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Thursday, January 31, 2019

January 26, 2019-One Great Regatta

wingssail images-nikk white
Wings' Crew

We’re a team, those of us who sail on Wings. Judy thinks of us as a family and she is right, but it’s a family which works together towards a goal. That goal is to sail this boat as well as we can.

January was a busy month for the Wings team. We sailed in 9 races; every Wednesday, every Saturday
Wednesdays were Beer Can Races. Like beer can races everywhere they are supposed to be casual, short races, no formal handicapping or results posted, and people drink beer.

Try telling that to the handful of boats which came out each Wednesday for our races. Truth is our Wednesday Beer Can races were hard fought. Nothing casual. No beer cans to be seen any Wednesday, not until the race was over.

Wednesdays were tough for team Wings. Our competitors were all faster boats. Without a handicap to level the playing field we knew we had little chance to win.

But win we did.

In the five beer can races we got one first, one second, and three thirds. Not bad.

We worked hard for those results. Our crew was still not the fine tuned machine we wanted it to be, and we had our problems. Those problems cost us a couple of first places. There was a lot of noise on the boat, you could call it yelling. Uncharacteristic yelling. Constructive, but yelling none the less.

We hated that. This is not us.

wingssail images-lisa diel

But by the end of the month though we’ve largely put that behind us. We’re working better as a team. The boat is much quieter and fewer problems are tripping us.

And we are happy about the Beer Can races even if we didn’t win every race; we were a factor; we’re the boat they all have to beat.

But this story is not about the Beer Can Wednesdays.

It’s about the Vallarta Cup; the four race series run by the Vallarta Yacht Club on each of the four Saturdays in January. In this series we did pretty good.

In fact we were dominant in the Vallarta Cup. We got three first places and one third place. On cumulative points nobody was close.

A lot of that success was due to preparation. Our Beer Can Races helped. We considered them to be little more than practices (they were). For the Vallarta Cup we also studied the weather forecasts and knew ahead of time what probable conditions we would face on Saturday and we made sail choices based on that analysis.

The crew was good. They were solid. Richard, John and Judy (our afterguard) got us to the starting lines on time, and in the right place. I just took their direction. It worked. The trimmers and grinders wailed on the winches; they were tireless. I was amazed at what energy they put out.

The halyards went perfectly, and that is even with Carol doubling as the genoa tailer on every tack. Wow!

The foredeck kept ahead of the game. It wasn’t easy for them, but they never held us back or failed to get the job done. They’ve come a long ways.

We made few mistakes. Each Saturday John gave pre-race briefings and the crew knew what we would face, and they were ready. Tacks? We never missed one. Sail handling? Perfect. That is what we need!

Plus, the boat was fast. On each race we came out of the blocks sailing faster and pointing higher than any of the competition. We usually made it to the first mark in first place, and then, as the faster boats inched past we just had to hang on to get the win at the end.

The last race, the fourth and final race of the Vallarta Cup, will, however, stand out for a long time in all of our memories.

It was a windy race and it had tough upwind and heavy downwind legs, exactly what we needed. We are a tough boat and that is what you need in a race like that. And you have to push yourself hard. It was a serious race. A big wind race.

We were ready for it.

In that race they sent the slow boats ahead first and the fastest boats were started last. Each boat’s start time was determined by its handicap rating. We were right in the middle; five boats ahead of us and five boats behind. Whoever got to the finish first would win. For us to win we had to pass all the slower boats ahead while not letting any of the faster boats, which started behind, pass us.

But that race was our race. It was the course and wind conditions which suited us best. And we knew it. We were excited.

We got a perfect start, which might seem easy since it was just us, but I could hear the beeping of the clock counting down and the start line was right there and there were still seconds to go and I thought it could be close, we might be early, but it was perfect. Thanks John and Richard.

On the first leg, 4.5 miles, we gained on the boats ahead but caught none of them. The speedier boats behind gained ominously but did not catch us. Tension!

Then we got to the La Cruz mark and turned upwind. The breeze was up. We came around the mark and sheeted in; power. This is Wings’ weather. The boat heeled over and we pointed higher. Ten of us climbed to the high side and lined the rail lending our weight to offset the pressure of the wind. We played the beach closely as this was our home ground and we knew the way. We made our tacks crisp and well timed and we started to reel in the boats ahead. By the time we rounded the top mark 2.5 miles later we had passed 4 of the 5 boats which had been in front of us. The fifth one was close ahead.

But the bigger, faster, boats behind were charging too. We looked back and saw them ever closer, gaining.

Now came our ace in the hole. The last leg, 6.5 miles, was directly downwind, and the wind was up: 19 knots. This is what Wings was made for.

We rounded that mark, bore off to downwind, and set the big symmetrical kite. The boat surged. With that sail we could go almost directly to the finish. The boats behind us carried asymmetrical kites. They could not sail as deeply downwind as we could. They needed to reach high to keep the assyms filled.

We watched them round behind us and start charging. But they charged the wrong way! They are sailing high of the course, they had to! A warm feeling started to come over us. This could be good.

Still, it was early. They are sailing high but fast. We didn’t know if they could catch us or not. We trimmed and worked the boat but otherwise the crew all sat there, tensely, quietly; nobody speaking, no small talk going on. We looked behind us. The asymmetrical kites looked bigger. The boats looked faster.

Could we hold them off?

One by one the boats behind jibed over and crossed our wake. They had not gained! We started to think we might be able to do it.

Meanwhile we flew. The pole was back, the main out, the boat heeled to windward by the force of the wind. Every line was bar tight, the rudder hummed. We turned to the stern and watched behind.

This is the part I will remember: The spinnaker is way out there, the boat is straining. The sky is blue, the ocean is blue, the sun is bright, we are flying. But we are going a little by the lee, Kelly has to hold the main from coming across, and the boat was rolling to windward; usually not a good sign. We are on the edge.

Someone on the crew asks, ”Should we try to balance the boat?”

“No”, I answered, “I can hold this, and it is fast this way.” The boat rolled further, but I held it.

We could see that now with just a mile to go that those boats back there would not make it.

“They won’t catch us.” said John.

But one boat, Mony, was still ahead, barely. I worked the tiller, and edged us forward. We came up to Mony, side by side. They were to weather and that was good for them because we had to get through their lee if we were to pass them.

I told the trimmers, “When we hit their wind shadow I’m going to turn up fast and cut in front of them, you shift the pole forward and sheet the kite in.”

“OK Fred.”

That move worked. In just a few seconds we got through and now had a clear path ahead.

But we’d never really been sailing exactly towards the finish line; just a few degrees above it. On this course we wouldn’t actually make it to the finish line. A jibe was needed.

Now the crew got ready for the jibe towards the line. It would have to be timed right and there was a possibility of a foul-up. The forward hands were on the foredeck practicing the dip pole.

I said, “Hold off on that jibe, I think the wind is going to shift left, in fact I feel it already, it will take us down to the finish. No Jibe!”

The wind did shift and came almost on the beam. We put the pole foreword and swept across the line, first.

We beat the rest of the boats by at least ten minutes except for Mony, who was just a few yards behind us. So they were second. But before the rest of the fleet finished we’d stopped counting. We had already popped the corks on our Champaign.

With this win, this dominating win, we locked up the series.

It felt great.

wingssail images-lisa diel

Click here for a few more images.

Fred & Judy, SV Wings, Mexico

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Anonymous Jim S said...

Exciting to read--not easy to do since sailing is kind of boring unless you were there. Well sailed; well written.

05 February, 2019 20:33  

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