Wednesday, September 07, 2005

WNR - Series III - Race 5

Crew: Glen, Brian P., Scott, Pat
Competitors: 247, 550, 484

Heading over to the race, there were low clouds and a stiff breeze out of the southwest. In a bit of a rush, we took a bit of a short cut and shot straight from the red marker at the entrance to Whitehall Bay over to the yellow channel marker next to the spider buoy. Note to crew: it worked well and didn't look too shallow not to do all the time.

Soon after rounding the spider, we had a great time watching the Etchells scream off the starting line under spinnaker. Within 5 minutes, there were at least 3 chutes ripped--including the boat leading the fleet. Scott was excited to get ready for what looked like it would be an adrenaline-pumping start.

We started well at the boat end, and wanted to stay high to keep clear air, and based on the angle of the wind, we wanted to go high for a bit to be able to bear off and set the chute. (It was a close call as to whether we would be able to hold the chute right off the line.) Our course was out to a mark nearly in line with the channel markers. Towney started at the pin end in clear air, but with an angle that didn't let him immediately set his chute.

After about 5-10 minutes under jib, we set the chute leading a pack of Catalina 25s. We successfully fended off a couple of them trying to go high of us by luffing one of them up, and then came back down to course. Towney set his chute and we were both cooking, but the wind had died down from what it was at the Etchells start.

Shortly before the mark, the wind picked up again. The C25s started to lose control, and since we were about 15 boat-lengths to the mark, we decided to douse as well. We were neck and neck with Towney at this point, and he took down his chute at the same time. Now it was time to see who could do a controlled gybe, not get hit by an out of control C25, and beat the other around the mark!

Our gybe was good, but the boom rose and caught the backstay. A potentially dangerous situation: 1. we could have damaged the backstay, and 2. we were immediately rounded up, and while the Alberg rudder is big, it's not big enough to overpower the main in 20+ kts of wind. Thankfully I was able to keep from ramming the C25s, and the crew was able to get the boom off the backstay. However, Towney took advantage of the situation and rounded inside of us. We gave two C25s room and took off after Towney.

With the dramatic increase in wind speed, we knew we would be overpowered with the No. 1 and even a reefed main. I figured Towney would not be in a mood to do a headsail change, so I took a chance and ordered the change to the No. 2. It was a risky move since it meant sailing without a headsail for roughly a minute while the new one was brought up. Would we have enough distance in the WNR to not only catch up to Towney, but make up the ground lost during the change?

I was reminded of the Hammond Memorial race from last year during this exercise. We had ripped our No. 2 and were forced to use the No. 1 most of the race, overpowered the whole way. In the end, the decision bore out my guess: we caught up to Towney by the red nun.

At this point, we started sailing very conservatively, covering his every move. After watching him for awhile, we started to suspect that he had a mechanical problem with the boat, too. At one point he did a gybe going up wind rather than a tack. Very strange. I plan to ask him about it next time I see him.

We hustled all the way in and took the gun! A GREAT race, and lots of fun.

Seeing as it was a beautiful night: cool, 15+ kts of breeze and a sunset that was incredible, we decided to kill the noisy, stinky engine and sail home. It was fantastic there were low, local clouds that darkened the sky, but since the clouds did not cover the horizon, the sunset lit up the underside of the clouds in a way that was incredibly beautiful. Both Brian and I were kicking ourselves for not bringing our cameras. I did my very best to soak in this incredible view and feeling. I could not think of a better place to be in the world than right there at that moment. It was wonderful.

Coming into Whitehall Creek, it had become dark and we continued sailing. At the first red unlit mark, we tacked and *BAM* ran aground before we could make a move. We all hopped to one side, but I'm pretty sure that between the wind blowing us and a swift ebb tide, we became rapidly and hopelessly hard aground.

First we tried kedging. (Throwing an anchor out and trying to pull the boat off.) Then Glen jumped into a sea of jellyfish and tried pushing. Then Glen swam the anchor as far out as possible to get a better pulling angle. Then Scott jumped in and while being stung, helped Glen push while we kedged. Finally we tried taking the spin halyard, tying it to the anchor line and kedging. All this to no avail.

I jumped in to help (got stung), and while I was pushing we saw a sailboat coming. We had now been aground for about 2 1/2 hours and this was the first vessel to come by. They were willing to help, but were afraid to get close, so Glen swam them over a line. (He was stung in the ear while doing this.) They pulled us once, and then threw Glen back in, changed position, grabbed Glen, and finally pulled us off.

Hats off to Glen for all his hard work. He said he had never been stung before. Talk about being into new experiences...

And after all this, I had to drive to Philly that night for work. Needless to say, I arrived at 0200. But even with all that, it was one of the most beautiful sailing nights I can remember. And I loved it.


1 comment:

Brian P said...

Can anyone say Keel Wheels Award ? :) I never realized how hard it is to throw an anchor, chain, and rode any distance! Thanks to the swimmers for braving the shark and jellyfish infested waters!