Western Challenge Wrap Up by a Newbie
Sunday’s breeze was as predicted – light! The first race for the gold fleet was for 10:00 am. It was blowing maybe 5-6 and by the last race of the silver fleet it died to about 3-4. But, the good news was we had bright sun light and that made the 5 F temperature not feel too extreme. The brighter day also made for better visibility which certainly made me feel A LOT safer on the course.
With the lighter breeze, sun light, and a good safe day of racing behind me with an additional few hours of practice in my new boat after Saturday’s racing I felt ready to push myself a bit. Based on the result of the previous day’s last race, I was assigned to start on left side of the course in #18 position. When I lined up, I really scratched the ice with my spikes to make sure I had good traction for my push. When the flag dropped, I pushed off and sprinted very hard and kept sprinting until I couldn’t anymore and then slid into my boat gently (as I have been told to do). There was a good enough breeze that I could power up fairly quickly and I got my boom locked down into my shoulder. I learned the day before I really had not been pulling my main sheet into the proverbial “two block position” which I have been told is the speed nirvana point. So, I pulled and pulled until I saw the little gold marker coloration.
Many boats tacked under me over to port, but I wanted to go almost to the lay line. When I tacked over I could see just a few starboard boats coming towards the mark. I picked my spot and tacked over. From there, I stayed high around the windward mark to maintain speed as I have been encouraged to do and I easily gained ground and passed many of the boats to leeward of me. I had a good downwind leg and in that race I finished 6th in the first race of the day. I was really excited.
The 2nd race I was on the left side again and after sprinting got into a rough patch of ice with no speed. It was like the brake was on. I still ended up finishing that race in 8th place.
For the 3rd race, I really gave my start all I could give because the committee announced it was the last race of the regatta. When I slipped into the boat I really focused on building speed because the wind was very very light. I was PATIENT and I built speed. Again, most people below me tacked behind me. I kept going almost to the lay line as I was going fast and in clean air, but not too close to the lay line because I knew when I tacked over to the starboard lay line I would need speed going into and around the mark….T told me “speed begets speed” so tacking too close to the windward mark is a bad idea. I had good speed and stayed high around the mark. Some boats gybed quickly, but I did not. That has never worked well for me. So, I stayed high passed several other boats, went to the lay line and then gybed. As I approached the leeward mark all these people in the pit were raising their arms and cheering. After my rounding I was looking up the course and no other boats were there. I had rounded the leeward mark in first place. Amazing! And then I did the proverbial “Binder Choke”
My second windward leg was not good. I was low and slow and overshot the layline by a quarter mile. When I finally got to mark I’d let at least 8 boats round in front of me. I had little speed around the windward mark. The wind was really dying. I decided to gybe since I saw Bill B. do it. I caught some wind, but we were all pretty slow. Some were getting out and pushing. I decided to push too. I did that twice and by the time I got to the leeward mark I did have speed. My 3rd windward and leeward legs were better. When I approached the finish line, I figured I was maybe top ten. I was bummed, but okay with it. Then, a very nice woman named Maureen (who sails and races a Nite) approached me and said “great job!” and I said “thanks.” She then said “You got 3rd!” My silly enthusiasm got the best of me and I jumped up and down and screamed. Then, I gave her a big hug and told her she made my weekend.
When the final results were posted Bill, T, and I were already in the van driving home. I learned I’d moved from 16th place on Saturday to 11th place by the end of the regatta out of 27 boats. Last year and exactly the same weekend during the New England Challenge held in Maine, I was lapped during two different races and I did the “superman”at a start (where you lose your footing and fall on your plank, hold onto it for dear life, and get dragged around for a while). So, progress has been made.
My biggest take away from the weekend is that just like soft water one design racing, a good start makes your race so much easier. I will be continuing to work on that as the weeks progress. In college, I read Sailing Smart by Buddy Melges and I remember he recommended doing doing 100 tacks and 100 gybes in a practice session. For me, I want to practice 100 starts ASAP.
Congratulations to T and Bill for finishing in 2nd place in their respective divisions. I also want to thank T, Jeff Kent, Steve Madden, and Steve Duhamel for all their help, encouragement, and my DN equipment upgrades over the last year! I am very grateful.