(NOTE FROM BEN: In the post below from Ryan about the recent ACCs, he is too modest to point out that not only was he second in the regatta, but sails from his loft were used by the top three finishers in the regatta.)
This year I had a wonderful opportunity to sail in the Atlantic Coast Championships (ACCs) -- hosted by Lavallette Yacht Club in Lavallette, New Jersey. I was feeling pretty spoiled because I got to fly in from Wisconsin while my friend and crew Jerry Latell was stuck driving eight hours from Fishing Bay, Virginia… and even more spoiled because Harry Carpenter brought a boat for Jerry and me to demo. The boat was spanking new (and btw: this quick boat may still be for sale if you’re lucky – give FSI a call!) – having only been sailed a few times before the event so… actually… feeling “spoiled” is kind of an understatement!
What follows are brief snapshots (ok, so maybe not-so brief) -- of some things Jerry and I did throughout the regatta – boat and sail handling, tactics, strategies, blunders, skillful luck etc… which helped us pull off a successful finish in a tough fleet, at a place that neither of us had ever sailed before… in a boat (albeit new) that was foreign as well.
Day 1 – Feelin’ Consistent ‘n Good ‘n Glad!
There were 43 boats participating in the event overall (28 in our Championship Div) – so at the end of the first day after three races Jerry and I were feeling pretty good about our position because we had managed to sail very consistently with finishes of 3-3-3 and were only three points behind the leader -- John Aras (John Wake crew) – who had finishes of 1-4-1 on the day... and five points ahead of our faithful FS builder Harry Carpenter (daughter Carrie crewing). Saturday’s wind speeds ranged from 5 to 12 knots… and the pressure differentials across the course were marked at any given time (what I call “Hard Work Conditions”… more on that later!) The shifts were very subtle -- but real --and overall seemed to progress toward the right side of the course more often than not… or so it seemed to us.
Day 2 – Feelin’ Good ‘n Bad ‘n Ugly n Glad Again!
Sunday was a little tougher for us in much lighter, spookier stuff. After holding off, starting, stopping, setting, and re-setting the line -- the RC managed to pull off the fourth and final race in a nail-biter -- launched in a medium, shifting-left-pressure, dying-right, still more to the left, now dead-wrong-if-you’re-right, , even MORE-left-is right, meanwhile completely-crapping-out-right! – breeze that ranged from 0-8 knots (the gusts). All spookiness aside… we managed to get to the weather mark in 2nd place right behind Harry and ahead of Aras… and things looked very rosy until I suddenly almost blew everything by jibing away into oblivion (more later, I promise)…
THINGS THAT WORKED FOR US OVERALL:
Clear air starts – We managed to pull off good starts in all four races (actually our very best start was called back because of general recall… but everybody says that, right?... but no, no, really!). The line length was fairly generous in all of the races – even for 28 boats – and this allowed me to be fairly aggressive about coming down the line on port with less than 2 minutes to go and picking out a nice open spot to flop back onto starboard with a minute or less on the clock and protect the hole to leeward. We chose to start in the middle of the line in all but one of the starts… and even in that start – which was heavily committee boat favored – we were at least ¼ of the line length from the committee boat. In summary, we had four good reasons to stay away from the ends on Saturday: 1) ends are really scary when the line is that long because if there is a shift you are deep instantly! 2) We had decent “line sights” using markers on the shore in all of the races and wanted to take the sag out of the line-sag! 3) Folks tend to pile up at ends and there are more gaps in the middle generally in a long line that is fairly square! 4) See reason 1!
“Hard Work Conditions”
“Hard Work Conditions” (HWC) are my favorite kind of conditions – especially in foreign waters because they tend to eliminate the “local knowledge” factor. Many folks may think HWC are the kind of stuff where you’re hiking for all your worth and the wind is howling. Not so in my book. To me, HWC are when the wind is down, up, over, down, up, and sideways… and the water is flat, chop, flat, SUPER CHOP (ie. when NJs finest cigarette boats roar by), and flat again! These are the kind of conditions that require constant sail adjustments (yes, I was using Hogwart’s sails brought all the way from Madison per charter rules) -- and crew weight in order to change gears and keep the boat moving and the helm neutral . Anybody who crews with me is familiar with my “Hard Work Conditions” chant while sailing in this stuff… (this mantra almost drove my son, Evan, over the edge at the Ephraim Regatta this year) -- and, although it may be annoying, there is method to the madness: because saying these three words makes it clear to all on board that we better keep the sleeves rolled up and stay busy -- because with hard work comes the possibility of big gains! (and, conversely, big losses for those who slack!) Ergo… suffice it to say, that Jerry and I were constantly moving our weight up and down and the sails were breathing in and out to keep the boat at a constant state of heel, maximum speed and with minimal rudder. The sails were never cleated for more than a few seconds as we would trim a bit when pressure went up and ease a touch in the light spots while putting the bow down ever so slightly to gain speed when sailing upwind (and everything above reversed downwind!).
