So much to tell about … After sailing, we socialized with some of the other sailors who were hanging around, including Mother and Dumbledore, who had arrived at Heron for the first time all summer (they’ve been busy with regattas in various places, as well as doing a whole lot of boat repairs and stuff), the Highlanders, and many others.
This weekend started with a brief sail on Black Magic Friday evening after Pat and Tadpole arrived fresh from Tadpole’s first week of school. We enjoyed great scenery and seriously regretted that somehow the camera had been left in Albuquerque – the sunset was at least as good as any we saw at Dillon.
Saturday, Mother had planned to run match races, with matched pairs of boats dueling each other – the idea was that there would be J/24s racing each other, and maybe also J/22s or Catalina 22s or some such. Since there is no other Etchells at Heron, the idea would be to pair Black Magic with some other boat of similar speed, so it wouldn’t be a true match race, but it would come close.
Saturday morning, we got to the marina and found that there was a grand total of three boats planning to participate: two J/24s and Black Magic. In an unusual twist, there was plenty of crew available – several students from New Mexico Tech had showed up (including one from California with extensive sailing experience), and in addition, Mother was expecting her friend Speed Racer. Speed Racer has sailed extensively with Mother on J/24s, but last spring when she saw Black Magic, she was impressed, and she expressed a desire to sail on her: “Oh, those Herreshoff lines! I bet it’s fast!” I let the J/24s take the Tech students, provided I got Speed Racer if she showed up.
Speed Racer never did show up, but it didn’t really matter. Pat, Tadpole, and I sailed out onto the lake on Black Magic, toward where the race course had originally been planned, with our VHF radio on in case there was a change of plan. We sailed around the lake. We sailed across the lake. We put the spinnaker up, a slow and clumsy process, since Pat is very much a novice at the spinnaker. We jibed. We went around the island in the southern part of the middle of the lake. We doused the spinnaker and headed up, back toward the Narrows. We discovered that the J/24s had started match racing without us, since we had disappeared – they hadn’t thought to get on the radio to find out where we were. Probably it was just as well, since both boats had tuning issues: Mother and Dumbledore were working on getting their new mast working well, and the other J/24, Hot Flashes, recently bought by a group of owners including Yoda, Esther Williams, and a couple of other women of a certain age, needed a lot of acclimation of crew to boat. At one point, in light air and with no real reason, Hot Flashes T-boned the committee boat.
Today (Sunday), things were a bit better. To make up for us being excluded from Saturday’s races, Dumbledore planned a distance race (from the marina, around the island and back), so we could participate. In addition to the J/24s, we got one other participant, Uncle Jesse in his Hunter 240 – the committee boat Saturday. We waited around the marina for a good long while in very still air; eventually, it looked like some wind was coming in, so we started the race.
Mother and I crossed the starting line at about the same time, although Mother was on a better tack and had more speed. Esther Williams and Uncle Jesse were far behind, and they never really mattered in the race. Tacking out the Narrows, we more-or-less kept up with Mother, but she and Dumbledore have a lot more local knowledge, and that really counted, since the Narrows has puddles of wind that I haven’t learned yet. By the time we got out of the Narrows, Mother and Dumbledore were about 10 boat-lengths ahead, Esther Williams was 30 or 40 boat-lengths behind, and Uncle Jesse was nowhere in sight, around a bend in the Narrows.
Once out in the main body of the lake, I had hoped to find more wind. That was not the case. We drifted along, behind Mother, looking at the surface of the water for clues for where the wind might be. Eventually, I saw what I thought might be a slice of slightly more wind, and I tacked to take it. Good decision – once I tacked, it was a lift. Mother, seeing my tack, also tacked, but then tacked back shortly thereafter. So I was headed to the north of the lake, and Mother was headed to the south.
The wind, in addition to being light, also was very shifty. About when we were halfway to the island, the wind made a major shift – suddenly, without changing course, we were no longer close-hauled; we were on a broad reach. Over on the south side of the lake, we saw Mother putting up a spinnaker, but there was so little wind that it didn’t fly well. I had Pat and Tadpole get our spinnaker ready to launch, but I wasn’t actually going to launch it unless there was enough wind to make it work well, especially given Pat’s lack of experience.
Finally, we entered a zone where there was wind. We launched the chute. We got it flying. We mostly kept it flying. When the wind shifted so that we were on a reach, we still kept that spinnaker up – it’s a reacher, and I’ve sailed with Zorro with a reacher not just on a beam reach but even when the wind is slightly forward of abeam. We made ground on Mother and Dumbledore, even though we were also giving Pat lessons on how to work the spinnaker.
We came around the northwest corner of the island ahead of Mother and Dumbledore. Because of crew inexperience, I had the spinnaker doused sooner than would have been most efficient. Mother kept her spinnaker up longer, and our douse, while better than on previous occasions, was slow, so Mother gained on us, but she was still behind.
We came around the southern corner of the island, and the winds were getting at least a little bit stronger. The course to the Narrows was dead upwind … and then it was not, and then it was again, and then it was not. We were looking at a wind that was shifting over 90 degrees or more, and it wasn’t oscillating, since it wasn’t going back and forth in a regular pattern. Such is life on a mountain lake. The winds were still light, in spite of thunderstorms brewing nearby. Mother was coming up behind us; sometimes she was going faster, and sometimes she was pointing higher, and so we did a lot of trying to figure out what she was doing that we weren’t doing – the biggest thing we could figure was crew weight distribution. In light air, it’s good to have a lot of weight on the leeward side of the boat to induce heel, while in heavier air, it’s good to have the weight windward to keep the boat level.
As we approached the Narrows, a thundersquall hit. It was sudden, and it slammed the boat, but Pat and Tadpole are now good at helping to keep the boat under control in such situations – Dillon helped us to gain confidence with such things. One moment, we were drifting; the next, we were screaming along. We were roaring ahead of Mother. We did have to tack twice to make the entrance to the Narrows, but so did Mother. It was raining, and we had spray from the water as the bow of the boat plunged through waves, so we were getting wet. Tadpole even put on his rain jacket.
Then we reached the entrance to the Narrows. There are some rocks on the right. I was hoping we could get past those rocks, maybe pinching up a little to get around them, but Pat and Tadpole agreed that pinching wouldn’t work, so I’d need to tack. So I tacked. Into a hole of dead air. Mother, meanwhile, went charging past, in a remnant of the stiff air out on the lake.
The end of the race was much like the beginning: Mother found the puddles of wind that would work for her. I’m going to need to learn that.
After the race, Dumbledore came over to us while we were putting our boat away. He thanked us for giving him and Mother a great race – and it wasn’t just politeness. He was excited that we had done so well, and he said our performance was “sparkling.”
Esther Williams and Uncle Jesse ended up quitting this race. But Zorro told me, “Don’t quit.” I didn’t quit.