What can I say? I didn’t know there could be five days of such perfect sailing weather, except maybe in San Diego or Shangri La. True, we bobbed around for a couple hours on Monday before the first qualifying races, but once we started, the wind came in just fine. All five days we had wind, sunshine and low humidity. Winds were moderate to strong Tuesday; hiking was involved and there were many more lumps than in our home waters. Wednesday it got windier and Thursday it blew like stink. Three boats went over that day, according to my sources, but except for Sandy Eustis’s badly squished hand (which was heavily bruised but not broken, thank goodness) there were no casualties. I witnessed Mark and Maria Benner, who also went over, get towed into the harbor wet but smiling. By Friday, when we had one race scheduled, the winds had died quite a bit and I spent more time in the boat than hiking out hard, as I had over the previous four days.
We had two races Monday. Ben and I were in the A Fleet (the boats were divided in four groups, A – D, for the round robin style qualifying races) and we felt like we were sailing in the Hall of Fame fleet, otherwise known as the hardest-fleet-ever, with Al and Katie Terhune, Kelly and Heidi Gough, Ryan Malmgren and Carrie Carpenter, and Mike and Amy Miller. And those were only the sailors we knew! There were plenty other amazing sailors in our fleet we’d never raced against. Still, that’s just me whining, because every fleet had its share of rock stars, this being the NACs.
We got off to a good start, however, and beat the rest of the fleet to the windward mark in the very first race, trading tacks with Al and Katie and holding them off until the leeward gate. We hung on to second place even though on the fourth leg, a downwind finish, we could practically hear some amazing skippers, including Kelly Gough, breathing down our necks.
After that race I told Ben I was happy, we could go home now! We came hoping to make the championship fleet, which we did not manage to do at last year NACs, so we were very happy with our first race. The next two qualifying races didn’t go quite as well for us (I’ll spare you any painful details) but we raced in moderate and fairly steady wind for both Monday and Tuesday and ended up 16th going into the finals. In addition to us, Ryan Malmgren and Carrie Carpenter and Frank and Marianne Gerry flew the Midwest District flag in the Championship Fleet. Go Midwest!
Wednesday it was getting pretty windy, though it was certainly manageable. Ben had re-tied our vang so I could bend the boom much more than we ever could before. That really helped us keep the boat flat and made me feel much more useful since I didn’t run out of vang as soon as we started hiking. The second race Wednesday we had some more primo moments. Ben wanted the right side and he decided to try for a boat end start, something he doesn’t often do. The stars aligned and we “won” the boat end start and had speed and clear air almost immediately. The fleet split, as it so often does, to the left and the right and we ended up sailing in clean air right up the middle, so we liked our position. We liked it even more when we rounded the windward mark in the lead, in front of Andrew Eagan and Al Terhune! Not surprisingly, after half a leg, we lost the lead, but still enjoyed the company while it lasted. Instead of trying to stick with them when they tacked back to the center of the course, we kept going right. Bye Andrew! Bye Al! I think that decision to keep going lost us about 10 boats, it turned out. So we learned a good lesson; when you are that close to those kind of sailors it’s fine to just follow them around the course! We finished 18th in that race.
Thursday was the windiest day of all. I would say it was steady 18 with gusts to 25. We handled the boat fine, though I mostly remember a lot of hiking and pulling on the vang than strategy. We had a great time, though, and we gybed well, without any close calls. We are a relatively light boat, but we did manage to keep her pretty flat. By the end of the second race I’d say the wind had moderated somewhat, but the funny thing is how much stronger the wind seemed in the approach to the harbor. Not just Thursday, but Wednesday and Tuesday too. We’d finish our races, relax a little and then have to work really hard to get to the docks.
Friday we had just one race and, although some were worried we’d have no wind, the northerly having blown itself out on Thursday, the conditions were really lovely. Steady wind at maybe 8 knots or so. Very few gusts. The water was lumpier than I’m used to but nothing terrible. We had a great first leg and were in the front group approaching the windward mark but we ended up trying to squeeze in where we had no rights and hit the mark.
We learned a good lesson that, unfortunately, we’ve learned before. Hopefully this time it will stick. When approaching the mark on port tack, every boat below us, even if they are currently on port tack, is a boat to be concerned with since they’ll all be at the mark around the same time as we will. That seems so self evident I’m embarrassed to say it, but I just did not talk to Ben about those boats and when we got to the mark we faced this wall of boats and no hole, no gap at all. We couldn’t bring ourselves to duck this mass of boats though that is what we should have done. Instead, having hit the mark we did circles and took a big mental hit as well. We worked hard to recover but soon realized we were both physically and mentally exhausted and, try and we might, the rest of the race was probably our weakest. We were happy and relieved to finish 25th in that race. When all the scores were added up, we ended up 21st in the championship fleet, better than we expected. We learned a lot and look forward to next years NACs in the familiar waters of Carlyle Lake.