Super “sporty” Spring conditions prevailed for the second race of the Annapolis Yacht Club Wednesday Night Racing series. As in, blowing 20-plus, gusting 30, at the start. Yes, Spring weather can be extreme, but I am starting to wonder whether I am still sailing on the Chesapeake Bay.
The evening was set up by a cold front that blew through Wednesday afternoon, leaving clearing skies as Paul, Dan and I motored down Whitehall Creek to the start. It also left a building WNW wind that rapidly built toward our 6:05 pm start, with stronger pulses blasting down the Severn River. The course was very straightforward: dead downwind to R2 at the mouth of the Severn, then dead upwind to the finish off the AYC Clubhouse in Spa Creek after rounding a single turning mark.
A single reef in the main to start seemed obvious. But after caution prevented me from hoisting a spinnaker on the first leg of the also-windy NOOD Doublehanded Race, I was determined to try and fly a kite. At some point, you have to find out what the limits are. Since I am sailing with a very good crew, this race seemed like a good time to see if I could carry the .5 ounce symmetrical in big wind.
During the pre-start we kept the the genoa rolled up and sailed with the main alone. We set up on starboard and worked our way toward the committee boat with under a minute to go. I briefly thought I was going to be early, and have to gybe to sneak back inside the committee boat, but at 10 seconds I was able to turn downwind, still on starboard, and cross the line. Many of the boats starting at the same time (ORC 2 and J35) were flying main and jib. A few started to hoist kites. There was some brief chatter on Moondust about whether we should try wing and wing. But the best setup for wing and wing on Moondust is to carry the main by the lee, which would have put us in constant danger of a brutal crash gybe. Which is very, very, stressful. Plus, I couldn’t go home (again) without at least trying a spinnaker.
So up it went. And, man, was it a ride. It took us a few moment to get everything set right, but we could carry it—and carry it deep—which was just what we wanted. Vichingo, the Italia 9.98 in our class, was just ahead and to leeward, also flying a chute. Suddenly, a big gust rolled through and our spinnaker started to oscillate in front of the headstay. We rolled one way, end then the other. Miraculously, the rudder never lost its grip, the main didn’t gybe, and I was able to keep the boat more or less under the chute. On we went. My hear-rate was probably 180. Another gust rolled through. Same wild ride. The Italia lost it, rounded down, crash-gybed and broached. We got by okay, but the Wind Gods were clearly sending a warning that we defied them (and common sense) at our peril.
Looking quickly back across the course, spinnakers were clearly in the minority. Another big puff or two sent us to the edge of disaster again and made me think maybe we had learned enough for the moment (it is nice to now know that we can carry the .5 ounce in 20-plus on sheets and twings alone). We could have worked on stabilizing the spinnaker, and sailing with better control. And after the race Chrissy suggested (correctly) that we should have twinged down the sheet a good bit to choke the spinnaker down and restrain it from wild oscillations. But there is nothing more exciting, to loosely quote Winston Churchill, as being shot at and missed. We were definitely getting shot at, and I wanted to stay missed. So Lisa and Chrissy wrestled the spinnaker down onto the foredeck and into the forward hatch, we gybed, and rolled out the genoa.
We sailed the angles we needed to try and keep both main and genoa full, and gybed a few times to get down to R2. I saw plenty of 9-knots plus on the speedo. We might have found better VMG with wing and wing (with the genoa flying by the lee, and a human pole). But that experiment was left for another windy day. As we closed on the mark, we converged with the much faster Vichingo again. They had recovered from their round-down, but now they had a man up the mast. Tough leg.
We rounded together and started back upwind. At first we carried full genoa, and the single reef in the main. I had tightened the rig down hard before the race, and Rich had cranked the backstay on as hard as he could get it before we turned upwind. It wasn’t enough. Either we had to flog the main mercilessly, which is like listening to a roaring bonfire of cash. Or we would heel over so far that we mostly slipped sideways on our shoal keel. I recall at least one round-up where it seemed like the cockpit became a vertical wall.
Brian smartly suggested reefing the genoa. After a brief confab on the best way to do it, Paul and Rich hopped off the rail and took the furling line from the turning block on the port aft stanchion and led it forward to the cabin-top winch. Grind, grind, grind. In the genoa came, to the third reef mark. We pulled the sheet car forward, and the boat set up much better. The only hitch was that we had to leave the furling line on the cabin winch, since there was no way to get it under load to a secure point elsewhere. This left a bar-tight line across part of the cockpit, and also created a potentially dangerous bight in which the crew would be sitting when they were on the rail on port tack. No collisions, no injuries are the two most important criteria. I prayed the Harken brothers had built a strong furling block, and Monsieur Beneteau had anchored the stanchion well. The solution is simple enough: an in-line clutch on the deck to stopper the furling line once it has been winched in.
The furl was not great, with a big wrinkle. But the boat was much more under control. Now began Rich’s long beat of mainsail trimming agony. Ease. Trim. Ease. Trim. Ease. Trim. So easy for me to say from the helm. So much work for him in the heavy breeze. He never complained once. Just kept doing his job, earning a Stakhanovite Order Of Merit (look it up). We were so focused on keeping the boat upright and moving that we didn’t really track the shifts or our competition very closely. So I have no idea whether we were in phase much or not. Probably not. Still, we got to the turning mark before the final run up Spa Creek just behind a J100, and a little after a Tartan 101, both of which owed us time. So we were hopeful as we crossed the finish.
Too hopeful it turned out. We finished 42 seconds after the J100, and lost to them by 40 seconds on corrected time. Basically, we have to beat them boat for boat to come out ahead. Good to know. So not a good result, mostly a result of the upwind, I think. Vichingo, for example, beat us from R2 to the finish by almost 12 minutes. 12. In retrospect, I wonder whether a double-reefed main and full genoa would have been a better set-up for the beat. If we get these conditions again, we’ll give it a try.
Still, back at the dock and having a beer, everyone was happy. We had got through some pretty big conditions clean and without damage, injury or disaster. Plenty of boats stayed home, and a number didn’t finish. We had learned still more about racing Moondust (patience, patience, we’ll get there). And it had been a very beautiful, if very windy, evening. We were tired, but we had been out sailing. That’s always a good result.
Terry Hutchinson On The Future Of The America’s Cup: One of the great things about Annapolis sailing, is you get to race against the best. Terry Hutchinson is out sailing Wednesday nights in a J-70, preparing for the upcoming J-70 North American Championship, hosted by AYC next week. Years ago he came out J22 racing on a Thursday Night Race. I led the fleet around the last mark, with Terry just behind me. I just needed to not do anything dumb to win the race…and, of course, tacked to the finish in exactly the wrong place. He crossed us at the finish with a smile. So close.
Webb Chiles’ Voyage To Nowhere: If you are not familiar with Webb Chiles, he is arguably the world’s greatest small boat circumnavigator, having completed six in various small craft. His current boat is a Moore 24, which he sailed around the world, finishing a few years ago. You can read about his sailing adventures, for which he received the Cruising Club Of America Blue Water Medal, here. He is currently based in Hilton Head, and nearing 80- years old just completed an out and back towards Bermuda…just because going to sea is what he does. This is his passage log from the Bermuda voyage, and he blogs daily about sailing, whiskey, books, seamanship, and his philosophy of life. His site is one of my regular stops.
Moment Of Zen: Actually 2 hours. But so beautiful.