Calvin and I competed in our first ever pursuit race today: Â rather than boats starting simultaneously, each boat has a different start time, calculated so that all the boats would finish simultaneously according to their PHRF handicap. Â That meant we were the second last boat to start the race.
NEWS FLASH: Â We were the third boat to finish!
Conditions were light. Â In fact they looked like another drifter was possible. Â The lake was eerily flat with long winding ribbons of milky smooth surface. Â After yesterday’s experience I was paranoid about falling into more holes, but the wind indicator showed something between 5 and 8 knots. Â One advantage of starting later than others was that we could watch other boats and choose our strategy. Â We saw nearly everyone aim straight at Port Dalhousie in a drag race. Â The good news was they were all moving!
It seemed that our fleet all had the same idea as us — point higher, just in case the wind shifts. Â So one by one, the purple fleet headed about ten degrees above the rhumb line. Â They seemed to be doing well, so we made that our plan too.
Starting was a little different, but our scheme worked well. Â I synchronized my watch to my iphone, then set my alarm on my iphone for six minutes before our start. Â That gave Calvin the chance to startÂ our 5 minute race timer at the right time. Â When the race committee called out our one minute warning, we had 59 seconds on the clock. Â Perfect!
Genoa out. A couple of tacks. Â Still early. Â Luff the main. Power up. Reach to the committee boat. One second left. Â At the line. Honk. Turn up and go! Â That was fun!
During the next 90 minutes we chased the rest of the boats out there, opting finally to sail a little bit of a lower course to maintain boat speed. Â As we entered each of those milky patches we held our breath, took note of wind speed, boat speed and heading and were delighted to find out that the wind was not lighter, and it didn’t change direction! Â What a relief! Â Still, we didn’t dare harden up to a close hauled course, afraid that if we pinched we would lose boat speed and may take a long time to get it back. Â The result was that we sailed on the same line as most of the other boats, while our purple fleet carved out a higher line.
It was surreal to be out in the middle of the lake in glassy smooth water, ghosting along at 5+ knots overtaking boat after boat. Â Calvin and I were nearly silent, motionless and focused as we let the autohelm hold our course while we held our breath. Â During this period we floated by Blue Eden (Paul & Colleen Gravelle’s 54 foot cutter), and Free Spirit and Chewan, all of whom seemed to be standing still. Â Later that evening, Paul said he thought we must have had the motor on!
By this point, there were only ten boats or so ahead of us, but I didn’t like where we were. What if the wind dies out here? What if there is better breeze near the shore? Â What if the wind changes direction? Â All the rest of the purple fleet were in a better position to take advantage of any change like that. Â So we made a bold move. We tacked away from everyone, and sailed at least 30 minutes toward shore. Â As this was not the favoured tack, we gave up ground to everyone, all based on the conviction that we would be better off in the long run, if we were near shore. Â We punched through the line of boats from our fleet, just half a boat length astern of Big Yellow, who was behind Bobby McGee. Â We were ahead of the other purple fleet boats. Â And we sailed on with conviction. Â Sure enough, there was more wind near shore. Â And one by one, boats began to notice and follow.
But we were more determined than any of them. Â More determined that there was better wind near shore. Â So, long after they turnedÂ back to the favoured tackÂ , we pressed on. Â And we were rewarded with even better air! Â Satisfied (and wary of some milky patches ahead), we turnedÂ back onto the favoured tack and wondered how this would play out. Â Had we gone too far?
And then the wind shifted and built. Â We were lifted thirty degrees and heading straight for the finish, booking along at 7+ knots, and we felt like geniuses even though we were mostly lucky (we could have gotten knocked instead, right?). Â The lift continued, and the wind continued to build so that we sailed the last half hour on a reach screaming along between eight and nine knots (top speed 9.1!!!). Â Eventually we got binoculars on the finish line, adjusted course (we had been aiming too high) and powered on to finishÂ behind Bobby McGee, who lost to Big Yellow by half a boat-length. Â Our finish wasÂ definitely a highlight of the day. Â Picture us flying along at 8.5 knots on a reach, and then right as we passed the committee boat, we turned up to cross the line close hauled — all that in an arc that surged by the tail of the committee boat leaving only a foot or two of water. Â What a crescendo!
At the dinner afterwards, we were delighted to win the third place prize, and got many high fives from our Burlington friends. Â Let’s do it again!
Some lessons learned:
- Keep your boat speed in light wind by avoiding the risk of pinching — sail low and fast. Â Why? Â The boat is generating quite a lot of its own wind, so once motion slows, the apparent wind drops and it becomes much harder to get boat speed back.
- Milky patches aren’t always holes. Sometimes the wind bounces off the water, so there is no surface texture, the wind is still there, butÂ aloft
- On hot sunny days, there is more wind near shore.
- If you are in a hole, trim your sails to the top tell-tale of the jib, not the bottom one (ie: look at your windex), so that you are ready to catch a whisper of wind aloft and generate some boat speed.
- Don’t be afraid to take a longer route if you believe there is wind to be found somewhere else.
- Sail with conviction. Â If you are wrong you will lose. Â If you are right you will win. Â Place your bet and stick with it.
- No matter what you do, chance is a big factor — like any other game!
Oh, and we are getting much better at sail trim and rig tuning 🙂