You wouldn’t know it was almost autumn. The temperature, humidity and soft edges in the sky suggested it was early July. This could have been a GHYRA day. But it was the Fred Gilbank Memorial Regatta, one of my favorite events of the year. For the 2019 edition, it was a joy to sail it with David. The regatta is named after Fred who crewed with David Groves in many double-handed races. So the race is in honour of Fred himself, but also a tribute to all those hard working crew who distinguish themselves especially in double-handed races.
Arriving at the marina early this morning, it was hard to believe there would be any wind. The bay was mirror calm and the flags along the lake shore were hanging limp. Nonetheless, I hardened the shrouds to the 16-20 setting, betting on the forecast which called for a windy afternoon. Sure enough, after a brief participants meeting, we motored to the bridge and texture began to form on the water. Once through the bridge, the gusts began to come in. We were in for an exciting afternoon.
David and I quickly had main and #1 genoa set, and practiced our line to the spider so we could set the cars and think through the race. Wind looked to be about 12 knots just ahead of the beam with some gusts, so no shot at a spinnaker for the first leg. Instead, we prepared for a jibe-set at the spider.
The start line was short, and set across the wind, so that the boat was advantageous. But my goal was clear air as soon as possible, so we approached the line from below the committee boat and began to harden up to kill time. With everyone on port tack, we were leeward boat and had rights. As the start gun went off we were to windward and behind Battlewagon, but to leeward of Christephanie, so we took Christephanie’s stern and got to windward of them. A bit of trimming and we shot forward. As the fleet stretched out, we were in the lead with Battlewagon just a few boat lengths behind.
Meanwhile Pandora tried to carry their spinnaker to the spider, an idea we considered but rejected. It was too tight in too much wind, so their attempt backfired, and by the time they had doused, they were well to leeward and off the pace.
At the spider, we bore away and then jibed before hoisting. The kite came up smoothly and off we soared, right on course for our next turning mark. Once things were settled, a quick look backward, and to our surprise, no one else had hoisted!
We focused on trim, and when David tightened the boom vang, our speed leaped from 7.5 to 8.5 knots. Yeehaw, we were flying!
Fortunately, the wind held a steady direction even though there were areas of stronger or weaker wind. David got the #1 down smoothly, and put it away and we debated whether to hoist #2 or #3. First — when the wind was blowing 19 knots — David got out the #3 and moved the cars all the way forward. But before bending the sail, the wind subsided to 14 knots, so he swapped for the #2. But before he got it out of the bag, with 20 minutes before the Bronte mark, the wind grew again to about 20 knots, so we committed to the #3.
Our douse was smooth, even in all that wind, and we powered up on the jib and main. Soon, we were close to shore in Bronte and needed to tack. No problem. But then it became clear that something had gotten fouled in the douse. David tidied up lines and got things prepped while I got the chance to feel the #3 in 16+ knots of wind. In a word? BALANCED!
From there it was a game of trimming and looking for the best wind while watching the compass to try to play the shifts. We found a strong slot of wind toward the Burlington shore and tacked a few times to stay in it. As we progressed westward, the wind climbed to a steady 19 knots with some slow gusts. Although the leeward rail was buried most of the time, we didn’t have to fight for balance, and maintained boat speed in the mid sixes. Looking back, the fleet was far behind us, and we knew we had put in a great race.
We finished within less than three hours. The course was 18 nautical miles as the crow flies. We sailed about 21. So our average speed was above 7 knots. Fast! Battlewagon finished about 20 minutes behind us. They opted to sail white sail, and ended up finishing the race under mainsail alone, since they couldn’t hold their #1 genoa in the big winds during the last hour. Other boats were well astern, so we went through the bridge.
And were in for a surprise! The wind was roaring 25 knots in the channel and once we were through, there were 1m waves stacking up to great us. We powered through them with our engine, but the spray was immense. Both David and I were drenched by the time we got to the marina. Good thing it was a warm day!
So after tidying up, as other boats began to arrive, we went boat to boat to help them all dock. That’s when we learned that Christephanie retired from the race because their cap-shroud turnbuckles came loose (yikes!), and Meridian (Shaun Berrington’s new C&C 30) got a line wrapped around their prop (also yikes!). And it continued to blow 25+ in the marina.
Once everyone was settled, we gathered at the BBQ dock for burgers, rum and coke, a toast to Fred Gilbank and the results. Everyone told stories about being overpowered in the last hour of the race. It seemed we were the only ones who changed a headsail. Right — we were the only ones who carried a spinnaker the whole downwind leg! But the spread in the fleet was enormous: it combined white sail and spinnaker boats ranging from PHRF 73 (us) through 240 (Tranquility).
Even so, this was our best Gilbank yet — a second place finish. Shaun and Rita (Meridian) took first place, and Ken & Mike (Tranquility) took third.
What a great day 🙂