Finally we have conditions in Marblehead we can race in on Saturday June 11th. Fleet 9 fielded a fleet of 9 boats for what turned out to be our home opener. We powered out in a calm harbor but before we turned the corner a 5- 6 knot southerly was filling in at 11 AM. The fleet was kind of slow getting off the dock so there was not a lot time to tune up prior to the warning. The tide was flooding all day and wind was forecasted to gradually build and go right in the afternoon with chance of some light rain which is pretty much what happened. It struck me once or twice on the way out that I couldn’t think of a place I would have rather be. It was great to be sailing again in Marblehead chilly as it was.
Africa tuned up with the first two boats to check in at Tinkers line, Lead Foot and Rascal. Since it was pretty light but a little lumpy we experimented with 2 setting below base but then tightened to 1.5 settings below base to keep the head stay from being too bouncy. Backstay was eased and the bridle tackle was at top (held up by 2mm bungee). We selected to use a more broken in jib from last summer for that light forecast. I was kind of surprised that many boats were slow to get out there to do a complete windward and leeward leg tune up.
Cindy and I were very fortunate to have Will Felder trimming and Alex Cook on tactics and wind. It is critical to have the whole team involved in the discussion about tuning, trim, strategy and wind. I am always talking about what I’m thinking about the wind and tide so that the whole team is on the same page and contribute in what they are observing as well. I think the most critical dynamic on a team is to have the entire team engaged and involved with the decision process. Four minds are better than one. It’s such a pleasure to sail when a team like this is when it is firing on all cylinders.
After the windward tune up we hoisted the kite and made sure that the luff cord tension was correct on the kite and got a feel for the correct speed and angles downwind for that wind speed. In the practice wind speed of 5-6 knots we seemed to like Tactick (paddle wheel) boat speed target of 5.1 to 5.2 knots (maybe as fast as 5.3 to 5.4 in that wind speed). I make sure the longest full batten #3 is in tight enough to give the main enough depth for downwind. The top full batten #2 is adjusted to be just tight enough to not have wrinkles in the pocket. We ease the outhaul to make main fuller downwind. Vang is cleated just firm enough so boom is not bouncing. I find if leech on main is moving too much (too open) there is not as much load on the mainsheet. I like to play the main off the single part of the mainsheet downwind so I can feel the load to help determine the correct angle to steer and make sure the vang has the correct setting. Still I am always sailing to target speeds based on what the trimmer is telling me and feel on the mainsheet. The nice thing about a J70 is how quickly it is accelerates in small changes in heading but decelerates just as fast. That is why holding the mainsheet one to one from the boom helps keep me more in tune with the correct angle downwind. Our team is very disciplined about getting weigh forward and balanced downwind.
Compared with when we first got out there the wind actually went left prior to the first gun. The committee was struggling with setting the pin end since it was not streaming the start mark properly and the pin would drift downwind and down current after it deployed the anchor. So all day long the windward end was favored but more skewed in race # 1. One thing I knew going into race #1 is that the start was going to be crowded at the boat end and the fleet would set up too close to the line too early (because that is the common mistake – it’s predictable). I think that as the fleet becomes more confident in its starting that it will learn to approach in a more disciplined fashion. Rule # 1, 2 3, 4 and 5 is don’t have less meters to the line than seconds remaining to start or you will have to be decelerating or reaching down the line in the final 10 seconds. I started at the boat end because the fleet set up early and close to the line so the boat end opened up with some right to left current component. There were no over earlies but the fleet was bunched up in a pinch fest off the line which is always a loser. We took a two quick tacks (after a speed build) to be able to sail our target speeds upwind which was about 5.2 to 5.4 knots and as high as 5.5 in the puffs at full chat in that 5 to 7 knots stuff.
We had discussed and investigated prior to the start that the current was adverse upwind and seemed strongest to the right. So the current play was left upwind. I think many decided to go right since the forecast was for the wind to build and go right during the day. However, prior to the start the wind did make a right shift to 185 and the committee had the windward mark set accordingly. Since we weren’t sure when it would go more right we were cautious in our positioning to not lose touch with the fleet or get boxed out to one side. I thought the fleet went too far to the right when in fact the left had more pressure and a little left shift. Locomotion favored left of the fleet and Rascal dug themselves out of the right by bailing out soon enough while the fleet was crossing on port. I didn’t see how continuing right would benefit the fleet since we were close to lay line and lanes back on starboard would be limited. That allowed Rascal to pass many boats by clearing out to the left and rounded in top 3 at weather mark behind Africa and Spring. Locomotion should have protected the advantaged left at the top of the beat and lost some distance by coming back to the right too soon. The majority of the fleet was struggling for a clean lane on starboard.
Not much happened on the run and if anything it seemed to pay to continue on starboard out to the right side downwind but most the fleet gybed early so Africa just stayed with the fleet.
The problem with one leeward mark is that it favors the leaders. I think MRA should always try to set a square gate. MRA can generally do it prior to the first race and always adjust it after the Rhodes starts. Because the line was not square the Rhodes ended doing too many recall starts and the J70’s rounded the leeward mark before the Rhodes started.
Second beat was interesting. I think during the first half of the beat the left paid but second half the righty pressure finally filled in and was a big advantage to be right on the last half of the beat.
I noticed a lot of boat experimenting with wing on wing on the runs. I actually think it was too light for wing on wing in race # 1. I think it needs to be 8 knots or more and we didn’t see that. Good to practice but better to practice in the wind speed that wing on wing works in (8 to 15 knots).
Race # 2 was more about the dramatic right shift on the first beat. The wind seemed to fill in with helicopter puffs and as soon as it came it seemed to go away. Chinook led out of the right but gave up its lead by tacking short of Africa instead of getting between Africa and the mark but Chinook still rounded a close second. Basically the wind filled in steadier out of the right so that the runs became fetches and the 2nd beat did as well so that for the most part the race was a parade. Because of the freshening right shift the fleet could set on the offset leg and gybe at the offset mark for a tight spinnaker each to the finish.
Locomotion did the best job of passing boats on the tight spinnaker reach to the finish. The 3 up teams struggled on a challenging tight power reach which was not quite planning but fully loaded up to be able to fetch the finish with the spinnaker. On Africa we just blew the vang and kept the backstay on to keep the main flatter and depowered and support the head stay so that the jib flies better. Also, by having the backstay on helps keep the spinnaker luff firmer for that tight reaching. The main just luffed most the reach until it lightened up at the end. The rudder will stall easily so you can’t have too much main or the boat will wipe out. Locomotion got into that mode the quickest and was able to ride the high road into second place.
I’m not sure why there was not a 3rd race but I’m guessing due to the right shift the committee could not get a square starting line or beat for the Rhodes 19’s and had a lot of recall starts. By the time we finished the Vipers were just starting race # 2.