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Here are two videos from last Thursday's fleet racing. I skippered the first three and Katie skippered the last two. With the short course, starts were critical. We had choppy waters and medium breeze, so keeping up the boat speed and sailing in clear air were my other priorities. The fleet was tight, so making it around the corners cleanly was important as well; briefly forgetting the windward offset cost me three boats in the second race.
Here's some of the action from last Thursday through the eyes of my new GoPro Hero. Unfortunately there was very little breeze.
My first start was rusty. We started bow back on the boats around us towards the boat end of the line. I was a ping pong ball bouncing off of other boats and all the obstacles in Belmont Harbor (I didn't actually hit anything). We rounded the top mark mid-fleet. We were within striking distance of first and second for most of the race, but in the short, twice around, modified windward leeward course, I didn't get enough opportunities to pass, and we finished third.
The breeze started clocking to the left, so there was less starboard tack on the beats. The Race Committee lengthened the course slightly and decided to send us three times around. We won the pin end without much competition, but I wasn't able to get to port tack as early as I wanted, so we rounded the top mark in second or third. We were able to pick our way up to first and won a tight race.
And then we sailed the most frustrating race of recent memory. We got off the line cleanly and Katie and I led the whole race. Donny and Liz were fairly close behind, but there was a large gap behind them. After Donny and I rounded the top mark for the third time, I noticed the rest of the fleet luffing near the finish line. We sailed back down and the Race Committee explained that we were sailing an extra lap. I expressed my disagreement and another mark boat agreed with my version of the course we sailed. The Race Committee insisted that we were sailing a fourth lap and that according to the time the race took, there was no way we had only sailed twice around, but admitted that they weren't counting. After we got off the water, Lu explained that he was in third and he saw John heading towards the finish line and then noticed the Race Committee prepared to finish the fleet, so he ducked down to finish and got the first horn. John followed and so did the rest of the fleet. Lu thought that he had only sailed twice around. Unfortunately, I wasn't using GPS to track the race, so there is no way to know what happened.
Typically, I think one of my strengths as a sailor is my ability to keep a level head, which I think, is a valuable skill. There are many times in racing when a bit of bad luck puts you in a terrible place. At that point you have a decision to make: complain about it (which usually leads to a downward spiral in performance) or brush it off, learn from it, and figure out the best way to improve the situation.
After the third race on Sunday, I was not level headed. We immediately rolled into another start. I was left of the pin, ducked the whole fleet, who were on starboard, and sailed toward the mark. Fortunately, the breeze was way left, most of the fleet was stuck on starboard for too long and we rounded the mark in first with a large lead. The rest of the race was uneventful other than taking special care to count our mark roundings. We took the bullet.
In the fifth and final race, I started on port, this time on purpose and the fifth race was the same as the fourth. Getting on port tack early was the key to success on Sunday. Towards the end of the day, the course was very skewed so that you barely had to be on starboard tack. There was actually a beat where I started on port and didn't have to tack until I was at the mark. On the downwind, it was shorter to go left of the start/finish line (looking downwind). On the second and third beats, I usually stayed on port tack three quarters of the way up the beat, passing to the right of the pin for the finish line, took a hitch on starboard when I got a little header, before I got in the lee of the seawall and then took another header the rest of the way on port until I got to the starboard layline. The breeze was generally better towards the middle and left side of the course, in the lee of the harbor mouth, but sailing around the start/finish line eliminated the bottom left side of the course and you didn't want to be on starboard tack for longer than necessary since the angle was so terrible. However, there was one beat where I rounded the leeward mark and was able to point to the left of the committee boat (and the windward mark), so I had to choose to reach down to go around the pin end of the finish line and then head up once I was clear or take a hitch on starboard so that I could clear the pin end of the starting line and then tack onto port once I was clear. I chose the latter and it worked out really well. When the rest of the fleet was rounding, they weren't as wound on port as I was, so I think that strategy was for a limited time only.
All in all, it was a pretty successful day of sailing. I learned that my rational approach to sailing is not as steadfast as I thought and I'll keep that in mind in the future. Katie did a great job of keeping my head on straight and we were able to bounce back. I look forward to next week!
