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Sunday, September 02, 2007

August 19, 2007-Windy Day at Western Circuit

wingssail image-fredrick roswold
Windy and white-out conditions

Three weeks after Day 2 of the Western Circuit I still have vivid images from that race.

The strongest is of power; the power of big sails and big wind. A squall blew through and for nearly an hour the boat was sailing in the 8’s and 9’s as the wind reached the low 30’s. We were powered up.

Wings was driving through the seas, a river sweeping by the hull, white foam rolling along side. The power gripped the rig and the hull and strained the sheets and I could feel the power in my hands on the helm. It was a good feeling to have excess power at my disposal, and the strong, solid feel of the boat was reassuring and gave me confidence. I love how the boat’s reactions to my input quicken at that speed and I love it when I can harness, control, manage, and use that power. I could feel the pressure on the rudder of the flow of the water and the turbulence and the way the boat would respond and swerve to my pull on the tiller; all of this I felt with my body and my hands and in the hairs on the back of my neck and it left an indelible and intoxicating image. After sailing like that you just want more. I love that kind of sailing

wingssail image-fredrick roswold
White Squall

Then there was the visibility. We never noticed that the visibility was blanking out; we were inwardly focused, our world was 43 feet long and a few yards more, just the water directly in front of us and we were set on controlling our wild ride not looking around, but the visibility got bad. In fact there wasn’t any; the conditions were “white out”. Some boats lost their way. It came to us that we were charging along blind, we didn’t know where we were, we couldn’t even see Marambong Island to give us our bearings; it must be time to turn, but where is the mark. Check the computer.

Judy went below and after a few seconds I called to her, “Where is it?”
Her voice came up from the nav station, “Bearing Three Four Zero, ¼ mile”
I looked to the left, a flash of yellow steel wallowing in the waves, washed by the seas; we were nearly past it. “Ok, I got it”.
To the crew: “Standby to jibe.”

The jibe was a bang and a shock as the main, even on the short leash where Omar had ground it in to before I turned, slammed over and hit the stops. And the running backstay was still on, not cleated, but with too many wraps on the winch and it didn’t run out; the mainsail was plastered against it. I yelled and the tail was thrown off the winch and the main flew out. No damage done. The rest of the boat was cleaned up from the jibe and we settled down on the new heading for the run home.

Now ahead in the gloom we could just see Foxy Lady and Panic with their kites up and we could see Lunchcutter who had set their asym and flown past us in a cloud of spray. They were all were having trouble with the spinnakers. Foxy hadn’t jibed and they were headed towards the beach at 10 knots, running out of water. We saw a round up then a round down and then the spinnaker blew through the fore triangle and they were knocked down, beam to the seas. For a few minutes we could see them bareheaded, going the wrong way, just regaining control. I don’t know if something like that happened to Panic, didn’t see it, but suddenly they were bareheaded too, and while we watched Lunchcutter just ahead their kite just disappeared. We hadn’t set our spinnaker and at that point we were glad. We put the jib out on the pole and had an easier time of it than the boats ahead.

The other good memory was the earlier race against the squall on our approach to the turning mark. We were coming in with the ounce-and-a-half up on a tight reach in 15 knots of wind, already walking a fine line, on the edge, but the boat was taking it, the rudder held, the sail was quiet, we’re OK. A mile away from the mark Judy noticed the dark clouds coming in on the left; coming in fast. She voiced concern; a blow was on the way, and we had the biggest sail up, wind abeam, close to overpowered already, not a configuration in which to get caught by a blow; big problems if that happened. I looked at the sky and the dark water and I looked ahead to the mark. Should we drop the kite? There were boats near us, pushing, surfing, maybe gaining. Lunchcutter was just behind and to leeward and coming fast. If we dropped we’d lose to them but if we had the kite up when that wind hit we’d have trouble. I looked at the mark again. Tightness in my chest, nervous, but it was judgment time; time to make the call.

“Let’s hold, I think we can beat it.”

The wind started to build ahead of the squall but it went aft a little and we kept our control. More wind. The mark was 1/4 mile away now, just a minute or two more; the jib was in the feeder, ready to go up, but I held my nerve and we continued on. Nobody on the boat said a word. Everybody’s eyes were glued on the green mark ahead. We were holding our breaths.

We carried the kite right to the mark, dropped as we turned and tacked immediately in one tight maneuver just as the wind came on hard. No room for Lunchcutter inside of us, not even two feet between us and the mark. We forced Lunchcutter to round outside.

Beating The Squall

The wind hit like a hammer. In the blast we reached off toward the Singapore side under number one and full main, flying, Lunchcutter on our hip to windward. I chanced a look back and saw the next boat behind dismasted and dead in the water; a pile of sails and spars and rigging on the deck, the crew looking dazed. Their regatta was over. To leeward boats still on the way to the mark with spinnakers up were having problems: round ups, flagging kites, flagging mains; we could see more dark round bottoms of boats showing then shiny topsides. We were in good shape though, holding a safe angle in the building breeze with only plain sails on a fast jib reach trimming aggressively and holding off Lunchcutter who rode our wake and stayed right there all the way to the next mark.

There the race course turned downwind enough for the kite again, but by then the breeze was over 28 and it was still building. For us the kite was out of the question. Lunchcutter popped their asymmetrical however and they were gone. Nothing we could do.

Later the wind dropped and we could have set but there was a hard rain, the finish was a mile or two off, we were just about home and we were still going 7.5 knots. I delayed, couldn’t make the decision, and even though Marco asked if were still racing I didn’t make the call for the kite. I waited. The rain came harder, in big drops. I had visions of a huge soaked sail down below after the race, and I looked at my sodden crew and I said, “Throw it below”. We sailed in with the jib; it was a costly decision, we were only a few minutes out of second place.

A more costly decision though was on the beat out to Johore early in the race. We were crossing tacks with Foxy and Panic, and after Marambong they went in to the beach and we stayed out for one hitch too many. I didn’t think it was right; Judy didn’t think it was right, but Omar did. It was his job to make the call and he said stay out, so we went with it. But I looked up to weather, to the beach where Foxy and Panic had a lift and more pressure and I would have done anything to be there. We weren’t. On the next tack Panic had us by 5 minutes. Omar was crestfallen. It’s Ok, Omar, we all do it.

We ended up in third, losing to Panic and Lunchcutter, but beating Foxy Lady by 10 seconds on corrected time. At the post race party Peter Forbes told me that we looked under control all day. I guess we were in control, on the outside. Inside, well inside, it was a memorable day.

And it is for days like that I sail.

Fred & Judy, SV Wings, Singapore

Click here for more images from the Western Circuit Regatta

Click here to go to the event website

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