It was a chilly morning, the kind of morning that makes you think of apple picking and raking leaves. Sailing isn’t usually the first thought on a day like that, but the sun still had early September strength, and there was hope for a warming trend.
But there wasn’t hope for wind. The forecast predicted something around 4 knots out on the lake for the Fred Gilbank memorial double-handed race. Nonetheless, FourHands and I set out at 8:30 to represent the PERSPECTIVE team, wind or no wind.
Well, with one caveat: I had to leave for the airport at 4:30pm for a 6:30 flight, so the 4pm lift bridge was a hard cut-off (3:30 preferred and the target), so there was a strong possibility that we would have to abandon.
We changed the mainsail back to the clear Doyle sail. More depth for the light wind. And we started the engine early (just in case). No issues. At the skippers meeting, everyone agreed to shorten the course a bit due to the light wind forecast. Perfect and simple: to the Shell Pier and back.
While motoring out to the bridge, Les and I reviewed the conflicting wind forecasts, so that we arrived at the lake on the lookout for one of two possibilities:
- Wind starting just a bit north of the rhumb line, veering gradually about 30-40 degrees. This would favour port tack early, which would also position us strategically to get lifted on starboard tack later in the leg.
- A sea breeze starting in near the shore. This would favour starboard tack at the start, and hugging the shoreline tightly.
As we hoisted sails and set our car position out on the lake, we were pleased to see 5 knots of wind, with lighter patches of wind toward shore and what looked like stronger wind away from shore. Option 1 looked to be the game plan.
So we did a port tack start near the middle of the line! A gutsy move with eight boats on a short start line, and only the two of us on board. Two boats were clear ahead, we had to dip badger, but the rest were astern. Bingo, we popped into clear air and began trimming our sails.
Not wanting to separate too far from the fleet, we tacked about ten minutes along, and began to enjoy a progressive lift toward the mark. Okay, it was a great game plan, but it didn’t feel like the textbook. Even though the wind speed was pretty steady, the direction was very shifty. Now a knock, now a lift, now a knock, now a lift. Slowly over time, the lifts out-lifted the knocks and we shaped our way toward the mark as the breeze strengthened gradually.
Before long, the entire fleet began to separate, with Battlewagon and us pulling ahead. They were inshore, but tacked over to cover us about halfway along. I think they noticed that we were unlikely to fetch the mark, so they pushed out further into the lake than us, crossing just ahead. They added distance on us but weren’t pointing as high, so by the time we each spotted the mark, we both had to tack across to it about the same distance.
By this time the wind had built to about 9 knots.
We began to plan our hoist on the upwind leg, and as the wind shifted further toward the east, it became clear that we needed to do a jibe-set. Les changed the lines and got the bag ready.
Battlewagon rounded first and went for a bear away set, which took them perpendicular to the rhumb line, sailing straight toward the shore. We put in a swift jibe at the mark, and then hoisted quickly pointing toward the Burlington lift bridge the entire time.
(well, okay, we had an hourglass, got a bit overpowered when I didn’t steer correctly, and there were so many lines all over the place, the cockpit was like a bowl of spaghetti)
But the undeniable result of that jibe-set is that we tore away from Battlewagon, who took a long time to jibe, and chased us the entire way to the finish. We learned later they had one of their lines routed through the pulpit and had to re-rig before jibing.
As we sailed to the finish line, the wind built in strength a bit more and continued its shift a bit further, so that we were sailing a very high angle with the spinnaker. Very fast! But also a lot of power to manage with just two guys on board. Les and I both sat on the high side: with the spinnaker sheet routed across the cockpit to the cabin top winch, two wraps and handle in. Once we locked the pole in tight, low and just off the forestay, it was a hot fetch to the mark. I used the lulls to head up the course a bit, and then steered down in the gusts.
Could Battlewagon catch us? Nope! In fact, it looked to us like we extended our lead a bit, and crossed the finish line 1:25 ahead of them, just a hair under two hours to shell pier and back!
The finish was cause for some heartburn, though. We had to cross between the lift-bridge pier and a mark just 100 meters or so from the end of it. There was nowhere to turn down to douse, so we had two choices: cross the line under spinnaker, risking a broach right near the concrete wall (and then turn toward the beach, hoping to douse before reaching the shallows), or douse a bit early, and finish under genoa. We took the conservative option, and that was exciting enough — once the pole was released, the spinnaker filled up quite high and heeled the boat very strongly. Quickly releasing the sheet did the job, and Les had the kite in the hole in no time.
We watched Christephanie finish with their spinnaker still flying, and we were very glad we made the choice we did.
Back at the dock, we gathered to munch pizza and toast the memory of Fred Gilbank. While waiting for the results to come in, there was a sense of expectation that perhaps PERSPECTIVE would be engraved on the trophy, but this was not to be the case — a few boats with higher PHRF handicaps also had great races, and Christephanie had the quickest corrected time.
No matter, PERSPECTIVE made her mark, and Les and I had a blast!