Faithful Friends and crew of Strategery,
This is what we had to look forward to last night:
NE WINDS 20 TO 25 KT WITH A FEW GUSTS TO 30 KT. SEAS BUILDING TO 5 TO 9 FT. SHOWERS...TSTMS AND AREAS OF FOG. VSBY BELOW 1 NM.
NE WINDS 20 TO 25 KT. SEAS 6 TO 10 FT. SHOWERS AND TSTMS IN THE EVENING...THEN A CHANCE OF SHOWERS AFTER MIDNIGHT. VSBY 1 TO 3NM.
Needless to say, nobody on board ate a heavy lunch. For the first time in a long time the forecasters were on the money. We clocked between 20 and 23 knots and waves between 8 and 10 feet in the mouth of the harbor. With the boat flying up and down the waves and spray in our faces, we knew it was going to be a long night. While not a challenge for the boat to sail in, the conditions certainly were a test of seamanship for those racing.
The tone of the evening was set by another J105, Ubuntu, who set their spinnaker to practice as they headed out to the race course. They started to have trouble as they entered the rough conditions outside the harbor, but it wasn’t apparent how dangerous things were aboard until they passed the committee boat and were headed out of the channel towards the shore. They appeared to have a jammed halyard and were unable to lower the spinnaker in the heavy wind. They were struggling to get it down as the boat inexorably was pushed towards the rocks. We watched horrified but unable to help as they sailed deeper and deeper into danger. Finally with no more than 100 yards to spare they somehow freed the halyard and dropped the sail. We cheered as they clawed their way out of danger and sailed back into the channel and onto the course.
After wrestling with the mark and a fouled anchor, the committee boat started the countdown to the race. For those of you who haven’t raced with us, there is a 5 minute countdown to the start when everyone jockeys for the best position at the gun. For the race last night, the line was set up so that the left side (pin end) was the favored end, and was angled so that you had to really work to start on Starboard tack, the one with rights. We kept the jib furled until there were only 2 minutes left. With Marlen and Uproar roughing each other up as they headed towards the line, we decided to stay out of the fray and focus on getting into clear air for the start. I was eager to get to the line for a clean start, but Chris kept me focused on not getting there too early. Luffing up we killed time and established our position as the windward boat on Starboard tack. This is the kill position if you have room to stay above the other boats in the fleet. Thanks to some good trimming by Chris and Dewey and Scott, we were in the controlling position and stayed on course to hit the line at the gun. By sailing down, we caused a few boats to have to bail out at the pin end starting mark, since they couldn’t tack over onto Port. It was our best start yet.
In clear air we decided to sail close to shore where the waves were smaller and we got lifted to the mark. Marlen followed us after a 360 for touching the mark, while the other 2 105’s went on Port tack offshore and into the bigger waves. We did really well on this tack, sailing to the mark in first place over the entire fleet.
We faced a big decision at the upwind mark…to set the chute (spinnaker) or not. Earlier we had seen the issues that Ubuntu faced with the near wreck of their boat, and had clocked speeds of 8.5 knots under just the main alone…which is really fast. However, we knew that Marlen would be pulling out all the stops to catch us, and that 20 to 25 knots was doable with the crew’s experience on the Melges and Chris’ 109. So, I made the call to set the chute at the mark.
Doing it by the numbers, we were able to get the sail up and set. We gybed immediately and with Jim on the sail immediately jumped up onto plane. Surfing waves, we hit speeds of over 11 knots sustained on the speedo. It felt incredible. All I could hear in my head was the old 60’s surfing song “Wipe Out”…
As expected, when they rounded the mark behind us, Marlen set her chute and tore out after us.
Jim and I held on and worked our way up to the mark. Because of the angle to the mark, we were sailing much higher and faster than we normally would. The boat was incredibly well behaved for the conditions and despite the coming tricky takedown, we were all grinning. This was weather the boat was made for.
The angle made us have to do a leeward spinnaker takedown, which is difficult to do in good conditions and not something we had practiced as a team. That said, it went flawlessly, and we rounded up to the mark. Tacking around the mark, we headed to the finish for a thankfully uneventful and safe first place.
When we finally finished, it became clear that of the entire fleet of boats there were only two boats crazy enough to set their spinnakers…Marlen and us.
Kudos to the team on another first place finish. That makes 2 in a row. Since it was also our anniversary, the crew gave Kim and me the gift we had asked for.
Stay tuned for more sailing…