Big breeze came to Buffalo for Day 1 of the J/22 North American Championship, and SW's Michael Lovett was happy to take a ride.
It's been a lousy summer for surf in Rhode Island. To date, I've only brought my longboard down from its perch above my cubicle at Sailing World's office one time, and I only caught a few measily rides in the stank water off First Beach.
But today, I had my best surf session in years. And it took place on Lake Erie, in a J/22. After yesterday's drifter of a practice at J/22 North American Championship in Buffalo, Lake Erie served up its finest today—big wind, big rollers.
A lack of wind prevented much practicing on practice day at the J/22 North American Championship, but that didn't prevent SW's Michael Lovett from learning some valuable lessons. About bubbles.
Here's what I learned yesterday, a nearly windless practice day at the J/22 North American Championship in Buffalo:
1. A line of manmade bubbles guards the entrance to the harbor of the Buffalo YC. Apparently, the bubble screen keep silt from building up in the basin. I'd never heard of such a thing. When we first sailed across the barrier, we weren't sure what to expect, whether the boat would be swallowed up, Bermuda Triangle-style, or what.
SW's Michael Lovett checks in from the J/22 North Americans, hosted by Buffalo YC.
Just after 5 a.m. today, I was standing outside my apartment in Providence, R.I., waiting for my skipper, Bill Porter, to swing down my street with the J/22 in tow.
Now it's 9 p.m., and I'm sitting in a hotel room in Buffalo, where we spent a breezy afternoon at the Buffalo YC making last-minute preparations for the J/22 North American Championship, which kicks off tomorrow with a practice race.
The wind died, but the tide kept going, and as the finish line faded ever further, SW's Michael Lovett began listening to his inner weasel.
At the end of our Jamestown YC PHRF race on Tuesday, the wind died. The outgoing tide began pushing the fleet backwards, into the nearby mooring field. Several competitors had to fend off, and as I was doing so, I said to myself, "Gee, we'd be a lot better off if we just held on." (Actually, I didn't say, "Gee." I must have picked that up from Scooby Doo or something.)
When it comes to starting in a crowded fleet, the ability to properly fill a hole can be the difference between a front-row start and clear air and getting flushed out the back.
I didn’t want to learn anything from last night. It was one of those evenings where I simply wanted to throw my hands up in the air and say: “Nut and Bolts! We! Got! Screwed! It just wasn’t our night.” It was light and shifty, the race committee set an absurdly short first beat, and the leeward mark was a ridiculous 10-boat pinwheel that generated more than a few gel coat repairs and hails of “Protest.” And we didn't do well.
In light and shifty conditions, the tactician is often best working on his own. However, these conditions lend themselves to a lot of unnecessary advice.
Whoever said two heads are better than one hasn’t called tactics in a light, shifty, and dying breeze. There are times when a lot of input can be helpful: someone to watch the breeze, someone to track the competition, someone to report on relative boatspeed. Then there are times when what the tactician really needs is for everyone to keep their thoughts to themselves and let him do his job.
Sometimes sticking to the pre-race game plan means sticking with the fleet and minimizing the risk.
The mantra rings through my head during the start and first few moments of any race: Stick to your game plan. It’s there because I worked long and hard to put it there. It wasn’t so long ago that I would start a race with a carefully conceived plan of attack for the first leg and, at the first sign of trouble, quickly abandon it in favor of whatever looked good at that particular moment.
It was one of those light, shifty evenings that torture the fleet with upheavals of Biblical proportions.
What did I learn from last night's PHRF race on Narragansett Bay? Not sure yet. It was one of those light, shifty evenings that torture the fleet with upheavals of Biblical proportions.
We were first. We were last. We followed a vein of wind to the left, only to get passed by boats from the right. At times, we were quick to respond to the shifts. Other times, we sat in a hole watching boats pass on either side. In the end, we wound up mid fleet, not sure whether to be thankful we weren't last, or disappointed we weren't first.
Prediciting a windshift is always a challenge, but late in the starting sequence, simply recognizing that it has occured can be enough.
There’s perhaps no better indication of when I’m really in a groove sailing wise than the ability to sniff out a windshift during a starting sequence. Amidst the chaos of a crowded one-design start—where you’re almost never sailing hard on the wind—noticing that the breeze has moved 10 or 15 degrees to the left is a difficult task.