Thursday, May 07, 2009

J24 World's Underway in Tough Conditions

Foredeck crew on David Cobbett's "High Strung". Image is a crop from a photo from Sail22's Flickr page.

The 2009 J24 World Championship in Annapolis has so far been agonizing for many competitors. Frail or no wind and a strong current have thrown a lot of teams off, and flipped standings during the races. In drizzling rain, the race committee has managed to get three difficult races off in three days.

Top Canadian team is Rossi Milev's Clear Air from Mississauga. They are in 3rd overall! Doing a super job is Thomas Etienne Barbeau's team,, from Quebec. Despite a 20% penalty on their score in race #2 under the Z flag rule, they sit 19th overall currently. A very large number of boats were swept over the start line prematurely by current. 79 boats are racing. scored 7th in the most recent race. High Strung and Peacemaker from HYC are also competing.

There have been some great reports of the racing, and I'd like to share some of them with Montreal Sailors. Writing about sailboat racing is challenging. Getting a feel for the action is complex as is the game itself. Here are excerpts from Chuck Allen of North Sails posted in a forum of Scuttlebutt:

“Starting will be Difficult!”
"(Sunday, May 3, 2009) - One thing we learned today: Starting is going to be really hard, there are a ton of good teams here in Annapolis for Worlds and it was quite obvious at the practice race today. Showing 30-60 degree wind direction with an incoming tide, basically pushing the boats over the line, and on top of that our wind shots were coming up 25 degrees left of the posted 065 on The R/C. It started to stack up hard toward the pin boat and sure enough a general recall would follow with over half the fleet OCS, maybe knowing it was “a practice start” helped too… I am thinking The R/C may have made a mistake when they announced “we will not call boats back on the next start because it is a practice race…” and guess what happened next? That is right each team jockeyed to keep their bows out and the fleet was over by an average of two lengths, there were some squads that totally launched, the R/C went through their procedures: calling bow numbers, etc… nope-the fleet was off like a heard of donkeys (yes the J/24 is a slow boat).

"Communication seems to play a factor… on the first start we found ourselves sandwiched between a Japanese and Uruguay Team, I know how to talk to The JPN’s as we have Dice-K pitching for The Red Sox and we talk about this while hanging out, but The URU’s-I have no idea how to approach them, we’ll figure it out. The communication on board our yacht needs some polishing: the gun goes off, bad start by us, tack onto port, only to see our options close out, “three guys coming-duck them, cross this boat and we have to tack now” was the rhetoric... Second time around we decided to make sure we were one of the boats to have our bow poked so we could pace with some teams, make sure our mast butt was dialed etc… At the top mark it was Enright, The SWE’s and Kotoun leading around the track, with a five leg course and leeward gates closer to NapTown one could only assume the fleet might dwindle (oh-and it started raining harder), as predicted many boats rounded properly then bore off only to set again and head for The AYC."

"Wet and More Wet…"
"(Monday, May 4, 2009) - Day one brought the second straight day of rain with two races scheduled and the breeze holding in the 90 degree direction. It was one of those mornings when you wake up, hear the rain coming down on the roof, look out and say: “I think I’ll put all my gear on now” before rolling out the door and it was definitely a full layering day as Martha Parker has taught us up in Newport-she would have been proud! Quick stop at ZU’s for the morning round and down to The AYC, only to find most boats closed up with a bunch of cold looking sailors peeking out from down below; the Volvo guys would be laughing for sure. Queue up the sails and get ready to round SSA into The NNE Breeze-couldn’t wait-but it wasn’t that bad.

"The R/C started on time and all was looking really good - the problem is that once the five minute gun goes off you are kind of committed to your side or that half of the line because the starting line is ginormous! We found that taking constant wind shots and heading towards our “predicted” end was the move as well as staying above the line and out of the wind shadow of 82 boats was key.

"Sure enough the first gun goes off we won the top third end only to see around 25 boats get poked from the left side-great learning experience as we noticed the water was flatter to the left, which made it easy to put the boat in “stick” mode versus hobby horsing out on the right like we were doing. The left side also showed nice numbers so it was climb back time, as we rounded in the 30-40 range, we held to the downwind right passing a few and made sure to keep to the upwind left where all the gains were made as it phased 15 degrees toward that side sure enough a few boats here and there and we climbed back into the top ten only to see a last minute hard right at the finish bring in five or six boats across our bow. Our main goal was to go with Chucky’s saying: “You can’t win it on the first day, but you can sure lose it”… I stole this from The Masters-BTW… This race was led by pretty much the same boats around the track: Skelly, Larson, Kotoun and Healy, which all finished in the front group.

