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LOSHRS Race 4: The 100 Miler

Race Details

  • Wind: 4SE - 12SE - 14g20 WNW - ZERO - 6S - 12S - 4S - ZERO - 6 W
  • Course: PCYC - Toronto Islands - CCIW Spider - Niagara Mark - PCYC
Course Map

This was the big one.  Further than the Susan Hood, one third the distance of the LO300, but with just two of us on board.  And it was a particular pleasure to share the responsibilities on board with Nauti-buoy (Shaun Berrington), who has decades more racing experience than I do, on all manner of boats in all manner of seas.  Even though this was just the second time sailing together, our teamwork was solid as we switched seamlessly between helming and trimming every hour or so during the race.  We flew the kite on two of the three legs (and almost hoisted again near the finish), and tweaked and fussed continuously to get the most out of the boat.

And it paid off!  We earned a third place finish in our fleet, and only 7 boats crossed the finish line ahead of us (and some of those had PHRF ratings of -3, -11).  On corrected time, we placed 13th out of 27 boats that flew spinnaker.  Nice!

But the star of the show was the weather….

On the drive to PCYC on Saturday morning, it rained so hard that we could only go 60km/hr on the highway!  Needless to say, we were in no hurry to get out into the elements to set up the boat.  We got her prepped in drizzle, huddling down below to talk through the start, the route, the tech and the wind/weather forecasts.  But as we left the dock, the rain stopped, and before the start a bit of blue sky peaked out.  A beautiful day of sailing had begun!

There was a bit of breeze, enough to move and maneuver effortlessly, as we watched other fleets start before us (we were in the last start).  But as our sequence began, the wind lay down.  Fortunately, we weren’t far from the start line, and were able to keep the boat moving.  But we were near the pin end, and had to approach on port, ducking some of our rivals before a slow-motion tack into some pretty bad air.  Shaun trimmed fastidiously, and gradually we gained pace, stretched out beyond a boat to windward to catch some clean air, accelerated and began our climb to windward of the fleet.  During this progression the wind freshened and we found ourselves in a nice spot heading to Toronto Island, with the true wind on the beam.  We stayed just above the fleet all the way to the mark, so we never had to work to overtake slower boats from previous starts and the only traffic we had to deal with came as we converged on the turning mark.

Around we went and once again, we climbed to windward of the fleet into clear air, and then set our course 15 degrees above the rhumb line as we expected the wind to shift forward.  The True wind angle was just a bit too hot for the spinnaker as the wind speed built to 10+ knots.  With binoculars out, we could study the fleet as they daisy chained along the rhumb line.  One nice treat — ARRRIBA, a 40 foot Beneteau First in our fleet, was behind us!  After a few hours, the wind shifted aft, rather than forward — so much for the wind forecast!  So we cracked off a bit and hoisted the kite.  The fleet to leeward began to do the same, and the boats that hoisted first gained significantly on their rivals — and we were among them!

It was a hot angle, but we could hold it, and we didn’t need to give up our position to windward — just aimed at the CCIW spider and sailed on.  A quick tally of boats ahead of us, and we could spot about 13 or so, including two that had stretched out way ahead of everyone else — those guys with the negative PHRFs!

Clouds appeared, darkened, dispersed, and the wind lost its mojo.  Once it filled again, it was further forward, so we doused.  Well timed!  We weren’t long under the #1 when the wind sputtered, shifted 180 degrees and we found ourselves on the opposite tack close hauled and not fetching the spider.  Drat, now the boats that had followed the rhumb line were to windward of us, fetching the spider with ease.  What had been an advantage turned into a set-back within minutes.  Such is sailboat racing!

But the wind had pity on us, for as it freshened, it also gave us a nice lift.  A lift that — together with fastidious sail trim and a bit of pinching — was enough for us to fetch spider.  So although some boats had slipped in front of us, we had not lost much ground to them.

And by now we had 20 knots of wind!  Yes, we were grossly overpowered with the #1, but we only needed to suffer for about half an hour before we were around the mark, sailing very deep on course to Niagara.

With all that wind to manage, we had not repacked the spinnaker bag, so Shaun got us wing on wing with over 8 knots of boat speed while I got the kite ready.  And once that baby was flying, we were tearing along, grinning ear to ear like Cheshire cats :-).

And Shaun rigged a preventer stay without delay.

