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!

Two and a half men

Opus is a fairly large boat at 43 feet long. As a result, her sails, and her gear is also proportionately larger. As she has no power winches, everything is done by human muscle and, of course, involves a bit of motion up and down the decks. Things just are never within reach on her.

Tuesday was another race, or at least was supposed to be. One of the foredeck had said, weeks ago, that he would be unavailable for the race, so that meant we were already down one person. Then the second foredeck had something come up. Now we were down two. At the semi-last moment, another person cancelled. now we’re down three – approximately 1/2 of our crew.

I put in to the organizers that this might be a good time for Opus to do her duty as committee boat, but someone else was already slotted in. Ok ,guess we aren’t racing. It’s going to be maintenance except that the winds are up nicely and…

Oh, heck with it, we’ll race with the three of us.

Things went smoothly for departure as we switched from “maintenance mode” to “racing prep mode”. Hubert took us smartly out of the slip earlier than we usually would as I figured the prep work getting the sails up and squared away would take longer with just the three of us. Safely out of the marina with the wind blowing off shore, we motored further out and then turned bow towards land and into the wind to hoist the mainsail, then add the foresail. Conditions were wonderful with the wind speed in the double digits and little to no wave action.

We saw the committee boat set up and were listening on the radio, but didn’t hear the course call. Still, I was pretty sure how we would start, so started lining up Opus, only to see (almost) all the other boats on the other side of the start line. Quickly we hustled over to that line, concentrating on getting ourselves set up for the start. At the last moment I look up and…

… all the boats are on the side I started at, and we don’t have time to reposition. Once again, a late start as we swung around the committee boat for a proper (non-penalty) start, though now we were well behind the pack.

Still, these are the conditions that Opus likes, and we were overtaking them, starting to think about the tactics of picking our way through the pack. Unfortunately, since we didn’t hear the radio call, we had no idea where the pin was and therefore couldn’t plan strategy. All we could do was play follow-the-leader and hope that it would eventually be clear. Meanwhile we seemed to be heading out to Saturna island.

Eventually we figured out where the pin was located, but once again we were in a bad position and had to do a bunch of maneuvering that caused us to lose ground yet again. However, we came around the marker, giving it a respectful space since the marker was a concrete marker well embedded into the sea floor. Hitting it would be a bad, bad, idea.

Now it was time to head back and here’s where a spinnaker would really have been nice. I made the (incorrect) call to switch over to a broad reach hoping to get some better speed. This course took us out into the channel again, which was a bad call because we were bucking an incomming tide. In retrospect, it would have been better to stick closer to shore where the tide/current was less.

Once again we dragged in as the last boat of our division, though there were still boats behind us, they were a lot closer than they should have as Opus is a faster boat if sailed properly.

Lessons learned:

  • When out in Georgia Strait, hug the coastline if you’ll be fighting a strong tide
    • Become more familiar with the currents, especially where eddies and swirls might form
  • Have someone assigned to listen to the radio
  • Learn the course marking flags so that you can tell the course by looking at the markings on the committee boat.
  • Actually look at the committee boat to see the course
  • The closer to the pin you are, the faster that a course will converge on it. If you are 1 nm away from the pin and traveling 90 degrees to the pin, it takes a long time to change the angle of a course directly to the pin.
  • Clean up the cockpit and get ready for the next evolution as soon as possible.

So why 2 and a half? I turned my ankle on a line that rolled my foot before smashing into the coaming of the cockpit. My mobility pretty much went to zero, which made things difficult.

So we are currently in 4th place in the series. Yes, there are more than 4 boats, so we’re not quite in last place. That’s better than I thought we would do!

Third Race

This past Tuesday was Opus’ third race. The first was a few weeks ago. The goal for that race, indeed for the whole season, is simply to get out on the water, work out procedures, shake her up, find what needs fixing, rinse, and repeat. Therefore, it was no disappointment to come in last, with the second-to-last boat finishing nearly 30 minutes before us. On the other hand, it was a pleasant surprise for us to even cross the finish line within the time limit, which I wasn’t expecting.

We would have finished even sooner but I made some bad decisions along the way, calling the lines incorrectly and thereby causing us to be even slower around the course. This was the crew’s first time aboard her as well, and they need to learn her lines and procedures, how she likes to be trimmed, the timing for a tack or gybe, etc. And, lastly, the winds were pretty light, which is not Opus’ best environment. She likes a bit more wind. Of course, the winds were the same for everyone, so it’s certainly no excuse for us.

Opus’ second race was a fun, highly informal, one during a three-day weekend in which two larger boats (Opus and another called Runaway) and two smaller boats from the Lower Mainland Yacht Coop (LMYC) ran. We had brought Opus to the meet with just me and one crew aboard. For the race we had a crew of 6+1 – i.e. 6 active crew and 1 photographer. Notable highlights for this was a our chance to fly the spinnaker for the first time, ever, under my ownership. There is something about that brightly coloured, huge, sail sliding out of its bag to balloon out there in front that is just quintessential sailing.

Early in that race I made a couple of not-great decisions and then made a decisively good one that had us out in the lead. Then we decided to fly the spinnaker which, unfortunately, took us in a bad direction. We then complicated that by fouling the spinnaker halyard in the top of the roller furler for the Genoa, which delayed us taking down the spinnaker even further in the wrong direction. Still.. We Flew The Spinnaker!

We ended up in second place, well behind Runaway who ran away with the first place, and barely ahead of the third place boat,which we should have been well ahead of. Oh well.

And then came our third race this past Tuesday.

We had a fair start, slightly back from the pack (we have to work on our start, though we’re getting better) but we were actually crossing the line a bit higher on the bias, which in this case was a good thing and eventually allowed us to make up some time. The course consisted of the start line, an upwind pin, return through the start line, a downwind pin, return through the start line, and repeat, making two laps around the course.

For once we were within striking distance of the pack and actually ahead of one other boat. It felt like we were even starting to creep up on the boat in third place. Suddenly the boat in second place turned 90 degrees to the course and started bringing her sails down. A bit further in and the boat in front of us did the same. We later found out that the second-place boat had a steering failure and were out, and the third place boat had dropped out of the race to render assistance. However, that left only one boat ahead of us and the chase was on. They were far enough ahead that we had no hope of catching them, but possibly we could whittle down their lead a bit. It should be noted that boat has won every race so far this season.

We crossed the finish line in second place only 13 minutes behind the leader in elapsed time. That’s still a big percentage difference since they finished in 49 minutes and we finished in 62 minutes, but darn it felt good! By comparison, the first race was won in 81 minutes and we crossed in 111 minutes. We are improving!

Next race is on June 6th and we hope to do even better.