“Tune” the boat!
One of the only disadvantages to sailing a nearly brand new boat that I can think of, is... (other than terror it will be “owned” after a collision) -- well, it is still a foreign boat. And unfortunately for us, we arrived so late in the morning on Saturday that in the rush to register and rig, we weren’t able to double check the rake (as Harry had suggested because new stays can stretch a smidge). And thus Jerry and I found ourselves the last boat going in the water, and scrambling to get out to the race course with the rest of the fleet ahead of us. When we finally got off the line in the first race we immediately noticed an inability to point as high as expected once we got the boat up to speed… and for me there was a nagging weather helm sensation. Fortunately, we were able to sail a strong race – employing HWC rules of thumb, watching the compass and working our way up the middle, hitting most of the shifts. So despite the unbalanced feel to the helm, and lack of pointing, we were still able to finish very respectably in 3rd. Notwithstanding, as soon as the race was over, I crawled under the bow and cinched up the turnbuckle as far as it would go before bottoming out. I’m not sure how much that was (never DID have a chance to measure the rake) – but it was probably close to two inches forward from where we had started, and as soon as I got the helm in my hand I could feel the familiar neutral helm that I’m accustomed to, and the boat came to life and felt much more like good ‘ol Hogwarts back home. (Footnote: although the score sheet may not reflect any improvement… we found it much easier to dig ourselves out of compromising positions on the course and there was much less stress maintaining an edge and more space between us and the majority of the fleet for the rest of the regatta after this rake adjustment.)
I always try to stay away from boats. And if I’m next to them (especially going downwind), I try to trend away so that we can all “live” together and in this way we can hopefully BOTH get away from the pack, whenever possible. And when I’m sailing a borrowed NEW boat? This philosophy is magnified tenfold! In general I won’t hesitate to urge port tackers across my starboard bow and dip their transom if it allows steering happily in the same direction toward the next shift (hopefully) or more pressure (better still!). It might happen a few times in a given regatta… but on Saturday at ACCs it happened three times in ONE BEAT! An even more extreme example of my desire to stay away from confrontations at ACCs was when I found the bow slightly overlapped with a very aggressive sailor as we were entering the 3 boatlength circle at the leeward mark with very little speed due a poor angle… so to Jerry’s surprise I suddenly slowed the boat (with sharp rudder movement) … and then did two rapid jibes -- so as not to worry about getting fouled up with the guy and let him go so we could round cleanly and with good speed (due to better angle) -- and without incident. This is an extreme example of avoiding boats… but when you’re sailing with borrowed, NEW boat, it is an easy decision to make...!
Watch that Compass!
The compass matters… especially on longer courses when the wind shifts are soft and subtle (unlike the short course lake shifts that are more pronounced and obvious). That was the case on Saturday… and Jerry and I were in constant communication on what the compass was telling us. There were many times I would feel headed or lifted and would ask Jerry to repeat the latest compass reading – even though I had just snuck a peek and read it aloud – to doubly remind both of us that we should stick to the fundamentals. We were especially conscious of the final shift of any given leg so that we would have a good guess of which way to go on the next.
Stay Away From Corners in HWC!
And on Saturday we did just that – playing the shifts in the middle of the course, never getting to laylines early, changing gears in the HWC, and keeping the boat headed toward more pressure whenever we spotted it on the water (polarized glasses help!). But Sunday was a different story…
On Sunday we tossed caution to the wind (so to speak) – as far as staying away from corners, because Jerry and I correctly assessed that “pressure would be king”… and we had to get to the busy corner of the course to stay alive. That said, after another solid start, it was clear to both of us there was more pressure on the left (did I mention polarized glasses? get them and you’ll see what I mean!) – and so we banged the left side hard and when we came out of the left corner we were in the lead pack of three boats and seemingly golden because the boat we wanted to beat – Aras – was behind us, and the boat we needed to stay near (but could spare some points) – Harry – was half a boatlength in front of us… and everything was peaches and cream… until… for some reason I suddenly decided to jibe away from the obvious “pressure-is-king” left – and into oblivion on the lighter side . Explanation? Not really. Ever want to get away? Well I did… but couldn’t – not with the chute plastered that way to the forestay. So Jerry and I did the only thing we could do – sit and try not to move… and keep heading up to get whatever apparent wind there was to fill the chute… and ooze our way forward while the pack ground us down (bringing new pressure from behind) and completely ensconced us at the bottom mark. We had only one leg left in the race and the regatta… but fortunately we got back to our game plan (after a brief, and silly tack toward a teaser breeze on the right) – and had the presence of mind to put the bow down slightly and foot our way full speed to the far left – where the pressure continued to grow… and grow.. and helped us climb back to a comfortable 6th place in the race and 2nd overall!