Often it’s exciting to finish a project, game, or celebration by ‘going out with a bang!’ Consider how we finish up our celebrations on July 4th with fireworks and even at the end of fireworks, these past several years there are even more fireworks in the last couple of minutes of the show. As welcome as this excitement is, finishing the sailing season with a ‘bang’ is not a preferred event. Rather, earning the horn as the first in class to finish a race is. So went the weekend as Lifeline and I sailed in the Old Fox Regatta sponsored by the Alum Creek Sailing Association in Delaware County Ohio.
I’ve looked forward to this weekend since the schedule for the year came out in February. It circles around my birthday every year and since I love sailing so much my wife gives me the weekend as her present to me. It’s also the last major event of the sailing season and most of those racers in the Association come out, several people come into the area from out of town (this year one team brought their boat down from Windsor, Canada), and the race is managed by several more of our Association members who pitch in to support the event. It’s not America’s Cup. It IS the Alum Cup. This year we sailed seven races over two days.
Day one was wet with dreary gray clouds filling the sky as a swift moving weather front brought plenty of wind to us. The rain was steady most of the day. The wind was only up around seven-to-ten miles per hour (the Weather Service doesn’t report in ‘knots’ for inland wind velocity). The wind was shifty, though, and quite so. With each passing cloud formation it ducked, swirled, and slipped past the sixteen sets of sails we had out on the water in a different direction. Crews were constantly tending sails if they were to get the best speed out of their vessels. ‘Crew’ for Lifeline meant just me. If you’ve been following my stories for a while, you know I sail single handed, meaning solo. So I was more than just ‘axles-&-elbows’ (my grandkids might read this) in working to maintain both a steady keel AND keep Lifeline on course and in the race.
The challenges added to the crews in such events include the mixing of several classes of sailboat on the water at the same time. This isn’t the normal Wednesday night flotilla out to enjoy the weather while honing skills. This is the reason several crews hone their skills, and this was OUR party. We all wanted to show well against the out-of-town crews. Competitiveness is at the fore and making best speed to get the horn on the race is the goal. Everyone wants to be in first place here, even those like me who know we can’t. There’s always a chance someone will make a mistake and being close enough is sometimes just enough to win a race.
Saturday’s rain didn’t dampen the use of the spinnakers by the Wavelength or Daysailer fleets. The former is larger and faster than the Catalina I sail, the latter is smaller, and as I sail and they sail, some are faster than my Catalina is as well. On the course, we were starting the Catalina’s and the Daysailers together this year. Skippers signing up verses Skippers showing up and racing were only at a fifty-per-cent ratio this year. Dodging each other on the course was just one more skill crews had to exercise. With less than a boat length (twenty-two feet) between Lifeline and Lady Rose, a Wavelength called ‘Wave Equation’ bore down on us with their spinnaker flying. Both of us watched from out helms for two reasons. Behind us, Wavelength would take the wind from our sails and we would slow down. But going between us? That would be a gutsy move since her skipper couldn’t know how the wind would gust. It appeared he would chose to do that, closing in on my starboard quarter when I hollered to him “which way are you going?” Either Lifeline or Lady Rose would give way to this faster boat to avoid a collision. Both of us ended up suffering from a loss of our wind. Wave Equation closed on Lifeline and as expected, she slowed. Then, the skipper veered off toward Lady Rose and passed her on her starboard side. Wavelength wouldn’t split the difference, but she took a shared of wind from both the other two boats. No matter to Lady Rose or Lifeline, we were both bringing up the rear of our respective fleets. Just some excitement as the three boats jockeyed to cross the finish line.
Sunday would wake bright, cooler, and clear but with increased wind behind the Saturday’s front. It would be a great day for sailing. The wind blew up from the south, so the cold was unusual. It must have been blowing ten-to-twelve at the start and it would grow through the day. The direction of the wind let the Race Committee run the course the length of the lake with few shifts of the windward mark and a full one-mile course out and back. The performance boat class and the Wavelengths would run twice around while the JAM fleet, Catalinas, and Daysailers would make a single loop for each race. The races were faster, the wind blew harder, and the crews would have to work quicker to earn that horn this day.
