“How close are we?”
“You’re good up front for the moment!”
Laughing audible from the boat in front of us.
“Back off, BACK OFF!”
“OK, sheets are slack. Tell me when we’re clear.”
“Can you go up higher?”
“I’m in the wind already. I can’t get above Jim.”
Penguin shifted course further down wind. Jim Foreman’s boat gained some distance as I brought Lifeline back on a port tack (wind over my port side) and picked up speed again in the somewhat-less-than-five-knot breeze we were sailing in. It was dark. I had the stern lamps of Jim’s boat and Penguin as night lights on the water in front of me. Jim Miles was on my bow. He said we needed to balance our weight, get the stern of the boat (not the term he used) out of the water, but I suspected he was just enjoying the ride better up forward and in this situation it’s exactly where he should be.
“Let’s go at it again.”
I had some speed again and was gaining on Jim and Eileen’s crew on Penguin. Lifeline nosed behind Jim’s stern off to starboard. Eileen shifted course and came back up toward the two of us. It was insane to try to go below Jim’s bigger boat. He shadows my wind and I wouldn’t get buy. But I was just above Penguin and Eileen knew I’d do the same to her with Lifeline if I got into the gap and could force Jim up. This was the same situation in the last two starts of the America’s Cup only there were three of us in the mix and it was near the finish. We only had a couple hundred yards to go.
“You’ve got some room!” Jim hollered from the bow.
“Eileen’s coming up. You can’t see here from there, she’s behind the jib.”
The Catalina’s were inches apart and Eileen was right on with her tactics. I played chicken as long as I could and turned Lifeline further upwind and toward Jim ahead of me.
“Watch out!” he shouted.
“#@$%$!” I cursed loudly. “OK!!” and I backed off again with only an inch between Penguin and Lifeline’s rub rails. It’s not like we were going to damage anything on anyone’s boat in this wind, but getting penalized or disqualified wasn’t something I wanted to risk arguing over at a race committee protest board.
I backed Lifeline off and turned upwind, on purpose, to back the jib. “Jib’s backing!?” shouted Jim Miles from the bow.
“I know. I’m putting on the brake.” The idea was to make the same maneuver I made last month on Teak-Keel-Ah in a similar situation. That night I put on the brake, cleared Teak-Keel-Ah’s stern, dropped down wind, and passed Bruce, who had pointed too high trying to stop me. This night I thought I had an advantage. With Eileen pushing up she was getting shadowed by Jim’s bigger boat. If I could brake, accelerate, and drop below her in the wind far enough I could shoot past her and move up into third place. It wouldn’t change the standings of the series over all but I would have some more confidence getting toward the upcoming Old Fox regatta.
“Well @#$%! I’m in both their dirty air.” The move wouldn’t work this night and both Jim and Eileen sailed ahead by… well, they just sailed away. In the dark I couldn’t see any ‘cat’s paws’ on the water, I couldn’t see my jib’s tell-tails, and I lost the feel of the wind on my face. Nothing left to do but finish sailing the course.
Koninia kept the end of the race interesting. She had taken a deeper tack, steering wide of the traffic jam we had created. She was down wind and a length or two ahead, but she was too deep to make the finish line. She tacked over to a starboard tack and it looked as though we might have to either tack over as well or duck behind. Either way Lifeline would have had to give way and fall back another place in the finish. God must have known her skipper has infinitely more patience than I and Lifeline crossed ahead of Koinonia by more than a boat length. But I’d let Lifeline drift down pretty far watching the other boat and now we were near to not crossing as well. I headed up into the wind, and as light as it was it let us drift forward and finish the race without changing course.
Eileen and her crew had sailed Penguin with perfect tactics and kept Lifeline and me at bay. Well done! As we have traded places back and forth, the race for third in the series was close, but only for the first couple of weeks. Penguin’s crew “gots skills”. Earlier in the summer she was putting her boat in shadowed winds from other boats (including mine) and making some tactical error that put Penguin at a disadvantage. This night she showed how much Penguin’s crew had improved this year, and that included lessons Lifeline’s skipper (that would be me) had already forgotten.
Nicely done, Eileen, Paula, and Shannon!
Thanks to Jim Miles for sailing with me this week. It was good to have company on board.