Tonight was a showcase of how quickly weather can change. At the dock, things were calm. Dark sky was stacking to the SW, but a lovely picturesque sky hung above us. The water was smooth and the wind was light.
We motored out.
Slowly, the undulating glass of the bay gathered a faint ripple, maybe 3 knots of wind.
We set the mainsail.
Ordinarily, these conditions would suggest a #1, but there was something about the sky that made me wary. It was unstable to the south, and gathering darkness.
We left the headsails below decks and waited.
The faint ripple grew to a steady breeze, maybe 7 knots of wind.
Again, the #1 seemed logical, but we defered.
A hint of 10 knots of wind, and we opted to set the #2. I doubted the choice as we watched other fleets starting. We were seeing gusts of 12 knots — easy to carry on the #1. But with 7 minutes to our start, the storm to the south sent us its power. Even the #2 seemed too much as we eased everything to maintain control.
With that much force, our prestart was messy, but Ken was at the helm and did a great job to get us in position for the approach. We were above the layline near the committee boat, and had to kill time. Ken feathered us up perfectly with Sabotage ahead of us and Top Gun to leeward, ready to push us up if we went for the boat. Sails were flapping, the wind was roaring and the boat was heeling. But we held off for long enough and then charged the line.
(Battlewagon, opting for a headsail change at the start, chose to start the race and retire).
At this time, the wind had shifted south west — it was coming from the storm clouds. So we were close-hauled almost parallel to the line, with Raison d’Etre astern keeping us from tacking. Eventually they tacked, we followed and Top Gun (ahead) did likewise. This put us on a port tack fetch to the weather mark. At first the wind was aggressive, and Gadget did a great job keeping us flat in the gusts, and Ken claimed all the height we could. This put Top Gun in a position where they had to overtake from our windward side, and it took them a long time to push through our bad air. Eventually, though, they were able to do that. The wind settled down a bit and we were able to trim well to fetch the windward mark, rounding just astern of Top Gun and with mark room on Raison d’Etre.
All this time, I kept one eye on the weather to the south. Yes we had been sailing toward more friendly skies, but the sky above Mordor flashed its evil intent, and rumbled its dismay at our sport. Hmmm, I wondered, what lies ahead?
Time to hoist!
We took an extra moment to make sure all was set, and David and Bert cleared a wayward halyard. Up went the kite in a sensible 12 knot breeze, just slightly aft of the beam. With Raison d’Etre just abeam of us to windward, it took some time to pull free of their shadow. By this time, our rivals on Top Gun were well ahead.
(Hey, did I just call them our rivals? Hmmm, haven’t done that before. But with Sandpiper away, Battlewagon retired and Raison d’Etre astern, it seems right. Hopefully it stays that way!)
Raison d’Etre did not hoist. We could afford to take some risk in order to try to overtake Top Gun. Following them was not going to make it happen, and they were sailing deep. Decision: sail hotter, plan for a jibe, and try to overtake on the downwind.
It almost worked!
(and I’m sure we made them think)
We rounded just astern of them, which shows we gained significant ground downwind. Of course, by the time we were both powered up they had several boat lengths on us.
Strategy time again.
By now Raison d’Etre was so far astern that we could risk even more. We expected the wind to veer, which meant that the fastest way to finish was to hold our line (take our knock early) and tack later. But that would mean following Top Gun from well astern. Not a winning scenario. The other choice would be to tack away to position ourselves for a favorable wind shift.
We did, but of course Top Gun tacked to cover us. It proved to be a disadvantage to both of us, as we both sailed longer distance in lighter wind — we even allowed a boat from a slower fleet to overtake us. It was worth a try, but Top Gun preserved their win over us.
All in all, it was an excellent night on the water with a bit of everything: big wind, good start, strong beat, technical downwind sailing, strategic choices, lots of sail trimming, and a solid result.
With all that weather out to the south, it was definitely a time to be wary of dire possibilities. Prudence on the headsail choice proved to be prophetic, as we would have been all tangled up if we had set the #1. The worst weather tracked south, and our resolution paid off as we put several points between us and our traditional rivals of Sandpiper and Battlewagon.
Warily resolute. I like it!
Wary resolution rewarded. I like it even more!