Tuesday, March 04, 2008

The 2008 Bacardi Cup

Readers of Montreal Sailing may recall the great reports of Alain Vranderick racing his Star with William Hendershot at last year's Bacardi Cup. A star-laden regatta full of international names from the America's Cup and Olympic sailing, Alain provides a much appreciated different take. This year we get to benefit again from his daily reports. What a treat! - Ralph, Montreal Sailing

Another March break, another Bacardi cup. After suffering through a pretty heavy winter season in the north east, I’m really looking forward for some March sailing. Plus, this being an Olympic year, the event is going to be absolutely crazy. It looks like we will easily crack 100 boats for registrations. Man, that’s going to be one insane starting line. With the Olympics lurking, it does have an impact on the numbers, but this year participation is also boosted by the Worlds which are being held just a month after Bacardi. So, this makes it the perfect event for a dry run, for those in contention of the Gold star. For us, it’s just another chance to race with the best sailors in the business, and get our ass handed to us on a daily basis.

This year is a little different for me, I’m flying down to the regatta. I usually do the watered down coffee drinking, Denny’s eating, 33 hour drive, and get there on Saturday afternoon a little exhausted but mostly relieved. Not this year. Big daddy is flying down. I’ll be landing in Miami Friday evening and will have all day Saturday to ease into the Bacardi mood. Another difference, is that I’m leaving my family behind. They preferred staying back in Montreal to take advantage of the great skiing conditions were experiencing in the North East. If that’s want they want, who am I to argue. So I’ll go spend a week, solo, in proximity of South Beach. I guess I can deal with that… honey, I promise I’ll be good.

Again this year I’m partnering up with William Hendershot. Another group from our fleet is making the trip down to Miami, the crew of 7520 André Gagnon and Daniel Després. It will be their first experience at Bacardi, and in this size fleet. I’m looking forward at getting their post racing comments. Tighten up your hiking straps boys, you’re in for a wild ride.

After the luxury of racing 8236 Folli last year, we’re back to sailing old Betsy, a 25 year old Folli with hull number 6756. We’ll easily be the oldest boat in the fleet. It will be interesting to see on a percentile basis how we compare to last years performance. The good thing about sailing Betsy, is that Willy knows her inside out. There should be a little less guessing than last year in regards to tuning. We’ll see…

So stay tuned, I will try to do my best to give you my perspective of the races and the activities surrounding the regatta. Now, it’s time to head out to the airport.

DAY 1 – Forecast 15-20 knots NE, turning to E in the afternoon (turns out we barely saw anything over 16 knots)

The first day is always full of hope. Who knows, we might have figured out on our own little lake whatever everybody has overlooked all those years. And here we are at Bacardi to show everybody how it’s done. Not likely…I must say that my articles from last years Bacardi has rendered my skipper a little more self conscious about fiddling with the tuning. He now does it in a more secretive way. He went around the yacht club Saturday asking about the latest and greatest in tuning. I was not aware of this as I was just walking around trying to soak in the atmosphere, and generally trying to acclimate to this incredibly warm weather. I must confess that I’m not a small man, and therefore it takes me a few days to acclimate to this heat. In the meantime, I will sweat all the whoppers and quarter pounders with cheese (for you Europeans out there, that’s the north American version of a Royal with Cheese) that I had to ingest on the trip down. Not a pretty sight I assure you.

In any event, we made it to the yacht club pretty early, and managed to get the boat ready with time to spare. We even had time to crash on the porch, waiting for the RC to leave (our cue to head out). We headed out in the steady breeze, happy to go sailing after a cold 5 month hiatus. On the way out, Willy tells me : For your reporting purposes, here are the changes I've made to the tuning, and please take note so it’s properly reported in your blog.… Well aren’t we organized. So he goes on to tell me about our new rake setting, and the new spreader sweep. Quite fascinating…for a skipper I guess…

