Monday, March 15, 2010

Bacardi Cup 2010

Alain Vranderick has once again returned to the great Bacardi Cup. So, we are fortunate enough to get these entries from his regatta journal. Enjoy! - Ralph, Montreal Sailing

Sunday March 7, 2010
Finally March...

Even with the unusually warm winter we’ve been experiencing here in Montreal, it still feels pretty good heading down south for the Bacardi Cup. There’s something about Biscayne Bay, and the hospitality of the Coral Reef Yacht Club that’s hard to pass up. The years that I’ve decided to stay in Montreal, I always regretted it. Therefore, when André Marcotte approached me last November to crew for him in Florida, I accepted without hesitation. As it turns out, we took the boat down for the weekend of the earlier Masters’ Regatta, got a few hours on the water and flew back. That allowed us to fly down and be fresh for lunch in Miami.

Once we made it to the US Sailing Center we just had a few things to tweak, and be ready to hit the bay tomorrow. The Masters regatta was quite windy, so we wanted to take the stick down just to make sure everything is in order, and switch a few controls around in the boat. A couple of other boats from our fleet are making the trip, which should make things interesting. A regatta within the regatta if you will.

My skippy from the last few Bacardis is heading down with a recent purchase. It will be interesting to see (and maybe report…) all the changes he’ll make to the boat during the week. Last time we sailed a boat that was just previously sailed by Hans Fogh, and he proceeded to re-tune it all week (see my 2007 report). For my part, I would have welded everything into place, and driven back to Montreal with the stick up if I had too, just to keep the tuning from Hans. But, my skippy obviously had other plans. I bet you a Gene Wilder (that’s a $5 Canadian bill for those who like to keep track) that if you sneak up to his boat during the regatta you’ll be able to hear hacksaw and drill noises, and the smell of epoxy.

My current skippy is at his second experience at the Bacardi Cup. Adapting to the size and depth of the fleet will probably be more important this week than messing around with the tuning of the boat. A wise Canadian man made an interesting observation to us when we were there for the masters. He said it’s interesting to see how some people do remarkably well when they enter the fleet. His explanation is that when people start racing Stars they follow the tuning guide. After a while they become too smart for the tuning guide, and usually that’s when their performance starts going sideways…My advice to André….Let’s stick to the tuning guide. Therefore, the program is to get the rig within the general ball park, and then work on getting the boat moving.

This year is a little different for the Cup. The Bacardi organization decided to tender this regatta to a PR company in order to turn it into a big event. Therefore the Bacardi Cup is now part of the Miami Sailing Week. Not sure how well this is going to be received by the ultra conservative governing body of the Star Class, but for my part I think it’s all for the best. The event planners set up a tent village for registration, cocktails, cigars, SLAM products, and a truly amazing sailing art expo of Cory Silken work. We headed to this village for registration late Sunday afternoon, and I must say I was impressed. Everything went smoothly, and we even got a few free Bacardi drinks. Bow numbers and sponsor stickers were applied swiftly on the boat. It was now time to head back to the condo to meet the rest of the Q fleet posse and get ready for day 1.

Monday March 8, 2010
Day 1 – Course 4 heading 140 (later changed to 125), 4-7 knots

All three teams staying at the condo got up early (Willy first because he had more work to do on the boat before the first race…), and headed for the yacht club. Everybody had some planned stops on the way, including the chewy bars/Gatorade/water supply stop, and some triple espresso fill up at the Green Mermaid.

Once we got to the YC, we started to prep the boat when suddenly the AP went up, putting everybody on a holding pattern. RC decided that the planed 11:55 warning was a bit too early for the breeze to fill in and thought that it would be better to wait until 13:00 to start a race. The AP eventually came down around 11:30 allowing enough time for a 13:00 start. At the sound of the AP we dropped the boat in the water and headed out for the course (I’ll spare you the details of us hitting ground on the way out to the course…all I have to say is whoever is wearing booties on the boat gets to jump over and get the keel unstuck. Skippy….now you know). Once there, we scouted the course for wind, and noticed that from the time we got there to the start of the race, the wind kept clocking. Strategy...done.

After the usual recalls, the RC put up the black flag. We started near the middle in a decent lane. We eventually tacked and headed right. The right felt pretty good as the numbers kept lifting, and lifting, and lifting…then, they started to feel not so good. We started to look for a knock to head back towards the middle of the course, but it never came, unless you consider the time when my skippy decided to take matters in his own hands and created a knock. At that point we were sailing on a heading of 108-110, when he suddenly tells me: “Hey there’s our knock, we’ve got a heading of 94!” To which I answered, “Just because the compass is showing a knock doesn’t mean it is necessarily so…bring your bow up and let’s get back on track!”

