Fall Racing Season begins!

The next racing series began with a number of surprised, but first we have to take you back a few days before the race.

On Tuesday before racing we set up new rigging for the spinnaker pole. Whereas prior it was pretty much just floating out in the air, we now had a way to fix it firmly in place. However, this came with added complexity and the pole now has 5 lines on it (topping lift, then on EACH side, a downhaul and guy). Why is there a downhaul on each side? Because, due to the pulpit and safety lines, the downhaul would have to go up, over the rail, and thence out to the spinnaker pole, which negates a lot of the “down” in “downhaul”.

So now there’s a block on each side at the bow and a downhaul on each side. The line goes from the pole, through the block and then back to the cockpit. The downhaul that is not being used drapes across the pulpit, inside the forestay.

Anyway, we worked on the rigging for a few hours on Tuesday, and then raced Saturday. This is not a formula calculated to instill smooth operations, as you might expect. To complicate matters further, the normal bowman could not be there for the race, so it fell on the skipper to also handle bow duties.

As we crept onwards from Tuesday towards Saturday, the wind forecasts just looked worse and worse. The night before the race, the forecast was anywhere between 0 and 6 knots, depending on which model you chose to believe. Those are not the kind of conditions that Opus really does well in. She prefers stronger winds than that, but you have to sail what you get. Still, it was going to suck.

The night before, two of the crew converted Opus from her cruising set up to her racing set up – basically moving cruising sails off her and putting her racing sails on, taking a lot of other stuff off to lighten her. Fortunately, she’s not envisioned to do any cruising for the duration of the race series, so it won’t need to be converted back and forth again until at least next spring. Still, it made for a long day and it was two tired people headed to their bunks for the night.

Saturday dawned… grey and still. The water, what we could see before it faded into the fog, was utterly smooth and glassy. It was the kind of fog that can only exist in absolute calm winds, which was not a promising way to start a racing day. However, the fog lifted before too long… and then returned. Fortunately, an hour before the race was to begin, the fog was gone for good and some of the flags seemed to move a little bit, hinting that something was happening in the air.

By the time the boats were setting up for the start, there was actually wind to work with and on the first leg, we noted an apparent wind speed of 11 knots, though that soon declined. Still, there was wind the entire distance, which was a pleasant surprise.

It is said that no strategy survives contact with the enemy. In this case, our strategy was to cross the start line headed east to take advantage of a current to get a good angle before turning southerly to round the first mark. Unfortunately, we were poorly positioned for that angle to make it through the starting gate due to misreading the current and had to tack in order not to hit the mark at one end of the line. Rather than take the time to tack back, we continued on a SE direction for a ways before being able to head for the mark. This was definitely the slower way to go compared to our original strategy since we were now quartering into the current.

However, the wind picked up and we saw 11 knots apparent and were making better than 6 knots – far faster than I had thought and so the bow needed to rush to get the deck ready for the spinnaker hoist. Unfortunately, there had been some confusion about the rigging and some of the lines that needed slack had been tied off and that cost us a lot of time sorting out such that we didn’t get the spinnaker up until well after rounding the mark and consequently, we were in last place.

Slowly we worked our way past other boats and moved up to third place as we passed through the start gate once more before heading to the next mark.

Due to the difficulties we had with the first hoist of the spinnaker, it was decided that Opus would sail the second leg of the race on her spinnaker despite the fact that the wind angle really wanted the spinnaker doused and to proceed on the genoa and main. This was going to cause us to lose ground and the boats we had passed started gaining on us once again. Still, we were in third place as we rounded the isthmus and turned downwind once again, headed towards the mark, though that was to be a short run before rounding.

Unfortunately, after rounding the turn, the inexperience and lack of practice (we had two crew on for the first time and an out-of-practice person running the bow) showed and we had many problems dousing the spinnaker. It harkened back to the first time we had tried to fly it. Lines got caught up in the roller furling, which meant that for a long time as we untangled things (twice!) we were processing solely on the mainsail. It was during this time that we were passed by another boat, putting us in fourth.

Once we sorted out the lines and got the foresail out, the chase was on. We were catching up and trying to take back our third place, but Keela was sailed wonderfully and crossed the finish line 5 minutes ahead of us, putting us into a fourth place finish.

We’ll get you next time, Keela!