I don’t recall ever doing this before! Rather than dousing at the leeward mark, we jibed and held the spinnaker until (almost) the finish line. Way cool!
Here’s how it happened:
It had been a gorgeous sunny summer day with little humidity, the kind where the sun is hot and the breeze is light but still you can be comfortable. My favorite kind of summer day. Except that there was little wind. Just before leaving the dock we checked on the wind forecast, and had a chuckle: The light gradient wind was coming from the north, maybe even a bit northwest, BUT it was fighting a deflected version of the gradient wind that had gained speed along Lake Erie and was approaching us from the Southwest, AND a struggling sea breeze was trying to build from the East. In other words, if there was going to be any breeze at all, it would be hard to predict which of these would win.
So we went out to the start area searching for clues about what might happen.
The course was set for the prevailing light breeze at the time, from the NorthEast, which meant that the sea breeze was winning at the moment, but it had already backed, so it was probably dying out. As we watched the sharks start, the wind backed more and it looked like it would be a port-tack fetch to #9 at the golf course. But just a few minutes later, the direction was back at the NE. Were these oscillating conditions or was a persistent shift just struggling to get established? Our money was on the persistent shift, so we watched carefully as the sharks responded. They had already flopped onto port tack, and just took the knock. Then the wind backed again. Nearly all the boats stayed on the lifted port tack, but one of them tacked over to take the header. Interesting! They were placing a big bet that the shift was persistent and would continue to progress.
As we watched other fleets start, it became clear that a progressive persistent shift had begun. The shark in question made huge gains, and we made our own plan accordingly: Start on starboard near the pin end of the line, push toward the Burlington shore just beyond the rest of the fleet and the tack onto port and ride the lift up to the mark.
Execution was clockwork. Just about everyone else in the fleet went for the port tack start and had to duck us. Only Raison d’Etre had the same idea as us. They were ahead and to leeward. Once they tacked onto port behind us, we tacked also.
Although we weren’t fast (had the old mainsail up), it was a pure joy to watch the fleet spread out to leeward, and continue to get lifted. We all got lifted so much that the layline kept getting further away. But since we were able to nearly fetch the mark, we only had a couple of boat-lengths to sail on starboard. The other boats’ reaction were a perfect illustration of the lesson we studied this winter: Sandpiper realized the situation early and tacked back to our line early — as a result, they didn’t lose much and were a bit faster toward the mark than we were, so they rounded just behind us. Top Gun realized next, and took their lumps — as they tacked back to our line, they crossed well astern of us. Battlewagon stayed on the lifted tack, but had to sail a lot of extra distance to the layline before tacking.
We rounded the mark in second place just behind Raison d’Etre. By now the wind was from the North and we had a very hot spinnaker leg to mark #1.
Our first challenge was to overtake Raison d’Etre. It took a couple of tries, but we were eventually able to work our way to windward of them and overtake near aboard.
Meanwhile, Sandpiper sailed their spinnaker more deeply, below the rhumbline, and fell off the pace. But Top Gun and Battlewagon got into mode quickly and built a ton of speed. Shortly after we passed Raison d’Etre to windward, Top Gun shot by to leeward, and Battlewagon overtook RdE.
Quick reference to the true wind direction and predicted true wind angle for our next leg (thanks to trusty iRegatta), and it became clear that we could jibe at the next mark, rather than douse. Sure enough a couple of boats from earlier fleets had done just that. So, while Top Gun began to douse, we got ready to jibe — this was our chance!
It was definitely the right call, and indeed we did have a chance, but the jibe — from hot angle to hot angle — didn’t go smoothly and we had to sail deep (away from the rhumb line) for a while to sort it out. By the time we were flying, three things had happened: we’d lost time to Top Gun, we’d opened a windward lane for Battlewagon, and we now had to sail an even hotter angle to the finish line….too hot as it turned out.
We held the kite as hot as we could, for as long as we could, but it wasn’t quite enough. Battlewagon got by us, Top Gun staid ahead of them, and we needed a quick douse to cross the line on the jib.
(And that douse was a bit testy, as we forgot to blow the guy)
Bottom line is that we earned a third place result tonight, and made all the right decisions to have a shot at first. And all this with the old mainsail! The winter series is paying off! The more often we make the right decisions, the more often we’ll get the gun. Let’s do it again!