31 July 2009

Excuse Me. I'm Going to the Front, Slowly.

2009 Dinghy Delta Ditch: The 2009 DDD was one for the record books but not the sort one usually shoots for. After the regularly scheduled breeze failed to develop the boats were towed about 4 miles up river from the launch site before starting in a weak northeasterly breeze. It took nearly two hours for the wind to clock around to its normal southwesterly direction. Add to all this that the flood tide was late in arriving and it made for the longest DDD in history. The majority of the fleet finished well after dark and the last boat arrived at the finish well after 10:30 PM. It was one for the record books...

That was the official report. A weird year for a very weird race--30 miles one way up the deep water shipping channel to Sacramento. Not normally something you would think of doing in a dinghy, or any boat for that matter.

After a great start I managed to run aground, catch some weed, and do other bonehead things that had me slowly moving to the back of the pack. Then, thanks to Banshee Bob, a favorable current was revealed on the South side of the slough. With the morning easterly shutting down, I crossed the river and put the boat into that fast water. Ah, back in the mix. As we approached the confluence (I swear, this is the only context that that world sounds just right) of the Prospect and Miner Sloughs (Yeah, this was the route to the Gold Country), the wind completely shutdown. Figuring that I was now the river expert after finding the eddy after the start and taking a ride up the South shore as the tide switched, I spied an unusual current line and slid the boat across it certain that it would be another favorable eddy. Oops. Whirlpool! I guess a confluence does this sort of thing. Lost all steerage and just bobbed around watching boats go by. It took some rather vigorous sculling to get myself free. That was the end of bad times, for me anyway.

About this time was when the guy on the Force 5 started yelling at the chase boat, "Hey, this sucks! Shorten course!". They ignored him. Yeah, sailing in crappy wind and swirling current pretty much does suck, but this is racing. Get your boat through it as fast as you can. As most of the fleet was bobbing around in the confluence (a pair of Thistles and a pair of Flying Dutchmen had made it into the shipping channel before coming to a halt), hints of the typical afternoon westerly began to show. A puff from astern, a whisper from abeam. Gotta catch these, and with my big twisty sail, I did. I was sitting in the forward cockpit cross-legged around the dagger board. Westerly puff--yank the board up and ease the sail. Northerly puff--push the board back down, trim in fast, and hang my upper body over the side. Walked right through the fleet passing Lasers (who had started 10 minutes ahead), C15s, and a bunch of other stuff like they were standing still. "Excuse me. Coming through. Pardon me." I soon had all the little boats behind and was gaining on the big guys ahead who couldn't take advantage of their spinnakers in the light, shifty winds.

Eventually, the westerly "filled in" (maybe 5 to 8 knots) and it was a near dead run for a few hours. With spinnakers now flying, the big boats pulled away, but the damage was done. That transition period is where the race was won--stayed in contact with the fast boats and gapped the slow boats. From that point, it was just a few more hours of focus, trimming the mainsheet directly off the boom, fine tuning the attitude of the hull, and sliding left or right to stay in the wind groove down "The Ditch" to Sacramento. All paid off with an overall (and surprising) corrected time win.

But before I finish, I need to express my thanks to the race crew from Lake Washington Sailing Club. What an amazing bunch of volunteers. This is an exceedingly difficult event to coordinate with the shuttling of skippers and trailers, unpredictable finish times, and wide range of boats entered. Sure, some folks were frustrated by the lack of wind, but the chase boats took great care for us all and the shore crew stayed into the late evening to make sure we all made it back safely and had a good party at the end. Thanks, LWSC!

29 July 2009

Like Tarzan. Well maybe George O'Jungle

Huntington Lake is a tricky place to sail. Easy to make a lot of mistakes without really trying hard. Good speed up the lake depends, apparently, on a lot more than just local "knowledge." After all, Charles' knowledge has been posted on the regatta web site for all to see, and yet nobody has beaten him, not even a single race, in like, forever. Why is he so fast? Well, first, he's just plain fast on any water, but he really seems to have the feel and instincts for this particular lake. After being mostly frustrated by what seemed to be just screwy winds last year at the High Sierra Regatta, this year I caught some glimpses of what it must feel like to grok the winds, to understand that they are not screwy, they're just a little complex. (In case you're wondering, I'll get it out right now: No, I didn't beat Charles. Not even close, but at least this year I was close enough to see the color of his boat!)