I have a hard time believing that we sailed our final Thursday night of the 2010 summer season last night, but the hot and humid days are subsiding, the college sailors are heading back to school, and we're starting to get more consistent breeze! As keelboat sailing winds down, I'll turn my focus to some overdue boat-work and the remaining V15 regattas on the schedule.
We had nearly ideal conditions on August 26th for our last Thursday night: ESE breeze at 6-10 knots, 1-2 foot chop (which I could have done without), comfortable temperatures, and 17 boats. We ran three races, the first a monstrous modified windward leeward, twice around, the second was the same course, once around, and the third was half the size, non-modified windward leeward.
I was over early in the first race on a tiny line and spent the whole race passing boats to win the race (fortunately it was a long race!). I focused on sailing in clear air, avoiding traffic where I could and otherwise minimizing tacks while minimizing the distance I sailed by playing the few shifts that I saw and otherwise focused on keeping the bow pointed as close to the next mark as I could.
In the second race, I got off the line in the middle, but the fleet was packed in a small area with plenty of contact. Ben was to leeward of me and tacked onto port, trying to cross everyone, but I had to luff head to wind to avoid T-boning him at his shroud. He crossed the rest of the fleet and spun. I recovered as quickly as I could, but definitely lost a bunch in the incident. I rounded the top mark in third or fourth, just in front of Ben who got to the mark in front of me, but pinched up to make it as I went over the top of him. I stayed right (looking downwind) to avoid some port tackers approaching the mark while the leaders jibed initially and Ben took a middle road that paid off. I rounded the leeward mark in second, just behind Ben and stayed there for the rest of the race.
In the last race, I was looking for a conservative starting strategy since I was three points ahead of my competition, but there weren't many conservative places to start on a line that was too small for the fleet. I decided to start at the unfavored boat end, get to the lifted port tack early and hope that sailing in clear air would make up for the extra distance that I'd need to sail. After two general recalls because of boats over at the pin, the RC extended the anchor line on the boat to make it even less favored and I decided that I needed to be at the pin. I started third boat from the pin, but I had a slow, pinching boat to leeward of me that I couldn't get around and Lu powered over the top of me, forcing me to sail in bad air for a while. Once I got my bow in some clean air, I was moving pretty well and managed to round in fourth, where I stayed into the finish. Ben and I finished the night with identical scores: 1, 2, 4.
I'm looking forward to the upcoming two-day fleet race regattas, Hobelman and Talbot. I've been pretty happy with my boat speed and tactical decisions recently. If I can get off the line consistently, I think that I'll be in good shape for the remainder of the season.
We had the best breeze of the summer for a Thursday night on July 22. It was a shifty and puffy southwesterly that most of the fleet welcomed considering the light summer series we've had this year.
In the first race, I had a lackluster start towards the unfavored pin end. I tacked out and took some sterns so that I could put myself in a position to play the shifts. There seemed to be some nice righties coming off of the shore. I salvaged about a fourth place rounding at the top mark. I jibed right away to take advantage of the same puffs that helped me on the beat and was able to hop onto a plane before anyone else got the breeze, putting me in second place, almost getting inside overlap with Mike at the leeward mark. Mike stayed in front of me on the last beat and I finished second.
In the second race, I started late at the boat and had to dodge an out of control boat in front of me, so I took a hitch out to the right and then tacked back to take the lifted tack up the course. I kept getting wound on starboard, meanwhile letting boats take my stern at the top of the course when I should have led back to the starboard layline. Instead, I overstood the port layline and going into the top mark, I was in a terrible spot. I couldn't avoid some of the starboard boats, so I fouled a couple boats, spun and rounded the top mark in last place. I was only able to pass one boat on the last beat. This race was an example of how a simple tactical mistake can have a huge impact on the result.
I got off the middle of the line in the third race pretty well, but Andy had better boat speed than me and Mel, to leeward of me was able to take advantage of a lefty to round the top mark ahead of me. We maintained the same positions on the downwind and when I rounded the leeward mark, I found my main sail in my cockpit. I initially assumed that the knot at the head of my sail came out, but the halyard actually snapped about four feet off the top of the rig, right where the shrouds attach to the mast. Next on the to-do list, tape the shroud brackets and replace my main halyard.
The fleet sailed two more races while I sailed in on the jib. Overall, I had a pretty disappointing day of racing. The upside is that this didn't happen in a more important regatta.
