We’ve all been to a picnic, and participated in the three legged race. Even the best teams stumble and lurch along. PERSPECTIVE was no exception tonight as both the wind and the race committee surprised us with a very exciting race of just three legs.
The wind was mischievous tonight. Forecasts suggested the wind would subside to a drifter of 4 knots, so we tuned the boat soft. Before the start, we had the #1 ready, but we were reading 16 knots of wind plus gusts. We seriously considered the #2, but then we saw the course: a short beat, a reach a run and a beat. We opted to stick with the #1, thinking that we might be overpowered on the short beat, but we’d be happy with the bigger headsail on the reach…and then if the wind died as expected, we’d have the right headsail ready.
But the wind had other ideas: it veered toward the north, the gusts kept coming and the wind did not subside.
We stayed with the #1, and Les got the foredeck ready for a jibe-set at the second mark. And by now, it was clear that the boat end of the line was strongly favoured.
The start was great fun. We positioned ourselves near the boat, jibed around to kill time and tore off for the line just above the layline. Timing looked perfect, but Sandpiper was also well-timed and on the lay-line to leeward. We dumped wind from main and jib to let them slip ahead and started right on their stern at the boat end of the line. Battlewagon was over early, a bit down the line. They had to restart. Although we suffered a bit from Sandpiper’s bad air, we rode every gust up to sail a line above them, and fetched the windward mark without trouble. Sandpiper pinched their way around it, and the rest of the fleet had to tack. Leg #1 was a thrill!
Leg #2 was a weird one. While Sandpiper focused on hoisting, we kept our spinnaker in its bag, sailed above them and stole their wind. They slipped behind us and then began to overtake to windward. Top Gun (no spinnaker) was climbing to their windward side. Game on — as leeward boat we had rights, and pushed Sandpiper up until their spinnaker was flapping madly; Top Gun, too, had to head up to avoid. But once we fell off to the proper course, they were both able to roll over us, and the rest of the fleet was gaining from astern. The wind slackened — hoisting was the answer, but we were rigged for the wrong side. So, we decided to try something a bit creative. First stumble. Sorry Les, this was not a good idea. I said “Hey, let’s just clip the pole behind the bag and hoist the spinnaker where it is.” The lads complied, the hoist was okay, but the spinnaker was now between the forestay and the main on the windward side of the jib — the totally wrong spot. Les carefully worked it around to the correct side, during which maneuver he was completely wrapped up in fabric fearing for the moment when it filled. Would he be launched? Answer, no, it all worked out okay. Was this the right choice? Answer also no. Next time, we’ll take the extra time to shift the bag to the correct side before hoisting.
We gathered speed and soon were at the turning mark. A jibe mark! Fun! We haven’t had many of these before. Jibe went well and suddenly we were on a very hot spinnaker run. Next stumble: the halyard wasn’t all the way up. Fixed. Woowie were we booking! Apparent wind angle was about 60 degrees, boat speed was in the high sevens, and the gusts were doing their very best to broach us. For the first half of leg #3 we held it well, and overtook Sandpiper (who sailed much lower with their kite), gained on Top Gun (who doused early), and pulled well away from the rest of the fleet. But we spilled out twice as the gusts rounded us up, and then we doused.
Maybe we didn’t need to douse.
Maybe if we kept it up we would have been able to finish ahead of Sandpiper.
Maybe if we knew that the committee boat had changed the finish line, we would have aimed toward the boat.
But, on this three legged race, we opted to douse. This was our third stumble of the evening. Now, a hot douse is tough in the best of times. This was not the best of times. This was a learning experience….a teaching moment…the kind of douse that makes your foredeck crew rather vocal (and rightly so). The learnings are below and worth reviewing. The impact on the race? Well, by the time we were nicely tucked away and sailing correctly to finish, Sandpiper (who doused earlier — and cleaner — than us) got across our bow and finished about where they started: 12 seconds ahead of us!
So it was about as chaotic as a three legged race at a picnic with more excitement than we bargained for. Leg #1 was a peach. Leg #2 was snakes and ladders. Leg #3 was super mario cart. Thank goodness no one got hurt and nothing was broken. The after sail tonight was a special mix of debriefing the douse, a few other pointers, and then laughing off the tension with great team spirit.
What did we review about the douse? (especially applicable for a hot douse)
- As soon as the person in the hole has the sheet, bowman should holler DOUSE!
- Blow the guy — don’t ease it, get it off the winch completely (no wraps) and let it run. Just make sure it runs free
- Blow the sheet — don’t ease it, get it off the winch completely (no wraps) and let it run. Just make sure it runs free
- Pay out the halyard — faster on on windy nights.
And how did we relieve the tension? (Hint: note the terminology in item #2 above. Probably not the theme of our crew party at the end of the year.)