After finding several ways to mess up an otherwise fine regatta at Whiskeytown, I was determined to keep it simple at Huntington. No fancy strategizing, just good clean tactics. Let others beat me. Let the lake beat me. But, don't let me beat me. After a good fast downwind leg to recover a 2nd in race one, race 2 started with a long beat all the way up the 7 mile lake. Without trying to get fancy, I just focused on the wind patterns revealed by the texture of the water and the sailing angles of all the Lasers who had started with us. It was about half way up the beat that I stumbled upon a rhythm, a strangely graceful feeling that I can only describe as swinging from vine to vine. The puffs behaved just as Charles had described them--they sort of fan out to the sides. Catch a lift up the right side of one, watch for the next, tack over and catch a lift up the left side of that one. Repeat. Holy cow, this is how to make tracks up this lake! Huge gains, that is until you miss one, and then, "watch out for that . . ." Wham! Sailed right into a header or a hole. Back to hunting and grasping for that next vine.

So, the racing was good, but what made the weekend great was the same as last year--fun with family and friends on a beautiful mountain lake. I was blessed to have the full entourage: Mom (with her now famous sailboat cookies), Bill, Kecia, and the kids. This year we stayed in the cabins. Ah, beds and showers (Thanks, Mom and Bill!!) Only problem was figuring out which party to go to. The Folsom crowd had their usual great spread at lake side, and this year Vanguard Fleet 76 out of Benicia made the trip and had quite the campsite cuisine themselves. Didn't want to miss out; so, we went to both!

So that's it. Definitely an annual event now. Racing gets better every year, and the fellowship is always second to none.

27 July 2009

Father's Day Shakedown

Dinghy Delta Ditch was epic, but that entry's gonna have to wait. Deano has been waiting for this cruise video for a long time. Way out of date here, but this is what 4 dads did back on father's day weekend instead of . . . racing in the Catalina 250 Nationals. As explained earlier, Lapras is a cruising boat and we already have other boats for racing. So, cruising we went. In fact, this was the shakedown for young Lapras (for the new owners anyway.) Benicia to Pittsburg and back. Wow, that's exciting. Actually, it was.

Four adults on board was very doable. Plenty of room in the cockpit. Decent sleeping arrangements. Got a little crowded down below trying to get bunked down, dressed in the morning, etc. Food was great. Potluck worked well. Snackmaster Mitch brought all six of the tasty snacks Trader Joe's sells, Jorge a bucket of meat, and Dean all the normal food. I just brought the beer. Next time, more Racer 5, less heifer. Walking into town for dinner and finding great Mexican food was perfect. Could have definitely sailed deeper into the Delta. With favorable tides and strong winds, we made both passages with plenty of sunshine to spare, and the crew felt like sailing some more. Next time . . . Overall, the boat performed beautifully.

For a first trip up the Delta, I think we got really spoiled: great weather, strong wind, fine Mexican food ashore. Gonna be hard to top that. We ate well and sailed well. Sitting at home the next day I had the urge to get right back out there. Alas, racing the little boats is consuming weekends again. Late Summer Cruise #2. That sounds about right.

09 July 2009

I am Alive!

I know because I've spent way more time sailing than blogging lately. Remember when I almost gave up Megabyting? Well, I decided to do one more season. And not that anybody actually keeps up with this blog, but if you did, you should be wondering what happened at the Catalina Nationals. I have no idea. I wasn't there. Turns out I had an epiphany sometime during the long drive back from Whiskeytown. It didn't say, do more Megabyting or race Lapras. It said, "Go cruising in Lapras. That's what you bought her for." Damn right. As for the Megabyte, I was so frustrated after my regatta screw-ups that my first inclination was to sell the boat and check-out of the racing scene by diving exclusively into cruising the big boat. After some time I came to my senses. Cruise Lapras. Race Feraligatr. There it is. Even the names make sense--if you know your Pokemon.

So we went cruising instead of racing on the weekend of the Catalina 250 Nationals, but I'm not going to get into all that right now. (I promise, Dean, I'll post something, video, etc. before I blog about Huntington.) Where was I. Oh yeah, I am alive! Just got back from one last Megabyte practice session before this weekend's High Sierra Regatta. I can't say I'm now nailing all my roll tack and gybes, but I just felt so alive out there. It was windy enough to get into a full hike, choppy enough to require some boat man-handling, and just scary enough to nearly dime my attention. This is something my non-sailor friends have a hard time understanding. How can something that is barely faster than walking be so invigorating? It just is.

And, it feels good.