I'll be sailing the Race to Mackinac this weekend on Absolut in Section 8. You can follow our race tracks here.
May 6th was the first Thursday night of the 2010 summer and we saw classic Chicago summer conditions, light and choppy. We had an ENE breeze at 5-10 knots and 1-2 foot waves. I struggled to get off the often skewed line and spent most of the short races making up for my starts. I felt that my speed was decent, but I couldn't get off the line to put up the top finishes. In the short modified windward/leeward course, most of the fleet was getting to the top of the course at the same time and fleet management was crucial. Leebowing at the mark was almost always a failure because the chop would stop you, especially if you didn't have clear air. The safer play was taking sterns and overstanding a bit to keep speed up around the pack of boats that often stopped at the windward mark as they (unsuccessfully) tried to pinch up to make the mark. I finished 5th out of 11 boats.
June 3rd was the next fleet race because of a cancellation. We had pretty flat water and about a 5 knot NE breeze that faded to 0 after two races. I had two 2nd place finishes and lost the tie breaker to finish second on the day. Getting off the line and keeping your boat moving at all times, often sailing terrible angles upwind and downwind were the keys of success. Chad won the day with a 1, 3 and was sailing with a really loose outhaul. I was hesitant to try it, but this might be worth experimenting with in the future.
The light air races continued on June 24th. We had flat water and a southerly breeze that held for six races. Getting off the line and getting to the top of the course in good position was especially important because we were sailing a Harry Anderson course (windward, reach to a jibe mark, tight reach to round the pin to starboard, run to leeward mark, finish upwind). The reaches were usually parades and there were few position changes in the downwind, so your position at the windward mark was often your finish. I was able to get off the line well and use solid boat speed to get to the top mark in good shape. In my deep race, I was fouled badly at the windward mark and went from about 3rd to 8th. I passed about 2 boats to finish 6th. I had the lowest score on the day.
Light air again for July 1st; I'm detecting a pattern. We sailed non-modified windward leewards, so there were opportunities to pass or lose boats on each long leg. When I got off the line, I had great speed and pointing in clear air and finished with bullets. We had two unusual races (race 3 and 5) where the race committee called everyone over early except a few boats; I started late at the boat both times, so this was not an issue for me, but no one returned to the line, so I was sailing in packs of OCS boats. I had a bad start in race 4 where I had to bail out at the pin at the last minute and take the sterns of most of the fleet. I was still able to barely win the day. Getting off the line well and tuning your boat properly was crucial. The breeze looked somewhat inconsistent on the water, but I found that your boat speed and clear air were much more important than where you went on the course. We were sailing angles on the downwinds and I was using my weight to subtly drive higher with leeward weight to gain speed and then bleed it off to work downwind with windward heel. Keeping your speed up all the way around the course was key.
Windy CityTeam Race. The winning team would receive a berth at the US Team Race Championship for the Hinman Trophy. I was in the precarious position of Race Chairman as well as a competitor for this event. This was the first event I have run and, as others warned me, it took way more work than I anticipated. For the few months leading up to it, I was recruiting sponsors, volunteers, and competitors, scavenging for charter and loaner boats, coordinating the regatta coverage from Kattack and Sailgroove, and running through a (seemingly) infinite punch list. Fortunately, I had some clutch volunteers who made my job much easier.
I sailed on Minority Report, consisting of Lu and Kermin, Joey and Michael-Ann, and Jocelyn and me. Of all the local teams, we were probably the most ambitious with our training, trying to squeeze in at least one training session per week in addition to the weekly Thursday night series. We made a lot of progress in these sessions, but still had a long way to go to win this event.
There was not a weak team in the field. The winning team of Taylor, Mitch, and Jono put on an impressive show, winning every race, but the rest of the fleet was extremely tight. For our team, there were no easy races. On Saturday, we had plenty of breeze, 15-20 knots with puffs in the mid-20s. The strong breeze combined with a eight and a half hour day on the water created some exhausting conditions. However, the three minute beats were very manageable. We completed two round robins on Saturday. The second round robin counted for double. We went 1-7 in the first and 3-5 in the second. Many of our losses were very close. With the exception of a few starts, I was getting off at the pin pretty well on Saturday. Unfortunately, our team was out of sync; there was rarely a start when all three of us were able to get off the line well. I would say our other pitfall was botched executions. In the breezy conditions, we had to be careful of a boat going full speed sailing around a down speed boat trying to set a mark trap. Pinning was often more effective than slowing. I think the Kattack footage will shed some light on some of our other problems.