We rounded deep in the fleet and pretty much managed to keep that position until the finish.

Tuesday March 9, 2010
Day 2 – Course 4 heading 135, 4-7 knots

The organizers offer us a continental breakfast at the village, which is pretty sweet. They have a set up with fancy patio furniture and HD TV presenting the day’s racing video. Breakfast consists of croissant, fruit, a selection of Italian pastries, and all the espresso you can handle. This goes on everyday from 8 till 10…theoretically. Being run by Europeans, they don’t worry so much about getting the stuff ready on time, but rather having the proper presentation, which by the way is fine with me. Heading over to the US Sailing Center, we noticed the postponement flag again. The wind was indeed light, and I think the RC wanted to leave some time for the breeze to fill a bit before sending us out there. Not much to do on our boat, so we waited by the pool at the CRYC. Postponement eventually came down so we made our way towards the course.

The course was laid out pretty much in the same direction as the first day. On the first sequence, we got closer to the RC, thinking that most of the fleet would set up at the pin end, trying to get a leg up on the left side of the course. From what I gather, it is the side that paid yesterday. We were a few boat lengths below the line a minute before the start when they postponed the start .Too bad, because we were sitting on a 10 degree right shift, which would have made for a pretty good start to the race for us. On the final starting sequence we got caught to windward of the RC with the door being closed on us by a cluster of 3-4 boats. Not a good feeling. One minute to go, with nowhere to go. At that point I told my skipper it was time to practice our slingshot start. We spun on a 360, while the cluster drifted away from the RC, which created a hole for us to start, albeit 15 seconds after the start.

We worked the right side, and wound up in a decent position at the windward mark. Managed to keep our air clear down the run and made it to the leeward mark with a large group of boats. A few boat lengths before the gate we slowed down a bit to let a group go ahead of us in the hopes of not being caught in a big pinwheel at the mark. We did ok, but a boat snuck in at the last second between us and the mark, seriously messing up our air. I had no idea whether this boat had rights or not, but slugging in the high sixties, it does not feel quite right to protest, and spend the evening in the room. We worked the left side on the second beat which showed us a few good shifts. Held on with the fleet on and finished in the high fifties. On the last run, we were witness to a pretty interesting scene. As you’re going downwind in that kind of breeze, you have a lot of time to look around and see the slowly developing scene behind us, mainly to see if there’s any fresh faces, and what kind of boats are back here with us. I noticed a pretty new boat behind us (DFL if I’m not mistaken), and for a second felt a little bad for the guy. I then saw his crew go to the front of the boat and lying on the deck reaching for the bow. I was thinking to myself: Well here’s a new method to get weeds off the bottom of the boat. But that’s not why the crew was up there. The crew was there to take the bow numbers off the boat. I guess the skippy of that boat had enough of the Bacardi Cup spanking and decided to take his new toy home…or it could just be bad planning and had to head back home…on a Tuesday…

The big story of the day is our friends from the WLOC fleet, Terry Line and Larry Scott finishing 6th!! Well done boys! It’s something for us to look up too.

Wednesday March 10, 2010
Day 3 – Course 3 heading 130, 8-10 knots

Well this looks more promising. Finally a forecast in double digits! It’s all fun racing here on Biscayne Bay, but it can be a bit of a drag in light wind. If you don’t get to hike, you’re not getting the full experience.

The RC left the club at 10:00 which usually means they mean business and want to start this thing on time. We sailed upwind on both sides of the course and settled our strategy for the left side. The RC took it’s time in getting the start off by blowing starts with the postponement flag…twice. As a side note, I must say that I’m not impressed with the RC work at this regatta. The first couple of days, courses were so skewed that you did not have to jibe downwind. And, now these postponements at the start. We all know that the wind shifts. It’s expected. Nobody will freak out if the line is off by 5-10 degrees. It’s better to let it go than to have the whole fleet bob around in the washing machine chop around the starting line. So Mr. RC, pretty please with a cherry on top, leave you’re postponement flag on shore. Once you’re out there your job is to get us off racing…

