The Anniversary Cup
Saturday was the Rio Grande Sailing Club’s Anniversary Cup distance race. The forecasts were mostly for light winds – generally about 10 mph, although one weather website had the winds up to about 15. Zorro had plotted out several courses, depending on the direction and speed of the wind (that’s what we had been doing two weeks ago when we dismasted) – long courses for higher wind, shorter ones if the wind was less, and with different starting and finishing legs so no matter the direction of the wind, there would be an upwind start and finish.
For crew on Black Magic, I had Tadpole, Cornhusker, and a sailor who had considerable Etchells experience as a member of Zorro’s crew, but whose home obligations had kept him from being able to show up reliably for races (we’ll call him Seymour). Pat and the camera stayed on shore to take pictures of Black Magic in action. After fixing a couple of problems (the new jib was missing a batten, and the shackle came loose at the base of the starboard lower shroud), and tuning with Zorro for a bit, we headed for the starting line.
Despite the light conditions, Zorro was optimistic that the wind would come up, so he called a long course of about 15 miles, upwind through the channel around Long Point, past Kettle Top to channel marker 30 near the entrance to Barney’s Cove; back down past Long Point around channel marker 16; south to the east of Rattlesnake Island to marker 10, and then back to where we started. We were a bit disorganized at the start, so we started dead last, well behind the rest of the fleet. However, we were able to overtake several of the other boats within the first mile or so. By the time we got to the channel around Long Point, the winds, already light, began to get fluky – and they would remain fluky for most of the rest of the race. We had been close-hauled upwind, then turned on a reach to enter the channel. Suddenly, we were dead downwind. A couple of the other boats tried to put up spinnakers, without much success. We just concentrated on sailing. Sometimes we were leading the fleet; other times either Zorro or Mother was.
Near the base of Kettle Top, things got weirder. Most of the fleet went east, toward Kettle Top, but a couple of the usually slower boats went toward the west, and suddenly they were out ahead of all of the Etchells and J/24s! The wind was from the north to start, but then it shifted east so we were on a beam reach. Closer to the eastern shore, the boats were on a run, and again, a few of them tried to fly spinnakers, with mixed results. Finally, our boat got enough of a wind shift aft that we tried our spinnaker, too, for the last mile to the supposedly windward mark.
Amazingly enough, the whole fleet rounded the mark in one big mob – unusual enough in a mixed-design fleet even on a standard around-the-buoys course. For that to happen six miles up the lake was especially unusual. We were in about the middle of the mob; the boat ahead of us made a sloppy rounding, so we were able to slip in beneath them.
After the mark rounding, Zorro and Mother headed for the west side of the lake. I would have liked to follow, but there was another boat on my quarter, so I couldn’t tack. I had to wait until that other boat tacked, and by then it was too late. Zorro and Mother were in a patch of wind, and, like a spotlight, it seemed to follow them. The rest of us were sitting in dead air, just watching those two disappear into the distance. Somebody on my boat made a comment about how Zorro always did seem to summon up the right wind just for himself.
Things got even weirder. What wind we had was from ahead; meanwhile, we saw Zorro and Mother put up spinnakers, and while they had the occasional collapse, they were able to make those chutes go. Meanwhile, we gradually pulled ahead of the rest of the fleet, so we were sailing by ourselves past Kettle Top. As we approached the channel around Long Point, we got into the wind that let us put up our spinnaker, and we began to catch up to Mother and Zorro. That was our most successful spinnaker run of the day; we were able to keep the chute up almost to the end of the channel. Then the wind shifted, so it was almost directly ahead of us, and we pulled the chute in, preparing to round channel marker 16, where we planned to launch it again.
Not such a great plan after all – we rounded the mark and launched the chute, and the wind shifted. To keep it flying, we would have had to sail into The Jungles, an area popular with fishermen because it’s full of calcified trees. So we took it down again and found ourselves on a close reach. Despite our problems with the spinnaker, however, we were gaining on Mother and Zorro. That was gratifying.
After hours of being light and fluky, the wind finally stiffened – a small wandering thunderstorm approached. We were on a beam reach approaching channel marker 10, finally making the sort of speed an Etchells is supposed to make, when first Zorro and then Mother rounded it and came out roaring close-hauled toward the finish. I planned our strategy accordingly: gybe around the mark, then tighten up to close-hauled and come tearing up the final two miles to the finish.
No such luck. We were 50 feet from the mark when the wind shifted 180 degrees and subsided. Instead of gybing in a breeze, we were tacking in a drifter. Well, at least when we got around the mark, we could get the spinnaker up again, right?