Our record on Saturday was not good enough to put us in the top four, so we sailed in the petite finals on Sunday in some light and fluky breeze. This meant only a single round robin rather than the double round robin that the Organizing Authority originally planned for. We won our first race against maroon in a two on two race because a boat from each team was late. We were winning our race against orange in a one, two halfway up the last beat, but the breeze shut off and the umpire decided to abandon the race. When the breeze filled again, we lost the race to orange. We lost a tight race to blue and then won the final race against silver. This put blue's record on Sunday at 4-0; silver was 0-4 and the other three teams were 2-2, so the tie was broken on points and we finished at the bottom of the tie break, so we were eighth in the regatta. Our results were disappointing, but I think we could have been fourth just as easily as we could have been ninth. With the exception of the top three teams, we beat every team at least once.
Overall, I was very pleased with how the regatta ran and the level of competition. Hopefully, I'll be able to report a better finish next year.
The first day was full of tricky conditions and moments of frustration. With the offshore breeze and race course near the land, we saw crazy shifts, especially at the top of the course. Lefties were easy to see, but the righties plopped down from shore to the course and were often invisible on the water. There was no predictable pattern to the shifts and the consensus among the fleet was that the top of the course shared similarities with Las Vegas. I focused on keeping my bow towards the mark as much as possible, sailing for the pressure I could see, and trying to position my boat so that I could play the shifts regardless of their direction. The latter strategy of avoiding corners hurt at times when boats on one side or the other would get wound up to the mark and I was stuck in the middle, missing the pressure from either angle. On the downwind legs, I played the shifts aggressively, paying attention to telltales on my shrouds and jibing frequently. Positioning your boat to pick up the new puffs was also crucial. I had a couple good starts in the first few races, but for the most part, my starts were less than stellar. I frequently had to take sterns to get on the lifted tack and was able to make up for my bad starts by playing the shifts immediately after the start. I don't think I had a boat speed advantage on the first day. Where you sailed was far more important than how fast you were going. After a full day of eight races, the top three boats were within three points of each other. I was in second, two points behind Ben, one point in front of Lu and I knew that I had my work cut out for me going into the second day with only four races left in the regatta.
Day two was shaping up to be a completely different story. The fleet rocked their boats to get out of the harbor and the Race Committee towed most of the fleet out to the course. The forecast called for light SW winds to die and then NW breeze later in the afternoon. Instead, we had SSE at 3-8 knots that clocked left over the course of the day. We had a pretty bad start in the first race, so we rounded the top mark in fifth, behind a train of reaching boats because it was too light to go dead downwind. A few of the leaders jibed out, but we held, waiting for a lift to jibe on. When we got it, we took a hitch in on port jibe, waited for another lift, jibed on it to find some good pressure on the bottom right part of the course (looking downwind). I jibed on what I thought was layline to the mark, but we were above it, so we sailed most of the way on port, ripped off two jibes towards the mark to round in second. We passed Ben to win the race. In the next two races, we had great starts and great speed. We seemed to be sailing higher and faster than anyone else in the fleet. We were able to stay towards the top of the fleet all the way around the course and pass the competition by the end to win the second and third races. Going into the last race, I was one point in front of Ben and Lu was not a threat. We had several general recalls, the first of the regatta, but I was able to get a great start two boats to leeward of Ben and I was able to cover him as he sailed for the right side. We got a slow shift to the left in the first beat and I had a great position on him. The boats that went left rounded the top mark ahead of us, but I was able to pass some downwind. Ben was quick downwind and stayed pretty close behind us. I covered him upwind while using some of my lead to play the shifts and extend rather than clamp on him. Mike got between us going into the windward mark. I wanted to go right (looking downwind) on the downwind to catch the breeze that had been filling in from that direction at the bottom of the course, but Lu and Ben went left, so I covered. Mike went right and ended up winning the race, we finished second, and Ben was fourth. This put us up two points to win the event!