Lifeline and I were behind from the start of the day. The motor was stuck in reverse so I couldn’t motor out. And I was late arriving to begin with. A radio call to the Committee boat let them know I was present and why I wasn’t near the Start Box. That same call got me a tow from 2nd Wind, one of my Association shipmates and a competitor in the regatta. Kevin and Doug came over and pulled me from the dock about a half mile to the end of the channel where I asked them to release my line so they could make the first start. Did I mention the shifting wind? I had them let go the line while I was still in the lee of the trees and the peninsula that bounds the south side of the channel. Never the less there was enough of a swirl to push me toward shore while I raised my sails. ‘BUMP’…Lifeline was aground on the bottom. Fortunately, I have a swing keel and have had enough experience to know what that BUMP meant. My second challenge of the day was to raise the keel to get free of the bottom, trim the sails, turn the tiller and rudder, and get away from the shore. Mission accomplished without too much excitement, I trimmed the sails and ran downwind to the start. It looked like the Committee was having some issues getting the buoys set for the course so I would make the start.
The wind was blowing strong enough that I was making four mph with the mainsail out full and my number one (smallest) jib out front. It was a great ride and all were seen to be making nice bow wakes as we sailed up and down the start line and beyond. The end of the start line seemed close to shore but the Committee assured us there was plenty of room to the bottom for us to make turns down that way. ‘BUMP’… and Lifeline was spinning on her keel for the second time this day. Now, I’m about twenty yards from the other shore of the lake and the wind was blowing full on the sails and the hull. I loosed the sails sheets, jumped to the fore of the cockpit, reached down and cranked up the keel,””BLAAAAAAAAAH”” ….went the start horn….off the bottom drifted Lifeline, trim the sails, come about through the wind, crank the keel board back down (class rule, my keel board has to be down) look back at the start line and make a course for crossing it,… here comes Lady Rose again, duck behind her…oops, there’s the Committee boat,….head Lifeline up…. Miss the Committee boat (by a foot?)…drift on past before being able to trim and really get into the race. Oh, bye-the-way, “I hit bottom over at the end of the line” I said as I passed, “about twenty feet off the buoy.” Off I sailed. Last again, but last is third this weekend, even if the Daysailers did pass me.
So here we go for the second race, same scene, right down to running aground again at the end of the line. This time I thought I was turning soon enough and I was actually into the turn toward the line when I hit. This time I HIT, not BUMP, but HIT…Lifeline healed, the sheets were already free as I was coming around through the wind. Both sails luffed loudly… I swore…. This time the heel of the boat freed me so all I had to do was get the sails trimmed to come back under control. I looked over at the line and the last boats were crossing. 2nd Wind was at the Committee boat and Lady Rose was well behind. By golly (my grandkids might read this) I’m gonna’ make the start THIS TIME!!
I port tacked the fleet, again. Port tacking the fleet means everyone was going to their left and I was trying to cross them by going right. Imagine everyone coming to an intersection of six-lane road and there’s no traffic light. And in these vehicles there’s no making a stop and then going again. It’s a game of chicken.
Lifeline leapt in the stiffening wind, the sails filled and we were moving faster than we had since being up on Lake Erie. 2nd Wind was going to beat me to the line and I would have to give way but Lady Rose was well behind the line and I would clear her with no trouble. I saw 2nd Wind’s bow cross mine and I steered Lifeline behind her. I cleared her hull by inches and headed back up. YES!! Then, “STAR…BOOM!!!” and there was a Daysailer alongside my starboard rail with a two-inch penetration in her gunn’le and a four inch split down the side of the hull.
Both the Committee boat and I now focused on the damaged boat and her skipper, we checked to make sure he wasn’t hurt. A few choice words and angry comments, (no swearing by her skipper was heard) and the Daysailer skipper trimmed his sails, recovered a steady keel and sailed out away from the Start line. Lifeline followed. Another couple of minutes and more assurances, some comments about how this was the first accident to affect his fifty-five year old boat, and off he sailed to the State Marina to tie up and look. I followed in Lifeline to the channel buoy before turning around while the Race Committee’s chase boat went over to follow up on the skipper and see to his needs.
