Sunday, March 18, 2007

MC Scow Midwinters, Lake Eustis Sailing Club, March 15-17, 2007

Image from MC Scow website. click title for more.

How interesting it would be for old monkeys to consider the dinghy classes we could sail in Montreal. That makes this article by William Hendershot timely!

For those of you who don’t know what an MC is (and I expect there are a lot of you) I’ll give a brief intro. The MC is a scow, which is a flat bottomed, round chined boat 16 feet long, weighing 420 lbs. Given its weight, size and shape it is very stable so you can actually walk around on the deck – even the bow without any danger of tipping over (try that on a Laser or Finn and see how fast you go swimming). The MC is normally singlehanded until over about 12 mph when you can take on a crew. You can decide before each race whether you need a crew or not and there is usually a spectator boat available to leave you crew if you decide you don’t need one. This seems strange, but it really makes the boat more suitable for a wide range of people. Light people like me, most women and kids, can pick up a crew and be competitive in heavy air while big people (like Alain) can sail without a crew and actually have an advantage in light wind because they can make the boat heel more than light skippers can. Heeling the boat is good because it tips it up on the side and gets the big flat part of the boat out of the water, decreasing surface area. There are also twin centerboards that are called leeboards so you have to raise the windward one and drop the leeward one each time you tack or jibe. The MC is one of the most popular boats in the US with about 80 boats at major regattas.

The story actually began in January – I was hoping to be able to sail in this regatta but getting my own MC to Florida was going to be complicated since I expected to trail my Star down to the Bacardi in Miami the previous week. In the end we had the chance to sail Philippe Hofer’s new Star but in the meantime, I had arranged to borrow an MC that was already at Lake Eustis Sailing Club. Bruce Miller had an MC for sale at LESC and when I contacted him to ask if I could rent his boat he replied that he would be happy to lend it to me – very cool guy. However, whenever you borrow a boat for a regatta you can expect a few surprises, and this was no different.

On the day before the regatta began I took a look at my ride, MC 1626. It looked almost exactly like my own boat in terms of layout, but it was a bit more run down. When I went out for a test sail I found that the leeboards went too far up and down and then jammed in the slots. To fix this I had to put in a longer rope so I could put knots in appropriate places to keep the movement of the board limited. Otherwise everything looked okay.

Day 1, Race 1

Thursday morning I got to the club just as the skipper’s meeting was winding up – if I hadn’t gone to get my Starbuck’s coffee I would have been on time, but then I wouldn’t have had my coffee. I’ll try to get going a little earlier tomorrow. Got the boat in the water with my new ZMAX main since the forecast was for 5-8 mph. As I headed out I realized that the forecast was a bit off – the wind was more in the 12+ range and I should have used my flatter sail – an old AP that is still in good shape. Halfway to the starting area the tiller extension came apart in my hand. That was a complete surprise because it had worked fine the day before – I should have taken off the masking tape to see why it was there I guess. I decided to sail the race anyway and used a piece of small rope to try to hold the extension together for the race. It sort of worked but at least once on each beat it came apart and I ended up sailing with just a piece of rope to hold onto. That wouldn’t be bad except that an MC has almost no helm (depending on how much it is healing) and so you end up trying to push on the piece of rope – doesn’t work!

Got to the start area and checked out the course and line. The line seemed pretty square and there were fewer boats at the port end, so that is where I decided to start. It was now blowing close to 15 which is more wind than I had ever done a race in an MC. Due to the distraction of the tiller extension, I didn’t get up on the line soon enough and got left in the second row at the start. Things were definitely not looking good but I just tried to find lanes and get around the course without getting into too much trouble. I was definitely overpowered most of the time and even hiking hard and maxing the vang, I didn’t really feel that I was getting in the groove most of the time. I did remember one of the key lessons from the tuning guide - never cleat the main when it is blowing. As a puff hits, you can let the main out about a foot and then bring it back in as you get back under control. That way the boat doesn’t round up and stall (or dump). As time went on I got more comfortable with the wind and boat. I finished 52nd – not great, but not last. Lesson learned: check the equipment more carefully.

Race 2

The MC class knows how to treat people so we went in for lunch after the first race – I didn’t really have time to eat much, but I did install the spare universal joint that I (almost) always have with me when I go to a regatta. I also put on the AP main so I would be in more control. On the way out to the start I realized that the wind was dropping – great – I had my light air sail for the heavy air race and my heavy air sail for the light wind races. So it goes.

Before they started the sequence it looked like the starboard end of the line was favored. However, it looked like there was a bit more wind close to the shore at the port end, so that’s where I decided to set up. It was a really good move because during the 5 minute sequence the wind went seriously left and the port end was favored big time. I was down there with the guy who ended up winning the race. After a couple of minutes on starboard I could see that I could tack and clear all the boats on my hip, so I did. Worked the left side up the beat and rounded 6th! Now this was more like it. Downwind I lost a bit of distance to the boats ahead of me but didn’t really lose more than 1 or 2 places. Up the next beat things stayed pretty much the same, but a couple of the faster boats caught me. On the last beat, the wind crapped out just before the finish line and it was a gamble as to whether it would fill in from the left or the right. I chose right, the wind came in first on the left – I finished 16th. Although it was frustrating to lose places on every leg, it was still a good feeling to be sailing at the front of the fleet for a change.