Well, sort of. We got it up, and it took us 100 yards or so, and then the wind came around and we had to take it down. Then the wind came up again, and we were able to go screaming close-hauled toward the finish; the wind increased to about 20 knots (after being about 3 most of the day) and shifted direction, so that our finish was on a reach. Seymour had been advised of my previous lack of self-confidence in stiffer conditions, and he made an extremely diplomatic (Seymour is extremely diplomatic) hint that I could let him take the helm if I wanted, but aside from asking him for advice about what strings to pull when to reduce weather helm and depower the boat, I felt pretty good about what I could do. That’s not to say I was totally fearless, but I’m beginning to get the feeling that I can handle things. Besides, after drifting for most of four hours in 96-degree heat with intense sun, the stiffer winds were refreshing, as was the water crashing over the bow, at least at first. Tadpole did complain later about how wet he got.
There’s more weirdness. The increased wind came to Zorro, Mother, and me when we were fairly close to the finish. The rest of the fleet were further back, so they sped up and nearly caught up. On corrected time, a couple of them did catch up. Mother crossed the line a few minutes behind Zorro, but on corrected time, they were only 6 seconds apart – after a race of more than four hours. I was third across the line, but 5th on corrected time, because the slower boats got that increase in wind that I only got a taste of.
Oh, well. I still had a good time, and Seymour’s a good coach. He knows tons about Etchells, and he has a subtle, understated style that is still effective. It’s a huge pity that his other obligations keep him away from the lake so much of the time. (Yeah, I still need to do that post about woman shadows, don’t I?)
At the awards banquet that night, I read “The Cremation of Sam McGee” in John B’s honor. I was amazed how many of the people there knew the poem and loved it from the time they were young. I did spot one or two crusty old sailors sneaking a napkin to the corner of their eye and hoping nobody noticed. Hey, even if you are crusty, it’s OK to get sentimental, if you get sentimental about the right thing. We all loved John.
Sunday morning, we had to get all of our stuff out of the house in T or C – Dino had sold the place, and the buyer wanted to move in Monday. We packed up all of our stuff, had breakfast with Mother and Dumbledore, tied up some loose ends on Black Magic, and then went to a Rio Grande Sailing Club board meeting. After a while, I realized a) Pat needed to be there, but Tadpole and I didn’t, and b) we were in two separate vehicles, so we didn’t have to all stick around until the end.
So Tadpole and I took off. At the rest area just north of T or C, I pulled in and turned the helm over to him – he’s passed the book-learning part of Driver’s Ed, but he needs a certain number of hours on the road before he can take the test to get his provisional license. Open road on a Sunday afternoon is a good start – not a lot of heavy truck traffic, just the occasional slow-moving RV to pass, and a good way to get the feel of the helm. He did great. His experience sailing (and racing sailboats) has already given him some practice in looking out for what’s going on around him, and so he was already good at looking around and checking his mirrors. He did have slight problems adjusting to a steering wheel after having so much experience with a tiller – what? You actually turn toward where you want to go?
Because he’d handled the freeway so well, I had Tadpole continue at the helm when we got to the city, taking him over lesser-traveled routes that would be yet lesser-traveled on a Sunday afternoon. We’re going to need more practice on precise maneuvers, getting used to the steering response of the car at low speed, taking corners without under-steering or over-steering. We’ll probably be spending a lot of Sundays in the parking lots of businesses that are closed on Sundays, and a lot of the rest of the week in church parking lots (there’s one church in Albuquerque that, as part of its youth ministry, has a driver-training course set up).
When Tadpole got home, he had a lot of academic work to do. He had to complete a final project for his orchestra class, and he had to study for a final exam in one of his other classes.
Meanwhile, Pat eventually got out of the RGSC board meeting, and then he helped Dino get stuff out of the house so the buyer could move in, and then he came north to Albuquerque. But there was no rest for any of us; we had some additional foam that needed to be taken up to the marina at Heron, and also, we needed to move Syzygy; since Albuquerque will allow a large trailer to be parked in front of a residence for up to 14 days but no longer. Syzygy had been there 13 days.
We left Tadpole working on his project and studying. We got to Heron, rigged and launched Syzygy, delivered the foam and some dockmaster paperwork, visited the house long enough to drop off the trailer and use the bathroom, and headed south.
It has been a very long day. Actually, the whole weekend was long. I had a good race, and Tadpole got in some good driving practice, and I actually saw Five O’Clock Somewhere for the first time in months. I am, to say the least, disappointed with the housekeeping. Pat and Tadpole have a lot of catching up to do.
Stay tuned; I’ll be editing this post to add pictures.