There may be many of you out there who have sailed higher winds, but last Sunday was a personal record for me. Lac St. Louis was about as stirred a pot as I have ever seen, and the most I have ever sailed in.
Early in the morning, we walked the docks and peered beyond the harbour at the whitecaps. Sailors asked each other "Are you going out?", or "What sails are you using?" We were certainly going to race, and thought carefully about sail selection, but the wind kept building. First it was the #2 genoa, then with a reefed mainsail. Then, we thought it best to be conservative, and switched to the #3. "Well, lets keep the reef in the mainsail too." I suggested to nods in the affirmative. Finally, we also double-reefed the mainsail! Finally, I went over the rigging, and tightened up the forestay and shrouds. I didn't want any leeward slack and stress today. All of this before we had left harbour. The iron jenny was started and the 4 of us motored out of the harbour. It was a good day to be a full 4 crew.
As soon as we slowly moved beyond BYC's protected harbour, we could feel the speeding spray and rocking of the boat. Indications were the winds persistently continuing to build. The crew readied the sails for raising, and we turned to windward. The outboard motor swamped in between waves, and lifted its prop out of the crests, then stalled. Thankfully, it started again immediately.
The sails went up, and the boat heeled into the waves and sliced over the tops. The Tanzer 22's motion seemed remarkably stable given the conditions. I am accustomed to the T22 slamming over chop, and there was none of that. The gusts were still overpowering, but with a quick hand on the mainsheet, quite maneageable. I concluded we had chosen a very good sail arrangement. It is so satisfying to find the right balance of sails and wind, and propel safely forward when it's honking. Let there be no doubt, the Tanzer 22 is a good, safe boat in heavy wind.
A look at the knotmeter indicated over 7 & 1/2 knots of speed reaching through the chaos, despite the small sail area, and the waves. We are not used to much wave action on our river, so when one crew member noted that a stern wave was over his head, it was a marvel. Even, if that observation is made while the bow climbs the next wave, it is unusual for Lac St Louis. We sped by the race committee boat as marks were being set, and a couple of Etchells and Tanzer 22's struggled nearby. Chris Paynter was out with his T22, and so was John Linton. Chris was sporting a reefed main and a #3. John had a #2 up. Apparently, he had left his #3 at home. Yikes.
As the start time neared the boat mix began to change. Jake Fitchten's T22 went off to save a Fireball dinghy that had overturned. He ended up returning with them to PCYC. The two Etchells helmed by Dick Stefan and David Covo had been struggling mightily, and wisely retreated to the safety of the PCYC harbour. I wonder why those boats don't have mainsails that can be reefed? Next bail-out was John Linton who had been reaching along the start line with his #2. He kept on going beyond the line and back towards BYC.
We had continued on beyond the start line, and it rapidly shrunk in the distance. It was time to turn around and make our way back, but I didn't feel too comfortable jibing in the wind. At that point I realized it had likely built up to the high 30's (knots). We went for a chicken-jibe, spinning upwind to tack and move back downwind. It wasn't much of a spin though. The bow pushed into a big wave, and stopped the turn. Losing momentum, we had to lay off and try again. It took three tries to turn around. We had to turn upwind, build speed, then turn at the right time to not be deflected by a wave. Now, the wind was higher than I had ever experienced before, and I couldn't estimate the strength. It took us a while to make our way back to the start line and cross, but that we did. Al was doing race committee, and I think he was hoping we would not cross, and he could call off the race! Chris had a good lead by that time, but we were having a blast, and wanted to sail. We got around the windward-leeward course once, and then decided we had had enough heavy weather experience. One crew member was feeling nausea from having worked at the mast, and we thought we would make for the nearest harbour, PCYC. Chris Paynter brilliantly completed the two laps of the course in his T22, the only boat to do so. Then, his #3 blew up on the way back to BYC.
A little later, I measured the wind from the shore at BYC. It was mostly in the high 30's, with a high of 41.6 knots. This clearly from a position where the wind was deflected and slowed. Away from shore in open unobstructed area, the wind, waves, and water were still clearly moving at an even faster, but undetermined rate!