The Valentine’s Chute-Out
Pity the individual races didn't officially count
This year, Zorro came up with a different format for the Chute-Out. Instead of a basic race in which all of the boats race as individuals, there were two teams, with matched pairs of boats, one representing each team. There were two pairs of J/24s, and one pair of Etchells, sailing around-the-buoys races, plus a couple of pairs of cruising boats sailing a distance course.
The originally scheduled pairing of Etchells was going to be Zorro on his boat versus Applegal and Appleguy on their boat. However, as circumstances worked out, I invited Applegal and Appleguy to sail Black Magic, with me as crew, and at the last minute we got Seymour as well. Zorro, meanwhile, had Pat and Twinkle Toes as crew on Constellation.
Conditions were stiff – winds were in the mid-teens to low 20s, with higher gusts. Even before the racing began, we were all getting wet. Seymour put on his wetsuit, neoprene gloves, and dinghy boots, the perfect attire for foredeck duty in such conditions.
We also worked out some major adjustments in sail trim. Before leaving the dock, we made a decision to use a high-performance moderate-to-medium air mainsail, rather than the super-heavy main that could take a lot of punishment but would also be very slow if the wind were to come in lighter than the predictions. This higher-performance main had caused us some problems before – it was a San Diego sail, and our mast is a Connecticut mast. When we had sailed before with Zorro using this sail, we had never succeeded in pulling it all the way up to the top of the mast, and Zorro had said it might not be possible to get it up all the way. He had advised us to use cunningham and outhaul to tighten it to make it work right.
That wasn't good enough for Applegal. During the maneuvering before the first race, she went head to wind several times in order for Appleguy and Seymour to haul on the halyard and get the sail up high enough that the trim looked pretty to Applegal. Even though I am relatively new to performance sailing, I could both see and feel a difference. Black Magic was really flying now.
We got a spectacularly good start on the first race – because of the high winds, the race committee selected long courses, what the British know as a "double sausage": a half-leg upwind to the windward mark, downwind to a downwind mark, upwind to the upwind mark, downwind to the downwind mark, and then a half-leg upwind to the finish. We led Constellation for the whole race. Because of the stiff conditions, and because the crew, while experienced sailors, weren't experienced sailing with each other (Seymour had never before been on the same boat as Applegal and Appleguy), we chose not to run a spinnaker on the downwind legs. Constellation did run a spinnaker, and did gain some on us, but not enough to make us worry. She spent a lot of time on her side while the chute was up.
The second race was another story. Because a cruising boat that was not racing got in our way at the start, we were 30 seconds late to the line and 20 seconds behind Constellation. We gained some ground on the first upwind half-leg, but we were still behind rounding the mark. We knew that because we were behind, we would have to use the spinnaker, and we had prepared ahead. We executed a near-perfect jibe set, and when everything was said and done, we found ourselves ahead of Constellation, by a significant margin.
Downwind, Black Magic is the fastest boat in the RGSC Etchells fleet. Seymour and Appleguy were working together trimming the chute as if they had always been together, and we just kept flying along smoothly. Meanwhile, behind us, Constellation broached again and again.
I notice here that I haven't mentioned one of the greatest factors in our success: Applegal. Seymour and Appleguy (and sometimes I) were doing great things, but Applegal was directing the show, and she made some great decisions. She spotted wind shifts on the upwind legs, and she made commands that helped our spinnaker operations to be a success. Thanks to her direction, we really stretched out our lead in the downwind leg, and we had a great takedown and mark rounding at the end of that leg.
Zorro brags about how fast Constellation is upwind, and we were looking forward to making an effort to preserve our lead. But halfway up the upwind leg, Zorro quit. I was surprised – we weren't really all that far ahead of him, and Black Magic is not a good upwind boat. I really thought he had a good chance of catching us.
So we sailed the rest of the course, and we racked up two victories against Zorro.
In the end, though, Zorro can save face. The scoring of this regatta was based on team performance. In the Etchells, the northern fleet (Black Magic) won two races to the southern fleet's zero. In the J/24s, the first pairing went both to the southern fleet, while the second pairing was split one race each. In the cruisers, one pair didn't race, and in the other, the northern fleet boat suffered a major equipment failure and didn't finish.
So overall, the southern fleet won, even if the northern fleet boat beat Zorro twice.