Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Pas De Deux Race to Windward

Sharp Sharks Eclipse and Mainsail from another recent race thanks to photograper Heather Deeks

Our beginning of the Pas De Deux included only three boats. Three Sharks to be precise. There were a lot more boats, but they would not be crowding our start line. The race is a "Pursuit" format and each boat gets its own start time, slowest first to the quickest much later based on PHRF handicap. All boats then are expected to finish in unison if other variables do not interfere. On the Shark, we are scratch boat, first to start. So, as you can imagine, there was a heck of a lot of wide open horizon on the line to choose from.

Easy start? "Shoulda, coulda, woulda" been! We ended up caught to windward of the formidable Shark Eclipse, getting crowded towards the RC stern. Eclipse shut the door, and just a few feet from the RC. We slowed and nipped behind Eclipse's stern with inches to spare, swinging to leeward of them, and crossed a few seconds after they did. The whole start line available and we were caught unaware of where Eclipse was! Erindira, a very nice looking Shark must have started further down the line, nice and clear, all by themselves. Actually, being a pretty ordinary helmsman, it still was a pretty good start for me. The wind was light at that stage, and I have a habit of struggling to get boatspeed in these situations, and cross too late. So, at least we were starting on the gun. It is safe to say, a match racer I am not.

Off we go on a long windward leg to this autumn day distance race. From the start we work our way beating upriver from Pointe Claire to the mark between Baie D'Urfe and Dowkers Island, a long leg. I try to keep the boat powered up, which is tough given the light winds. Eclipse to windward and ahead is pointing higher and has good boatspeed. I am not able to see at the time why we are not able to keep up, but it appears that trying for speed instead of pointing was not the best idea. A lesson to make a mental note of: I need to work harder at feathering up on every opportunity, while still not losing speed. I am still having a lot of trouble feeling and steering in the groove on the Shark. Nah, the trouble is the moss growing on our hull sans anti-fouling!

As we progressed, it was more of the same as Eclipse pulled away for the first third of the leg roughly. Then the wind began slightly improving, while still very light. Eclipse kept its lead but was at least not increasing it anymore. However, after passing LRYC, the Tanzer 22s and Mirage 24s were slowly gaining. Then, with the approach to Dowkers's Island getting closer, Peter Vatcher's T22 actually got ahead, and the Mirage 24s, Chinook and Ariel were seriously threatening. The leg had been a fascinating wind challenge. Many instants saw Eclipse and our Mainsail pointing dramatically different angles to the course. The wind was snaking its way down the course without any sensed timing, and usually not varying for long. Holes where the boat slumped dramatically would appear, and then the wind would fill it. Another lesson I observed at this point. Adjusting the sails constantly for the conditions is even more important in this type of stuff. Nick was regularly rounding the sails for speed, and trimming in for pointing as the wind teased us. We didn't even have to talk aloud about what was happening, very cool.

It was sorely tempting for me to tack on quite a few occasions when stalling and falling off, but the way forward was a game of good steering and sail trim. Still, the surrounding competition required some different action. Peter on the T22 Wayward Wind was gliding away to the left. He always does so well in distance races. The Mirage 24s just kept steaming on closer. John and Esther (linchpins of PCYC) on Chinook were just plain faster and kept closing uncomfortably towards our stern, while the Moore's on Ariel (always a threat) worked the shoreside on the right. Fortunately, an opportunity finally arose. Two courses were possible, tacking towards shore, or to the left side more towards Dowkers Island. We tried to play some shifts, and made some minor progress. Then, hey, considerably more wind appeared on the left side, and that is where we went. Close to shore definitely looked lighter. The left side also should have been shielded from current as we would be  behind Dowkers. Voila, for those, or whatever reason and luck, we made tracks away from the threats that had been surrounding us. We approached the windward mark alone, and the wind was building. Eclipse was still well ahead, but at least the other boats were not an immediate threat. Rounding the mark, we began the next leg downwind. Not too shabby. Even the clouds were parting and the sun coming through. We were still holding down second place. Of course, now all the longer faster boats had started long ago, and the pursuit was well underway! In that chasing fleet was notably the Etchells with Lowther and Hinrichsen, and a J30 that should come on gangbusters if the strong wind forecast materializes. We would have to hold off the approaching fleet for a long time to come yet.

More in another coming post - Ralph, Montreal Sailing