Monday, February 20, 2017

George Washington Birthday Regatta at Lake Eustis

On Groundhog Day, Florida District Governor Mark Taylor shared the news that the palm tree saw its shadow, indicating those sailors had 12 more months of summer to look forward to.  In addition to Mark's constant trolling of us Northerners, Michael Faugest and Jennifer Ikeda from Ephraim promoted the joys of Florida sailing after spending the last offseason sailing the sunshine circuit after they arrived at the 2016 Midwinters and sailing extremly fast.   We heard similar reviews from our Chatanooga friends Lynn and Bill Bruss at the Choo Choo Regatta who suggested we head south for the winter if at all possible.   I was sold!  

The George Washington Birthday Regatta is hosted by the Lake Eustis Sailing Club on a perfect 7000 acre inland lake.  Fleet Captain Dean Grimes has a strong fleet of 32 Flying Scots and goes all-out to host a great regatta.  There is plenty of camping available for both RV and tents with 24/7 access to showers and bathrooms (important for us campers).   They have plenty of mooring balls to accommodate dock overflow and a water taxi service to get you back and forth from your boat.    Not only does that regatta attract 35-40 Scots on a regular basis, the GWB Regatta hosted a San Juan 21 and Wayfarer fleet on our A course while a small army of youth sailors raced optimists, lasers and 420s on the youth sailing course.  It was an amazing vibe that reminded me of the Glow due to the warm and friendly atmosphere and the sailors camping on site.


Ben Williams and I loaded up the big white van on Thursday after lunch and enjoyed a smooth 15-hour drive (not counting stops).   Leaving after lunch enabled us to just miss the Nashville rush hour and get though Atlanta in the late evening.    All travelers eventually learn the hard way to plan their trip around the horrible Atlanta rush-hour traffic!  Before leaving, my loving wife Nancy joked and asked what sailors talk about on a long drive.  "Have fun talking about masts and ropes," she joked as she wished us safe travels.   Actually, we passed the time with rules discussions and designing a fun handicap racing game for our fleet, but the conversation eventually focused on rigging and tuning.   We realized after about an hour into the rigging conversation that we actually do talk about masts and ropes.  *shrugs*

The goals of the trip were rather simple.   We simply wanted  to have fun and sail fast as this was our first time racing together.    Consistency has been a problem of mine on the starting line and I was hoping to improve on that ahead of Midwinters.  I was also converting from a loose to snug jib for the first time and wanted to work closely with a fast snug rig racer so I could feel confident in my boat setup.   Ben hasn't sailed as crew in a regatta in recent memory so we both expected to shake off some offseason rust and enjoy racing in a most competitive fleet.   We were also hoping to test the new camera rig with wireless lavaliere microphones hooked up so we hoped to bring home some quality action footage from inside the boat.  Last but not least, we wanted to avoid going swimming because of my fear of alligators and Ben's reputation of regularly falling of the boat.   

All of our expectations were exceeded and then some!   We arrived early on Friday and Jeff Linton was there and spent 20 minutes helping us set up the boat exactly like his.  Jeff Linton needs no introduction to many in the sailboat racing community.  He was the 2007 Rolex Yachtsman of the Year is a multi-time FSSA North American Championship winner, among his many other sailing accolades.   Ben and I joked that spending 20 minutes picking Jeff's brain was worth the long drive by itself and we appreciated the help because we were certainly confident in our boat setup.   It was great start to the weekend and it had barely started.  

Friday was very relaxing and fun meeting new friends as the sailboats rolled in.  David Mooring and Ariel Harrington generously offered us a power boat ride around the lake before dinner where we saw a majestic bald eagle in the treetops.    We later met the Scot sailors at the Oster Troff, which we learned is an an important Friday night tradition on Lake Eustis.   The Flying Scot sailors filled the backroom oyster bar area for a perfect evening with great food.   


Our worries about a potential lack of wind were put to rest on Saturday morning as the wind built to 10-12 with steady pressure across the lake.  New concerns emerged as we looked at the radar and saw a scary system to the west bearing down on us.   We hoped we could at least get a couple races in before it hit, but ended up only racing once on Saturday.  When we did race, the conditions were perfect!  The pressure seemed to gradually weaken from about 12 to about 8 from the time we left the dock to the end of the first race, but it made for great sailing.   By the end of the first race, the clouds started to look ominous and the race committee erred on the side of our safety as the conditions grew more flaky.  

The first race was was an amazing experience with 35 boats on the line.   We didn't sail perfect, but we had a solid start and rounded the mark in fourth place just behind Jeff and Amy Linton.   To say we were pleased is an understatement.   We maintained our position on the second leg, but a centerboard knot cost us a bunch of spots at the leeward mark.   We shook it off and maintained our position throughout the race and even passed a few boats on the last upwind leg to finish a respectable 10th in a most competitive fleet.  Check out the onboard footage from Quiksilver from the first leg of the race.   We might have been a little rusty in the first race, but it was very comfortable having two captains in the boat and I felt our chemistry was great.   With the wireless mics, it feels like you're on the boat when you watch the video.  The main sheet line slipped out at the start, but overall I pulled the trigger at the right time and we did well in clean air on the first leg because of the good start.   Having a crew who can contribute with so many helpful observations allowed me to focus more on sailing fast and that's exactly what we did the entire regatta. 

At end of day, we decided to tie up a mooring ball for the night.   As we were being towed in, the driver of the power boat came in too hot and Ben reached for the ball and he ended up falling off the boat because we were moving too fast.   I froze in fear because he fell in very near the boat prop and I was very worried an alligator noticed.   We got him back in the boat and after being relieved that he was okay, we joked that we almost made it a whole day without him falling off the boat.   

After surviving the day, we had a great time hanging out with the Scot sailors on shore where John Kreidler was serving up premium margaritas as a gourmet food truck served up dinner.   If you look closely, you might notice Larry Klick in the light blue shirt while standing in line at the food truck.  He was helping on the safety boat and it was great seeing another long-time Midwest District racer.   We were also very excited for Michael and Jennifer as they were sailing fast and finished in second on the day.   

Day 2 of racing was much like the day before.  The wind looked promising as we left dock but it continued to gradually weaken.   The race committee tried like hell to get three races in, but there just wasn't enough wind left to race a third.   Ben and I had another solid day on the water.  We had solid starts and rounded the windward mark in the top five in both races.   We finished 8th in the second race and 16th in the third after another line issue inside the boat cost us a bunch of spots.   We were very pleased with an 11th place finish in that fleet and the few mistakes we did make will certainly not be repeated at Midwinters.

Here is a link to final scoring: Regatta Results - Click Here

Congrats to Michael and Jennifer on a great 4th place finish!  She also had an impressive photo bomb (see below).  They sailed great and if you get the chance, ask them about that righty that allowed them to pass six boats in the last 500 yards of the last race.   We certainly noticed it because we were one of the boats they passed.   That shift cost us a Top 10, but it secured a regatta trophy for them so overall it was a favorable shift for the Midwest District.   Also note Lynn and Bill Bruss from Chattanooga who finished 5th and are continuing to improve and sail consistently fast, especially downwind.   Well done Lynn and Bill!  All in all, us Northerners represented rather well. 

Wow!  We were told Lake Eustis is the place to be and it did not disappoint.  It is clear to me why Eustis is a very popular stop on the Florida circuit and this regatta is definitely one you want to plan for if at all possible.  Thank you to Fleet Captain Dean Grimes and all the volunteers for hosting such a stellar event.   I'm already looking forward to going back. 

Photo Credit: John Cole
Photo Credit: John Cole
Photo Credit: John Cole