I sailed Lifeline back over to the Committee boat where it was suggested that since I had hit another boat I was invited to withdraw from that race. Of course, I did without hesitation. I brought Lifeline about and sailed back across the lake checking her out as I did. All seemed normal and I considered pulling in at the State dock myself. Not relishing an encounter with the boat and skipper I had damaged, I came about and hove-to. With the sails set to let me drift safely with the wind and back across the lake, I crawled up to the bow and looked over the side. I had some paint and wax scraped off the prow but no other damage. I went back to the cockpit and watched the race I was disqualified from finish up.
The day was made for sailing and that we had a regatta with now fourteen boats racing made for a beautiful sight on the lake. We would see many pictures later that night from Association members that took photos from the shore and from their own boats that displayed the colors of our sails and hulls against the colors of the leaves on the shore. It was a wonderfully bright sight to experience. (Find AlumCreekSailing on Facebook for photos)
Drifting across the lake was a good idea. It allowed me to relax and run the situation of the crash through my mind. ‘BUMP’ again,… the shore behind me was closer by fifty yards than the shore I’d been watching. I couldn’t help but laugh, (yes, this time I laughed) as I once again loosed the sheets and cranked up the keel. I came about and sailed out a hundred yards then hove-to again. Drifting back across the lake I noted the wind rising, this time by the look of the waves. There was white on top of the rollers coming up the lake. I needed to change the sail configuration for the next race. I headed the boat into the wind and reefed the mains’l down to the first set of cringles. I fell off the wind, set the jib for a beam reach, hauled in the main, and the mainsheet slipped from my hand. Lifeline pitched so hard to port and back into the wind that I almost went swimming. “Race Committee, Lifeline. Lifeline withdraws from the remaining races due to wind velocity.” “Boat calling, say again your sail number” they replied. “Sail number 4909 withdraws due to wind velocity.” “Race Committee copies.” And the regatta was over for me.
The wind continued to climb in velocity and claim more boats. One Daysailer’s jib broke. One of the other Catalina’s that had joined us lost a pin on its backstay and withdrew immediately. (the backstay helps hold the mast in place and without it the mast might come down, especially in this wind). 2nd Wind was on start for the second or third race when the rudder snapped in two and left them spinning in circles in the wind until they could get their sails down. One catamaran would withdraw and the other two would blow over sending the skippers into the water. But the big boats loved the blow. They and the remaining Catalina, ‘Born to Wind’, and the eventual class winner, kept on sailing, the performance and Wavelengths flying their spinnakers full for two more races.
The day would finish in the shelter back at the marina. The conversations were full of sea stories from many of the Association members as we waited for the return of the rest of the fleet. I’d meet the skipper of the Daysailer I’d struck and we struck again, this time a deal for his reparations. He asked me to pay for the rub-rail only, as he does his own fiberglass repairs. We talked about what we did and didn’t see and why neither of us could change course to avoid the issue. Both of us knew we were too close to the Committee boat to make a change. And with me on the tack that was supposed to give way, I put Lifeline in the wrong position. We parted with a handshake and I had some pictures to add to my collection.
The conversations continued as we ate lunch from Saturday night’s party leftovers. The chili tasted better today than last night, after two days on the water. Didn’t matter what it tasted like, what mattered was that it was hot and there was plenty of it. The awards were passed out, and I accepted third place in the regatta with regrets. This year it was just about showing up. I was happy to show up and support the club, but Lifeline and I know we are a cruising team.
The weather guessers in Ohio were calling for a drop in temperatures to near freezing with snow and rain for three days running. The Monday following the regatta was the last warm day for a week, so Mindy and I changed our plans and hauled Lifeline out for the season. She’s sitting on her trailer in pretty good shape, better than when she started the season for the work done this year. She has an appointment with the boat works for the winter as we spend some time to get this forty-year-old boat some much needed hull work. She’s given plenty this year in inspiration to our family and friends, and I hope, to all of you.
Thanks for sharing our adventures this year. I hope you’ll keep following as we begin next year with the work on the boat and the planning and studying sailors do up north in the winter.
https://www.facebook.com/groups/alumcreeksailing/ See several dozen photos by at least three different photographers on the Alum Creek Sailing Association’s FB page
- Oracle beats New Zealand to keep America’s Cup (bigstory.ap.org)
- Becoming a Racing Sailor: Part 2 (sailsandcommas.wordpress.com)