Where Oh Where Did My Apparent Wind Go?
I am grateful that T and I both are able to find out about a regatta in Michigan late Thursday and be in a van driving west by 9:00 am Friday. Keep in mind this is just two weeks after we drove 24 hours to Minnesota for a practice weekend. Yes, maybe a bit crazy. But, with no ice in the New England forecast we blazed out on the long road.
Saturday had great ice, but light wind. The race committee got off three races for the gold fleet and two for the silver fleet. My sprint training totally made a difference with quickness off the line and gaining speed once in my boat. I surprised myself with being at the top mark in the top five in the gold fleet each race. Chirs Berger made me laugh when he said, "I swear your name when I keep seeing your boat…By the way that’s a compliment." Unfortunately, the wind would die and each race was red-flagged. But, I sailed really well upwind and downwind.
Sunday=Different conditions=Different story.
Overnight it snowed about an inch. I never raced on a full plate of snow. I thought nothing of it given the ice was still in good shape. Before the race I practiced with a 100 degree T runner on starboard and my 95 insert on port. I could hear the snow just hitting the top of T’s runner body so changed it out before the first race. Jeff Kent and T both say listen to your runners. It’s good advice.
The wind was about 8 mph when we started and built steadily through the day with steady 12 and maybe puffs to 15-16 mph. It was also shifty. The race committee did a great job with getting 7 races completed for each fleet. Kudos to the team.
During Sunday’s first race I saw three black watery looking circles each about 12" across and fairly close to the windwark mark. I was not sure if they were open or not, but everyone was avoiding the area. Those I asked after the first race were not sure if they were open either. That unsettled me a bit because the day prior we were told repeatedly to avoid going too far to the left because the ice was only 2" thick. I never knew quite where that line was between safe ice and not safe ice so I avoided that side as much as I could. All that probably planted a bad seed in my head that took me out of the mental game a bit.
After two races I was doing okay upwind but my tacks were super. For the next race I tried out my plates. Shorter runner length in snow means less for the runner to turn through during tacks. Well, they are also a sharp 90 degrees. My tacks were a bit faster, but maybe the ice was a little too soft for that really sharp edge. Downwind remained a disaster. I have never been awesome downwind, but I have never been that bad or slow since two years ago when I got lapped in my very first regatta. Back to my 95s.
As the wind was building and puffs hitting, my mast was not bending. I felt out of control upwind. T suggested adjusting the headstay. Next race I was more control, but I was getting more nervous about the holes and I still did not a lot of mast bend. So next race T suggested loosening the shrouds so the mast would bend more when I sheeted in. That actually worked much better and I was at least with the fleet at the mark and rounding with six other boats at the same moment. Then, I got bumped by another boat. That freaked me out.
I tried my best to remain calm, but that didn’t help the brain. So, I was even slower downwind. I parked my boat and took a really long walk after that race.
Now, the last race of the day. I gave it my best, but my brain was toast. I stopped after the first lap. I can’t remember quitting any race of any kind in my entire life. But, I said to myself, "Karen, your head is not in it – STOP."
Is that wisdom gained after so many disasters on the ice? Maybe. Too high expectations? Confidence shot? Definitely!
On the ride back to Rhode Island, T coached me on apparent wind and snow’s drag on speed. Snow makes makes downwind sailing 85 times harder. Any loss of speed shifts your apparent wind aft. Downwind sailing is the hardest point of DN sailing. You have to focus entirely on the flow of your leeward telltales at all times. Snow just amplifies loss of speed because it acts as a brake on the runners. It takes much longer to gain speed back and speed moves the apparent wind moves forward. Sounds simple in theory. Ease the sheet slightly and head up. I probably eased too much. Nothing would happen so then I’d ease more…etc.
In closing, there were three women sailing in this regatta. Rhea Nichols just took up the sport of soft water sailing four years ago and now she is out competing with ice boating. I have seen her progress since last year and I am really proud of her. Julie Richards is wicked fast and has been sailing for years. She is very petite, but handles big wind really well. I asked Julie after the regatta if any other women race DNs in the United States. She could not think of any…. It’s not an easy sport or a sport for the timid. That’s for sure.
I will just have to keep at it.