Sunday, January 15, 2006

Charleston Harbor Frostbite Series Race 1

It wouldn't be a Frostbite series if it wasn't cold and windy. The big cold front came in Friday night and the CORA racers had plenty of breeze 25 knots with puffs in the 30s, mostly out of the west with small oscillating shifts to the north. In my new position of rear commodore my duties have changed from the participatory level to that of race management (on the dock). We sent the first three classes on a 8.5 nm race, in all this breeze it wasn't going to take very long. The final class to start was the D Fleet which is the main and jib class who sailed the same course but only once around for a 5.5 nm race. Reading this it sounds fairly manageable but let's add an outgoing tide at a pace of 3.5 knots and you now have a very fast downwind leg with the current and and a very nasty upwind, upcurrent leg! Think San Francisco Bay with an extra 5 to 10 knots of breeze. What could we have been thinking as race committee to send sailors out into this and then make them do, not just one lap, but two! Ok we were, well I was thinking it's only 8.5 miles and only three of it upwind. Everyone had made the effort to get out there so, lets not send them on a short 45 minute beer can style race. We also have this new offshore challenge series this year and skippers and crew need to experience some big breeze. It was obvious from the starts that boat handling in today's race was an issue with the out going tide and a beam reach first leg, no one in any of the classes came close to the line at the start. It was obvious from my chair on the dock that the boats that set up to sail a little lower to BP were fast using the puffs to accelerate, (by bearing off) while boats that were sailing slightly higher were rounding up and sometimes spinning out (never fast not even in the out going tide). Sail low and fast in the puffs and work up in the lulls setting youself up for the set of the Ashley current to BP. The next leg was a run from BP to R2 and you would of thought the whole fleet was sailing main and jib, not one spinnaker to be seen, there was a Melges 24 out there though and they looked liked they were flying just under main and jib (lets think about this a second blowing up to 35 air temp mid fifties, Melges 24) not me!. My chair just got a lot more comfortable. Well you can't have fun all the time, what goes down must come up, these phrases do not do justice to the upwind leg back to BP from R2 as usual you had the group that hugged the James Island side and the group that went right over middle ground behind Castle Pinckney. It was hard to see which side paid, but at least you had less a chance of running aground on the right. Kiaora found the beach on the James Island side trying to stay out out of current. This big westerly obviously was pushing more water out of the harbor than usual. Thank goodness Kiaora and the crew were fine other than the Tow Boat US invoice. For the boats that lasted the final leg from R4 to the finish turned into a one tack beat as the wind had continued to clock to WNW. It appeared that boats that had the appropiate sail combinations were able to still point and have a better leg into the finish. The Ranger 29 had a heavy weather jib and a reef in the main and showed good balance and control with very good speed. Boats that had roller reefed headsails just were not able to point and a terrible time going upwind with tacking angles that looked like 100 degrees instead the usual 90 degrees. In this kind of breeze use a smaller headsail and keep up as much mainsail as possible, this will greatly increase the ability to control the boats heel while maintaining its pointing. Most boats that appeared to have control problems had too much headsail or they were dumping the mainsails but not the jibs. In puffs this large both sails must be eased and better to sail with the jib a little eased . You could see from my chair (of course) when a boat would get rounded up from being overpowered how quickly they got set back in the current. It's so easy from this chair!! As always sailing in this much current maintaining boatspeed is crucial you are better off footing than feathering which is very hard to do in 30knots of breeze. Its critical to have your sailplan balanced to the conditions. So what did we learn, use smaller headsails, and get the sail area down to increase control and keep your speed on. This will make it easier to maintain the neccesary speed to counter the adverse current. Above all don't forget to thank that race committee and complain to the Rear Commodore.

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