Gradually the wind began to subside, and we were able to grab a quick bite and start to think about tactics.  Once the wind got down to 6 knots, we started flying hotter angles and the big question was whether to go for shore, out to sea or to zig-zag down the middle.  Without a compelling reason to go one way or the other, we chose to stay near the middle of the course.  This choice gave us the opportunity chase down ARRIBA who had snuck by us in the wind shift up at the spider.  The wind kept dropping, and we found ourselves completely becalmed within hailing distance of our rival.  Shaun noticed that boats in toward shore were moving nicely, with their spinnakers filled.  I noticed that their wind was coming from the opposite direction than ours had been coming.  So, we jibed the kite (in no wind), and almost right away, the new breeze arrived at us, we filled and just walked away from ARRIBA.  Nice!

And our reward was a glamorous sunset

About an hour after sunset, a full moon rose, but there was a bank of low-lying clouds that obscured the moon for the better part of an hour.  We were able to aim right for the Niagara Mark with the spinnaker up, and held it well into the night sky. As the moon began to light the night, we spotted our 4s red flashing light, and doused early so we could round cleanly.  The quiet, the moonbeam, the silhouette of boats ahead, and the music of water against the hull.  That is the mystique of night sailing that we will never forget.

And we will never forget how much current there is at that Niagara Mark!  With the full moon, we could clearly see a massive wake behind the marker.  There must be three knots of current there.  Wide berths are necessary when passing between the mouth of the Niagara river and this Mark.

It was shortly after 10pm.  That means 75 miles complete in just 12 hours!

Despite the current, we rounded cleanly, and quickly got set up on a fast beam reach.  The wind freshened and our boat speed climbed over 7 knots.  We took turns having short naps and I brewed up some hot coffee.  Out came Biltong and granola bars.  Meanwhile a big boat astern kept making way on us sailing right down the moonbeam.  We assumed this was ARRIBA, benefiting from a longer water line.  Flashlight out, some adjustment in trim and we accelerated and were able to hold them off!

But about 9 miles from the finish, the wind began to slacken.  This is a very familiar pattern now, that we experienced in the LO 300 and the Susan Hood.  It ain’t over until its over.  At first, our focus was simply to keep the boat moving as the wind got lighter, but then it began to shift directions as well, and we had to alternate between hardening up and footing off to stay roughly on course.  Up ahead, we could see the lights of several more boats parked up in the failing breeze, while off to the southwest we could see constant flashes of big lightening high in the sky.  Weather was coming, and with it there would be new wind.  But would the wind come soon enough to get us off the water before the storm?

Becalmed, with just a whisper of wind up high.

Spinnaker?

Got the bag ready.  Wait.  Something fresh and cool on our right ears.  Wind shift coming.  No Kite. Tack.  Moving!

By now with just a few miles to go, it was time to plan the end game.  The new wind direction was so reminiscent of our Susan Hood finish, we aimed our course well below the PCYC turning mark and ghosted along.  As we approached, we could spot other boats either becalmed, struggling to soak down to the turning mark, or up ahead following the game plan we had in mind.  This gave us a point of reference for planning our last tack into the finish, but just in time.  As we got nearer, a bank of fog rolled in and we lost sight of most of these other boats, the shoreline and even the light on the mark.  iNavx reassured us we were indeed on course to finish, and not sailing into rocks!

Fortunately, this fog-blindness was short-lived and the mark re-appeared as we approached it, as did the shoreline, and we radioed in our finish at 4:21 am!!!

With the storm in the SW still approaching, we furled the jib, doused the main, made for port without delay, tidied up just as the rain began and got to the car before the sky opened.  Only then did we begin to realize that we had gobbled up several boats in the last hour!  There is no substitute for local knowledge :-).

And that is how Nauti-Buoy and I managed to race 100 miles in just under 18 hours.

 

2 thoughts on “LOSHRS Race 4: The 100 Miler

  1. Great recap Rob! I wish we (“Flash”, phrf 145) were off the water with you and the other “fast” boats; the lightning and lack of wind from 4-7 AM was a bit scary (although spectacular) and frustrating. It also rained, a lot!

