib was rolled up on the furler and the spinnaker lines (sheets, halyard, and tack-line) had already been run by Nancy and Bob. Since I'm the one who is most familiar with how to set up for an inside jibe, they asked me to double check to make sure they did it right.

I haven't rigged a spinnaker since August 2008, so I struggled a bit trying to recall how to run the lines. I found one ratcheting turning block that was upside-down, but other than that it looked good to me.

Next it was time to dump the spinnaker into the launching bag and run the tapes to make sure it wasn't twisted in the bag. Holly volunteered, and asked John which tape to run first. John said that we want the clew on top, since it comes out first, and that she should therefore start running the blue tape first. I reminded Holly that meant to run the blue tape from tack to the head and then the red tape from the head to the clew. Holly proceeded to run the tapes while I got my sailing gear on.

When Holly finished running the tapes, I handed her the sheets to tie on to the clew and then commented on how we want to make sure we get the halyard in the right position so it doesn't get in the way of the tack coming out of the bag. Thinking about this as I handed her the tack, it suddenly dawned on us both that the tack comes out first, not the clew. John and I both had her run the tapes in the wrong direction. The sail was now upside-down in the bag, with the tack (which comes out first) on the bottom, and the clew (which comes out last) on top.

Not a big deal. The sail will still go up ok, it just won't not come out of the bag quite as smoothly as it could. We hook up the halyard and tack-line, and then pull about 20 feet of the foot and luff of the sail out from the bottom of the bag starting at the tack. Then we flake it back into the bag so that the tack will be on top and come out reasonably smoothly. The only thing left to do is figure out how to run the retrieval line.

I comment on how we figured out last year that the retrieval line has to be run such that after the sail is launched it is under the sheets, otherwise the sheets will pull it out of the bag and toss it in the water when we jibe. Most of the crew head to the restroom and leave me behind to recall exactly how the retrieval line needs to run. After pondering it for a while, I think I've figured it out and I tie it on.

When everyone gets back we head out of the harbor. Shortly after leaving the harbor John calls for the main to go up. We yank the sail ties, hoist the main, and unfurl the jib. John shuts off the diesel as the boat heels to leeward and announces that for the first time this year Cyclone is no longer a motor boat and is once again a sailboat. It feels so good to be sailing again.

I suggest that if we have time, I'd really like to launch the spinnaker, jibe it twice, and douse it before the race. I'm not confident that all the lines are run properly, and I'd rather figure it out and solve it now than in the midst of a downwind leg of the race. The wind is east-northeast so we beat our way up to the start-line with a few tacks, and then chat with the committee boat. They were not ready to announce the course yet. They were in the midst of a Rhodes 19 one-design regatta.

We sailed off on a reach to the south, and looked around to see who our competition would be. It appeared there would be 4 boats: Y-Not, Phantom, and Gremlin along with us, Cyclone. Reaching back to the committee boat we found that the course would be 'C' also known as trapezoid (twice around) and the first mark would be east. Northeast would have been better for us, giving us more of a broad reach on the downwind leg. With the east course, Gremlin's symmetrical spinnaker was going to have an advantage on the run. His symmetrical spinnaker would allow him a nearly dead downwind run, while we three J/Boats with asymmetrical spinnakers would have to jibe a couple of times as we work our way from the northeast mark to the northwest mark.

Looking at the time it is clear that we are not going to have time to try the spinnaker out before the race. We'll hope for the best and deal with it if necessary. We manage to figure out that the committee boat end of the start-line is favored and that the favored tack will be port.

About this time the 5 minute warning goes off and we get into the starting sequence. We reach back and forth parallel to the start-line trying to time our start so that we'll be at the committee boat when the gun goes off. Two minutes before the gun we reach off to the south, and one minute before the gun we jibe around and slip in line between Phantom and Gremlin. We are all lined up: Y-Not, then Phantom, followed by Cyclone, and finally Gremlin. The start gun goes off and Phantom gets the best start, having just passed the committee boat. Y-Not is a bit too far down the line. Gremlin and we are a bit late across the line. We all head up to close hauled on starboard tack as we cross the start.

