A reluctant sea breeze had developed on the bay, and a giant freighter was anchored just to windward of the race course. The combination made for a tricky night as the wind was really unevenly spread across the course, and the ripples on the water were an unreliable indicator of where to find the wind.
The pin end was strongly favoured as the wind was slightly north of the windward mark. We opted to start at the pin end on port tack. Timing was great, but we weren’t quite lifted enough to cross the fleet and ended up dipping two boats on Starboard. One of them was Battlewagon who tacked onto port soon after and got into a strong groove quickly, while we struggled to get boat speed and strong air. Nonetheless we stayed ahead of Sandpiper and Raison d’Etre until the last decision of the beat. They went out to the layline and caught good breeze while we made slow progress in lighter air avoiding the corners and the starboard tack parade like dutiful students of Walker’s book. We were fourth around the mark (still ahead of Raison d’Etre with Sandpiper just ahead).
Hoist was clean, and a quick jibe was well executed. We went in search of stronger breeze.
By taking a hot angle, we were able to cross Sandpiper’s stern at close distance (they had done a jibe-set). They had a bit of trouble with their jibe, but ours went well. Suddenly we were abeam of our rivals with the inside lane and a long way to go. Battlewagon was still well ahead (and Top Gun too, of course), so we focused on Sandpiper.
We and Sandpiper were both sailing deep downwind angles to the mark, suffering in the wind shadow of the freighter, so we opted for more jibes and hotter angles toward better wind in the middle of the bay. It was a great choice that really paid off. The jibes were solid and we gained on Sandpiper, coming into the leeward mark on a hot angle with plenty of boat speed. By the leeward mark, there were some smaller boats between us and Sandpiper. Once again, bold choices with the spinnaker up have served us well.
A knot in the halyard made the douse awkward, but we got sailing upwind with the spinnaker mostly down and kept our line while the lads sorted out the tangles. Sandpiper emerged from traffic with good boat speed sailing lower and faster than us. For a while, they had us looking over our shoulder, but ultimately our high line to the boat end of the finish gave us third place with a 50 second margin.
There’s something to learn here though, about the value of sailing upwind low and fast on these light nights — go for boat speed!