This was the last race day of the spring frostbite series and I found myself in a position that only occurs occasionally; only one other boat mattered for the series victory. After missing last weekend, I was five points behind Lu and the rest of the competitors, sailing fewer races throughout the spring, were well behind us. So I contemplated how I should sail Sunday's races. I was hoping for five races and I would have to finish in front of Lu in every race. Filler points would have been a bonus. I wasn't certain whether I should use aggressive pre-start tactics to achieve this end. In my college days, where the team's national ranking was dependent on the regatta finish and my individual performance determined whether I was going to start the following weekend, I would have pinned my opponent in the pre-start and covered him the whole race. In a friendly spring frostbite series, I decided this was inappropriate. In years to come, the results will be archived and forgotten. Sailors will not forget about the guy who hunted Lu in the pre-start.
The lake was choppy with 1-3 foot waves, so I set up the rig for a lot of power despite the decent breeze. In the first race, we were launched at the boat end that was favored, but a lefty about 45 seconds before the start made it less favored. We made it to the top of the course within the top five who were very close. I made some bad fleet management decisions and had to take some sterns to get on the starboard layline close to the mark. When I turned down, we plowed into the back of a wave and swamped the whole cockpit. This allowed Lu and maybe another boat to pass us. When we got down to the leeward mark, we were behind a pack of boats and positioned to take advantage of someone's sloppy rounding. I thought we had an opportunity when Aaron had a wide rounding, but he shot higher than I expected and we had to spin for the incident. We had a good second beat and a good downwind to salvage approximately a 6th place finish, right behind Lu.
I decided to start at the pin for the second race. Port was the long tack and I thought that the new left breeze made the line square. I was wrong. We had no competition at the pin (except for the lasers who were rounding it as their leeward mark) and immediately after the start, the boats over my right shoulder were much higher than me. We tacked to port and took some sterns early to get on the long tack. Other than starting at the wrong end, it was a pretty good beat; We rounded in the 4-7 range. At the leeward mark, there was another cluster of boats in front of me. There was some yelling and chaos that shuffled up the order and brought me closer to the leaders. Aaron's crew, Katie, fell out of the boat shortly after rounding to make things more interesting. Unfortunately, Lu benefited from all of this as he emerged the leader. We had a nice leeward mark rounding and a good beat to round the top mark in third or fourth. Mel started going to the leeward mark rather than the finish pin on the opposite side of the committee boat, so we were able to pass him to finish second.
The breeze was building, so I pinned down a bit, but still pretty powered up for the amount of breeze. We had a sloppy start to leeward and bow behind two boats toward the boat end of the line. After a few tacks, we had a clean lane and were flying. We planed all the way upwind and salvaged a top five rounding at the first mark. We passed a boat or two downwind to round the leeward mark in third, on Mike's windward hip. We soared upwind to round the top mark in second, about five boat lengths behind Andy. We split jibes with him downwind, but couldn't pass him. Lu capsized and finished deep in the race.
I was stoked with our speed and looking forward to more races, but several boats in the fleet were capsizing and the wind was building, so the race committee posted N over A and we planed back into to the harbor on a tight reach to finish the day. Overall, we had a fun and exhausting day of sailing. I think we were second on the day, with Andy beating us by a few points, but we were doing things the hard way. We had to fight hard for our finishes because of bad starts and a couple tactical mistakes that should not have happened. If we minimize these problems, I think we'll be very competitive this summer. Final results haven't been posted yet, but I doubt that I was able to pass Lu for the series win.
Update: Final results are posted. Condor finished second in the spring series, four points behind Lu. Congratulations Lu!
With my crew missing in action Sunday morning, I hopped in the coach boat with Mike to watch the races from a different perspective and I captured some pretty good videos and photos on my phone. The fleet of 7 boats sailed in a NNE breeze at about 10-15kts. The water was choppy once again, so boat speed was a crucial factor to success. There seemed to be some slow oscillations, and some pressure variety across the course, but for the most part, how you sailed your boat was more important than where you went on these long courses. Lu won the day with his stamasters at 5, lots of vang, and a fair amount of cunningham and outhaul. Ben was second and in the videos, you can see how different his main sail looks with an open leech and deeper shape. He was sailing with less vang and cunningham and the head of his main was a few inches from the top of the mast. Ben said his setup felt off; he had to dump main more than usual.
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