Some Wind, Please

Sailing in the local races this fall has been a continuing lesson in light-wind sailing.  This week’s race was no different.  The National Weather Service told us we’d have North-Northeast winds at six miles per hour, but on the surface of Alum Creek’s lake we couldn’t locate that much anywhere.  When the motors were stopped on the sailboats participating it took all the skill of the skippers and crews to keep any and all momentum on the hulls.  And since turning the boats burns off most of any energy the hull has, trimming the sails to draw what little moving air there might be across the sails to draft the boats upwind.

The start was such that I took Lifeline away from the committee boat on purpose.  That kept me well away from the rest of the Catalina fleet, and my sails full of air.  An anomaly on the start though put me below the mark and instead of moving parallel with the fleet I was obliged to change course and move across the lake.  They were moving forward, I was moving ‘sideways’ and my start put me behind.  If you saw any of the early races in the America’s Cup, or are a patron of my web log, you know that making up time doesn’t happen very often.

Turns out, this time it all worked in my favor, …somewhat.

You see, the Catalina 22’s are, by design, the slower boats in our fleet.  The hull length at the water line is shorter than most of the other boats.  The masts are lower, and booms shorter, so we have less sail area to catch the wind than do the other boats.  This week we were starting first, and that meant at some point any or all of the other boats would catch up to us.  If the skippers were sailing for tactical speed, they would sail upwind of us and shadow any wind from our sails with their own.  It only lasts for a minute or two normally and has come to be accepted by the fleet skippers.  Today would be no exception.

Did I mention the wind was light?  Even though I had moved across the lake I gained a little better lay-line (what we call our best/desired point of sail toward a target) on the upwind marker buoy.  By the time I had come back over to fleet coarse toward the mark, the other Catalina’s had tacked over and were making for the line I was already on.  In the mean time, the faster boats had started and taken the same route I had taken.  They were passing me now, with more distance between us than normal.  I didn’t slow much when they went by.

None-the-less, they passed me by and were catching my competition.  I realized I was still below the marker buoy and tacked over again to make my way further upwind.  This put my back to the fleet  When I came back over to fleet course again I was on a good lay-line and above most of the rest of the fleet.  But what I noticed was few boats had rounded the mark.  The wind had dies off and boats were pointed in all different directions.  Some skippers were able to keep their momentum moving forward.  Others had gambled and tried to reach another swirl of air off to port or starboard.  Few were moving and fewer had rounded the mark, including the ‘faster’ boats.  It was all relative tonight.

By the time I was approaching the mark I had passed my first competitor and was approaching the second.  Penguin II and I seemed to be trading places all year and the ladies were working all their skills to catch some air in their sails.  They were stuck in a large lull on the lake only a couple boat lengths away from the mark.  I had to cross that same lull.  I was in a good breeze and could see some cat’s paws across the lull near the shore.  I checked the whole rig and tightened my jib just a little,… just a ‘touch’.  It was enough.  I coasted through the three boat lengths of the lull and found the breeze on the other side strong enough to turn Lifeline, head down to the mark, and round it, and make back toward the middle of the lake.  The middle usually has some moving air…usually.  I was counting on it tonight as the sun had already set and seeing the water was becoming more and more difficult.

Teak-Keel-Ah, 2nd Wind, and most of the rest of the fleet was still out in front of me.  I would only catch one more in the next hour.  One other boat would drop out, such was the lack of excitement from nature’s breath tonight.  But most would stay in the race.  Laughter was heard across the water as jokes and stories were told and memories recalled and new ones made.  Me, each time I thought of quitting I remembered Oracle’s trials of the last two.  “Stick with it, wait for the time to elapse” I told myself.  “A sailor is at home when s/he’s on the deck and already where s/he wants to be.”  I stayed my course as darkness surrounded us all.

A little less than an hour later (we only had a mile to go) I started hearing horns from the committee boat.  Someone was finishing the course.  We had a race, now, and the rest of us would either finish in time or take a DNF.  My anxiety grew.  I already had too many DNF’s for the year.  The announcement over the radio about having only twelve minutes left to reach the line didn’t help any.  I could see the line and the Race Committee was shining their spot on my sail to see who I was.  “Lifeline! 4-9-0-9!” I shouted.  I finished.  My closest competitor was Teak-Keel-Ah twenty one minutes ahead.  2nd Wind was just two minutes faster than her.  Penguin II and the ladies would finish as well, but Koinonia would ‘suffer’ all the effort for a DNF.  A thanks goes out to another Catalina crew who conducted the race committee tonight, Bon Aire.  (Not racing in the fall series.  SOMEONE got to GO to watch America’s Cup in person!)

Four weeks of racing and the Old Fox Regatta left on Alum Creek for the year.  Here’s hoping we get some wind before the year is out.

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