Sublime. Â Absolutely sublime. Â It’s September and its still above 30C at the start of a race at 6:30 in the evening. It’s still balmy and calm well after sunset. Â The glowing clouds above the failing sun have the hue of a tropical sundown. Â And we’re out there in it, sailing!
This has been the best summer to be on the water, ever on record, I would assert. Â And the lads on PERSPECTIVE savoured every precious knot of wind — and the knots of wind were rationed out tonight like rum on a British naval ship of the line with a frugal captain.
Upwind was a nice leg, actually. Â Wind was enough to get us going, and it built to a point where we had four knots of boat speed and a comfortable heel. Â During the pre-start I blundered us into a hole the size of Nevada beneath the wind shadow of Eclipse — now I completely understand the meaning behind that boat’s name: Â the wind was completely eclipsed! Â By the time I found clean air, we were a bit late for the line, and had provided enough room for Battlewagon to slip in between us and the committee boat. (despite my attempts to dissuade them with warnings that they had no room). Â Sigh.
So, off we tacked into clear air, but away from the favoured side of the course. Â Very nice maneuvers and good sail trim got us as much distance as we could, but even so, when we crossed the fleet we were well behind. Â Heading into the better air toward Burlington, we gained speed and held our course until the last moment so that we could take the most advantage of the better wind. Â Great move! Â We converged with our fleet having madeÂ up a lot of ground — dead even with Battlewagon and ahead of Eclipse. Â Picture us coming into the layline just five boat lengths below the windward mark on a course to T-bone Battlewagon. Â With 20/20 hindsight, I wish I had dipped them and punched through to clear air to windward of them. Â Instead I tacked into their lee bow (clever!) only to discover we would not make the mark. Â Did I mention that Gil and David had begun to set the pole? Â Did I mention a hundred swirling boats rounding the mark? Â Did I mention Battlewagon in a controlling position from behind? Â It’s a fine mess I got us in,Â Oliver!
What a relief when Battlewagon also realized they missed the mark and tacked away, giving us room to tack. Â Gadget had the pole out of the way in no time (I think he hid it up his sleeve), and we popped in two quick tacks, rounded the mark and hoisted without much delay. Â (I think they’ve got a magic want up there on the foredeck).
And now the downwind duel began. Â Battlewagon came on strong with a good hoist, breathing down our necks. Â We managed to gather boat speed on a hotter angle to cross their bow and avoid being smothered by their bad air, and then headed deeper downwind with them just a few boat lengths behind and to leeward. Â Our wind dropped and we struggled to fill the spinnaker. Â Eventually we found a mode, but it was intense with Battlewagon breathing down our necks. Â We sent everyone to the bow to reduce wetted surface area, and I think this made the difference, allowing us to keep in clear air, despite Battlewagon’s attempts to smother us.
Up ahead we could see Sandpiper filling on the opposite jibe. Â It was time to make a move. Â Around we came, struggling to keep the kite filled, and the lads recovered from a dropped guy very quickly. Â First a hot angle to gain boat speed, then settling onto Sandpiper’s line. Â Battlewagon mirrored our maneuvers and ended up once again behind and to leeward of us. Â Not far enough behind for my liking!
We followed fair air all the way to the Hamilton shore, using other boats as a guide of where the wind was, and where it wasn’t. Â A solid jibe where we needed it and Battlewagon mirrored us again. Â But the way the geometry worked out, they were now to windward of us — in a good position to steel our air. Â And we were both on line to the finish. Â This was the critical moment. Â Playing all our cards, I chose a hotter angle, picked up speed, crossed Battlewagon’s bow within a few boatlengths, using our momentum to carry us through their wind shadow into clear air. Â They could have chosen to cover us, but we were in control, by being between them and the finish line. Â Instead, they held their course, we trimmed the spinnaker neatly and added distance on them to the finish.
At the end, we crossed the line 2.5 minutes ahead of them, mostly because we put all our crew weight forward, and kept tweaking the spinnaker trim (pole position forward/aft and up/down) to squeeze every bit of boat speed we could. Â But also because the wind kept fading, and because we had consolidated our lead into a tactical advantage in the last portion of the race.
And Eclipse? at least seven minutes behind us. Â The mood on board was as much aglow as the watercolour sky, and only got better as Nonsuch unveiled a picnic for princes, which we enjoyed on the warmest September evening I can remember.