Thursday, March 08, 2007

Bacardi Cup 2007 – A mid-fleet perspective

By Alain VranderickQuebec Star Fleet – District 12

So here we go again, time for the Bacardi Cup. In the world of Star racing, the Bacardi cup holds a special place. It serves as a wrap up of the winter calendar for Star sailing on Biscayne Bay, and attracts people from all over the world. It’s not as official as a graded Star event (i.e. no measuring, no weighing of crews) and has a more relaxed approach than a graded regatta. You can also imagine that with a title sponsor like Bacardi, that the crews are treated pretty nicely throughout the regatta. For me and Willy, this is our 6th time here. Looking back at our first time, I think we must have been crazy. We had bought our first Star in December of 2000, and headed down to Bacardi in March without having ever set foot in a Star. I won’t bother you with the details here, but you can go to our fleet website for more on this story.

This year’s edition (the 80th) promised to be quite interesting. A lot of Europeans were listed on the roster of entrants, all working towards clinching a spot in the next year to represent their respective countries at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. There is also a bunch of familiar faces (famous and non famous) that rounded up the count. The field is littered with Olympic medal winners, world champs in the Star and other boats. Even Paul Cayard was listed as an entry, but had to cancel at the last minute (same thing happened to the British team, which were called back to Valencia by the people who sign the cheques. After all, we are only a month and half before the big show. The boys need to get up to speed). Too bad! It would have been nice to get our ass kicked the Mr.Mustacho Supremo (a certain song from Les Trois Accords comes to mind…). The only two Canadian entries are us, William Hendershot and me, plus Brian Cramer with Tyler Bjorn (representing the Canadian sailing team). Not bad, out of 4 Canadians, we managed to sign up 3 Montrealers. At the closing of registration, 75 crews had signed up for the regatta.

This year was a little special for us. At the last minute, Philippe Hofer, one the guys from the Montreal fleet called us to let us know that he had just purchased a boat from Hans Fogh, hull 8236, and was asking us to drive it back to Canada. In exchange, he would let us sail it for the regatta. We obviously were thankful for the offer, and agreed to the deal. I showed up in Miami on Saturday around lunch at the US Sailing center (right next door to the Coral Reef Yacht Club, host of the regatta), to meet up with Willy (who had a big grin on his face benefit of having to drive a sweet, brand new, Folli Star for Bacardi!!), who had already rigged the mast. We stepped the mast, finished rigging the boat and (after a few drinks by the pool at the outdoor bar) agreed to meet the next day at 9:00 for our first day on the water.

DAY 1 – Forecast 10-15 knots N-NE / Turned our to be accurate, except that the wind climbed to 19 knots at the end of the race

A typical day starts around 9:00 at the club. The warning signal is scheduled for 11:55. You get there at 9, drop the boat in the water (this is a dry sailed regatta), and head out towards the race course at 10. The sail out to the course is about an hour. You then have about another hour to figure out wind patterns, hydrate and eat before the race. The courses are mostly windward/leeward twice around with a finish to windward. The windward mark is usually set between 2 to 2.5 miles to windward. Basically you don’t have visual on the mark, until about 15 minutes into the race. Marks are set to give races of about 2:15 and 2:30 hours. You then sail back to the club (anywhere between 45mins to 1hr 30mins depending on wind direction and where you finished on the bay). You usually get back in your street clothes around 4:30 to 5:00.

The day started with a postponement, and 2 general recalls, after which the RC raised the black flag (which, for you trivia buffs, was originated at the Bacardi Cup). On the next start, a mess of boats were over early. 17 to be exact. We had a fairly good start, and rounded the first mark probably around 35th in the now BFD free field. We struggled downwind, and lost a few boats. The rest of the race we traded places with other boats to finally finish 37th. It is always tough the first few days in Biscayne Bay to adapt to the chop. We unfortunately don’t have a lot of experience in the stuff, sailing here in mostly flat lake water. It takes a different set of skills to keep the boat moving, because if you hit a couple of waves out of sync, the boat will just stop dead in the water. Well, that’s what kinda happened to the other Canadian crew. The were trading tacks with another boat when suddenly they hit a few bad waves while on port, and the other skipper was reaching for something in the bottom of his boat , when suddenly WHAM!! They punched a hole through the aft quarter of the boat. But hey, like they say in NASCAR: Rubbin’ is racin’!

LESSON OF THE DAY: When trading tacks at the windward mark, in a fleet of 75 boats, if you drop your cigarette in the bottom of the boat, let it be. The water will extinguish it. It’s a lot more prudent to keep your head out of the boat than to reach for that last half of Marlboro.