We've decided that port tack is favored and we'd like to flip over. Unfortunately Gremlin is so close behind us that we won't be able to clear him. Starboard tack has right of way, so if we tack over, we'll be forced to fall off and duck behind him. We decide that it will take to long to pull far enough ahead of Gremlin to cross in front of him We don't want to head that far up the course on the un-favored tack. John calls out the tack and we duck behind Gremlin.

As we make our way up the course, for a while we are the only boat that has chosen port tack. Bob will be the navigator and tactician for this race. Jordan and Nancy will be on the jib. Holly will be in the pit position. I'm foredeck, and John of course is captain. The port tack is so favored that we decide to just take this tack all the way to the layline. As this decision is made we see that the other boats have finally tacked over and all four of us are now racing to the layline on port tack. If we can get there ahead of the other boats we'll flip onto a starboard tack to come down the layline giving us right-of-way over any of the port tack approaching boats. Unfortunately they all seem to have found more wind than us.

The 2 J/105's hit the layline first and are significantly ahead of us. Gremlin, being a slower boat by design, crosses just a short distance behind us and then flips over to follow us down the layline.

This will be a 7.4 mile course. The handicapping system subtracts 24 seconds per mile from our finish time as compared to the J-105's, and subtracts 57 seconds per mile off of Gremlin's finish time as compared to us. Since this first leg of the race is 0.75 miles, Gremlin needs to be about 42 seconds behind us for us to currently be ahead of them after handicaps are applied. They are probably about 25 seconds behind us (putting them 17 seconds ahead after handicapping). The 105's are about 70 to 90 seconds ahead of us, giving them a 52 to 72 second lead after the handicap is applied. That wind they all found on the other side of the course has really hurt us. We've got some time to make up on all three of our competitors.

Rounding the first mark, both J-105's decide to launch their spinnakers on what is supposed to be a broad reach. The current wind really makes this leg more of a beam reach, and we notice that the 105's are over-powered and are heeled-over too far. This will slow their progress to the next mark as they drift leeward, sailing a bit sideways across the course. We have our genoa out, and this sail is perfect for a beam reach. We opt not to launch the spinnaker yet. Gremlin makes the decision not to launch theirs either.

We manage to gain some ground on Y-Not as they suffer the most from their over-powered situation. Phantom manages to hold their position not gaining any more on us, but probably not losing their current lead on us either. Gremlin begins to fall back a bit , but perhaps not enough for us to overcome the handicap yet.

We watch the 105's accelerate as they round the northeast mark and fall off a bit. As we approach the mark, we pre-feed the chute out to the bowsprit and Holly notices there is a line wrapped around the sail. I get it untwisted enough that it won't impede the launch, but Holly and I now have concerns that the retrieval line may not be set up right. When we round the mark, we fall off and launch the chute. I'm out of practice, and neither hoist nor get in position to take the sheets has quickly as I'd like. Then I struggle a bit to get the sail opened up and trimmed in. Still it goes smoothly and after a few seconds we're set. Holly is the first to notice and point out that the retrieval line is definitely wrapped around the sheets. We can't jibe like this, and if we don't fix it retrieval will be a mess. Nancy jumps to action, unwinding the retrieval line from around the sheets, and feeding it properly back to the hatch.

I get distracted a few times, and lose trim, but it doesn't take long to get the feel for the sail. Then John and I start playing the wind and it is clear that we are pointing better than the 105's.

We watch the 105's jibe, and then prepare to do the same as we get lined up for the NW mark. There are no problems with the Jibe, but it isn't as fast as it could be, and I don't get the sail opened up on the starboard side as quickly as I'd like. As we round the mark, Gremlin is still less than a minute behind us, and having now sailed over a mile-and-a-half the handicap puts them nearly a minute ahead of us. If we keep loosing ground to them at this rate, the handicap will put them around 6 minutes ahead of us at the finish. We have probably closed the gap with the J-Boats a bit more though.