    We had a good start, which was tricky with a shift at 2 minutes to our go. Thankfully, I had sailed to the committee boat early so just went down the line until firming up at 5 seconds (we were really close to being over). A few minutes after starting, boats ahead of us stopped, some sailing back in our direction, so most of us (Jersey Girl, Entourage, etc) tacked away from the hole until the breeze filled in and tacked back towards the first mark. It definitely cost all of us some distance, as you fast guys were quickly on our sterns.
    After rounding Gibraltar we sailed high (but fast 6.5-7 knots) with our #1 expecting the wind to shift forward. I normally prefer the middle of the course to keep options open, but with our ancient sails I felt gambling to win (lol) “the 100” was worth it. It was a gorgeous afternoon and everyone covered a lot of miles in those first 5 hours (much better than forecasted). We enjoyed some wraps and stayed hydrated.
    Being the furthest left boat, we kept waiting for the shift, finally around 8 miles from the spider we decided to do what everyone else had done earlier and fly the spinnaker. The exact moment the spin went up, the shift happened, so it may have been us that actually caused the shift. The kite went up, kite wanted to come back to the boat, so the kite came down..that was “fun”..and not so fast.
    My plan/gamble of staying high was really going to pay off when the wind went forward, 20, 30, even 50 degrees, but shifting right around put us down the ladder (such is sailboat racing). Instead of racing down to Niagara in the fresh breeze, we got to “enjoy” 8 miles to windward..with the #1…in lots of wind.
    After rounding CCIW and performing a “rock and roll” spin hoist without the pole (a bit exciting, not so fun), we settled in and performed well downwind, catching a few “faster” boats. We were pleased, especially after our big gamble, to pass boats that owe us time. And as the sun set, we were first in our group to see the shift and gybe into the fresher breeze inshore. We were sailing a really tight spin for most of the evening, with speeds in the high 6s and sometimes into the 7s, fun sailing right on the edge. Around 10PM, or whenever the moon popped out, I noticed we were really close to shore, and I still couldn’t see R2 clearly. Unfortunately, its the first time we’ve sailed this boat to Niagara, and instead of sailing to R2 (on our other GPS, its labelled “Niagara”), we were headed to the mouth of the river. All that “on the edge” sailing was for nothing, and we had to go straight downwind for over 3 miles. R2 is pretty far offshore, and that far downwind was painfully slow (3.5 knots), rounding at 11:45. (I wish I could have seen the boats near us to know how much we gained/lost in our adventure to the grapevines).
    Uncertain of the angle back to PCYC after rounding, we decided to gybe at the mark and see where we could head with the spinnaker. One of our best gybes! Flawless! And in total darkness!! But we could only head towards Toronto, so out came the #1, and we dropped the kite..not so flawless, not so fast, but finally wrestled the kite down the hatch.
    Off to PCYC, 6.5-7 knots of speed, beautiful stars,4 hours to go, ETA of 4 am, lets go!
    After a few fast miles, passing a couple boats, we were down to 5 knots of speed…still 4 hours to go, ETA of 5 am. Not too bad though, especially looking at the weekends forecast, and all of our mistakes/gambles/adventures. But with each slower mile, our eta kept pushing back 9am, 11 am, noon.. time for a rest. I just hope that lightning to the west heads south.
    Hey Kev, wake up! We’re going the wrong way! Oh, and its pouring! The “good news” is we were only doing .5 knots and just needed to find the wind to correct our course, but we had found the hole. It took a couple hours to cover a couple miles, it was raining, and then the lightning show began. It was spectacular but far too close for any comfort.
    Thankfully the pressure kept building off of the storm and we sailed some fast miles, approaching 7 knots of speed until 4 miles from PCYC. By then the storm had passed, the sun was rising, our speed was decreasing, and we entered a new hole. We had some friends with us, “Katbird” and “Blew by you” (our closest competitor, phrf 142), and all 3 of us drifted for an hour trying to find some wind.
    There was wind, but it was miles behind us and the slower boats were catching up fast. By the time “Windburn” was a half-mile from the mark, the 3 of us finally had enough pressure to round (I went inside of Katbird at the mark) and headed towards the finish: Blew by You, us, then Katbird.
    We did correct ahead by 3 mins, but we were obviously well back in the fleet. Sometimes fast boats are fast, especially when the wind dies.

    Total time of 22.5 hrs. A great Saturday, a frustrating night, a lot of mistakes, we learned a lot, and after getting some sleep on Sunday afternoon, we felt like we completed a challenge. Short handed for 100 is tough!

    See you in September!

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