The committee boat called for course 3 with 2 mile legs. So here we are on the starting sequence, trying to make the best of our strategy. With the big picture in hand (courtesy of the weather channel) we decided to go right. We managed to get off 2 good starts which got recalled, and proceeded to the third start under black flag. Almost all the fleet set up between the RC and the mid line boat, which made for quite a stacking of boats. We wound up in a decent spot, until the JPN boat decided that 6756 had won the prize for muffin of the day. They set up just to leeward of us and proceeded to luff us into irons about 20 seconds before the start. At that precise moment, we attempted a start which I had never seen or read of before : the stand still and pounce start. Let me explain how it works. First the leeward boat takes you up into irons. You then react quickly (ok, maybe not quickly, but really in a panic…) by backing the jib to avoid the boat from tacking into a horrible mess. This will inevitably stall the boat to a stand still with about 8 seconds to go before the start. You then settle down, listen to the gun go off, and start accelerating (barely). Next thing you know, you’re in a typical fourth line start. Not pretty.

We then proceeded to slug our asses around the course in a less then stellar fashion losing boats on every leg. Not a good day for the crew of old Betsy. The only highlight was sitting in box seats to witness the raft up at the first leeward mark. We were part of a 5 boat group heading towards the starboard mark of the leeward gate. Willy had a preference for the port mark, but I convinced him to hang tight and see how all of this would develop, sensing that we might have a opportunity to sneak into the group as they drift around the rounding. This was really not our day, because none of those boats cooperated with our plan. Instead they rafted up around the mark, pushing us in the process outside the pinwheel and about 5 boats lengths outside everybody and trying to avoid this disaster. We never recovered. Protests were filed, egos were bruised, but the final result was a 78 (out of 118) for us. Not quite what we had hoped for.

Looking at the results, it’s hard to feel bad. At the end of day, we put 40 boats behind us. Not quite what we had hoped for, but in this fleet, we’ll take it.

The Newbie point view :

Our Montreal homies André and Daniel are at their first experience at the big B Cup. So here’s a first hand account of their comments of their day on the water: It was great!! We were almost last at the first windward mark, and finished 86th. We gained positions on every leg Well, you’ve got to appreciate the spirit of those guys. They both looked like guys who got to cop a feel on a first date. Almost, brought a tear to my eyes. Reminded me of myself before I became a bitter, disillusioned star racer.

DAY 2 – Forecast 15-20 knots E, (not even close. It was more like 8 to 10 knots) RC decided on course 3, 2.1 mile legs, 135 heading.

We noticed yesterday that we had some issues with pointing. It appears that our new set up was not quite up to snuff. Instead of guessing our way through this new set up, Willy asked our new guru, Brian Cramer, what to do with our rig tension. Willy came back with the gospel and proceeded to adjust the rig. Well at least that’s what I think he did, because at the time I was sitting by the pool nursing a nasty shin sunburn courtesy of my ¾ length hiking pants. Who the hell thinks of applying sunblock on their shins anyways! Man that burns.

We dropped the boat in the water in time to head out to the race course and take a few tacks to check the headings. The race started on the third try under black flag. Thank God for the first two general recalls, because we had really messed up the first two starts. We even repeated the dreaded, in irons, stand still and pounce start. At that point I told Willy that we had to do something to shake that funk we were in. We could either go to church and light a few candles, or go to a gentlemen's club for a few lap dances. At this point I was willing to do anything for the team to shake the bad start funk. Willy declined my offer, and suggested that we should rather start at the unfavored end of the line where traffic is thin, and our chances of actually starting with speed was a whole lot better. The skipper psyche never ceases to amaze me…

We started in what seemed a different time zone than the rest of the fleet, and managed to hover around mid fleet for most of the race. Pretty uneventful race in which we scored a 66.

The Newbie point view :

Today was a different story for our newbies. When I saw them at the outdoor bar they both looked like somebody had just shot their dog. André admitted that he had a brain cramp halfway through the race trying to figure out what to do to make the boat go on a 6 knot downwind leg. Well André my friend, don’t worry, we all have those moments. On a 2.1 mile downwind leg in 6-8 knots, it is possible that your mind might go numb a bit. It’s normal. We’re just not accustomed to these courses. Time to man up and face the reality that there’s still 4 races to go. You just can’t fall apart on day 2. Did I mention that I have a good way of shaking that funk…