WILD GOOSE CHASE
Boy, did the weather guessers get that one wrong... Forecast for today was 12 kts out of the South East, freshening to 20-25 kts out of the east in the mid afternoon.
I figured they'd have it a bit wrong, so with a fresh breeze expected, decided there was a good chance for me to win the Wild Goose Chase being held today. The Wild Goose Chase used to be sponsored by the Wild Goose Brewery before they went out of business. With a Staggered PHRF start, theoretically everyone should finish at the same time. It never works that way, of course. In light air, I get left in the dust. But, we were supposed to have the minimum 12 kts I need to be competitive. And Rain, buckets of rain. We did eventually get some rain, but never saw the heavy downpours predicted. That wasn't the only thing the weather guessers got wrong...
Lots of fair weather sailors in our fleet and only four boats showed up to race. First boat out of the box was What's Next, an Islander 32 who kills us in light air and we owe them three seconds per mile. Second out of the box 47 seconds later, was us aboard The Write Byte (Bristol 40) and Wampu, a Hunter 30 with the same rating. The other boat, Dudley Do Right, a Hunter 33 started 11 minutes later.
What's Next got a late start and with very light air, was about two boat lengths ahead when we crossed the line, right at the gun. Wampu had missed the start and was about two boat lengths behind us.
It was a light air, downwind start and by the first turn a mile up, both boats were 1/4 mile or more ahead. At the second turn 1.5 miles later, What's Next was five minutes 23 seconds ahead of us, with Wampu about half that.
When we made the second turn at 23, we went from a run on the port jibe, to a beam reach portside. And the wind began to freshen a bit. As soon as it went past 12 kts, we began to catch the other boats. By Green 21, we had caught Wampu and the wind had gone from a port beam reach to Starboard close reach and had freshened to about 17 kts. Wampu, retired from the race 30 minutes into it. The Write Byte has a bone in her teeth and is charging hard for the leader, who is it appears, over powered.
By Green 19, What's Next has put a reef in the main and rolled the jib halfway and we've almost caught her. Passing her a few hundred yards past Green 19, we rolled the jib from it's max 135% to about 100%, which with the foam luff is about all she'll do and maintain shape.
We're now hard on the wind on Starboard tack and charging for Castle Haven, Red 16. We didn't quite Make Red 16, had to tack up to get around it, so we tacked up high enough to make a port rounding on the Choptank light. What's Next, unable to point with us had tacked up three times to our two. We tacked to cover on the first and the second time, just kept charging for the mark and taking advantage of the lifts we could.
By our second tack up, we were 3/4 mile in front. The wind is continuing to build and on our second tack up, we rolled the jib to about 75%, The main still full.
I've got a real nice Kevlar sail that a Tommy Jackson gave me. It's about a 75% on my boat and Bruce and I had planned to (according to the forecast) Fly all sail downwind and then switch to the "blade" just before the downwind mark. By now though, we're 1.5 miles from what has become the upwind mark and we decided to live with the big pocket in the rolled jib because What's Next is using the same situation and while we're sailing comfortably, they're still overpowered. BUT, with all this wind, Dudley Do Right, is now charging hard on us, but still hasn't caught What's Next, so we begin keeping an eye on them as well.
Rounding the Choptank light is going to be a tricky big wind jibe. I warned Bruce and Chris to be real careful with the main. Bruce, has sailed with me often, but it was Chris' first time aboard with the sails up. Hard on the wind at the mark, we couldn't turn away from the wind without easing the main. After Chris eased it, I was able to turn and when making the jibe, the wind got behind the main which wasn't yet pulled in as tight as it could be and it jibed across with such a force that it popped the pin on the traveller car and the car went sailing off the track, right through the decorative trim, bounced off the cockpit coaming and landed in the water.
In the middle of all this action, I get a glimpse of Chris with this Deer in the Headlights look like, whew, that could have killed me... Yeap. But, he recovered quickly and was soon hanging over the side with the boat hook trying to capture the mainsheet dragging in the water. Silly boy, he tried to pull the main boom in so he could reach it... Sorry bucko, the main is powered up...
So, I headed up to swing the boom back and Chris snatched the mainsheet and he and Bruce together managed to get it back on the track, secured and headed back downwind. Now, the jib comes all the way out and we are surfing on the 3.5 footers already building. (forecast for the bay today was 7'-10' waves, but on the relatively protected Choptank, the biggest we saw all day was about 4.5' where there was the most fetch, right at the end.) After everything was settled down and we were charging again, we looked back to see What's Next rounding Choptank light and I asked, "So Anybody get a time hack when we rounded?" After I got lambasted and we all had a good laugh, we concentrated on the run home. What an excellent run it was. By the time we got to 21, the wind had built enough that we pulled the main down and ran the rest of the way back with just the jib, still doing 6.7 kts. We were much more comfortable now with many fewer roundups caused by the puffs on that big main. A fog was rolling in and visibility was down to about a mile and a half and we never saw the competition, again.
Crossing the finish line with no one in sight, we continued up Cambridge Creek and tucked in behind the county building to furl the sails and clean up the boat a bit in relative calm. A beer and some chicken went well, too... What's Next joined us about 13 minutes later. What an exciting day of racing, it was. Once again, The Write Byte got to show her strengths in big air. 15.5 miles of sheer excitement. And we loved every minute of it.
By the time we got back to the slip, the winds were over 30 kts and we were very thankful to have Bob Ragan's huge trawler to block the crosswind as we backed her into the slip. What a spectacular Day of racing made even better with great crew, good company, excellent food and Chris brought great beer for the home stretch. It just doesn't get any better than that! Especially since Bruce brought us some of Tucky's home made Oatmeal Molasses Raisin cookies, just hours old! No way we could lose with that secret weapon! We finished the 15.5 mile race in less than 3 hrs. Nice sailing fellas, thank you... Gotta love those cookies. As is said often on our boat, "Never underestimate the power of a cookie."
Kudos to Larry and Gerry Rossi, who took on those winds by themselves. Kudos to Dave and Sue Buchannan, new sailors with enough motivation and excitement to go out in winds they had never faced before. To Andy Counts as well for stepping up and going sailing. Your effort is especially notable when you consider that the Annapolis to Oxford Race sailed the same day in the same conditions, but more than half the entrants DROVE their cars to Oxford for the party. Really Good show, guys.
If you haven't figured it out already, I love sailing with a passion. And it is only through stretching ourselves that we can grow. Especially when it comes to sailing. I know a fella who owned his boat for 18 yrs and never even rigged his boat for a reef. But then why should he? He never took it out if there was more than 12 kts. of wind. Well yesterday was one of those days and I thank God I was alive and had the opportunity to go sailing with a few good friends...