Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Pas De Deux Concludes Our Season

Race course area

Here is the final instalment of this year’s Pas De Deux Regatta. We have rounded the windward mark of the afternoon distance race, running most of the length of Lac St. Louis. That completes the longest leg. Now, we are running back with the current, on another long stretch. We are in second place in this last race for our Montreal sailing season.

It’s a “Pursuit” race, for a crew of two only, restricted to white sail. Just for fun, no protests thank you. It is very pleasant sailing frivolity concluding a season of hard racing and tough one design. The slowest PHRF rated boats (that’s us) started first, followed progressively by faster and faster boats, that then pursue the leaders. Theoretically, all the starts are timed so that the competitors finish in unison if all other variables... do not vary. Of course they do vary. It is a fun race. Still, the slower boats want to prove they can finish ahead, the faster boats want to show they can catch and pass. A race is always a race.

Rounding the first mark, after an eternity in light, “swirly”, and “gappy” wind, the Shark, Eclipse is well ahead in first place, Our Shark, Mainsail rounds second, and initially, we broadly reach our way back, now more comfortably ahead of the pursuing pack. Emerging from the channel, in between Dowker’s Island and Baie D’Urfe, Eclipse does the butterfly thing, and we find ourselves doing the same as we get to the wide open lake. The wind is slowly picking up. It is a long run, a little tiring. I think I lost my focus at this stage. With the increasing wind, the direction has also changed a little. Though we cannot see the next mark for a long while yet, I believe it is a little to the right of the breeze. I edge up here and there while wing-on-wing. The wind direction had not changed enough to go on a broad reach. The wind does change a little more, gets stronger yet. Still, no big deal. The wind is enough for the Shark to continue putting distance between us and the pursuing Mirage 24s and Tanzer 22s. Robin’s Shark, Erindira is also in pursuit, but I’m eyes forward, steering, and not sure where in the pack behind he lies. The wind, shifting a little more and continually freshening, starts to play games on me a little, and I’m beginning to mentally wander. The sails flutter here and there, the boom threatens to swing on occasion, the boat de-powers. I keep wanting to go more right, but it would still be a slow broad reach. Unbeknownst to me, the Etchells has emerged from the pack, and is bearing down. Nick is becoming impatient with my sloppy steering. Now, thinking back, I realize we were flapping about in the same area where the wind had been twisting about on the upwind leg. I never liked sailing wing-on-wing. The boom always feels threatening to me, and unsettling. The wind is getting stronger. I try to focus on the wind indicator atop the mast, and keep the boat planted downwind.

By this time, my poor tiller work has put Eclipse far out of reach. Eventually, the wind seems to stop fouling my brain, and we move along, but the Etchells is continually making ground. Their jib is very small, and collapsing here and there. Peter tries to push it out with a boat paddle, which is an amusing break on this long run. Neither of our boats work well without the spinnaker, and we don’t have whisker poles aboard. Inevitably, they pass. They ask if we know where the mark is. Cooperatively, I say it is not visible yet, but I think it is a little to the right. Remember, it is a fun race. Even though the wind increases, I don’t notice much as the boat has become more stable running more directly downwind. Now, the objective is to hold third, which seems very feasible. Finally the next mark appears in the distance, and the Rahn’s Shark, Eclipse rounds still in first, but with the Etchells closing on them. Gee, they both seem to be moving pretty well. We round in third, and aha! I begin to clue in and sense how the wind is changing as the boat heels. We move along at a good clip. When we hit the next mark, we turn into a close beat for the final leg, and whoah, the boat swings further on its side. It’s time to wake up and shift gears. White caps are now appearing everywhere on the water. How long had I been sleeping on the helm? Nick is lecturing me about something, or suggesting I get the boat back on its feet, I’m not sure. The wind is changing very rapidly, howling more now, and I know we are way over-powered, but...

This is where it becomes more evident Mainsail is still a boat project. I’m yanking on the mainsheet, but there is way too much pressure and I can’t unjam it. Out of urgency, I become wholly compulsive with that damn mainsheet cleat. I vaguely realize we are pretty sideways. My steering goes to hell, as I sort of lurch up and down, trying to release the main. Nick is saying something, and even though he is distinctly louder, I’m not really aware what his “counselling” is. Then, I realize I better employ other options. I give up on the mainsheet, and uncleat the line for the traveler car. Nothing happens. The mainsail remains high and tight. I am only vaguely aware of my steering now, as I am certain Nick would confirm. I still don’t really know what Nick is saying as my mind becomes very, very obsessed with the mainsheet car. It has become my enemy! By this point, the traveler track is pointing downwards quite a bit, as we heeled to a point that is not fast, to say the least. That gives me another option. I lift my leg up, and stomp down hard on the mainsheet car. Finally, the sticking sonuvab!@#$* slides steeply to leeward under the weight of my heft, and the boat moves forward as it flattens out. The whole process was agonizingly slow, but worse, it replayed itself out as we got hit by gust after gust. Now, there was a fair bit of white water about.

