The journal of a Melges 24 and her racing crew...
The Boat
6/1/04: Tuesday Night
Faithful Crew and friends of Strategery,

It was a cold and damp night as we set sail from her new berth in Kittery. Expecting light breeze, we opted to keep the weight down and had a short crew of Shawn, Chris and Cliff. Having splashed the boat the prior day, we had a list of things we were still working on as we motored out to the race.

With blocks and cleats freshly lubed and a charged battery for our lighting (fog was forecast), we got to the line with 1 minute to spare before the starting sequence. For those who don't race or are new to sailing, the race really starts 5 minutes before the gun. The starting sequence begins with a 5 minute horn and flag hoisting (in case you are too far away to hear the horn). At this point, you begin to jockey with other boats, looking for the best position both tactically (clear air) and strategically (favored end of the line), while watching the clock to make sure you reach the line at full speed.

One of the great learnings for us last year was that clear air was key. That is, because our boat is typically 20' shorter and significantly lighter than our competition, bad air has a much larger impact on us than when we were racing Kimberley Sue. So of the 10 major lessons learned, clear air is at the top.

With this thought firmly in mind, we approached the starting line at the committee boat behind Marlen (always a good indicator that you are on the favored end of the line). It was a very good start, 3rd across the line with a clear lane and good breeze.

The course was 3 times around windward (upwind) leeward (downwind) marks. The race committee did a great job selecting the course and it proved to be challenging, causing the crews to factor in current, sea state and changing wind direction.

Chris did a great job calling tacks, where we employed our second big learning from last year - small boats are nimble! We can change course and accelerate in half the time of our competitors, as we proved several times last night.

Rounding the top mark, we set the chute (with a few minor glitches) and took off downwind. For those of you not familiar with our boat, Strategery is a boat that truly excels on the down-wind legs. Upwind, because we are shorter, lighter and cannot point as high as our competitors, our game is all about minimizing loss. Downwind, our aim is to crush the competition. On the first leg, we did just that, executing well and rounding the mark with a "Mexican" takedown and a firm position in second place on uncorrected time.

On the second upwind leg, the competition ground us down, making up a significant amount of time. We were unable to maintain our position vs. Breakaway and Veladare, and they passed us as we approached the mark.

This was an interesting rounding, where our rustiness and shorthandedness caught up with us. Suffice to say that by the time we were set and sailing, a fair number of shrimp found themselves aloft in the chute...(not really, but shrimping is what our textbook maneuver is called). Having been passed by several boats (and in last position), we turned on the afterburners, and caught up with Fianna.

In downwind sailing, there are a different set of physics and rules that apply in addition to some of the fundamentals. I've asked Chris to pen a primer that outlines the rules of sailing in his own sacreligeous, pareto way. Stay tuned for that. In this case, we had made up a significant amount of time to catch Fianna, but were subject to the physics of her wind shadow. She in turn was subject to the rule of "windward/leeward", which states that the windward boat must stay clear of the leeward vessel (which we were). This meant that while she could slow us down by blanketing our wind, we could take her up higher than she would like to sail towards the downwind mark in our efforts to sail past her.

In my business, I'm always counseling my clients that in the race for profit, you can often win the tactical battle while losing the war. Case in point was the tactical engagement with Fianna. While there was much glee aboard their boat in slowing us down through their covering activities, they were forced into a horrible strategic position through the sharp thinking and strong crewwork on Strategery.

One of the rules in effect by the PSA is that all sailors racing must "honor the line". This means that from the time that they start the race to the crossing of the finish line, sailing vessels may NOT cross the starting line. In essence this creates a "dead zone" where you are forced to sail at an angle not optimal to reach the mark.

Chris called the gybe when we were at a perfect angle to the line for our sailplan. We were extremely quiet, and executed perfectly. Since we had previously been engaging in some fairly aggressive positioning with respect to the tip of our bowsprit and the hull of Fianna, their focus was the tactical, while strategically we had put them in a hole. Because they don't fly a spinnaker while racing (sort of a cruising class within the racing class), their optimum sailing angles are different than ours. By the time we rounded the mark, we were 15 boat lengths ahead. After another great takedown by Shawn and Chris (Leeward this time), we hardened up and headed out for the upwind mark.

This upwind leg was no different than the others, with the other boats making up a significant amount of time on us. BY now, Trinity had almost completed the race (they rate and 18 handicap vs. our 102 - hellaciously faster), Breakaway was second around the mark (rate 90) and looking strong after some earlier spinnaker hijinx. Veladare (rating 93) had passed us as well, rounding the mark and pulling well with a full chute.

Approaching the mark, we were closely following Indigo (rating 33 - another boat that should be miles in front of us), and successfully lee-bowed Fianna, who sailed a good upwind leg to catch up with us.

Unfortunately, we had another wild and wooly rounding, and by the time we had pulled it together were in DFL. But remember, speed downwind is what this boat is all about.

We caught a significant amount of breeze, and ate up the delta, catching the fleet footed Indigo by the time we passed the starting line on our way to the leeward mark, Having left Fianna in the dust. We had cut the lead of Veladare and Breakaway in half, and were sailing deep, playing tag with Indigo in a similar fashion to our earlier engagement with Fianna. It is pretty exciting stuff to be neck and neck with a boat that is 3 times faster than you on corrected time, and we put our minds to the challenge of beating them to the finish.

Remember, we are always in search of clear air and can maneuver faster than our competition. So we decided to fall back behind Indigo as they approached the mark (which we would have to give room to at the mark), and squirt inside them, hopefully taking away their air before they could get up a full head of steam.

Chris called this perfectly, and Shawn was all flying elbows getting the chute in and out of the way. We rounded the mark and trimmed quickly to do exactly what we wanted. Calling a tack, we sailed away to clear air before we were outpointed by Indigo, heading to the line. With a final set of tacks, we crossed in front of Indigo on uncorrected time...a huge accomplishment.

So...a great race - well worth the wait and full of the adrenaline and exhilaration that good teamwork brings. How did we do? Well...we don't know till they post it. Big question is how far we were behind the leading boats and Fianna. For sure we beat Indigo, Fianna will be close, as will Veladare. Breakaway is probably secured second and Trinity a first. So, we are either 3,4 or 5 and it will be close in any event.

Great night, great race. Keep checking the results page for the outcome.