After talking for a while about “racing my boat in the spring,” the first rite of “spring,” namely the Birthday Regatta & Leukemia Cup, was about the arrive and said boat, Sloop Dogg, needed to be readied for racing. (My former skipper, Roger Butterwick of Hydropathy, described it more loftily when I overheard him tell somebody I was going to campaign my boat in the spring. Campaign! Hmmm. I like the sound of that. I used to just sail my boat, now I’m campaigning it. Campaign! That’s what Roman Legions did! Hilary, Barak, and McCain aren’t the only ones campaigning! Sloop Dogg in 2008! The more I think about it, this campaign needs a slogan–From the big message department, ”Don’t complain if you didn’t sail.” Or, from the pop culture pun inside a cliche department, “Rock the boat.” Or, from the “It’s the economy stupid” desk, “What this country needs is a good $5,000 sloop.”)
Ahem, anyway, the first order of business was to order a dock box into which I would off load non-essential items such as the microwave, frying pan, various cleaning products and the like. The red double kayak, which serves as a landmark to friends looking the boat, also would have to give up its berth on the starboard bow rail and float alongside Sloop Dogg in the slip.
Following an interview with a client at the Arizona Medical Board on Thursday morning, I drove to Lake Pleasant on the Carefree Highway–great name for a road that leads to sailing. (Speaking of serendipity, my desert foothills home is on Calle la Vela, which means sail in Spanish.)
But back to the campaign. SD’s teak grabrails, companionway, and washboards were looking worse for wear, freshwater flora had made a home at the waterline, scuffs of unknown origin marked the hull, and recent storms had left the cockpit looking like it had survived the dust bowl. Attaching a short-handled scrub brush with duct tape to the boat hook made cleaning the hull below the water line possible. As the Cetol I ordered from the Sail Boat Shop had not come in, I settled for Old English, which restored the wood. A surface cleaner I bought at Albertson’s cleaned the cockpit and the scuffed areas on the hull to a gleaming white. By evening, the boat looked better than it had in nearly two years.
On Friday morning I climbed out of the cabin and looked up at Spinnaker Point to see the AYC tent backlit by the pre-dawn glow. Overnight, the wind had blown hard enough that it woke me and kept me awake for what seemed like hours. It wasn’t the spasmodic rocking of the boat, the boat’s tugging at its lines, or even the high howl of the wind in the rigging. It was the cacophony of innumerable halyards spanking masts. Eventually, fatigue overcame the racket and I drifted off.
I attended the skippers’ meeting with PRO Brad Davis, feeling like I had joined a new club though the initiation was still a day away. Later, Hardy and Will Whetstone arrived. After buying sandwiches and stowing gear, we left the marina to join the Eventagram Centerboard Challenge, which is for boats 20’ or less in length, though longer boats were able to sail in an “other” class that is not scored and the race committee provided a separate start. The wind held on long enough that afternoon that we were able to do two practice races and then peeled away to work on sail trim on our own. It was exhilarating to be racing even though it was just practice.
The wind kicked up again overnight as if it intended to sweep out the marina. The wind, however, dropped as the sun climbed and by the late morning start for the PHRF Non-spin fleet, our “speed” was lethargic. Consumed by deficiencies in our sail trim, I gave no thought to race course management, which proved to be our downfall. Eventually, I tacked onto the lay line and drifted toward the windward mark, only to be headed. As the last boat to round the mark, or about to round the mark, having to tack with virtually no boat speed in front of a committee boat seemed like an embarrassment conjured up by Neptune’s fresh-water cousin. Disgusted with myself, I wondered what pre-race pagan ritual I might have practiced to avoid this ignominious turn of events. It didn’t get better. It had taken us so long to round the windward mark that instead of sailing a run with the whisker pole up and the genoa out, the wind had shifted so completely that we ended up sailing close hauled south to the finish line.
I would like to couch our finish by claiming that we wanted to lull our opponents into a false sense of security with what I figured would be our throw away race. The truth is I sailed poorly and we finished last.
Instead of heading off in the direction of Mount Gay and ending up at the intersection of Tecate and Lime, Will proposed taking out his two Netty sea kayaks (that he brought lashed to the roof of his truck) and my red L.L. Bean double kayak. That suggestion saved the day, at least for me. I paddled around to the ramp at the gangway to the marina, met Hardy and Will, and the three of us paddled into the open lake.
With the sun low on the horizon and light glinting off the ripples on the water, we pulled into Honeymoon Cove, north of the marina. Using the canoe dock there, Will and I switched kayaks. The Netty kayak turned out to be lighter and faster and, in contrast to my red kayak, less stable though in short order I felt comfortable with it and used Will’s $450 paddle to turn the late afternoon idyll into a cardio workout and frustration safety valve.
At the party that night, we ran again into fellow Tucsonan Peter Burgard, who was sailing his O’Day 27 Bandito. Seeing friends–Roger Butterwick, Tom Zimmerman, Chuck Sears and others–and the uplifting properties of Full Sail IPA helped me turn the corner once and for all on the afternoon.
Sunday the sun rose clear and cold and the wind was steady. A new approach was called for. I put on my new SLAM shirt and “Coutts-tested” sailing vest. I felt faster. Then Will and Hardy helped me tune the shrouds, which were so loose the day before that the mast swayed side to side when we returned through waves to the marina under power. Now Sloop Dogg would sail faster.
Unlike the day before, we had two good starts, sailed close hauled, and maintained decent boat speed through the tacks. An unfortunate overlap on the working winch lost us 2 or 3 boat positions when we tried to tack onto the lay line. Other boats passed us while I stood on the shroud to ease the tension and Will undid the overlap. Downwind Will set the whisker pole and we passed a boat on our way to a better finish.
It was exciting while on port tack to cross the bow of a Merit 25 that was on the lay line on starboard tack and then lee bow another boat approaching the mark on a starboard tack.
We had another good start in the second race and again sailed well upwind. I judged the lay line correctly but was so close hauled in light air that when we were headed again, I had to tack to port and again to starboard to round the mark. We made up time on the downwind leg and passed two boats while rounding the leeward mark. Eventually the wind died and radio chatter referred to the boats still on the course as “drifting with purpose.” Although we continued to progress, albeit exasperatingly slowly, toward the finish line, the PRO called the race.
By the end of the Sunday, Hardy, Will and I had learned enough that we sailed better individually and as a team. The verdict was unanimous. It had been a great day and taken as a whole, a great weekend.
What we did well (in no particular order):
- Talking through what each of us was going to do at various points e.g. tacking, rounding the windward mark, rounding the leeward mark each time so that the unfamiliar became routine.
- Assigning specific tasks e.g. person releasing the sheet then raises the traveler.
- Running the starting line before each race to determine, under changing wind conditions, when to tack back onto a starboard tack during our reach out, reach in start.
What we will do better the next time:
- Assign somebody to gauge our proximity to the starting line. During the second race on Sunday we were further from the line than I had thought as we beam reached to the pin end.
- Deal with an overlapping wrap as soon as it is discovered.
- Settle on the most efficient way to connect the whisker pole to the ring on the sheet and then make the whisker pole so the sails are wing-on-wing.
- On Lake Pleasant, where the winds are shifty, err on the side of over-sailing the lay line to avoid the headers that seem to occur inevitably within several boat lengths of a mark rounding. I know that Getting Started in Sailboat Racing by Cort and Stearns specifically counsels against this approach, but in what are often crowded, light air conditions at the mark, it seems to me to be better to hit the mark with boat speed rather than being forced to tack in light air–and disturbed air–and wallow there.
The campaign continues…