Lowther’s Etchells has passed Eclipse and both are moving really fast. I’m looking like a pretty lousy sailor at this point, but at least partly I know I have something of an excuse, I make a mental note for my project boat – this freaking crappy worn-out gear has got to go! We need to throw in a few tacks as we are making our way to the finish line, and I realize the best thing I can do is play the traveler on every tack and gust. Even though the traveler car and track are haltingly slow, and sticky like glue, I start to keep the boat on its feet. I hear Nick utter some words of praise as the boat starts making better progress, and for some reason I can hear his words a little better. I guess my mind is less distracted and can process more now that the boat is doing what we intend it too. Nick is a powerhouse, and didn’t have remotely the same hardship with the big genoa which is likely the only reason the boat was still moving forward. Despite the blow, I don’t think he ever cranked with a winch handle. That is common with a Shark, but at this point it is blowing STINK. Despite being way over-powered, we can see the end and a solid third place. Nick looks back, and holy moly, a big J30 is hurtling towards our little boat, BIG TIME. Now, for some time I can hear Nick gauging the situation as clearly as a bell. One more tack to go, and then its cross the finish line. I don’t look back, but Nick is saying something about the J30 likely has us. He figures if we can just make this tack a really good one and get our timing right, we might squeak across ahead at the pin end. I don’t dare look back. It feels like it’s back to game on, the sails are trimmed perfectly for the conditions, and we are back to making progress. The traveler line is in hand and my foot is on the car. I’ve got the technique of releasing, kicking hard, and helming down pat now, and manage to keep up and through the gusts. I don’t dare take my eyes off the genny’s leading edge, because I know if we lose it in even one more windshift, gust or wave, that big boat will nose its bow through the finish first. My job is clear, keep the boat moving towards the finish line as fast as possible, and let the Nickster call the game, then hope for the best.

Nick calls the timing for the last tack to approach the finish line. Flip, we go, and somehow this time, I’m able to go over without more than a glance at the blasted traveler, stepping onto the car and kicking back with my weight as we change sides. Even though I haven’t stopped looking forward for more than an instant, I don’t notice having to wait for the genoa at all, and it is silent. Nick had it sweep the deck and in perfect position seemingly instantly. The tell tales are streaming, and all seems well. My adrenaline is pumping. But there is this huge sound of big sail flapping, and it doesn’t stop. A quick glance up reveals a very flat mainsail with the car way down and the sheet as tight as the windward shroud. Our main isn’t doing much, but the noise isn’t our boat. I realize it is the J30, and see it’s bow out of the corner of my eye. I don’t dare look more. Gotta keep the boat moving another 40 or 50 seconds. Maybe we still have a chance. The sail noise continues for what seems the same eternity as when we were in trouble before. In reality it isn’t long at all. Still, they must have had a difficult tack, and be struggling forward. I think we are ahead, but as we slice through the wind and hard waves, I realize the finish line is on an angle, favouring the “monster” boat. Our Shark is moving well though and  yahhh, we cross ahead. I think the J30 might have overlapped our stern, not sure, but we are ahead. We keep third!

Extermely light and flirty to extremely heavy and serious, we had a lot of different winds and tests. The race was a blast. But importantly it crystallized the gear and technique changes that still need to be made. Of the various repairs, upgrades, and sails to go fast, the priorities had been uncertain. Not anymore. The track, mainsheet system are all coming out. For next year, we’ll sport a new track, windward sheeting car, and beefy, large mainsheet blocks. To play the game competitively, you must not be preoccupied about how to cope with your gear, even when the conditions get challenging. In fact, obviously that is when flawless gear is the most critical.

Lowther and Hinrichsen are first in the Etchells, The Rahns in their Shark are second, we take third in our Shark, and the J30 closed in for fourth. Not sure what the other results are yet. Madeleine Palfreeman ran a wonderful race and awarded the Pas De Deux trophy to PCYC for the most points of a given club. The RStLYC takes second club overall. Our BYC does pretty well even though we are only two Sharks sailing, thanks to garnering second and third place. A great challenging fall day, and a perfect end to the season.