Monday, September 08, 2008

Learning race set up in Sunday's race

The Rahn family ( Father & daughter in this pic) are a powerhouse this season.

I know, I know, learning the boat should be done before the racing begins. Study, practice, learn, practice. That isn't my reality though, so racing has to remain "fun". And, it certainly was last Sunday. Hooray! I finally got a better result in Good Neighbour Series racing.

Yesterday, Sunday morning marked the first warning gun for what I consider the real beginning of fall racing. With nightfall coming too early for the weekday evening races, we now shift to the daytime on Sundays. What an interesting day it was too.

The marine forecast by Environment Canada was for 10-15 knots from the northwest shifting to the southwest. When I got to BYC, other racers were telling me the forecast was for it to go up to 20 knots at some point in the day. Sailors get their weather forecasts from a number of different sources, and some are land, some marine, some fancy with maps and radar, some simply text. I have found the text from Environment Canada to be pretty reliable. Still, hearing others talk of more wind made me begin to doubt my understanding. Did I misread the forecast? Did a different source have better info? This is fairly important stuff! When on a Shark or Tanzer 22 set up with a big #1 genoa, you hesitate before switching to a smaller sail during a race. It doesn't take long racing downwind before a jibe or take-down of the chute is required. So there isn't a lot of time to change sails, and it can throw you off your game focus. Therefore, I find it preferable to make a correct call before leaving the dock.

I looked at the light winds beyond the harbour and opted for the #1. Past experience has led me to believe it is generally best to go with the correct sail for the current condition, because you never know when the wind will make its change, and if the strength forecast will be spot on. On the one hand it could mean being overpowered later and having to scurry. I have concluded this is better than risking being underpowered in the present winds. That is almost a guarantee of being uncompetitive. Most, though not all racers it seems go with this same approach. A few had smaller sails and actually switched back up to a larger one for the second race. Occasionally, this approach means having too much sail as the wind whips up, and struggling through the race. Our races are relatively short though. For the Sundays of Good Neighbours, Series C, two races are held, and there is an opportunity to switch in between if need be. It turned out to be the correct call for our Shark. 20 knots of wind never materialized. The wind certainly did increase after we left the harbour but not to levels unmanageable with the big foresail.

This is not to say it wasn't interesting with the puffs. However, I seem to remember one of the tuning guides saying set up for the lulls or the normal wind, and then de-power during the gusts. So that's what we did. I am still pretty ignorant and lacking confidence in setting up the trim. I confess I copied the block position for the genoa fairleads from other Sharks on the water. They all had their blocks set to a position on the track close to where the cabin begins. On our boat at least this means a tight foot, and a ridiculously fanned out leech, far from the spreader. I have had a lot of trouble figuring out how to make the Shark go, and I am not sure if this copy-cat approach led to trouble, or if some other variable causes me to have such an abysmal feel on the tiller. Usually, the slot I'm driving with is very narrow and difficult. I constantly fluctuate between pinching and falling off to much. When overpowered, as in the puffs yesterday, trying to find that precipice in between the two is most challenging. It doesn't feel good, and that less than precise knowledge makes me confident something is not right.

On the one hand, you don't want the boat falling off, and making too much leeway, while overpowered. Yet, you don't want the boat falling into the wind, and losing power either. Learning where that precipice is, in between, where you have both height and power is a more difficult balancing act on the Shark so far, than with my Tanzer 22 before.

Complicating the story further, are the tell-tales on the one season old North genoa I picked up. I know I am frequently stalling the boat going to windward. The outside tell tale flutters indicating turbulence. I alter course as precisely as I can, but often seem to make it worse. Sometimes it seems best when I let if flutter, and just go by the feel of power and balance in the helm. Something clearly remains very wrong.

The first race we placed with the rear pack, but at least not DFL. At least two boats behind us. Things were improving.

In the second race, I cranked on a bit more backstay tension, and payed more attention to the traveler. Our tacks are pretty bad, and a big part of it is me staring downward and struggling with the traveler! Still, once I stop snaking, the boat seems to go better.

We had a very bad start, just back enough to be caught to leeward of everyone's sails and stalling. We made a quick tack to port, crossing the sterns of the fleet, and just ahead of the race committee's anchor line. This actually payed off quite well. Our progress up the right hand side of the course was clear and clean, though I got real anxious near shore where the wind felt fuzzy-wuzzy. How is that for a real technical term. We got to the windward mark in third position and held on to that till completion of the race. Essentially, once in third and realizing that the two Sharks ahead, Crisis and Eclipse were far enough to hold their own positions, I just watched, covering the rear. Ketchup tried to pass to windward on the last leg, so we blocked. Then, as we both passed a Tanzer 22 white sailing, they jibed to the right, while we stayed on the left. That made me nervous, but I felt our angle gave slightly more speed. I know standard tactics are to continue covering, but I felt any mix up with the infinitely more talented Ketchup would result in us being badly spanked! We finished in the same order. Taking third was pretty satisfying after finishing DFL and almost DFL for most of the time trying to figure this boat out this season.

Gotta be amazed at amazed at how well some boats do! I didn't see the top finishers (lol) in race #1. In Race #2, Crisis won with just Tof and Hugh on board, managing everything! Eclipse, sailed by the Rahn family took 2nd, and have been fast all season. Peter has really figured the Shark out now! Ketchup sailed with an extra crew on board. George proudly raced with a tiny tot bouncing on his knee! How cool is that?

In the second race, I believe the first Tanzer 22 to finish was Encore Une Fois. I saw them take up another boat at one point on the last downwind leg, but then decided I better watch my own course if I didn't want to screw up. I figured as long as they fought it out, I could continue happily along my way to finish ahead.

After the race, we played with the genoa lead position. We moved it well forward, and thought the sail had a much nicer shape, and didn't spill out so far from the spreader. Phillipe was at the helm as I moved the block forward quite far. He thought it felt much better. However, I think the wind had also lightened up, so that could have been an interfering variable.

We headed back to harbour satisfied. The race result at least indicated some progress had been made, even though there is a helluva way to go. While mounting the infernal motor on the stern, I noticed a huge wad of weeds on the rudder. Must remember to check for that, yet another interfering variable to understanding what the heck is going on with the boat.

So, there it is, another installation in the learning process of the team Ambitious, on the mysteries of Sharks and fractional rigs. The draft beer at the club tasted pretty good. The crew must've had a good time too - I didn't have to pay for my suds!