As they finally got a full sequence going, we decided to position our start near the mid line pin, on the RC side of the line. As we headed on starboard towards the mid line pin a big hole developed around us, in which we decided to stop and wait for the start. As time winded down, boats around us started moving and with 15 seconds to go, I told André to put the hammer down and GO!! We got a great start off the hip of the Terry Line/Larry Scott team. We worked our way up the left side, being bounced a few times because our pointing was not as great as the other teams. Eventually one of those tacks led us all the way to the port layline, a whole lot earlier than I would have liked too. As we settled into our groove as the farthest boat out on the port layline, we noticed that we had an Italian boat to leeward of us, at maybe 5-6 boat lengths. No threat there, apparently…In no time a boat appeared, coming across on starboard which forced the Italians to tack on the leebow of this other boat and they were now both coming at us. It appears at first that we could cross…big mistake. As they got closer we got into panic tack mode throwing the boat over on starboard…almost. From what I remember, skippy got caught under the boom because he could not uncleat the main, and the boat sat in irons without ever completing a full tack. We sat there for what seemed like an eternity. It always seems longer when you have two crews screaming at you…After the dust settled, with the Italians now back on port (thank to us…) and 3-4 boat lengths away from us, one of their crew started to insult us: CRETINO!! CRETINO!! He kept screaming with hands flailing in the typical Italian kind of way. Well this was a first for me.  We usually get the odd call on the line, but never flat out being called a cretin…not that we didn’t deserve it. All things considered, in the spectrum of things we could have been called after that moved, I guess CRETINO was a pretty soft one. My ego wasn’t too bruised, until I looked up and saw where we were now sitting in the fleet. This little move cost us a LOT. We were now fighting for DFL (too bad the new boat guy wasn’t there anymore…).

We got to the top mark just a couple of boats off DFL, just to notice our number on the board. We had cheated. We were BFD. For a few minutes, I had mixed feelings about that for. Being BFD means we had to head back home, which was nice considering where we sat in the fleet. But then again, to have a BFD and do no better than a couple boats from DFL at the weather mark didn’t sit very well with me. In any event it was not so bad. It’s March, and we’re sailing on Biscayne Bay. There are worse places to be.

This is after all pretty much just a big practice for us. We had no illusions about our placement in this fleet, and we looked at the Bacardi Cup as an occasion to spend some time in Miami, all the while improving our sailing skills in a big fleet. With that in mind, and in my humble opinion, if you don’t get at least one BFD in your week here, you’re probably not trying hard enough.

The events continued at the Bacardi Village with the midweek prize giving, and cocktail. The evening then carried over to the Coconut Grove Sailing Club. Again I was impressed with the quality of the organization. The food we got served there was outstanding. Gazpacho, wraps, penne alla putanesca con salcice, ceviche, filet mignon skewers, and fried shrimps. Definitely we indulged in an A class buffet.

Thursday March 11, 2010
Day 4 – Course 4 heading 170, 8-12 knots (or so we were told…)

The day started at the condo with the usual cackle about weather reports. This was not shaping up to be an easy day on the water. Forecast was calling for 18-23 knots with a possibility of thunderstorms. This was enough for me to mention to my skippy that this had all the potential of a good lay day, and that was the final call. We made it to the US Sailing Center to fix a few things on the boat, just to smooth out the controls, but nothing major (man it’s quite weird having to write these reports without reporting on mast butts, spreader sweep etc…).

While the boys were out sailing on the bay, which turned out to be a tamed outing, we went to South Beach for lunch, and drinks by the pool at the Delano.

We came back early to the club, so did the racers. I sat down at a table with the new crew of my former skippy, Rick. Rick was a bit distraught with their results so far. He just told me: “I feel like I’ve been living a sheltered life”. I asked “How so?” He said, “All this time I thought I was a good sailor. I’ve won multiple club championships, and a North American championship (on this little 22 footer in our neck of the woods) and then I get here and have no clue what’s going on. I’m doing all I can, and we still finish with the also rans.” Well Rick, that’s the Star class for you. It’s all another level of sailing, and commitment. But, apart from this kind of punishment in regattas, which in the end only affects your ego (to fix that you just have to pick up some PHRF killer and go kick some ass in a local regatta), it’s still a pretty cool boat to sail. MAN UP RICK! This is the Star class.

Friday March 12, 2010
Day 5 – Racing is postponed till tomorrow.

Thunderstorms and lots of rain on the forecast convinced the RC to keep the Stars on shore. Tomorrow the order of the day is 2 races, first start at 10:30.

As I write this, we just came back from some tennis at the Crandon  Park  Tennis Center on Key Biscayne. I’m sitting by the pool, and realize that the RC made a great call. It’s been pouring buckets now for a steady 45 minutes. The lesson here is that instead of looking at the weather forecast, we’ll just trust the RC. If they send us out, it should be ok. Maybe…