Jul 262012

It was a fun, but tiring race. In the weather briefing, the meteorologist basically said good luck…it was going to be light, light, and light, predominately on the nose for the duration. Fortunately, the wind was stronger than anticipated for most of the course, and from better directions. My strategy during the race was to keep miles to the minimum at all costs, and it seemed to pan out.

We were in the PHRF3 fleet, which was a mash-up of us, a Beneteau Figaro (30 footer designed for short handed racing), an Express 35 (mid-1980’s racer-cruiser), a Catalina 42 and a couple of C&C 35’s. We owed everyone except the Figaro, who owed us 6 sec.

The start was an absolute drifter. In fact we drifted over the line and were OCS. By the time I sculled back around to correct, we were about 50 yards behind, so no big deal. The wind filled in a touch from the south, so we straight-lined it to Gibraltar. Most boats went around the mark and headed offshore, but I stayed in the Outer Harbour with a couple other fast boats. We tacked a couple of times, then just made the south point (like about 20 feet clear). We then cracked off a bit going for the second point, and just made it too. There was some current relief inside, and a pile of garbage in the current line making its identification quite easy. Sailed past a toilet seat…nice.

From there to dusk, we sailed cracked off a bit in the 5-10 knot S breeze. I was favoring the north side a bit as the wind was supposed to diminish late afternoon and we wanted some shoreline to play with. At about 2330 the wind clocked enough to set chutes, grew to about 12-15 and eventually built to about 20. The spin ride into Main Duck was fun…about 50 miles of fast A-sail reaching veering to DDW surfing 5-7 footers with the symmetric. Topped out at 13.7 on the run. The boat definitely felt heavy in those conditions with the extra few hundred pounds of food, fuel, water and gear.

This was our first overnight. I had come up with a rotating, overlapping two-hour watch schedule, and it worked quite well. Every two hours one person would rotate into sleep mode, be it on deck or down below. Each crew was scheduled for 4 hours of sleep, 4 hours in service, 2 hours on call (napping). We did fall out of schedule a fair bit during the daytime, but I am sure every other boat did as well.

The tracker was messed up quite a while, always showing One (the Figaro) in the lead, when it should have been us (One owes us time). After Main Duck, we were able to hold a higher line than she was in the 20 knot south westerly, and that is what put us ahead boat-for-boat. I am not quite sure why we were higher…we had no rights to be against a boat with a nice fractional, runnered rig. We were also higher than a bunch of big boats too, but still maintaining mid six-knot speeds.

There was a big convergence zone between two winds just after Oswego. Outside was NW 4-6, then a big transition, then inside was 10-12 from the SW. Once we saw it, we lumped through the zone to get inside. Most boats did not… it payed out huge for us, and put us back in contact with the big boats. Coug, the IOR 2-tonner and a couple of C&C 115’s were growing quite perturbed with us…

From there on it was pretty much straight line light wind sailing until about 30 miles east of Niagara, where the wind went SW, so tacking was needed. The majority of our fleet stayed outside, sailing extra miles but in better wind. We discovered a two knot easterly current about a mile offshore of Olcott and Wilson, so short-tacked up the coast inside of it until we had bearing on the mark. At this point the wind had begun piping up, and I had the guys fully hiking (after 250 miles) trying to hold down the #2. In the lulls, it was perfect, but in the puffs it was quite overpowered. In hindsight, the #3 might have been better…at least more comfortable.

Once we rounded the Niagara mark, it was a beam reach in 20 knots and building. Just a bit too tight for the A-sail. After sailing with the barber-hauled #2 and holding 7.5-8 knots, I decided to experiment a bit and threw up the old #1. Barberhauled quite far forward with backstay off, we were essentially sailing this like a code-0. Our speed jumped, averaging about 8.5 with some surfs to 11, albeit the surfs were about 20 degrees east of the rhumb, so they were kept to a minimum.

At the end of the race, after 53 some hours of racing, we were the first to finish in our fleet, but corrected out to second in fleet and second PHRF overall by 10 minutes. A C&C 35 with prior victories in the LO300 took another win. Ten stinking minutes. Argh. We did finish boat for boat ahead of every PHRF2 boat except the winner, and several of the PHRF1 boats. We were also ahead of the Beneteau First 10R’s. Of course, in retrospect, I see where we left some minutes on the course, but it is what it is. As many of you know, I was toying around with racing in the “racier” IRC division. I calculated my IRC corrected time, and we would have finished second in fleet and second overall in IRC as well! We would have been a couple of hours behind a J35.

Lessons learned:

1) Having a water filter on board instead of carrying water really saved some weight. We used a Katadyn Base Camp gravity filter, and it worked very well.
2) We enjoyed nice weather, and all packed more clothes than needed. If it had been pouring, then having a change would be nice, but we had too much clothing on board.
3) TOO MUCH FOOD! Yes, we finished the race significantly quicker than the forecasts had suggested, but we still would have had too much food. Oh well… the return delivery crew had lots to eat.
4) Single sized inflatable mattresses work wonderfully to fill the gap between the pipe berths and the cockpit sides. No need for lee-cloths.
5) A thin, self-inflating mattress pad makes the pipe berths much more comfy.

Next year…..well, we will just see what happens.