Rounding the west mark, the 105's douse their spinnakers and head up. I vaguely recall one of them struggling a bit with the douse, but I'm not certain which one of them. We decide not to jibe again, which means that the sail will be on the starboard side while we are set up to douse on the port side. The wind is light enough, we decide we don't need to move the retrieval line. We'll just go with a windward takedown. As John calls for the douse, Nancy releases the tack, and feeds out the tack-line, while Holly gathers the retrieval line pulling the tack back to the hatch. I stand at the shrouds helping the sail around as quickly as possible to keep it from getting tangled around the mast or in the shrouds. When Holly has the tack in hand Jordan and Nancy help stuff the sail into the bag. I continue to try to keep the sail from getting tangled, and hear some frustrated shouting. Then suddenly I hear Jordan call for the halyard and it dawns on me that I was supposed to release the halyard once Holly had the tack in hand. Oops.

I quickly leap to the mast and yank the halyard free. The sail comes down and a few seconds later it is in the bag.

We beat our way back up to the east mark, putting more distance between Gremlin and us. We seem to be holding our position relative to Y-Not and Phantom. We are all on starboard tack and we see the Rhodes 19 fleet headed towards us in their own race. The course of their race intersects with ours. We flip over to port tack a bit early to avoid having to duck them. We watch as the 105's cross between the first and second Rhodes. They didn't need to duck, but hopefully they had to tend with a messier wind situation.

This time around it looks like Phantom is the only one launching the chute as they round the east mark. The Area 3 race is now intersecting with our course so we run a broader reach to give them room to round the Wilson Crib. This puts us on a fast close reach as we head up to the northeast mark.

The 105's have probably gained some on us on that leg. We have a very smooth launch. The spinnaker is hoisted and trimmed quickly and John and I play the wind trying to get more distance between us and Gremlin. The jibe is very smooth and fast allowing us to maintain momentum and avoid losing any ground. Unfortunately, Gremlin's symetrical spinnaker has allowed them to take the shorter distance again, and the 105's have done well this leg as well. We may have gained some on the 105's, and Gremlin is too far back to get a good feel for their handicap adjustment any longer.

This time I remember to release the halyard on the douse and the sail comes down fast and clean. Beating our way up to the finish-line we see Phantom cross from the port lay-line. Y-Not follows, also on the port lay-line, about 70 seconds later. Looking at our distance as we approach on the starboard lay-line, it is clear that this will be a close race. With a 7.4 mile course and a handicap of 24 seconds per mile, we need to finish less than 3 minutes after Phantom to beat them. We don't know exactly what time Phantom crossed, but as we cross we estimate that we are approximately two-and-a-half minutes behind Phantom, which puts us between Phantom and Y-Not with the handicap correction. If our estimate is off by more than 30 seconds in either direction we could be ahead of both or behind both of them.

As we head back toward the harbor, we glance behind to see Gremlin cross more than 6 minutes after us. Their handicap gives them about a 7 minute adjustment over us.

It is clear that this race is going to come down to less than a minute between boats. We can't be certain what the official results will be until the race committee posts the finish times.

It was fun, and it was exciting. We did well considering it's our first race of the season. There are a few things we can improve on a bit, and I'm going to have to figure out how to rig the retrieval line properly before the next race, but I'm not disappointed with our performance.

The following day the finish times are posted. After handicap adjustments Gremlin takes first place. Phantom comes in second with a handicap-corrected time 8 seconds after Gremlin. We take third with a handicap-corrected time 48 seconds after Phantom. Y-Not takes fourth place with a handicap-corrected time 23 seconds after us.

Note: I'll add more links as time allows.

I'm back?

I'm clearly not as good at this "blogging" thing as I'd hoped to be. I go through long stretches where I can't decide what to write about. On the small chance that I haven't yet completely lost all my potential readers, I'm going to try and start writing here again.

Now that the 2009 sailing season has started, most of my posts are likely to be about my sailing experiences. There are a lot of sailing terms that may not be clear to the average non-sailing reader. I'll link those terms when I think of it to sources that you can read to get a better understanding if you care to. Feel free to ask questions in the comments or to email me questions as well. If I were to try to explain everything in the post itself, the already too long posts would end up significantly longer.

I may interject posts about our new puppy, Louie, as well from time to time. So you'll have that to look forward to if you have no interest in my sailing experiences.