Race 3

The starting line looked much like it did in the second race, except there were a lot more boats trying to find a place on the line. This time I was determined to get up on the line and things were looking good until about 15 seconds before the start when someone reached down on top of me – ignored my “request” that he get up and totally screwed my start. After about 40 seconds I tacked onto port and with a couple of small ducks managed to clear the starboard tackers and got across to the right side of the course in clear air. That was a pretty good comeback from a bad start and I was somewhere near mid fleet by the time I got to the windward mark. The rest of the race was tricky with lots of shifts and differences in pressure between the sides of the course. I tried to keep looking around to see where I should be, but it wasn’t easy to predict where I should go. On the last beat I made a couple of bad guesses and lost a few boats to finish 41st. I think my speed would have been a bit better with the ZMAX main, but most of my problems were related to going the wrong way and getting messed up at the start. After 3 races I’m in 38th place – just a bit better than 50%. Halfway through the regatta – which is supposed to be 6 races that is pretty good. Unfortunately the weather forecast for the next two days is thunderstorms and winds of 20 to 30 mph. We’ll see.

Day 2, Race 4

The wind forecast was a little high, but it was still blowing pretty hard (for an MC). The wind was in the 15 mph range with puffs up to 18 and lulls around 12. Certainly more wind than I needed given that I only weight 160 lbs. My goal for today was to sail the course as fast as I could; try to learn more about the trade off between pinching and footing; and try not to go swimming. Somewhere in one of the tuning guides it suggested keeping the leeboard up a couple of inches to ease the weather helm and make the boat more manageable – so that’s what I tried to do. I got a decent start ¾ of the way down the line from the starboard end in an okay lane. The boats around me were a little faster, some just moved forward and up a bit and others worked up below and ahead of me however I still had a nice window of wind and held on, losing a little ground to the boats around me. Near the port layline I tacked and worked my way across the fleet, or what was left of it. I learned a new lesson while going across on port – don’t try letting out the sheet too much in the puffs – you have to steer up at the same time as you ease the sheet! The boom hit the water and it was touch and go for a long moment before the bow came up and the boat flattened out again – whew, that was a close call. There were not a lot of boats behind me – maybe 10 – 15 at the windward mark. The run was interesting and fast. The boat planed like crazy most of the time except when it decided to bury the bow in the next wave. By steering hard up or down I managed to avoid stopping the boat in the waves and rounded the leeward mark a few places closer to the front of the fleet. This was helped by quite a few boats that capsized at various points in the race – and a few rigs that came down because of broken sidestays. On the second beat I felt I was finally getting into a reasonable groove with the end of the boom over the edge of the boat, the vang on hard and the sail nicely feathered. As the puffs hit I could just feather into the wind a bit more without getting knocked down – I still didn’t cleat the main most of the time but it seemed better to only ease if I couldn’t steer up to relieve the pressure. And so on down the run – one near wipeout when the bow buried deeply and the boat spun around to windward – I just tacked, bore off and kept going and jibed back later in a lull. The last beat was in the same wind, but I felt I was getting the hang of things better and actually passed a few boats to finish 34th. I’m still in the top 50% but just barely 37th out of 76. They cancelled racing for the afternoon and will try for two races Saturday morning.

Day 3, Race 5

When we got to the club for an early start on the last day (changed to 9:30) with the hope of getting two races in, the wind was blowing fairly hard but it was calmer near shore and hard to judge how much wind there was out on the lake. So with my heavy air sail still on the boat I headed out and it was really blowing out there. After reaching around for a while they sent us back in because there was more that 20 mph of wind. Once back on shore the RC announced that they were going to wait and see what the wind would do and one of the RC boats stayed out in the lake to monitor the situation. I had my doubts that the wind would die as the air heated up – but I’ve been wrong before – and I was this time too. At 10:30 they sent us back out and indeed the wind was way down but puffy and shifty as hell. There were still the occasional puffs of 15 mph but there were lulls below 5 and shifts of over 60 degrees. It was a real crapshoot and those who were sailing well, with their heads out of the boat (so they could judge what was going to happen) did well. I must have had my head elsewhere because I mostly went the wrong way after a great start. It was actually pretty easy to get a good start because the line was long and about 40 boats decided not to come out to play. I fell into a huge hole right after the start and basically waited for everyone to go away. I then tried to play catch-up. In fact I caught up to three boats on the first beat and then another couple on the first run. The second beat was good and I felt I was getting back in the race. Caught another boat on the second run and started the last beat with about 10 boats behind me. Then I really went the wrong way – honest it looked like more wind on the left – but the right was the way to go. I lost most of the boats I had caught up to and finished 32nd. That’s about where I was in the final standings too. One thing I could really see when the wind was blowing earlier was that the boats sailing with a crew were a whole lot faster. Some of them probably had 350 lbs on the rail vs my 160 and when the wind is over about 13 mph, that really helps. The people who still had a crew on board when the wind dropped to 5 mph were really suffering though.

The MC sailors are a very nice bunch – you don’t have a whole gang of Olympic wannabees up at the front of the fleet, but the pros from the sail makers and Melges Boat Works are still much better than your average sailor. The difference is that they are there to be your friend (so you will buy stuff from them) so the atmosphere is quite different from an Olympic class like the Star. The local club at Lake Eustis Sailing Club did a great job of running a 75+ boat regatta. There must have been about 40 volunteers helping out and there were about 10 boats on the water (including 4 RC boats) to keep people safe. Good organization, good people, good food, unlimited kegs of beer, warm water, sun and wind – what more could you wish for? Check it out if you get the chance.