This weekend was a study in contrasts. Whereas Saturday’s wind was ‘blowing stink’ in one metre waves, today we barely had texture on the water and a butterfly could have kept up with us most of the time.
On Saturday, we crossed in 2h:50m. On Sunday the return leg took 6h:20m.
Yessiree it was a wily day of searching for wind, making tough decisions and patiently dialing in boat speed. We also had the kite up and down twice in the middle of the lake as the wind began to die and shift around. It was a perfect day to sail with our Tuesday foredeck captain. Besides, when you can only have two people on board, it helps if one of them as four hands 😉
But I love these kinds of conditions. Through the GHYRA races, we’ve learned how to make our own wind and how to read the other sailboats to anticipate wind shifts so that we hoisted and doused at the right times. And today we got a chance to use all that knowledge to put in our best result in the LOSHRS series: we claimed second place today, and were only off the pace for first place by about 90 seconds, or 0.5% more boat speed).
It began at the dock as we eased our shrouds right down to the softest setting, and then as we watched other boats starting and noticed a wind shift that would favour staying on starboard, even though nearly everyone was heading out on port. So our start plan was to be the boat on starboard heading for the pin end of the line so that port tack starters in our fleet would have to dip us.
It was the right plan and it worked out pretty well, except that we were too early to stay on starboard all the way to the pin. Rather than tacking late and struggling to get speed, we tacked onto port after a few competitors had dipped us. This way were able to build speed (ahem, like, just 1 knot of boat speed) when crossing the line. It was enough to get ahead of our main rivals and tack back onto starboard across their bow. Many of them tacked at a similar time as us and they were now even and to leeward. (ARRIBA stayed on port tack, set their code zero and we never saw them again — until the finish line).
With clear air and a good position, we began to dial in the boat speed cycling through one minor adjustment after another. I just concentrated on the headsail while Les tweaked everything else and Otto held our course. Slowly our boat speed built and we began to get a lift. Over the course of about 20 minutes, Les adjust course by 2-3 degrees at a time until we were sailing directly toward our destination. With this approach, we were able to pull ahead and to windward of our rivals who eventually tacked to get into better air to windward. By now we were sailing at almost 5 knots of boat speed in about 3 knots of true wind. Magic!
Slowly the wind also began to build and we enjoyed the chance to eat some lunch knowing we were sailing well. Our rivals, Lively and High Tea had tacked back onto our heading. They were quite a distance astern and to windward, so it was hard to know who was ahead of whom, but we knew we were in a good position….so long as the wind didn’t shift aft.
It shifted aft and got lighter, but we were ready. Les had the spinnaker bag set, we checked the instruments. Hoist? Green Light. Up went the kite on a very hot angle like a big code zero. A quick look back, and more and more spinnakers began to pop up. High Tea had a beautifully ominous black and blue asymmetric that was cut really flat — perfect for these kinds of wind, and they began to close on Lively, who hoisted their massive deep golden asymmetrical a bit later. Game on!
We carried the kite as long as we could, but the wind shifted forward, and we could see the few boats ahead had opted to douse. Once again we were ready for it, and shifted smoothly to the headsail and used it to climb back up to the line that Lively and High Tea were carrying, to see if we could consolidate our gain and reduce our leverage. That was beginning to work, but they doused too and stayed to windward of us.
Once again the wind shifted aft and Four Hands had the second hoist ready in a heartbeat. We carried it hot and managed to get on the same line as Lively and High Tea. It was a great spot to be in — ahead of our rivals — with about half of the race to go.
Since we had a symmetrical spinnaker while they were both carrying asyms, I was hoping for the opportunity to soak deeply, knowing they would have to maintain hotter angles in the light wind. Sure enough the wind shifted further aft and we were able to get our pole back off the forestay. For a short while we were indeed sailing deeper than Lively. It was working!
But the wind went even further aft, so we put in a jibe. It seemed the right thing to do at the time, but boy was that a mistake. The wind was so light, we struggled to fill the kite, and once we did, it was clear that the wind had shifted back again and we should jibe again. Meanwhile, Lively and High Tea had held their course with the spinnakers flying and had overtaken us with speed. What to do? There were still ten nautical miles to go, we were close and anything could happen.
Sure enough, we spotted a wind line just ahead and noticed the boats beyond it were sailing close-hauled on their headsail. So rather than wrestle with the kite, we doused, set the genoa for the new expected wind and sure enough, we began to accelerate into the freshest breeze of the day heading straight toward the finish line.
Meanwhile, Lively and High Tea kept their spinnakers up, and when they entered the new wind they got a massive knock. Rather than dousing on our line ahead and consolidating their gain, both boats kept their spinnakers up and sailed well to leeward of us. Lively was fast, but with their deep kite, they weren’t making much VMG. Sure enough, the doused eventually and began to hunt us down from behind and to leeward. We were ahead again! High Tea weren’t knocked as badly because they could sail ridiculously hot angles with their flat asym. They were now well in the lead, and we were sure they would douse on our line, but no — they kept their kite up for at least another hour. Gradually they slipped to leeward and astern of us. We found ourselves ahead of both of them again!
And so began the drag race to the finish. With about 5 knots of wind, on a close reach, we were making speeds in the low sixes. I was wary of another wind shift, so I wanted to stay to windward of Lively. That shift never came, so the extra distance we sailed may have cost us too much. As a result, Lively slowly overtook us and finished two and half minutes before us. They owed us about a minute of time, so we weren’t quite quick enough. Meanwhile High Tea fought back to finish about five minutes behind us.
And ARRIBA? They split the course early, but we all converged at the finish, and they crossed the line 40 seconds ahead of Lively. With a PHRF of fifty-something, I was confident we were well ahead on corrected time.
And that was how Les and I wrapped up the 2019 LOSHRS series with a second place finish. With one drop, our consistent results (three 3rds and one 2nd) should be enough to get us on the podium, maybe even second overall. Lively had first in the bag even before today’s race.
The only important detail I left out of this race report were the two torrential downpours of big cold rain drops that left us sopping wet just in time for the wind to shift to the north. I mean, why bring it up right? Aside from that, the day was perfect!