DAY 2 – Forecast 10-15 knots N-NE (pretty much spot on)

The day started with my skipper showing up at the club with a tape measure in hand, saying he’s been reading up on tuning guides regarding mast rake. It appears that our rake was off by 2 inches. WELL, that explains a lot…. We (well I mean him, I was just observing at this point) proceeded to adjust the rake. This is done by pulling on a string located on the Barney post in the cockpit. After this adjustment was done, I asked Willy about what was indicated in the tuning guides on adjusting the rake during the race? He told me that none of the tuning guides mentions anything about adjusting the rake while racing. It’s just not done. Well, why then have a little string that allows you to do that? Such are one of the mysteries of life he responded. It’s like the sun, air, the moon and the skies. It is what it is. I just think it’s put there by the boat builders to make the boat look more complicated than it should be. But, what do I know! I’m just a club racer enjoying the big life at Bacardi.

The fleet was very disciplined, for this second race. It took only one start to get the race going, with no recall. We started just to leeward of Freddy Loof (Star and Finn World Champ). That’s never a very comfortable position. I guess it’s the sail number that attracts all this attention. We’re sailing with 6756 on our sails, which is Willy’s sail number at home. If you’ve been reading articles in books about starting in a race, they tell you to identify a Muffin on the starting line to start next too. Said muffin has the quality of being inexperienced and lacking the speed to out point/out run you at the start. After 6 years at Bacardi, and starting next to the likes of Cayard, Kostecki, and now Loof, I can tell you all about what it feels being a Muffin. We’ve tried over the years to develop alternative scenarios to starting in this fleet. One of these is the RUNAWAY start. You figure out the favored end of the line, and RUNAWAY from it. Best practice (and experience) says that you will never, ever, win a start against the big hitters in this fleet. So, instead on being spit out in the third row, and bounced from one tack to the other in order to find a decent lane, you just move away from the pack, and try to find your own muffin.

On the first beat, left paid big time, we went right. We rounded about 70th. At which point I told Willy: We'’ve got them right where we want them. We climbed a few spots on the run, which was a lot better than the previous day, and set up for the next beat. On the second beat, the crowd went where it paid the first time, left. We decided to play the shifts up the middle and worked our way to the right. That’s when the big shift occurred. While on port we tacked on a header to flip onto starboard. That’s when the compass started climbing. 30 degrees it did. All the while we could see more and more boats in our main window. We were back in the game baby! Rounded mid-fleet at the top mark and proceeded downwind. We had a pesky Argentinian boat bugging us downwind which made us loose some ground (don’t you hate it when the rest of the world doesn’t cooperate with YOUR big master plan?). We finally finished a very satisfying 38th ahead of those Argentinians. Funny thing about the Argentinian crew, he likes to dance on the bow of the boat. When going downwind, crews adopt all sort of funny positions. You’ve got the standing up by the mast technique, lying on the deck technique, the lazy ass, just sitting by the shrouds technique (my favorite), and then you’ve got this guy. Acting as a diligent crew I always look behind my skipper to warn him about any incoming threats, and I see this guy, standing on the bow, and balancing himself by doing this silly little dance all in order to avoid going into the drink while the boat rocks and rolls through the waves. Must be a Latin thing I guess.

LESSON OF THE DAY: Luck is your friend. Embrace her. Nurture her. You never know when you might need her.

DAY 3 – Forecast 10-15 knots N-NE (hey is this ground hog day?)

Today, just to make sure we have everything covered, Willy needed to adjust something. The mast butt, he says, is in the wrong place. Hey, after the day we had yesterday, I won’t argue. The mast butt you shall move. This was not done just to keep busy. Willy felt that he had too much weather helm, and this is one way to correct it.

Off we go for our third day. The warning signal was given after a very short postponement. As we set up for our start (not the full blown RUNAWAY strategy, but rather a semi-conservative approach), about 1:30mins before the start, we find a pretty sweet hole on the line, which we managed to protect nicely until about 30secs before the gun, when the dancing Argentinian shows up to leeward and starts screaming something that resembled UP, but vaguely. He might have forgotten in the excitement of the pre-start sequence that you do need to give time and opportunity to the other boat to keep clear when overlapping from astern to leeward of another boat. In any event he took off like a mad man, and managed to mess up our air at the start. So off we went in a series of clear your air tacks, in order to find a proper lane to tack into and take off. We rounded the top mark around 50th. The rest of the race was typical for us, which is trying to claw back as many positions we can before the race ends. We finished a very happy 33rd.

LESSON OF THE DAY: If you going to try to intimidate me on the starting line, better bring a bat, a gun, or a drill. I’m sorry but screaming will not do it. We’ve been through this too many times, and are not impressed by it anymore. Oh, and by the way, all that screaming only led you to an OCS. So there, don’t mess with Karma, she’s a bitch!

The illustration above shows the “Argentinian effect” on our start!