The journal of a Melges 24 and her racing crew...
The Boat
Faithful Crew and friends of Strategery,

The fourth Tuesday night race has come and gone. Due to a delay in her parents arrival, Kim had to sit this race out, but we were pleased to have back on board Sarah Z. (Chris' better half) and Jim Murphy.

It was a great race with relatively consistent breeze and threatening clouds all night. Another aggressive forecast, as you can see below:
Marine Forecast Summary
 for the next  6 - 12 hours
 for Newburyport to Portsmouth, NH (03801)
Wind Speed: 20 mph
Wind Direction: SSW (198)
Surf: Waist-high
Sea State: Rough
Sea Surface Temp: 54 F
Wave Height: 4 ft.
Wave Direction: SSW (198)
Wave Period: 5 sec.

Since Jim is not only the Chief of the New Castle Police, but also part of the marine patrol, he was nice enough to call the coast guard to get their take on likely weather.

Why do we care so much about the weather? Well, aside from the obvious need to dress appropriately, we also need to tune the rig for the expected breeze. Strategery is, like all M24's, highly temperamental with respect to rig tune. There are different settings for rig tension, sail trim and angle to the wind that make for optimal speed in different conditions. Sail trim and angle to the wind are pretty easy/fast to adjust, whereas rig tune takes a bit more time/ we like to set up in advance if possible. The tower called it just about right, expecting there to be moderate breeze until after dark, when pressure would build.

As we left the dock, it was blowing about 3 knots...not very promising. Was almost a dead calm until we got to the course, where we found a light but consistent pressure.

Chris was Bowman (filling in for the injured Shawn), Jim was Spinnaker trimmer, Sarah was Jib trimmer and I was helm.

Tom Brown was race committee this week, and set a standard course 2 (windward/leeward marks) 2 times around.

Tuning for the start, we set the chute for practice and had the bowsprit extender line break. Our boat uses a retractable bowsprit (pole) to fly the spinnaker. It is carbon fiber and can withstand one hell of a load. As we approach the mark we extend it and then set the chute. When at the downwind mark, we douse the chute and retract the pole.

The problem we now had would not allow us to retract the pole at the downwind mark, so we were pretty glad to catch that before we were in the heat of battle. Chris fixed it and got us ready to race.

I've written before about some of the things we do before the start of a race. We run the line to time our approach (know where we want to be when the gun goes off and how long it will take to get there). We set the Tactic to catch wind shifts, we run by the committee boat to check the course, we monitor our competitors and we determine the favored end of the line.

The favored end is usually determined by combining factors like wind direction, current and line angle. For this race, Tom set a really nice, large line that we determined favored the pin end significantly.

Having seen the entire fleet start on Port tack last week (and been killed by their resulting wind-shadow), we wondered if in fact this would happen again, since our intent was to be on port at the pin vs. at the boat on starboard.

Running down the line, it became clear that we were the only ones going to the pin and port. We set up the start so that we were at the pin and moving above hullspeed at the gun. With the crew hiking hard, Strat was flat and fast, with an almost neutral helm.

If you read Chris' rules of racing, or last weeks posting, you know the trouble we were potentially in. We were on Port and the entire fleet was on Starboard...which means we had no rights whatsoever. They had the right to force us to tack and potentially be in their wind shadow.

On the other hand...if we were fast enough and the start was good enough and the line was skewed enough...then we could cross the fleet on port and be in clear air!

CHRIS Z: (email transcript)
Help me out with this, here is how I remember it as far as our position to Breakaway...
1) Breakaway starts at the boat end on starboard, we start at the pin on port, the wind has veered 20 degrees to port. The line is VERY long, it took us 2:15 to sail from the boat to the pin on starboard.
2) We are about 15 seconds early, but hit the line at the gun, 30 feet to windward of the pin at good speed. We quickly get our speed up to the mid fives and are pointing well.
3) We cross the fleet, as any boats that stay on starboard tack need to go behind us.
Here I get a little fuzzy. Who stayed on starboard and went behind, and who tacked over to port?

Breakaway (probably expecting us to cover) tacked over to Port. They appeared to be lead boat of the rest of the fleet at the gun.  They then tacked back to Starboard. When Breakaway went initially (not sure if she was trying to cover Fianna or if Fianna went because Breakaway went), so did Fianna.  Breakaway and the remainder of the fleet went by us on Starboard and Fianna stayed with us on Port.
What we should have done is tacked over to cover Breakaway and ignored Fianna. Instead, I fixated on Fianna and the clean breeze.

So, we had a great start and a good first leg with one glaring strategic mistake - focusing on the wrong competitor

Chris Z.

OK, that is what I thought as well, that Breakaway went over to port about two minutes after the start, then maybe five minutes later went to starboard and passed behind us. As soon as she was astern of us we should have tacked to starboard as well to cover, but we thought there was more breeze out and were looking at Fianna. In the future, must make mental note to cover.
So, at this point we continue sailing out on port until we started getting close to the layline, and then tacked to starboard. By that time Breakaway and everyone else except Fianna were in towards shore and back on port. Uproar and Breakaway passed in front of us on port, and Marlen had to duck us. A minute after their duck we tacked over to port again, and approaching the starboard layline Uproar and Breakaway passed in front of us to starboard tack, and we crossed Marlen, Fianna and Indigo on port and tacked over to starboard high of them and slightly above the layline, to get out of the bad air from Uproar and Breakaway.
Sound about right???

I think we are just focusing on the wrong guy...sort of playing not to lose vs. playing to win. At least on upwind legs we need to be careful about covering/staying with Breakaway. They owe us time, so just by staying close to them we will net a win.
Downwind, we had a fouled set, so after a speedy recovery we set off to catch up with Breakaway. Fianna was not flying a chute, so we made quick work of her and jibed over to sail near the committee boat, jibe again and set up for a Mexican takedown.

Well executed, we set off upwind to the right side of the course, where the breeze was building. Crossing the committee boat, we tacked on the breeze and shifts, finding there were some pretty significant dead spots on the water. Since we are such a nimble boat, we tacked from patch to patch.

At the second upwind mark, we found ourselves significantly ahead of Fianna, Marlen, and Indigo - trailing Breakaway and Uproar.

After a tight set, we stayed on the inshore side of the course where we saw the breeze building. This was a straight run - very fast with some great trimming by Big Jim on the chute. Jibing over we ran at the mark through building slop, rounding ahead of Marlen, Fianna and Indigo.

Marlen was out for blood, since their earlier duck of Strat on the first leg put them out of their J105 race. They executed their rounding perfectly and came upwind with a vengeance.

Marlen is a beauty to watch...their starts, takedowns and tacks are done with precision and an attention that sets a standard for us to follow - having them charging up on us inspired some good crewwork with Sarah executing the tacks beautifully as our Jib trimmer. We were able to cross the line in front of Marlen on uncorrected time - scoring a 2 on the race overall.

The current ranking has us in 3rd place overall, tied with Fianna at 13 points. As the season progresses, the scoring throws out a percentage of the races (lowest scores), So we now stand at 4, 5, 2, 2 (having thrown our DNC out).

It was a great race, and we learned quite a bit. I have to commend both Sarah and Jim on their performance for the night. Sarah for her trimming and vigilance on sighting pots/flotsam/vessels and Jim for his spinnaker trimming (in constant motion) and hard hiking. 2 Sailing animals! Chris, of course gets kudos for his rock-star performance on the bow and brilliant start tactics.

Till next week.

6/22/04 Tuesday Night