"Downwind lunch time and there was plenty of it as they set really long courses-too long actually… Followed by a couple of phased right starts pulling a good portions of the boats over and guess what happened-you got it: Generals, “I” Flags, “Z” Flags, etc.. and yes The Black Flag! On the “Z” Flag start they called a General, which meant they caught boats and sure enough at the end of race two a bunch of bow numbers were read back over the radio-there were a lot. The race itself showed a nice first beat with lots of port sailing, again you had to come off the left end as it was really favored. Our friend Mauricio led at the top with Healy and Welles following close behind until the next second weather mark. After this the race became a drag race and really not a World’s Level Race, one gybe to leeward gates (where we expected a change of course-nothing). And get this - you could actually tack onto port at the leeward marks and make the finish-you got to be kidding me! Anyway, they got two in today in wicked rainy conditions and we are not surprised to see Santa Cruz and Kotoun leading the pack! The “Z” Flag added some numbers to really good sailing teams!

"Looks to be light tomorrow (Tuesday) with NNE breeze and hopefully just clouds, I just took my gear off!"

No Wind - No Racing on Tuesday, May 5, 2009

"Three Races in Three Days…"
"(Wednesday, May 6, 2009) - The conditions have been just awful for a World Championship, as there was no racing yesterday and we barely got one in today under the time limit and waited around to see if the southerly flow would fill, faking us out for a couple of hours. Today was raced in an average of 3 knots with the same amount of current pushing towards the weather mark. I thought for sure there would be a general with the current pushing us over but only two boats were called, one being Anthony Kotoun, who was running second going in.

"We (skipper Will Welles) started up toward the middle third as there was around 5 knots of breeze rolling down from the top right center. Chris Larson was able to tack and cross us so we had to wait a little longer to tack to port and our lane to clear. Larson, Welles, Skelly and The PUR Team led the charge on port and up the right side. The left was caving hard and it appeared this would be the lead group with maybe two to three boats coming from the left. Sure enough the left saw a bit more current and a increase in breeze-all of a sudden we were all in the sixties-bummer brah!

"Downwind into the current proved be slow and torturous… we decided to keep going into the current sailing way passed the gates and it worked out well as we caught a free ride back towards the marks passing a huge clump of boats, our trimmer, Rich Bowen, did a masterful job of keeping the boat going forward and pacing faster than anyone around us. We made a sweet move down at the gates as well nailing another quick seven boats rounding with speed and at last we had daylight and an eye on the next group of ten boats or so-this was the plan get back into the top 25 and minimize our points. We kept on the attack upwind grabbing another five yachts by sailing in lanes of breeze and nailing a quick three more that over stood (because of lack of wind and lots of current). Again, our pace downwind was better than every boat and sure enough we got into the low twenties where we ended up. Who knows the way the event is going this could be a keeper race for us and we just saved forty something points - not bad really.

"The Leader Board was shaken up as Mauricio and Kotoun had deep races. Mauricio was protesting the R/C at the race end - so we’ll see what happens with that. We know the finish boats were dragging but other than that maybe because it was under the class minimum breeze rule-who knows…? Good fun all and all and as we say “It is what it is”! Congrats to Charlie Enright for winning today, The Liebels from Davis Island and Tony Parker for taking the lead. And look who is doing well: Jorge Murrieta, who won The NA’s-very good sailor!

"Move of the day goes to me as I hailed “Mast A Beam” to Frankie Scalisi, who was confused for a moment said “there is no mast a beam anymore” and at that point we had broken the overlap at the leeward gates and gybed around them and beat them to the finish. We all laughed later…"

It's rare to get that kind of reporting of the dynamics developing while racing. It's intriguing reading, instructive to the learning enthusiast, and fun for the knowledgeable starved for the scoop. I haven't read a report with the sailor's perspective that good since Alain Vranderick's writing for Montreal Sailing on his experience in the Star racing the Bacardi Cup. It's great to appreciate just what was happening.

According to Sail 22 about an hour ago, "Teams have left the dock. Light breeze but building. SI's ammended for shorter races. Should be a good day" It's currently overcast with about 4 mph of wind. Possible thundershowers with wind increasing are forecast.

- Ralph, Montreal Sailing